“Scoot together and say cheese!” I said, pointing the camera in their direction. The girls scrunched their bodies closer, chocolate dripping from their chins, doing their best to control their silliness long enough for a quick photo.
It was the last official night of summer and my daughter and I had invited another mother-daughter duo to join us for a slumber party in celebration of the upcoming first day of kindergarten.
Decked in their jammies, they filled ice cream bowls with questionable amounts of colored sprinkles and through whispers and giggles shared their hopes of the upcoming school year when they’d each go their separate ways – one down the street to the public school and one down the hall to the kitchen table. They were two girls who loved Jesus and loved each other. Neither feared their schooling path or what it might do to their relationship.
I wish I could say the same for their mothers. The other mom and I were draped in anxiety, wondering if we’d each chosen the right path – wondering how our decision would affect our friendship. Come Monday morning, her daughter would step onto the big yellow bus with all the other kindergarten hopefuls and mine would not. We each silently nursed our own fears. Would the public school sacrifice her daughter to a life void of Christ? Would homeschooling create social awkwardness and weak faith in mine? Which choice was the right one?
To add insult to injury, what should have been a personal and prayerful choice made by each of our families ended up creating a tsunami of struggle in our social circles. It seemed that everyone had an opinion about our plans. I was a trained school teacher choosing to cross the party line and abandon my post. And she was a stay-at-home mom who should’ve known better than to force her little one out of the nest too soon. Or so we were told. There were times when every conversation we had with other mothers seemed to be sprayed with tension – as if by rejecting a friend’s choice we were rejecting a friend. So many of our relationships began to unravel.
But educational choice was never intended to be a popularity contest. God holds this particular parenting decision out to us. He gives us a choice. It is not a foundation of the gospel – it is not a savior, but a freedom that we have in Christ. We have his full permission to pray, asking him to direct our steps even if they might be different from the steps he’s ordered for others.
It’s been over 10 years since that slumber party. Those giggling girls with chocolate smeared faces are now juniors in high school. Their schooling paths may have veered in different directions, but they’ve both come to the same end. They still love Jesus and they still love each other. They are patient and kind. Compassionate and open-handed. Their faith continues to grow and mature, not in spite of where they learned their ABCs, but because of it. God knew which way they each should go – which unique set of struggles and strengths would lead to their ultimate good and his ultimate glory. Their stories are obviously not complete. There’s still many miles they’ve yet to travel. But these foundational years, have definitely been used to start them out well.
Today, I hold a picture in my hands – a fading photo of two little girls. One is missing a front tooth and the other has a cowlick that refuses to be tamed. They’re wearing jammies and lopsided smiles, anticipating big things in the weeks to come. Somewhere in the background are two mothers, fearful that perhaps they’ve each made the wrong choice. If I could go back in time to that moment of beginnings, I’d hug those mothers close. I’d cup their shaking chins and tell them these simple life-giving words: There is freedom in school choice. One way is not right. One way is not better. God can use both.
Jamie Erickson is wife to her college sweetheart and mother to five blissfully abnormal kids. When she’s not curating memories, hoarding vintage books, or playing ringmaster to a circus of her own making, she can be found encouraging and equipping a growing tribe of mothers all across the globe on the Mom to Mom podcast, through her blog The Unlikely Homeschool, at national conferences, and in her book Homeschool Bravely: How to Squash Doubt, Trust God, and Teach Your Child With Confidence.