Over the past several months I’ve looked back longingly on those exhausting nights of waking children and all those witching hours when one boy would be hanging at my ankles whining, and the littlest would be needing a diaper change, and the oldest was clearly responding out of low blood sugar craziness. Without me even realizing it, those days were in my past. I put a sweet toddler down for a nap one day not realizing it would be the last daytime tuck in. And somewhere along the line, I took my final middle of the night groggy walk up the stairs to comfort a child in distress. No more dropped blankies. No more night terrors. No more tumbles out of bed. One night we just kept on sleeping… again and again until those peaceful sleeps became our normal. Life was suddenly a bit easier. Or maybe we were simply facing it with brighter eyes and rested spirits.
It’s totally cliché, but we blinked and opened our eyes to five big kids. No babies. No toddlers. But children who could all dress themselves and brush their own teeth and make their own beds (even though they don’t). Many halleluiah’s fell from our lips!….but then a few of those big kids became teenagers. And our halleluiah’s turned into genuine groans for wisdom and divine interference. Don’t get me wrong, I loooove this season of parenthood (not the show, my actual life. But I also very much love the current season of Parenthood). Parenting older children is full of great conversations, common interests, heart transformations and lots of dreaming. But amidst the sweet compatibility, there’s painful shaping of the heart, tensions within expanding freedoms, and wild hormones that make everything more intense.
In September, our teenage boys transitioned from homeschool to public school. Even though I’ve been telling my children for years that going to school means sitting in a desk for 35 hours a week, I’m pretty sure they were still expecting it to be a little bit like High School Musical. Instead, for one son, there were tears, stomach aches, sleepless nights and refusals to go. And after weeks of everyone doing the best we could, we realized our son was experiencing separation anxiety….at 13.
It makes a lot of sense! The choices we’ve made as a family to move to Africa and homeschool and home church and to begin farming – they have bound us tight – and they have had a unique way of both expanding our world, while also keeping it simple and small. And we face this particular struggle knowing it’s immersed within countless blessings from these journeys. All of these experiences have produced a confidence to soar and an eagerness for independence within our oldest son. But for Connor, it has led to some insecurity and anxiety as he engages his outside world. Funny how the same set of choices can shape children so differently as it collides with their unique personalities and struggles.
Separation Anxiety looks different on a 13 year old than it does on a five year old. But it’s the same heart. The same insecurity. The same longing to stay where you’re most comfortable. And I’m so thankful that home is the place my son feels safest. It swells my heart to know that his family is his environment of grace. We have no regrets in keeping a small world for this big season of our life. For we’ve always known the feet of our children will one day travel far, will one day explore wider, will one day follow God to new places.
So these past several months have been hard. Really hard. And we don’t believe in running away from the hard. We are certain those are the places where we are shaped to look more like Jesus. Those are the dark pits we learn to hold our hand out to the Father. But how much is too much for a child? Where’s the line between the struggle growing our son, or crumbling him? I’m pretty sure we teetered on it in October when we told him he had to finish out the semester and he melted into the couch because mid January felt forever away. We walked the line when we watched him fade into sadness every evening, anticipating the morning. We grew closer and closer to the edge every Sunday as we watched his mood change, temper rise, spirit fall, tears pour knowing that Monday was right around the corner.
So…suddenly a sleepless night due to weaning a baby or breaking a pacifier habit seems easier than the beautiful burden of shaping the character of our teenage son. For this feels heavy, like we are the ones holding his spirit, the ones carrying the weight of the struggle in our hands and heart. It’s heartbreaking to insist your child do something so hard and painful for him. But the more we prayed and the more we envisioned the future, the more we discerned he needed to push through this. With us, right by his side.
But here’s the thing…more than making the right decision, more than teaching how to overcome, we want our children to know that they can always come home. Always. We will forever welcome them and be for them a safe place. So when Connor asked to be homeschooled for second semester, we said yes. But at night, when we laid our heads to rest, I prayed for God to make another way. Instead of carrying the burden ourselves, we handed it over to the Father. And in one day, the Lord offered a provision. A compromise of sorts. A way for Connor to still attend school, but with a little extra time at home. God is good. So so good.
As Connor begins this second semester, he takes with him a journey of perseverance, a memory of God providing for him, a confidence that his parents are committed to struggling alongside him, and a hope that God is leading him forward in faith.