Graduate 2018 / by Diane Helfrich

Graduation is right around the corner. A university has sent an offer to your child, who, in excitement has accepted. You are wrapping up your school-year and starting to think about the graduation ceremony, the party with friends and family, and then, in the quiet, you start to realize the impact coming to your family. It can be daunting to both you and your child when the time for transition comes, whether it is your first, middle, or last child. Let me offer a bit of my journey in the hopes that you will find a bit of commonality in my story that helps you in the coming weeks and months.

I had two very different children. My first struggled throughout his life with separation issues, and going to college was no different. He was a planner and had worked through all the things he would need. He had contact with his assigned roommate, and they were well matched, both in backgrounds and academics. The day came for us to head to UNC Chapel Hill. We had been largely fine up to this point. As we pulled into the parking lot, my throat tightened, but I resolved not to let it show, because I didn’t want to make this transition any harder than it was. We busied ourselves with carrying things up to his room. His roommate and his parents were there, so we all met and talked for a bit as the guys decided how to arrange the room. It didn’t take too long to get everything in, and soon it was time to let go. My son turned to me back at the car with tears in his eyes and said, “Mom, I don’t think I can do this.” My independent, capable son was suddenly that little boy looking to his parents for something—even he wasn’t sure what. We hugged, and he didn’t want to let go. I knew he would be fine and that the best thing we could do was to depart and let him find his way. He held tighter and desperately felt the panic of the moment. I looked at him and told him that every time this panic and desire to escape welled up, I wanted him to go and find someone to help. He said he would try. When we talked later that evening, the panic had largely left. He had met several students through helping them move. He was much closer to getting settled. This experience reminds me that it is in helping others that we forget ourselves and our problems. There is a reason that Christian service is such a big part of our faith walk; that very help to others often helps us more than anything else.

My second child was ready to leave the nest almost out of the womb. She was clearly born twenty-six years old and keeping her grounded was much more of this issue. Not only did she want to go out-of-state for her schooling, but the world called her early in life, and I knew she would not be bound to home. She was excited to start her journey, and as soon as she met her roommate, they were busy organizing and planning. We went for dinner after loading her into her room and then said our goodbyes. I had sent letters, through the school, to arrive for her during the first weeks away from home. She was so excited to get them; they gave her a happy lift. More than that, it gave me a lift, knowing that she would receive them as surprises. The transition for her was easy. She was my empty-nester child, and the transition was more difficult for me.

When we homeschool our children, our time becomes consumed with family, and our circle of friends often is other homeschool families. Our days are spent teaching, planning, going to classroom days, grading, discussing—not to mention preparing meals, cleaning, and caring for a spouse’s needs. It is a career. Homeschooling is a significant part of our social structure. When it ends, it is easy for us to feel lost. We are no longer part of the co-op where we spent years attending classes, meetings, and outings. Friends we talked to regularly still have children they are schooling. Our paths don’t naturally cross anymore, and our lives take different directions. We find ourselves lacking time with friends. Our kids are gone, and the household activities change significantly. Most of us have mountains of books to clear out in order to reclaim space in our homes! But in all of this, who are we?

I remember that “you aren’t what you do because when you don’t, you aren’t.” Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” As homeschool parents, we must take care to cast a vision for ourselves after our children have flown the nest lest we wander aimlessly through our days. I’ve come, through homeschooling, to love the educational process—I love watching the light bulbs go on! In that vein, I’ve continued doing biology dissection clinics, a bit of tutoring, and I’ve teamed up with NCHE to help others with their homeschooling journey. I’ve made a conscious decision to remain part of the education process, because it gives me energy. Your journey may take you completely away from schooling. There is a period after your last child leaves in which you need to spend time sorting and adjusting. Spend time dreaming and planning before you get to that point. You will not only feel better about your journey, but you will also set an example for your maturing children about how to gracefully transition between seasons in life. In that sense, we are teachers forever! With planned purpose, you will move forward with new adventures, new friends, and a re-invented life that is fulfilling.

Diane Helfrich is retired after being a homeschool parent for fourteen years. She is married to David. Their son, Ian, attained a European master’s in economics in Barcelona, Spain, and is working on his American master’s at Indiana University. Their daughter, Anna, is pursuing a degree in conflict analysis and resolution at George Mason University in Virginia. Diane currently serves as the NCHE region 8 liaison and as the NCHE board secretary.