Surprised by Joy in Family Life


When I first had children, I did not know what children were like. I had not changed a diaper, had rarely babysat and didn't know what to do with children. But because I am an idealist about everything else, when I had children, I approached parenting as an idealist, and  pondered a whole variety of choices regarding their discipline, education, and nurture, so choosing to homeschool was a logical choice for us at the time. I thought a lot about education, books, curriculum.

But what surprised me was, the longer I pursued this "every day, all the time" lifestyle, I began to find heart and soul satisfaction more than I ever dreamed as our family grew so close as friends. We shared probably the most satisfying times in my life being a little "gang" together. We belonged to each other and loved being together, reading the same stories, doing life in every way together. I was surprised by the joy I felt at times about how right it was to be together and to grow in life together. It was a gift I never expected.

Of course there were many days that messes got to me, the kids bickering drove me batty and I longed for a moment alone. But there were so many more times I felt deeply that my investment in them was so meaningful and I so enjoyed teaching and watching them grow in my home. It was a miracle to me, really. I never knew I would love it so much--this being a family together!

In light of this, the following memory seems so long ago, and I'm so grateful to have taken notes on such a simple, everyday day in our lives.  Otherwise, I might have lost it!  How often we rush through all that must be done, and how sad to reach milestones in life when our children move on and away from us--if we find not only have we forgotten special moments, but neglected to carve time for them to happen in the first place ...

The end of summer was near and the promise of autumn drew us irresistibly out of the house on a delightful afternoon. The air was unusually cool, the sun shining full force, and the skies were a stunning blue. It was a perfect day to explore the hike-and-bike trails in the sprawling nature center behind our house which seemed like an extension of our backyard. The girls were content to follow at a slower pace, while Clay and the boys donned biking helmets, jumped on their trail bikes, and took off in the lead for our grand adventure.

Sarah decided she would walk and talk with me as I pushed baby Joy in her stroller. As we leisurely strolled along the trail atop the river levy, we talked about everyday life, casually sharing ideas, feelings, and plans about our week. It seemed such a luxury to have this relaxed time outdoors. Joy demanded that we stop every few minutes while she picked up another leaf to add to the growing collection she was clutching in her chubby little hands. She seemed happy just to shout out her new word to anyone who would listen, "Lee! Lee!" As if to say, I realize you don't know what I am saying, she would hold up her leaf bouquet to be sure we caught her meaning.

The boys, meanwhile, biked energetically up and down the trails, frequently huffing and puffing their way back to us to tell about the people they had seen, the dogs they had met, or some other interesting observation from a boy's point-of-view. As they rode away at high speed, pumping the pedals as hard as they could, there would always be some trick jump attempted, or a tall hill scaled, or a kid-sized wheelie, followed by a, "Hey, Mom, did you see that?!"

Dad, all the while, was taking his time and enjoying the trail at a more "mature" pace. (We had built him an office in the back yard during this period of time, so occasionally he could join us in our adventuresome daily antics. 

Sarah and I waved our admiration to our three talented men, smiling with feminine wonder at the budding masculinity on display before us. Sarah then turned to me with a look of contentedness and said,

"I feel so good when we are all together and close. I'll bet it must be lonely to be in school and not be able to be together all the time."

I knew just what she meant. I loved it when we are all together as a family, feeling like we were an integral part of each others' lives. It feels so natural and normal; the way it should be.

I believe God meant us to feel fulfilled in family because it satisfies our need for a place to belong, a place where you know you fit in. In our family, there was always someone around to admire a new car that Joel has designed, or to enjoy a new piano arrangement that Sarah has mastered, or to be impressed at the new Civil War outfit Nathan had put together, or just to clap for Joy when she takes her medicine without spitting it out on Mom or Dad. (It was her habit!)  Everything was a group activity in our home.

These kinds of joyful moments caught me by surprise. I'm wasn't looking for them or expecting them, but all of a sudden my eyes were opened and I discovered another of the joys that God meant for me to know.

It was there all along, but I had missed it. The joys get lost in the blur of too many activities, dimmed by a nearsightedness that sees only the housework that must be done, the educational goals that must be achieved, and the practical demands that must be met. It shouldn't be a surprise to me that there would be all kinds of joys just waiting to blossom out of the family and home-centered lifestyle of homeschooling. If that is how God meant us to live, then he wants to bless us through it. Nevertheless, I often find myself delightfully surprised by the joy of the life God has given me.

When they were young, I would long for time away, for myself. And sometimes when I was gone for them an hour, I would miss them and feel guilty, at times, that I wanted to be away from them. The load of motherhood is great, and so our feelings fluctuate. But now, as I experience empty nest for the first time in over 32 years, I miss my pack. There is a Clarkson-child shaped hole in my heart. :)

Now, that all are adults, this shaping of our souls together, has manifested itself in such a close-knit friendship amongst us all, that though far away in our work/living situations, we communicate with one another almost every day--often group texts are flying about amongst each other.

We will do anything to congregate together as "friends" and I delight to see each child in constant contact with the others. I love having us all be best friends. But I just didn't know what I was missing as a child until I experienced it as a parent--and homeschooling had a lot to do with all of us being each others peers and best friends. Just something I was thinking about. (Part of this story was taken from Seasons of a Mother's heart. The rest from me today, in my home.)

For more encouragement specifically for homeschool moms, you might enjoy Seasons of a Mother's Heart, here on Amazon.