Day 31: 3 Simple Truths to Bring You Back Home When You’re Stressed About Educational Decisions

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While you’re stressing over college prep versus AP or the classical private school vs. the public charter school, there’s a single parent who’s simply grateful for public school, afternoon care, and the school bus.

As I mutter about my school frustrations, there’s a mom half a world away who knows that the education of her children is the ticket for her family’s survival. In developing countries, every additional year of education can increase a person’s future income by an average of 10%.*

And guess how much of the world even holds college degrees? Less than 7%.

It’s all relative, isn’t it? When we’re surrounded by privilege {and if you’re reading this, you’re probably in the top 4-5 percent of the world’s wealthiest}, our grasp on the essentials is rather skewed. I’m not saying our decisions don’t matter because they absolutely do. And I’m definitely not saying God doesn’t care about our American middle-class concerns simply because there are needier people to worry about. He cares so much. If He knows when a hair falls from our head, how much more does He care about the education of our children? But our definition of the “best” for our kids and His definition of the “best” aren’t always the same. 

In the midst of decisions and stress, it’s helpful to take a step back and consider the basics. For me, simple truths can serve as a reset button when I don’t know which way is up. Maybe it’s the same way for you. Here are three perspective-builders when indecision swirls within your head and anxiety grabs hold of your heart:

1. Parents around the world would sacrifice everything for the options that we actually deem sub-par.

Sometimes we have to rest in what should be the most obvious truth but is often the most overlooked: our kids are getting an education. And not only are they getting an education, we actually have options about the kind of education they’ll receive. These are luxuries in most of the world. I don’t write these words to induce guilt. I write them to invite gratitude.

2. Education is so much more than thirteen years plus a college degree.

We talked about this on Day 29. Education is the hard flint of our everyday lives that carve our unique personhood. Education is both natural science and natural consequences. It’s studying calculus in the classroom and practicing compassion within our families.

Education begins the day we’re born and continues until the day we die. Let’s not insult the richness and beauty of education by reducing it to 16 short years of academia. Education is a life. The most brilliant scholars will never know the intricacies of how you got to be you. They’ll never be able to plumb the depths of redemption in your life. We all have so much to offer one another and the world. And our truest offerings have little to do with the sort of education we received and much to do with the character and compassion that’s grown out of adversity and real-life experience.

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3. We accept what we have and also what we lack.

We give our children what we have and trust that it is enough. We make the best decisions within our means and trust that they are enough too. I’m betting that you actually give so much more than enough.

And we accept what we don’t have –whether it’s money, energy, “better” options, health, or stability.

In so doing, we trust that our lack is just as much a part of God’s equation as our abundance.

This is the theme of my life. Because sometimes, God re-routes us in ways that feel like failure but are actually grace. 

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I don’t want to oversimplify complicated decisions but I don’t want to overcomplicate them either. When you’re feeling stressed about these issues, look at what you already have. Breathe in the gifts and exhale gratitude.

It’s going to be okay.

Thank you so much for joining me for this series. Thank you for your encouraging comments, e-mails, and “likes” that inspired me to keep going. Whether you read one post or all 31, I hope you found grace and encouragement. If you missed any of the posts, go here to see a complete list. And if you ever want to check back and read more of the series, just click on the “Cool About School” tab at the top of the page.

Things will be quiet on the blog here for just a bit but I’ll be back with all kinds of stuff I’ve been storing up for you during the month of October.

For other posts I’ve written on this topic of school, go here.

I’ve linked up with The Nester and her tribe of 31 Dayers.

Don’t want to miss a post? You can subscribe and have each post delivered right to your inbox. As always, you may unsubscribe any time you like. {I promise not to sell your address to pirates, aliens, spammers, or The Gap.}

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 * United Nations Educational Scientific And Cultural Organization. “Reaching out-of-school Children is Crucial for Development.” UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Accessed April 8, 2014.

Day 30: Why I Don’t Want the “Best” for My Kids

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I just want what’s best for them.

We hear it all the time. Who knows how many times I’ve uttered those words about my own kids over the last thirteen years?

When we live beneath the shadow of the American Dream, it’s easy to become fixated on everything as utmost — the best academics, the best sports program, the best neighborhood, the best reputation, the best curriculum — that we leave no room for the providences that come through less-than.

We leave no room for the humility and compassion that can bloom from being mistreated or marginalized.

We leave no room for the resourcefulness that can develop out of scarcity, out of not having what “everyone else” has.

We leave no room for our kids to take a stand when they’re surrounded by those who think exactly as they do.

We leave no room for the dark and needy places in our own communities.

