“One day when the kids are gone, we will sit quietly by the fire and listen to the laughter in the walls.” For years a printed version of these stanzas from “Laughter in the Walls,” by Bob Benson, hung on a wall in our home, reminding me of a someday that, at the time, felt as far away as eternity. His ode to the daily ups and downs of a large family resonated well in our home.
But one August, a big mile marker on the road to when the kids are gone was in sight.
It was time to take my last child, Laura, to her first day of school.
I walked her proudly to her seat, lingered as long as the teacher allowed, wondered who these other five-year-olds were, especially the little girl who couldn’t stop crying, kissed Laura goodbye, and walked alone to my car.
The short drive home was quiet. Too quiet. No little person in a booster seat behind me.
Though my house looked as it always had when I pulled in the driveway, an unfamiliar and uncomfortable silence greeted me as I unlocked my front door. It was eerie. I felt out of place, unmoored, lost in my own home.
All my little people now had a life apart from me.
Now I was alone with myself. And with my God. What did He want from me during those school hours?
To inaugurate the moment I dropped my purse and keys on the entryway table and fell to my knees.
“Lord, what do you have for me in this new season? I’m not sure what to do with myself now. Guide me in how I use my non-parenting hours. Help me know You more, follow You as a mom to school-aged kids, and become who You made me to be.”
Then I got up and did the next thing: cleaned up our breakfast mess!
What surprised me in those early months of all my kids in school was how quickly those hours disappeared. I still did laundry during the day, still went to the grocery store and planned dinners every day, still took my middle schooler and teenager to the orthodontist. My kids still filled the bulk of those hours.
But there were two things I did intentionally with my slightly greater freedom:
- I renewed my focus on regularly attending Bible studies with women (Bible Study Fellowship and then Precept studies, which I continue taking to this day).
- I began to plan, with my husband, what we wanted to teach our children with the years we had left. When Laura was five, Ashley was already 15 so time was running out quickly.
A young mom who is facing a similar mile marker, taking her first to school, asked me: how do I know if I’ve done enough to prepare her for all that’s ahead?
The honest answer I gave her is that you can never know if you’ve done enough. What you can do is trust that God will use all that you have invested for your child’s good. Instead of worrying about what you could’ve or should’ve done—or what your friends did with their kids—make a new plan for this new season.
Decide what you want to teach your child in the hours after school and on weekends and how you’ll accomplish it. (Dennis and I made a list, which grew to over 50, of the things we wanted to teach our children. A blog post on that will be coming soon.) You’re still the primary discipler of your child, even though he’s spending many hours under another’s instruction. How will you continue being his primary influencer?
The goal for me was to make the most of the time after school, in the evenings, and on weekends with our kids.
Start with pickup time, which can always be a little crazy. For me it was my chance to reengage with my child. Asking questions like, How was your day? is good because you want to know about those hours away from home, but after a few weeks of the same question your kids will start giving the same reply, “Fine.”
Here are some different questions to try on your kids this year to see if you can encourage more than surface answers.
- What was the best part of your day?
- Who did you show kindness to today?
- How did you let your light shine at lunch?
- What was hard about your day? How did you feel?
- What new idea did your teacher share? Did it make sense?
- Was anyone in your class sad today? What did you do?
- Tell me more, is a response you can use to follow up any of the above.
Use some of your at home alone time to make your own list of questions. Type them on your phone or use old-fashioned paper and ink.
Then be intentional about dinners together as often as you can. Instead of free for all dinners, choose one or two or more evenings for intentional questions. Something as simple as having everyone share a high and low from the day is a great place to start. But you might also talk about what your kids are learning at school or read a great short story out loud and then talk about the characters and share what the story stirred in you as you listened. You’ll find more suggestions at the end of this post.
One other desire I had as a mom was to know my children’s new spaces: their teachers, their friends, their little expanding worlds. I began to show up at school helping as homeroom mom with small things like elementary school parties and field trips. It soon morphed by the high school years into taking the initiative to begin a ministry with our kids to their peers. It’s a ministry that still continues at their school today. Dennis and I wanted our kids to know how to share their faith with friends. Doing ministry with them modeled what it looked like and gave them confidence too.
We also wanted our kids to know how to relate to all kinds of kids from all ethnic backgrounds, all socioeconomic levels, and all intellectual levels. So when it was time, we intentionally chose for our kids to attend the local high school with kids of every race, both rich and very poor. Our school was the home of the district’s special education classes for all 14 to 21 year olds with learning handicaps, which was an added benefit to our children to learn to relate to these peers too.
As a result, our children learned more by our guiding experience than we could have taught them by words alone.
And as I showed up often to help teachers, the office staff, the coaches, and the students too, those who didn’t know Jesus saw us and other Christian parents serving and giving and being grateful for their work. It was another kind of witness.
So, if you’re wondering what to do with your newly empty house and worried about the gaps you see in your child, be encouraged. If you’ve done the best you can do every day—committing your parenting to Christ and praying about your kids—you have to trust that you’ve done the most you can do.
No one can produce perfect kids. Even God’s kids are very imperfect, right?
What you can do is ask Him what you can do with the years that are remaining. Pray for ideas to engage your kids, ways to challenge them, help them grow, and become the young men and women God wants them to be.
So, Mom, send your child to school with courage and with your prayers.
Then go home and begin to pray for what God has for you to do next with your little people. Begin to dream and plan with intentionality.
And watch for the post coming on 50 things to teach your children!
Here are some ideas on books you can read out loud at dinner or bedtime.
–Growing Together Series by Barbara Rainey: Four themed books, Courage, Gratitude, Forgiveness and Truth, with seven stories in each book. Ages 5-18
–The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, ages 12-18
–Seven Great Men and Seven Great Women by Eric Metaxes, ages 12-18