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A New Chapter

Diary of a Work in Progress • RenéeGotcher.com

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Motherhood & Parenting

Life through the eyes of a work-at-home, home educating mama

Parenting Teens: The Battle of Independence vs. Authority

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s seen this parent-teen conflict pop up on Facebook:

“My teenage daughter is addicted to her phone, and if we take it away for punishment, she acts like her life is over! Advice anyone?”

Although the technology has changed, the battle between teen independence vs. parental authority is nothing new.

My eldest daughter turned 13 earlier this year, and I’ve been seeking wisdom in this area for some time now. Last month I shared about four common fears we must overcome when parenting our tweens and teens. This month, at a local homeschool conference I attended in Colorado, I had the chance to sit in on an insightful session about how to handle the independence vs. authority battle with Godly wisdom and love.

IndependenceVSAuthority

MYB-ContributorJoin me over at Managing Your Blessings, where I’m sharing Ten Tips for Parenting Teens: Independence vs. Authority. This list represents what I’ve been learning recently from other wise homeschooling parents and scriptures I’ve been studying about diligent parenting and preparing your teen for adulthood. Join me there for my complete post!

Are you in the midst of parenting tweens or teens? What are your greatest challenges? What advice would you give other moms approaching the teen parenting years?

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Parenting Fears to Overcome with Tweens & Teens

When our children are young, danger is obvious. The guidance we provide is very tangible, and saying “no” is part of daily life. However, as our children enter the tween and teen years and begin to develop their own judgement, setting rules and guidelines for them gets more complicated.

We have three daughters, and my eldest just turned 13 this year. My natural tendency is to shield her from the many pitfalls of youth, however that instinct to protect can become easily clouded by my own fear. Some concerns are appropriate; however, many fears are the result of lack of faith about God’s role in the lives of our children.

4-Fears-to-Overcome-When-Parenting-Tweens-Teens

MYB-ContributorJoin me over at Managing Your Blessings, where I’m sharing what I’ve learned about four common parenting fears that hold us back as Christians when parenting tweens & teens. Overcoming these fears and developing a deeper trust in the Lord and His plans for our children will help us not only survive, but thrive during this new stage of parenting!

Click here for the full post.

 Are you in the midst of parenting tweens & teens? What are you most excited about? What are your greatest fears? What changes (if any) have you made in your parenting strategy as your children mature? 

Fear and faith on a snowy mountaintop

This week was my eldest daughter’s twelfth birthday, and to celebrate, we drove up to my sister’s house near Vail Mountain for a day on the ski slopes. My husband was out of town, but with good weather in the forecast and a birthday girl to please, I decided to take the trek up to the mountains with my three girls all on my own.

It was a perfect ski day: Sunny bluebird skies, decent snow on the runs, everybody in a celebratory mood. Everyone was all smiles for some commemorative photos on the top of the mountain, and the views were spectacular and inspiring. I had no idea what God would teach me about my faith later that day.

VailView

First, let me start at the end of our day, when my sister got us free tickets to go snow tubing after skiing. We have never been tubing on the new, more dramatic “adventure zone” snow tubing runs on top of Vail Mountain, so my girls were very excited. I was a little more hesitant, can you imagine why? Here’s a hint…

tubinghill

As I rode up the long, steep magic carpet tube with my five-year-old clutching my legs tightly, watching other tubing participants fly down the slopes at a lightning speed, I was seriously not sure I could do this — especially with her!

tubingramp

We got to the top and my older two girls (12 and 10) had no visible qualms. So my little Elise and I watched anxiously as first my brother-in-law braved the dive down, followed by my sister, my big girl Audrey, and my slightly worried but brave girl Claire. Everyone got to the end of their tubing chutes safely. It was go time for Elise and me.

As we sat in our tubes, my hands clutching tightly to my handles and one of Elise’s tube handles, I felt my stomach turn. I looked up at the tubing hill operator for consolation. “Are you sure we can do this together and it’s really safe?”

He grinned at the endearing sweetness of my motherly concern. “See those rubber pads out there? They totally slow you down. By the time you get even close to the end you’ll be completely slowed down. See how everyone else is barely coasting in?”