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In the quest to get it right for our kids, are we unknowingly teaching them that life is about insulating yourself within the sphere of “best” and “safe”? Are we so focused on providing them with the ideal that they’re losing their grip on the real? Are we setting them up to worship false gods? Are we obsessed with success at the expense of character?

I’ve had to wrestle intensely about this as a Christian and I’ve landed in a place that feels uncomfortable, scandalous even.

I don’t believe we’re called to what’s “best.” We’re called to Jesus, to the life He spelled out in his Word and lived out with his life and I’m sorry, but it doesn’t resemble the American Dream so much. It resembles homelessness, false accusation, rejection, sacrificial love, and death on a cross for the freedom of many.

I write this post as an offender on so many levels.

I write as someone who knows that even though my greatest hurts and devastations have carved themselves into my character for the better, I still want to keep my own children from hardship.

I write as someone who’s prone to give in and make them happy instead of withholding and watching fruit grow from what first had to die.

I write as a mom who still worships at the feet of the Ideal instead of humble submission to the Real.

I write as one whose kids go to a school where the demographic is one of more privilege than poverty, whose overachieving, middle-class values are seeping into their psyche, warping their perspective. And I am not so different.

I don’t have easy, practical answers. Like any 12-step program, I simply know that admitting we have a problem is the first step. Each family, each child, each school situation, peer group, and demographic are different. God calls us to the rich and to the poor and to everyone in between because we’re all needy beggars. He calls us to travel all sorts of educational paths and to share life with all sorts of others in the process.

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He doesn’t call us to pursue the “best.”

This can get especially messy for Christians because we like to toss around the term “Christian excellence” to justify our own achievement or validate the inordinate pressure we place on our children to succeed.

But is that really at the heart of the verses often used to justify the pursuit of “best?”

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ {Matthew 22:37}

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, {Colossians 3:23}

These are sobering instructions, verses I’ve used with myself and my own children to remind us of our work’s sacred significance. I long for all of my endeavors — the cooking, the mothering, the writing — to bring glory to God and not pats on the back, even though my motives are usually messy. {Perhaps I should say “I long to long for bringing glory only to God.”}

These verses examine the posture of our hearts, calling us to humility and hard work, service and self-forgetfulness in all that we do, whether we have a PhD or an 8th-grade education.

Here’s my point. “Christian excellence” and “wanting what’s best” can be a smokescreen for ambition, plain and simple. When we’re graceless, obsessed, trampling over others, living unbalanced lives, or crushed by failure — our own or our kids’ — we’re not pursuing excellence as unto the Lord. We’re pursuing excellence as unto ourselves. We stamp Jesus-y language on top of achievement and call it “Christian.” And in so doing, we live counterfeit lives and chase counterfeit dreams.

We’re teaching our kids to chase after the same hollow goals, to pursue what’s “best” instead of what’s fruitful.

As loving parents, we should want our children to thrive, to see their potential and to give them a vision for it too. But we also want to give them a vision beyond themselves. In Matthew 22:37, the verse I just mentioned, Jesus is actually quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. Guess what Deuteronomy 6:7 says? Impress them on your children. 

But what are we actually impressing upon them, the pursuit of his kingdom or the pursuit of their own?

Friends, if wanting “the best” is simply the means to misplaced ends, it’s time to take a giant step back and examine what we are really called to and why.

The Kingdom of God is not like the Kingdom of this world. The Kingdom of God is about loving Him with all that we have and all that we are. It’s about loving others as ourselves and this is way more messy and sacrificial than I’m comfortable with. It’s about pursuing the least and the last — who are actually the first.

Because in God’s Kingdom, it’s Opposite Day every day.

Again, I write as the guilty party, as one who is prone to overachieve and over-desire and to pass these counterfeit values onto my children as a hollow inheritance.

But I long to live differently and I know that it will literally take an act of God. Here’s the good news. He has acted already on my behalf. His resurrection power can bring new life out of my barren heart.

Perhaps you long to live differently too.

It doesn’t mean we give up on what’s “best.”

It means we redefine it through Christ, the One who smiles at our best and says, Follow me. I have better.

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I’m tempted to issue a dozen disclaimers about this post. {It’s not what I normally write. I’m afraid it sounds self-righteous. It’s too long for a 31-days post. Everyone will hate me.} But I’ve learned that when the “publish” button looks especially scary, it’s time to be especially brave.

Tomorrow is the last post. Cue the angels, Netflix, and also my pillow. I hope you’ll join me. For all the posts in this 31-day series, go here.

For other posts I’ve written on this topic of school, go here.

I’m linking up with The Nester and her tribe of 31 Dayers.

