Raising Children is Like Reading a Good Novel

I’ve been thinking about novels lately, since mine, The Paradise Project, has just been released by Hillside Education. It was a joy to write, and I hope it will bring joy to all those who have the chance to read it. But it reminds me of a thought I’ve had regarding our children and their rapid growth to independence and adulthood…

It may sound strange at first, but I think that raising children is like reading a good novel. You want to enjoy it while it’s happening, but in the thick of it you can’t help but feel a certain tension, wanting to know how it will turn out.

If you trust the author, you know a novel will turn out well, but you still find yourself racing through to make sure, to see exactly how…And it’s a paradox, because you’re enjoying the novel—though you’d enjoy it all more if you weren’t in such a hurry to get to the end!—but there’s this tension until you get to the end…and then when you do get to the end, and they live happily ever after, you’re sad because you’ve finished…You find yourself back at the place you started (though enriched), looking for another good book to read.

So too, in raising our children, and all the more so when we’re homeschooling them—in the thick of it, we’re in the best years of our life: tell yourself that, or let me tell you that! We have to remind ourselves, because otherwise it just feels like a race to the finish, to see how it all turns out.

This past year, our older son, who’d graduated from college and traveled and worked on the East Coast, came home to live with us while he applied to grad school. So we got to have him back with us again, and it was such a joy. A priest friend visited in December and said Mass in our home, and at the prayers of the faithful he prayed for our family and asked God for the grace for us to enjoy this special time with our whole family together. I tried to remember that often this year, because we all have our ups and downs—and it helped to tell myself: this is a special time; this is the time you’ll look back on and say, “That’s when we were all together!”

You may wonder, as I have, if it wouldn’t be better if you weren’t so all together all the time (!) but believe me, before you know it, you’ll have done what God asked, which is to help your children be ready to leave, and then you’ll miss them, just like when I was a little girl and I wept at the end of Little Women because I wanted it to keep going. Sure there were sequels, like there are in all our lives, and will be in our children’s lives when they marry and have children or enter religious life and become fathers and mothers of souls…But I wanted to be back with Jo in the thick of her childhood!

I’ll take this analogy one step further to give you a hint as to how you can focus on the joy of being in the middle of the novel, being in the middle of raising your children, rather than racing through.

When I was in college I had to read War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov. These are huge novels, and I’m so glad I read them then, because as time has progressed, I’m much more a fan of the light novel, the romantic comedy, Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse and that sort of thing (which is, in fact, the kind of thing, in a lesser sort of way, that I wrote in The Paradise Project), and I’m hoping never to read huge intense Russian novels again. But these were magnificent and I’m glad I did read them, when I was young and had the energy.

The important point I want to make, though, is that these enormously long novels were assigned for the beginning of senior year, and then right after Christmas break, so we could read them during the long breaks before we had class on them. And that meant that I enjoyed reading these novels because I could take my time over them, at least until I got two thirds of the way through, and the break was about over and class was looming—then I rushed, but I was rushing anyway because I had to see how they turned out!

Unfortunately, when I had to read Moby Dick for class, it was in the middle of the semester, and I tried to read it in a weekend. How I hated that book! I tried to race through it (I had to, I had no leisure, no time at all before I had to be finished) and the consequence was I hated that weekend and didn’t like the book at all.

The moral or hint I want to draw out is this: as much as you’re anxious and curious and in a hurry to see how your children will turn out, do your best to enjoy them. Take your time, don’t rush them. Another paradox about homeschooling is that each day can seem like it is definitely 24 hours long, and the longest day of your life, but then the days accumulate and somehow whiz by and there you are, at the end. You can make the time go by faster if you cram in tons of activities, and our culture will help you for sure! But try to savor the middle. You can trust the Author that things will turn out for the best in the end. Meanwhile, He delights in nothing more than your delight in all the interesting plot twists and turns that make up the muddle that is the middle.

Author: Suzie Andres

Submitted by Suzie Andres, homeschooling mother and author of A Little Way of Homeschooling; Homeschooling with Gentleness (now available in a 2nd edition); and a novel, The Paradise Project.