I was silent for a minute. I looked at Elise again and said, “Really, this is safe?”

“Yes, totally safe,” he assured me. “It’s really, really fun — you will love it!”

Something inside me believed him. I looked at his confident smile once again, and for whatever reason, I trusted him. I had faith in his words, in his knowledge, in his experience. And so I nodded OK, and he shoved us down the hill.

The ride down was so fast… seriously so fast!

Elise was visibly petrified and we both screamed the entire ride down. And just like he said, our tube caught the grips of the rubber mats and we slowed, and slowed, and came to a quiet stop well before we would hit the pillow pads lining the netted walls of the tubing area.

My first thought: He was right! It’s crazy scary, but it is actually safe. And maybe, just maybe, I would do it a few more times and it might actually be fun.

However Elise would have none of it. “I am not doing that again, no way! No way, Mom!”

Why I talked her into trying again I still don’t understand. I am not one to push my children to do anything they don’t want to do, but some part of me felt that if I could convince her it was OK, then it was really OK. I pleaded with her and she rode up the tubing ramp with me once again. But this time, as we sat at the top in our tubes ready to be pushed, she screamed.

“Stop! No, I don’t want to do it again — I really don’t want to!”

So we pulled her out and another helper came over to walk her down the ramp safely while I took off down the hill on my own, determined not to be afraid this time.

And it was fun, fun enough to take a few more runs while we took turns watching Elise at the bottom. Eventually I decided to call it quits and take photos of my family members zooming down the hill. They were having a blast by now.

tubingslopes

Here comes the kicker: While I was snapping photos, my brother-in-law zipped past us and I continued to watch the hill for my girls to take more photos. Behind me, I heard Elise scream: “Mom, uncle Chris just flipped his tube!”

By the time I turned around, my brother-in-law was already getting up from his fall, pulling his tube out of the way. How in the world he had flipped I couldn’t tell from what I saw. He later explained to us that he was going so fast, that when his tube hit the rubber mats, it literally stopped him so abruptly that momentum carried his tube right up and over his head backward. He shook it off, but later was in a lot of pain. I am still praying that it doesn’t turn out to be worse than he thought at the time.

As we walked back to the car, Elise said flat out, “Mom, that guy told us we would be safe but I saw uncle Chris flip right over in his tube. I will never do that again — never!”

Her words caused me to question myself. Why had I trusted that tubing hill operator so completely? Why did his words seem to immediately calm me, to the point that I was willing to push my daughter to put aside her own fears and trust needlessly in a situation she really didn’t need to be in?

I came up with one obvious reason: You can hurt yourself skiing and snowboarding too, but that doesn’t stop us. You can hurt yourself cycling, yet we all do it. We camp, we hike, we swim, we fish near fast-moving rivers. The girls roller blade and zip around the neighborhood on their scooters. We do a lot of things as a family that some might consider too risky or dangerous to participate in. But we do our best to minimize risk (helmets, other types of protection, lessons, safety rules, etc.) and the rest is a matter of trust: Trusting the Lord to keep us in His care wherever we go and whatever we do everyday.

And that is where I started to realize that trusting the Lord should actually be the more important reason — the one you can completely count on. Yet in that moment when that guy told us it was safe, I know I let go of my fear because I trusted him and those rubber mats at the bottom — I wasn’t thinking about God at all.

How do I know this? Because earlier in the day, God had given me an opportunity to fully trust Him with the safety of my girls, and I had totally failed. I had gotten separated from my eldest daughter on the slopes, and I totally lost it.

My big girl Audrey is a superior skier, and she has a habit of zooming by us and stopping somewhere downhill to wait for the rest of us to catch up with her. This doesn’t usually bother me because I trust her skiing skills and she always waits. And we’ve never been separated before.

girlsskiing

(In this photo, Audrey is the one in the shadows waiting for us to catch up to her. That’s Claire in the pink jacket.)

However, today there came a point that I didn’t see her downhill waiting for us, and I began to worry. Should I wait, or should I go down? She must be downhill farther, I thought. If I don’t see her here, she must have gotten really far ahead of us because she is so fast.

