If you’re nursing a baby while watching a toddler while listening to an early reader, you have a ways to go. And if you have kids of multiple ages spread around the table or around the house completing the day’s assignments, this may not even be on your radar. But do you have a high schooler or two? Then you’re well aware that the homeschool finish line is up ahead. And if your youngest will graduate soon, that knowledge can generate relief, excitement, confusion, even dread. In our home, the homeschool “race” is now finished, though the verdict is still out on how life after homeschooling feels, and what comes next.

That homeschool race–do I hear “MARATHON” from some of you?–can certainly vary widely by household. I have friends who homeschooled for a short time, often in the early grades, occasionally for a couple years of middle school or high school. Others homeschooled one child while sending siblings to public and/or private school. In our own household, the homeschool journey lasted 19 years with our three children. The parenting part of the equation remains. But the weight and pleasure of daily planning combined with academic involvement and accountability are now over.

Crossing that homeschool finish line produces its own to-do list in areas like record-keeping and household organization. Whether college comes next (as it did for my oldest and youngest) or work (for my middle child), each child needs a final high school transcript. This document is important since it may be required years later as your grown child pursues additional schooling, certain jobs, even a military career. Completing that for each of my teens yielded a tremendous sense of relief and satisfaction. We did it! Together!

If you’re highly organized or eager to complete your homeschool-related responsibilities, you’ll probably focus next on sorting through your family’s accumulated homeschool materials. You may have items in multiple boxes or bins, in one location or scattered across your home. Our family had a homeschool drawer for daily workbooks near the kitchen table, and multiple shelves in the family room to hold all of our other books and materials. We sold a few of the more expensive books when our youngest graduated, and I separated out some items I knew I wanted to keep. But it took a local homeschool book sale to motivate me to go through everything. Once I finally did, the decluttered bookshelves and drawer were refreshing and provided a healthy sense of closure.

It took me a while to take this step, though. In fact, it has been two years since our youngest left for college and I’m only now completing the process. This delay was partly due to the intimidation factor: we accumulated hundreds of books, computer programs, and learning aids over nearly 20 years. It was also partly due to busyness: as our youngest was finishing her high school requirements I returned to the workforce. But my final excuse is that a part of me simply didn’t want to let go.

Homeschooling was not just what we did for so many years but who we were: we were a homeschooling family. My husband and I were parents who chose to teach our own children, or find co-op classes or tutors, so we could customize each child’s academic experience and teach from a Christian worldview. Part of my reluctance to let go of this huge piece of our family history involved fear: If I was no longer a homeschooling mom, who was I?

Like me, many friends who have crossed the homeschool finish line have returned to the workforce, often in areas more aligned with their homeschooling years than an earlier college degree. Some teach or tutor the children of other homeschoolers. In my current job I’ve spoken with former homeschool parents who are now homeschooling their grandchildren.

As I reflect on my own mixed emotions having crossed that homeschool finish line, I’ve decided I need to be more intentional about life. The distinctive daily purpose and long-term goal of homeschooling gave life a special focus that’s now lacking. So I’ve begun by asking myself the following questions: What have I learned through homeschooling? What can I offer going forward? How will God use me in this next stage of life? As I’ve joked with a friend, “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!” But with God’s help, I’ll figure it out.

I’m still carefully navigating these post-homeschooling waters. In the mean time, God has blessed our family with three young grandchildren who live close by and keep my husband and me busy when we’re not at work. And work itself–helping homeschool customers at Christianbook–has been an encouragement and answer, for now, to the “What comes next?” question.

Would I trade those homeschool years for anything? No way! As exhausting as it sometimes was, that’s one race I’m overwhelmingly thankful for.

            Dear Lord,

            Thank you for the privilege of being able to homeschool my child(ren).

Thank you for the gift of that time spent intentionally living and learning together.

            Continue to mold them as their Heavenly Father who has a good plan for each one.

Continue to mold me, and use me as you will in the years to come.

            With Love,
            This Child

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New Englander Debbie O’Brien homeschooled her son and two daughters over 19 years while writing and editing on the side. With the loving support of her husband of 34 years, she now helps homeschoolers at Christianbook, chases her three grandchildren, herds her two Siamese, and awaits God’s next step in this journey called life.