Don’t want to miss a post in the series? You can subscribe and have each post delivered right to your inbox. As always, you may unsubscribe any time you like. {I promise not to sell your address to pirates, aliens, spammers, or The Gap.}

Day 29: You Homeschool. Even if You Don’t.

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It’s easy to place our educational choice in a tidy box and put a label on it: Homeschool. Public School. Private School. Charter School. University Model School.

It’s also easy to place certain responsibilities within a box too. The school box provides formal education. The church box provides spiritual instruction. The club sport or school sport boxes provide athletics. The job box teaches them how to work.

But our real job as parents encompasses all of the above and it’s anything but a tidy box. Parenting is messy and fluid and the boxes collapse into mixed up pudding. {Terrible metaphor but you guys, it’s Day 29. Show me grace.}

Here’s what I’m trying to say. Education is life. Schooling is simply one slice of the pie.

The complaints and conflict and circumstances your kids bring home from school each day? They’re educational opportunities. Her refusal to do her math work day in and day out? It’s an educational opportunity too. The bad choice he made on social media? The conversations about God that are tinged with doubt? You guessed it. All of that is education because it’s opportunity for you to flesh our truth within the everyday life of your child.

In the book, Going Public, David and Kelli Pritchard {parents to eight kids} respond to the frequent question they’ve been asked over the years, Are you into that homeschooling thing?
We smile at the question. Then we reply enthusiastically, ‘Yes! We definitely homeschool our children…and starting at age five, we also send them to public school to get more information.’ 

We consider ourselves to be our children’s number-one educators, and we will never give up that responsibility or privilege — even though they spend 30 hours a week in somebody else’s classroom. We instruct our kids every day. We look for the teachable moments that intersect with what they are experiencing outside our home. We draw frames around their encounters and activities, showing how they fit within God’s greater perspective. 

I don’t share this to persuade you toward public school. Remember, this series proclaims grace and freedom, not one way over another way. I share that quote because I agree with its message. We’ve all been given the privilege and responsibility of homeschooling, regardless of where the formal education takes place. You are teaching them around the kitchen table, in the minivan, when you tuck them in at night, and when they get in a fight on the basketball court. This is modern-day Deuteronomy 6:6-7. 

And that’s not all. If you send your kids to school, you’ll help with homework. You may proofread a writing assignment that has to do with a sweatshop factory collapse in Burma. And then you may spend the next 30 minutes talking about all the ways we view labor and all the irresponsible culprits and how does this affect us as Americans. This is homeschool too.

Sometimes I struggle to believe this, but we, as parents, are still the greatest influence on our children. If we abandon them, we influence. And if we show up, we influence. How much more do we influence when we can move beyond simply showing up?

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I remember when this really hit home for me in the most everyday of circumstances. Last year my daughter and I had a 30 minute ride home in the van, just the two of us. She had just cheered for an away football game and it was at the end of a long day. I was weary. She was weary. Several unplanned inconveniences had presented themselves throughout the day. I was unhappy with a certain attitude being displayed.

And so we talked. Well, first we got a chocolate milkshake and then we talked. Amid the venting and the tears, we covered everything from issues of respect to issues of compassion to issues of time management. This too is homeschool and it far outweighs what they will ever learn in a lab or textbook.

Here’s the thing. It’s not really homeschool or public school or private school that defines us or our kids or determines their future. The homework, the character building, the teachable moments — I just referred to them as “homeschool” but even that’s not an accurate reduction.

This is simply parenting.

And even though parents have been doing this thing for many thousands of years, I am often reduced to tears when I consider the overwhelming responsibility. Yet God has always worked through families, even though we’re prone to both epic and everyday failure. His instructions and promises are for us and our children and for all the generations. He has chosen us, everyday moms and dads, the ones with baggage and cluelessness, to nurture courage and conviction in the next generation.

We don’t do it alone. He puts us in community and He puts us under his care. Most of all, He invites us to learn hard into Him for strength, wisdom, and perseverance.

Maybe you’re in a place of surety and stability with your family and your educational choices right now. Or maybe you’re the opposite of that. Wherever you might be on the map, I invite you to broaden your definition of education. Because when we do, we get less caught up in the particulars of how we school and more inspired to simply teach them in the sacred classroom of the everyday.

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How do you use the springboard of the everyday to teach your kids?

For all the posts in this 31-day series, go here.

For other posts I’ve written on this topic, go here.

I’m linking up with The Nester and her tribe of 31 Dayers.

Don’t want to miss a post in the series? You can subscribe and have each post delivered right to your inbox. As always, you may unsubscribe any time you like. {I promise not to sell your address to pirates, aliens, spammers, or The Gap.}

*book link is an affiliate