As Claire and I kept going farther and farther down the slopes toward the chairlift, stopping at every breaking point, we still didn’t see her. I really began to worry. I finally called out to Claire that I was going to speed down to the chairlift we’d been riding just to make sure she was there and to follow me as best she could, because Audrey probably was there — just waiting for us slowpokes to catch up.

But she wasn’t. She was no where to be seen. How could this be? So I panicked.

In tears I pulled over a resort employee to ask for help. He began radio calling other chairlifts to see if she might be waiting at the wrong chair. No one had seen her yet. I called my sister, and she sent her husband down the same ski run we’d just taken to slowly look for her along the way. We waited for what seemed like forever but was only about 20 minutes, the employee calling different people to see if she’d checked in with anyone, us watching as skier by skier approached — and none of them were her.

Then suddenly she appeared — flying down the hill toward us. She was a little shaken, and she said she had been waiting for us like always and never saw us. Finally, she had decided to go down to the chairlift so that if she didn’t see us, she would ask the employees to call my mobile phone, because she knows my number. She did the right thing and it worked. We were reunited.

Here’s where I believe I failed in this faith test. Any mother would worry in this situation, right? It’s a natural motherly response. However, instead of stopping to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for some wisdom on what to do next, not freaking out in front of sensitive Claire to make her panic, and trusting that God had not only helped us raise a smart responsible girl who would probably find us at that chairlift, but that He loves her more than I do and would keep her in His care, I proceeded to let fear drive my thoughts and actions completely in the opposite direction.

I cried, I panicked, I practically shook the employee until he called more chairlifts to find her. I imagined her injured somewhere, maybe in the trees knocked out (because she likes riding through the trees), or at the bottom of Vail Mountain with hundreds of people walking around and no phone. When my sister tried to calm me down, reminding me that she was not only a good skier but a bright girl who would ask for help and for sure be found, I didn’t listen. She knows this mountain, my sister assured me, she knows where we are and she knows where to go. But I would not be comforted.

At the time, I didn’t see this little crisis on the slopes as a faith test. But later, after snow tubing and realizing I had completely trusted in its safety simply because some young guy who worked there told me so — and he was wrong — I began to recognize my faith failure. I had trusted what I could physically see (such as people flying down the tubing hill safely before me) and what I could audibly hear (such as a guy saying it’s all good, and he would know, right?). Yet what I believed in my heart about God and the truth of His word — how much He cares for us and wants us to literally hand over our anxieties to Him so He can do what only He can do — was not enough to help me react in faith to being separated from Audrey on the slopes.

It’s hard to describe how physically different I felt in both situations. While Audrey was lost, I was physically shaking and tense all over. My chest hurt and my head was spinning with fearful thoughts. However, as scared as I was flying down that tubing chute the first time, I felt my body completely relax and “go with it” — because in the few seconds it took to reach the bottom, I kept telling myself, “Just trust it, let go, it’s totally safe and nothing can go wrong.”

That’s the difference. That’s how I know I had complete faith at the wrong time, and total fear at the wrong time.

I so want to be there, to have the kind of faith that Jesus said could move mountains. I am working on it everyday! But that day, I felt like one of those disciples questioning Jesus about feeding the multitude. And that he would have said to me, “Oh Renée, ye of little faith… trust in me!

The Lord was so gracious to us that day. Audrey was OK, Elise and I didn’t flip in our snow tube, and He reminded me how much He wants me to trust Him.

“Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour our your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” — Psalm 62:8

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. She is currently editor and lead author of NextGen Homeschool: Formerly Homeschooled Moms Homeschooling Our Next Generation and lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with her family.

Saying Goodbye to Superwoman

When I began homeschooling in 2010, I was surprised how many of my non-homeschooling mom friends commended me for my decision.

“You homeschool? Oh, that’s so great — you are so amazing to be doing that.” Or… “Wow, you must be really patient — I know I could never get my kid(s) to let me teach them.” And… “I don’t know how you do it: I need that break when the kids are in school. That’s quite a sacrifice — that’s really super!”

I found myself thinking, “You’re right: I am sacrificing a lot! I am a great mom for doing this for my kids! Go ahead, pat me on the back. I am doing a really amazing thing here — I am a Superwoman!”

But I was kidding myself.

