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Centering by Mentoring

By Milva McDonald

On Wednesdays, my kids and I– all eight of them – get together for fun and learning. They’re not all my biological children, but no matter. Once a week, when we all get together to write and play, they’re mine.

I’ve been facilitating creative writing groups for homeschoolers for a long time – since my now 24-year-old daughter was about 12. Along the way, I’ve encouraged other homeschooling parents to give it a try. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s a great way to build relationships with your kids and their peers.

Why is that a good idea? Well, there’s the obvious — that getting to know your kids’ friends is an important way to stay connected to their lives. There’s another reason, and it has to do with enriching your own life.

One common misperception of homeschooling is that it’s isolating – that we’re sitting around the dining room table all day doing schoolwork with our kids instead of experiencing the great wide world. For the vast majority of homeschoolers, it’s just the opposite. Especially in a culturally rich city like Boston, the opportunities are infinite.

We can join scads of support groups, visit museums, and sign up for workshops, field trips, and classes until our schedules are so full we’re pulling our hair out looking for down time. Pretty soon, the role of homeschooling parent becomes personal secretary and chauffeur. When my oldest kids were heavily involved with sports teams, music lessons, and other activities, I remember joking with other parents that we were in the “taxi driver” stage of homeschooling.

In these crazy times, while we provide opportunity after opportunity for our kids, burnout can loom over us like a dark cloud. Sure, there are ways to unwind — yoga classes, nights out with friends or your partner, a relaxing massage. Those kinds of things are important to our well-being, of course. But here’s an idea some homeschooling parents may not have considered: sharing what you love with kids other than your own is nurturing in a whole different kind of way.

When I get together every week with “my kids,” we joke, laugh, and learn. I develop relationships with them beyond just being Claire and Abby’s mom. I watch their ideas and writing skills blossom. I see their growth and their struggles as they cope with issues in the world, their family situations, and more.

That’s exciting and rewarding, but working with kids goes even deeper than that. It allows me to connect to my own childhood, remembering my own youth and what it was like to be 10 or 12 or 14. It helps me hang on to that younger part of myself, which helps me relate to my own kids better. It gives my life a sense of flow and fullness that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’ve seen how this kind of connection with young people excites grown-ups. I think it’s actually a kind of longing we all have. When my son was a teenager, his varied interests turned him into a magnet for adults who adored the fact that someone out there wanted to soak up their knowledge. One visit to the local bird club, and he had adult birding companions inviting him on all their weekend excursions. Then he was given a digital camera by his birding mentor. Then he was invited to join the local adult digital photography club. It went on.

These adults were generously offering their help, support, and teaching to my son, but I know it wasn’t a completely selfless act. I know because I’ve felt it, too – the satisfaction that comes from connecting with the younger generation. Schoolteachers may also enjoy this, but as homeschooling parents, we’re luckier. We can do it without having to grade or judge kids and teens. We can do it as one human being to another, with the implicit truth of the relationship an unspoken given – that one person is an adult whose experience and knowledge the other person respects and seeks to acquire.

It’s been that way throughout history. It’s human nature, and it’s important. So figure out what you love, and/or what you have to offer, find some young people with whom you can share it, and get in on the fun.

Milva McDonald has been a homeschooling mom for 18 years. Her children are 24, 22, 12, and 10. During that time, she's been active in her local support group, led book groups, and facilitated writing groups for area homeschoolers. She is also a founding member of AHEM. Milva enjoys reading, writing, singing, socializing, and the Red Sox. See more of her writing at examiner.com:http://www.examiner.com/x-15576-Boston-Homeschooling--Secondary-Education-Examiner