I knew better. But for some odd reason, I always pictured homeschooling my children to take place in a one-room-schoolhouse-like fashion, desks nailed to the floor and students sitting at attention with pencils poised to take in me and my blackboard.
How I ever got that from real life, I’ll never know. We have desks, the kind used to stack test papers, letters and knick-knacks that Mom’s told us to put away three times this week. Our blackboard’s downstairs, where the dog (or the baby) sometimes eats the chalk. My mother occasionally teaches us in group fashion, but we’re all sprawled on the couches with cups of OJ, blankets and a stray sibling or two playing trampoline on our stomachs.
Laura Ingalls would not approve.
I grew up taking tests amid discipline scenarios, screaming children, epic toy car chases and Badger barking at the mailman. I learned to read history with my baby sister balancing on my shoulder or with a little brother prattling on about his rock collection. My break time involved playing puzzles, switching laundry and perhaps, if I had a particularly pleasant day with math, emptying the dishwasher.
Welcome to my world.
If you haven’t grown up with this, do not try this at home. It takes skill to fend off cute babes who want to play games when you’re studying college algebra.
There isn’t really a little box drawn around My Life separating me from Larger Family Life. And I like it that way. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a mere bulge in the conglomerate blob of family. I’m my own person. It’s merely that I’ve learned not only to live with my family but also to live in my family, like a hand in a glove, if you get my meaning: something distinct yet close, comfortable. Fitting.
But this didn’t just happen by accident. If we were talking what’s natural, I’d be the last person discussing this issue.
I write from a seventeen-year-old perspective. I graduate this spring; I’m tackling scholarships, college propaganda and CLEP tests. I can drive to my girlfriends’ house for an afternoon of chatting. I have more independence in that I’m sometimes in situations that my family has not experienced as a whole and that I sometimes befriend people my family has never met and will never meet. I could easily develop a whole life outside my immediate family that they would never be involved in.
Slowly, like it or not, my life begins to peel away from my family—or that’s the natural way of things.
My choice is whether I’m going to to plug all aspects of me into my family or to disconnect for independence’s sake.
Please don’t misunderstand: girls grow up. We mature. We gain independence. We’re not enslaved to the household or forbidden to meet people our parents haven’t approved of or experience places our family hasn’t set foot in. I’m not really arguing for the stay-at-home daughter position in this post, either.
I just want to redefine what it means to be independent—grown up—mature.
Independence is often marked by leaving—physically or emotionally. You go out. You leave. You ditch everything that was formerly you, like an old skin, like a bad taste, and step into the real you, the you you always were, deep down, when suppressed by family relationships. We’ve all seen the teenagers, heard the propaganda.
We all know—at least through so-and-so’s cousin’s grandmother’s niece—we all know at least one teenager who fell away from everything right and pure after leaving the house or getting the driver’s license or hitting the eighteen-year-old mark. Maybe we’ve been that teenager, in deed or thought.
Some people blame it on a lethal combination of young people and independence. I blame it on the surefire failure of maturity to sober the heady feeling of freedom.
This is wisdom: Independence is not the freedom to do whatever we want. In this stage of maturing, where we’re growing into the women we’re supposed to be and actively stepping into God’s will in matters of home and sundry decisions of life, we need to be on guard to use our independence wisely. We mustn’t become giddy with newfound independence to the point that we exclude those we were formerly dependent on.
I fall into this trap sometimes that I am so over the family thing. That was a phase of my elementary evolution: now that I’m SEVENTEEN I’m entitled to unlimited phone calls, shopping trips and days to just hang out with the gals.
So how does one counter independence thrown out of whack? We need to plug into wisdom, responsibility and purpose. For some people it’s a vision, a job, the pursuit of a degree. For the ordinary girls like us who aren’t legally independent (yet), if we’re looking for wisdom, responsibility and purpose, the short answer is family.
It’s so important that we’re digging into family life, coming up with ways to help and ways to take charge. That we’re truly investing in our families, investing in our siblings, supporting our parents.
That we’re actually part of our family and not just a guest passing through until college. If you could be gone for a weekend and nobody would know the difference (or they would run around the house five times in celebratory relief), something’s wrong.
“So that’s all very nice, Bailey,” you might say, “ but I don’t have a collection of younger siblings. We don’t home school. I’m the youngest. I’m an only child.”
But doing school silmutaneously with bouncing babies isn’t the only way to reach out to one’s family. How about curling up next to a sister and just talking? How about taking time to encourage each family member? How about finding out what’s going on in everyone else’s life and then sharing what’s going on in yours—including what your girlfriends did that day?
It’s not really about what you do but where your heart is.
Don’t settle for just living at home. Live in the home. Connected—to the family (and the dinner dishes).