For starters, I am not a patient mother — my husband is the patient one. Although I was the eldest of eight children and a “mini-mom” most of my life, I have very little patience for children now — both others and even my own at times. It is very challenging for me to work with my girls all day. They love freedom and flexibility, and I love order and structure. We are not a perfect match. So no, I’m not homeschooling because I’m so super patient — no kudos for me there!

And I’ll be the first to admit that I miss my free time when the girls were in school. Back then I was in great shape, working out at least three days a week. I was fairly on top of the housework and had time to grab coffee with my friends. I was even dabbling in my hobbies again.

When we started homeschooling, most of that went out the window. My house is perpetually cluttered, last year’s jeans don’t fit, all of my hobbies are on hold, my new business is off to a slow start, and “time with friends” is limited to mom conversation at homeschool or church activities. I find myself saying “I wish I had more time to…” all the time! So no, I’m not the master multi-tasking phenom I used to be.

Then I got acquainted with the veteran homeschoolers at my very first local homeschooling convention. Talk about feeling like I was far from a Superwoman! I sat in awe listening to mothers with much larger families than mine talk about how they keep everything running smoothly. I heard about tips and tools that made my head spin. I felt like I was staring at a steep uphill battle if I was going to become anything close to a Homeschooling Superwoman.

But the bigger question was this: Why was I still trying to be?

superwomanThere was a time when I really — honestly — believed in the modern day Superwoman. She works hard, but she plays hard. She loves deeply and she lives fully. She’s sharp, witty, and well-respected. She’s organized and enterprising. She’s a fulfilled wife, and she’s also Mother of the Year. Oh, and most importantly, she knows how to take care of herself. She’s got it all going on!

At one point, I also believed I could be that Superwoman. In my early married years, I was at the top of my game as a journalist, becoming an executive editor of a national technology magazine. My husband and I were best friends, and we traveled across the country together backpacking, hiking and snowboarding. I didn’t worry about balancing my checkbook, because there was always money in the bank. And in time, I was also balancing my career with motherhood.

Our first house was newly renovated and pristine — a page right out of a Pottery Barn catalog!  My first daughter was stylishly dressed in coordinating, always spotless, outfits. We walked to the park, we strolled the mall, we hiked in the mountains, we traveled as a family — all while I maintained my full-time job as an editor. I worked out, I went out to dinner with my husband, and I kept up with personal hobbies like photography and scrapbooking. Life was pretty sweet, and yes, I thought I was pretty “super” too.

But God didn’t think I was super. And now I know why. I was not the person God wanted me to be.

Back then, you couldn’t have convinced me otherwise. I had been a Christian since I was seven years old, had been active in church all my life, and had even graduated from a private Christian university. And I was pretty sure being a Superwoman was part of God’s will for my life — after all, He was the one blessing me… right?

But I was wrong. Instead of allowing God to use me to accomplish His purposes, I’d been using the gifts He’d given me to accomplish my purposes — and expecting Him to bless my “good” intentions. God had mercy on me for a while: He gave me plenty of opportunities to hand over the reins of my life to Him and give Him glory for the blessings I’d received. Instead of recognizing His grace, I was basking in the false glory of my Superwoman praise.

So God allowed me to stumble across my Kryptonite — bringing this Superwoman to her knees.

In the next decade, God chipped away at the super life I’d created, one layer at a time. On the surface, the story goes something like this: Even though I was doing the job of three people for a downsized magazine, I was suddenly laid off — and as a result, we had to sell our house. We moved four times in seven years, during which I freelanced, had two more daughters, and started a successful business. And just when I thought God had brought me to a place He and I could both agree upon, He made it clear to me that I should pull the plug on that business.

So we started over again. We moved a fifth time — blessed to be able to buy our second house — and embarked on an even more “road less traveled” journey: homeschooling.

On the inside, the journey was even more tumultuous. God was taking apart my organized life one piece at a time, stripping me of every one of my superpowers, and filling my plate with situations and roles that I was far from great at. Just when I thought I was getting back on top of it all, He would change my course once again.

And just when I thought I had sight of what I needed to do to regain control of my life on this new course, God once again let me fall down to my knees… no, this time it was to the floor, face down, in the mud. Not because He is an unjust, merciless God, but because He is a just, loving, merciful God — and I asked Him to. In tears and turmoil in early 2012, I prayed for God to help me do whatever was necessary to break down the walls I had built around my super self and draw me closer to Him, in a real, true daily relationship with Him.

In late January, about the time I had originally intended to publish this post, the Superwoman that was still trying to resurrect herself in some form took the beating of a lifetime.

I don’t want to dwell on the details of the painful downfall that followed because I recently shared them in our NextGen Homeschool “Moms Grappling with Grief” post, but I will say that the Superwoman in me was finally, utterly defeated. The words “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” never rang so true, and the deeply buried fears, anxieties and lies of the enemy that Super Me had worked so hard to suppress waged serious battle on me.

The destruction of Superwoman left me in a broken-down heap of dust. From rock bottom, I reached up to my Heavenly Father like never before, and faithfully, God began to drench me with His love, His truth, His Word, His presence — and eventually, His peace and His joy. “You make beautiful things out of the dust,” my favorite Gungor song reminds me. It was time to become HIS beautiful thing, a new creation out of dust who wasn’t self made, but divinely made — and divinely empowered.

“But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you our Potter; and we all are the work of your hand.” — Isaiah 64:8

Slowly, lovingly, purposefully, He rolled me back into a malleable ball of clay and began to recreate me, reform me, repurpose me. Not into any form of Superwoman, but a mirror — a reflection of Him — and a vessel — freshly filled and then poured out daily by Him.

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Today, on December 30, 2012, I turn 40. No biggie: It’s just a number, right? That might be true in my mind. But in our society, the age of 40 signifies the moment in your life when you’ve already arrived at the top of “the hill” — and it’s all downhill from there. Over the hill you go. Not a great place to be when you feel like you’re already back where you started.

But I don’t feel that way anymore. I no longer see the valley below. I see the heavens above and nothing in between. I’m open, I’m undefined — and I’m available for God’s use.

On the outside, I’m no better off today than I was when I left home to embark on the journey of life 23 years ago.

Back then I had barely a penny to my name, but I also didn’t owe anyone anything. I was truly free. Now, every penny I earn will first pay back that which I owe — because that’s the mess I created. As much as I now want to give back to God and give toward His work, I am still responsible for that. I ignored God’s advice, and I’m going to pay the consequences.

Back then, I didn’t have a title, a job or a position of respect. Guess what? I still don’t. I don’t see anyone handing out awards for the “Non-income-producing Homeschooling Mother of the Year.” And I’m still asked on an almost weekly basis what I’m planning to “do next” to advance my career. It seems that God is the only one who isn’t too concerned about that one.

Back then, the only one who had anything to gain or lose was me. Now, I’m the mother of three daughters and the wife to one hard-working, loving and trusting husband. Their lives are forever intertwined with mine. The weight of my every move affects them as much as it does me. I am responsible for how my actions affect them.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” — Prov. 22:6

Back then, the sky was the limit. Today, the Word is my limit. Nothing is impossible… for God Himself — not me! “For with God, nothing will be impossible” Luke 1:37 reminds me. I think I’ll be physically sick if another person tries to shove down my throat yet another quote about how infinitely capable we humans are — rubbish! God is the ONLY one who is capable of anything and everything — and much more than we humans can imagine!

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;” — Philippians 3:8-9

If there are any miracles to be manifest in my life, it’s because GOD is great and can do whatever He wills — for His greater glory. If we are willing to count all worldly things a loss for the treasure of knowing Him, we may experience a glimpse of His supreme power on this earth. He is the “super” and all-powerful one — we are just broken, ugly sinners with the undeserved opportunity to receive His grace. Then, and only then, can we experience His power in action in our lives.

I can’t believe I spent almost 40 years getting in His way.

The word that sums up my goal for my 40th year is to REFLECT. Not to reflect on the roller coaster ride of my life — with God in the passenger’s seat most of the time — but to finally stop trying to shine on my own, to reflect HIS light instead.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” — Matthew 5:16

I have tried to shine on my own — and for a while, I managed to muster an impressive glow. But it was fleeting, and unfortunately, it didn’t bring glory to God. It wasn’t a reflection of Him. And my actions produced nothing of eternal value: only temporal, material gain. Here today, gone tomorrow. What a shame.

I can only be eternally grateful that God didn’t leave me there. I sought Him, and He found me — in all my mess. Sure, it took almost 40 years to get here. But at least I’m finally here. Finally saying goodbye to Superwoman.

When all signs point to uncertainty, I feel peace. Peace that surpasses all human understanding. Peace that comes from that total surrender that Paul is talking about in his letter to the Corinthians: To know Christ is all the gain I can be proud of in this life. Everything else is… well, rubbish.

So here’s what’s on my 2013 resolutions list, courtesy of Paul: Get to know my Lord and Savior like never before. Not simply know about Him: I’ve known about Him most of my life. But to KNOW HIM — know Him like I know my husband, like I’ve known my best friends. Know Him and TRUST Him, more that I have trusted myself. And since I’ve spent the past 20-plus years or more getting acquainted with all of the above but Him, I think I probably have a long way to go.

At least now I know that’s all that matters. I still have time to really get to know Him — as much time as He’s willing to give me. It’s the most important gift I’ve received in a very long time.

And I plan to make the most of it.

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She is currently editor and lead author of NextGen Homeschool: Formerly Homeschooled Moms Homeschooling Our Next Generation. The Gotcher Family lives in Castle Rock, Colorado.

My Tango With Traditions

2008 Christmas – my girls and their cousins

I love the idea of traditions just as much as the next person, and the warm and fuzzy feelings that word evokes in my heart. However I’ll admit that try as I might to establish and keep traditions, I’ve really struggled over the years with consistency. Which is a problem when you consider the fact that a tradition is all about consistency — right? If you aren’t consistent about it, can you really call it a tradition?

When I reflect on my own childhood, I realize my mother had the same challenges maintaining traditions in our family. I don’t imagine that it was easy in a family of eight children, with extended family living nearby who maintained traditions of their own that my parents often felt compelled to participate in.

When it comes to Christmas, we had several traditions that endured for a while but then faded as children got older. For example, most years we spent Christmas Eve with my step-dad’s family, and “Santa” (my uncle) showed up with a bag of gifts for us and our cousins, then we’d open family gifts from every uncle and aunt — one by one — until well past midnight. It was certainly all about the gifts, and in years when my parents were struggling financially, it was extremely stressful and burdensome.

2008 Christmas with my mom and siblings in CA

As we got older, my mom desired for us to focus more on the “reason for the season” and less on the gifts, but her attempts were met with a lot of resistance. Not just from the younger kids, which was to be expected, but my step-dad as well — seeing as the gift-centric traditions came from his family. We tried different approaches over the years, such as skipping Christmas Eve gift time with his family altogether and attending a church service instead, baking Christmas treats for family members instead of buying token gifts, and once we even sang Christmas carols at a nursing home while handing out wrapped bibles to the residents. But nothing ever stuck.

Looking back now, I can completely relate to where my mom was coming from — and I’m disappointed in myself as the eldest child in the family not to have been more understanding and supportive of her efforts. Today, my struggles with Christmas traditions in my own family are very similar.

Being the only sibling in my family born from my mom’s first marriage, I have the added challenge of having another family competing for our attention around the holidays: My birth dad’s family. And that family is also divided between his father and mother, who have been divorced since he was just a toddler and aren’t on speaking terms. That makes at least three different family celebrations to attend in a span of 24 hours around Christmas Day. Oh, and did I mention they are all in California — and we live in Colorado?

2008 Christmas with my Dad, half-sis Marel and Grandpa

Needless to say, Christmases have been hectic and completely non-traditional over the years that we’ve attempted to pack up all our children — and a load of gifts — and spend it in California with my family. We’ve had Christmas dinners in hotel banquet rooms and restaurants. We’ve opened gifts around a mini Christmas tree in hotel suites and had to pack large toys into extra luggage purchased specifically to get it home on an airplane. We’ve driven from San Diego (where my Grandma lived) all the way up to the central coast (where my mom lives) in the same day to eat two different Christmas dinners — it’s a 5 1/2 hour drive. You get the picture.

We also take a huge financial hit: Each of these trips, whether we drive or fly, costs us in the thousands. When you add up travel expenses, gift expenses, meals out, trips to local attractions like Disneyland (which we’ve done a couple of times while there), it’s a significant investment. Christmas is not only mostly about gifts, but about cramming as much California fun as we can into one week. Talk about holiday stress! As much as I love my family and spending time with them — and I know how disappointed they are when we don’t travel out — we’ve determined that it’s a tradition we can’t always keep up with, especially if all signs point to staying home.

2002 Christmas with my husband’s family in OK

One year we decided to spend Christmas with my husband’s family in Oklahoma, and although they don’t often gather as an extended family for the holidays, this year our visit brought everyone together. Our family, the families of my husband’s two sisters, and his parents all under one roof. It was delightfully stress free and fun, and we enjoyed participating in my sister-in-law Rosanna’s Christmas traditions, but one thing was still missing. We still didn’t have our own family traditions to share.

Which brings me to my mission this year: Establish Christmas traditions that are meaningful to our family and mostly repeatable no matter where we actually end up on Christmas Day. When it comes to traditions we’ve attempted over the years or picked up from others, we’ll keep the ones that are meaningful to our family and let go of the rest.

I also realized that homeschooling gives us the freedom to incorporate Christmas fun into our everyday learning. I have my sister-in-law Rosanna to thank for that idea (see her post about Rethinking the Holiday Session). Rather than continuing our traditional school days right up until our designated “Christmas break,” which is what I did last year, we will be incorporating Christmas celebration and themes into our daily school activities. And while I want to have lots of fun with the girls and enjoy more family bonding time, I also want to take the focus off the commercialism and put it back where it belongs — celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Request for this year from my girls: Make a nativity scene!So that’s the plan: Whether we accomplish it or not, only time will tell. But it’s my prayer that as I turn this project over to the Lord and ask Him to guide our family during this time, traditions will be born that not only stand the test of time, but bless others as much as they bless us. May our family’s actions bring more glory to Him and reflect His light in a time when most people completely miss the point.

Have you ever struggled with establishing or maintaining your own family traditions at Christmas? What traditions have stuck with you? Have any of your traditions changed or been influenced by homeschooling?

Stay tuned: This month I will chronicle some of our new traditions as they unfold throughout our Christmas celebrations. And in case you’re wondering, we are not attempting a California Christmas this year!

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She is currently editor and lead author of NextGen Homeschool: Formerly Homeschooled Moms Homeschooling Our Next Generation. The Gotcher Family lives in Castle Rock, Colorado.

NextGen Homeschool: Where’s the “Reboot” Button?

Lately (and more often than I’d like to admit), I have found myself in the midst of trying to gracefully navigate the twists and turns of a homeschool day gone awry, until I finally reach a breaking point where I am asking myself: “Where’s the reboot button?”

Seriously. Can I just start this day over again? Please?

I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, a few weeks ago my homeschooling sister-in-law and I posted Facebook status updates that said essentially the same thing — “Can I just reboot this day?” — less than an hour apart from each other and without having read the other’s post first. It was uncanny: We were having the same roller-coaster day and feeling exactly the same way — hundreds of miles across the country from each other. Although we have kids of different ages and were facing completely different challenges, the feeling was mutual. How do I get this day back on track? Or can I just “erase” it and start over?

Technology has spoiled us indeed. Where did we ever get the idea that fixing something “worth fixing” was easy? When did we start thinking that solutions to the difficulties we face on a daily basis should be right at our fingertips?

I think it started with the backspace button. I learned to type in middle school on an ancient typewriter with no “auto-fix” functions of any kind. It was industrial gray, it was heavy, and it carried the weight of perfection in print: You got what you typed, period. If you made a mistake, you ripped that sheet of typing paper out of the machine and started over… and over, and over, until it was perfect, creating a paper trail of all your previous mistakes. This was not an easy process. In short order, I learned that it would be much easier to learn how to type without making mistakes in the first place.

Then came the typewriter with the white correction tape ribbon: At least you could go back and “erase” the error and retype it correctly, on the same sheet of paper. A backspace button! It was clunky, but it was a heck of a lot easier than starting over entirely.

The true revolution in producing error-free output started with the digital typewriter: You could type a few pages of data into the “memory” of the machine and review it on a tiny green screen before the final product was printed out. A backspace button with no correction tape necessary! I remember borrowing a dorm mate’s digital typewriter in college to write some term papers. As long as my paper didn’t exceed the typewriter’s memory, I was as good as gold to make sure my paper was perfect before it ever hit a physical page. So much time saved!

Of course, the personal computer followed not far behind, and the way we “fix” our mistakes would never be the same. A backspace button and a reboot button… errors could be deleted instantly and with the push of a button, you could even “start over” with a clean slate whenever the signals got so crossed that your computer froze up.

Things have definitely changed in the digital age. In fact, my computer-savvy daughters can hardly find the time to properly erase a mistake written in pencil on paper well enough that the correction is legible. I get blank stares that say it all: “Why do I need to do this? Wouldn’t it just be easier if I typed this up on my netbook?”

And the truth is, yes — it would be! But there’s a reason we’re teaching our children to write legibly on paper and correct their own mistakes by hand, right? It’s part of the learning process!

So why do we feel like we want an easy way out when we’re struggling on the other side of the table?

I’m sure by now you’ve heard some form of this popular quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort…” The paraphrase that I grew up hearing was, “Nothing in the world is worth having unless it’s worth working for.”

Although I completely agree with this concept, I find that I’m very impatient when dealing with challenges on a day-to-day basis. In the midst of perceived failure, I look up at the ceiling and ask God where the reboot button is. Can I just erase today’s mistakes and start over? And if not, then can I at least wake up tomorrow knowing what I need to fix so that I don’t find myself here again?

After several more of these days, I recently realized that although there’s no reboot button, we could clean the slate another way: By taking a “time out” to address the roots of the problems. It became clear to me that some of the “rocks” in our bumpy road could be removed if we stopped and took the time to address them properly — and not try to move forward until they were handled. Although there was no easy reboot button, there was an opportunity to clear our path of a few nagging obstacles if we took the time to do it right and do it well.

One of the impediments that was creating daily drama was disorganization. Almost daily, our disorganization led to frustration over lost paperwork, projects taking too much time, overdue library books, sisters fighting over school supplies because, once again, theirs were missing from their personal cubby box, etc. For me, the most defeating part of the mess was the mental “cloudiness” that results from trying to be productive under the shadow of too much clutter — I just couldn’t think straight anymore. We simply had to stop in our tracks and clear the road of these obstacles before we could take another step forward.

So we took several days — at first on the weekend, but then a couple on “school” time — to address the dysfunctional areas in our house and come up with solutions that would work for everyone and most important, be maintainable. It wasn’t easy, and it took a lot more time than I thought it would, but I realized that we really needed to invest the time to get it right. There are a few things left that we need to tackle that are lower on my priority list, but thanks to the work we did, we’re off to a refreshing “restart” that is making a huge difference in our days.

Then I realized: This reorganization exercise was just as essential to their education as it was to my peace of mind! Why did I feel guilty taking “time out” from school work to fix our mistakes? This is life: This is a lesson best learned now.

It’s also a lesson best learned together. There was a point where I thought: I will just fix this all myself. It would be faster and I can do it my way. But I realized that part of why we’d gotten to this point is that the systems I had tried to create before weren’t working for my girls. So we talked through all the trouble spots together and came up with solutions that made sense for everyone. Not only did we all learn in the process, but the girls were more excited about the results, knowing that their work and ideas had made a big difference in our home.

I’m sure there will be more “reboot” days ahead. Homeschooling is a journey down an unpredictable road, and it seems like every time we tackle one challenge, another one appears around the bend. But as a homeschooling mom, I’m realizing that these life lessons are just as important — if not more — to my family’s education than the rest of our school subjects.

Even though we live in a digital world where our children will probably be using voice-enabled devices to do everything for them in the future, I still expect my girls to learn to write legibly on paper, learn to recognize their mistakes and take the time to correct them properly, and create a visible record of the progress in their work. I want them to see how far they’ve come, learn from past mistakes, and build upon each “victory” along the way. Because isn’t that just like life?

How many times have you longed for a reboot button? How do you address your most challenging days as a homeschooling family?

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