Roughly 5 years ago, while still living in South Africa, we decided to home-school our children. The choice was made based on a deep desire. The desire had a lot to do with the changing climate of schooling in South Africa, the emotional well-being of our children and honestly, just a need to be closer as a family. At the time our daughter was 7 yrs old and our son was 5 yrs old. Both had been to pre-school and our daughter had experienced 1.5 yrs of school and was in second grade. They had a small taste of what “school” was like, and neither were ecstatic about the whole ordeal.
We started off by de-schooling, breaking the routines and structures they had learned by being in school. The motivation for this was to bring them back to wanting to learn, to re-establish their confidence and sense of self. We made fun out of every learning situation, we used everyday life to explore and master new skills. We laughed, we cried, we read, we went on outings, we did our work and yes, I admit it was all very eclectic. We made friends with like minded people and had a vast support structure that grew with every passing day.
The children were openly communicating and learning to navigate their ever-changing moods, desires and needs. They got to spend time with their grandparents on a whim and they even found their own independence in it all. We as a family started drawing closer to each other. Learning about each personality that lived in our house. We learned to work together, to tackle tasks whether it be schoolwork, grocery shopping or housekeeping as a team. We went on holidays, something we could never afford or had the time to do. We went on day trips and outings not only for “school” but just as a family. Because my husband didn’t have the restrictions of always being in an office, we managed to connect with our children and them with us in a truly deeply, honest and loving way. It was the beginning and the foundation of a truly amazing journey.
One of the biggest changes that came happened in about March of 2017, 7 months before we moved to the Netherlands. We as a family started to journey in our faith collectively. We started listening to each other instead of filling our time with activities, we started communicating with love as opposed to being short and misunderstanding each other. The children asked so many questions about God, creation and the sacrifice of Jesus that we could barely keep up, this was a great and wonderful turning point in our lives.
By September 2017 we were in the final phases of moving away from South Africa, my husband had found work in the Netherlands and we had packed up our home and went to live on the family plot while we waited to leave. The time spent on the plot is a priceless gift not one of us will ever forget. We got to spend time with family, friends and loved ones from all around, we ensured we had all we needed for the move (well all that held value). We had long talks with Granny, Grandpa and Uncle B, we attended gatherings at family and friends houses. We laughed and talked and cried. We ate breakfast everyday with people we loved and adored. We sat around a dinner table every evening and built precious memories while we took it all in. We have memories that will last the span of forever because of that time. If we were not homeschooling, those days would have been far too few and the time would have moved so much quicker.
In November of 2017, we arrived in the Netherlands, we had a place to start building our new home (thanks to Husband), our cats were on route and the few boxes we had air-freighted were carrying the personal touch our house needed to make it a home. It was hard, we had just left our home, our family, our friends, everything we knew in pursuit of a new life and a fresh start.
The first 1.5 yrs were the hardest. We had to settle in, get used to the fact that the children had to go to school and learn a new language. We had to get used to shopping in Dutch, that entails weaving in an out of shops until you find what you are looking for and at the right bargain price. We had to learn to ONLINE shop, because that is what is done. We had to use buses, trains and bicycles to get around, do our shopping and explore this new world. We were meeting new people, exploring options for the school after the language classes. Getting used to allergies, fighting our way through old habits that cause destruction, all the while we had to stand strong. We had to be the family that found its strength while we were still in South Africa.
Here’s the thing though, the years prior to that, we had taken a journey to connect as a family on a deeper level. Those lessons, the understanding of each other, the emotions, the strengths and weaknesses, the desires and needs. If we didn’t home-school, we would have taken this giant leap and found ourselves in very deep water. I do not deny that this entire change knocked us off our feet. We had wild ideas of how it was going to work out. We make mistakes, but we always get up from them. Because of the honest relationship we share as a family, even when things are not going according to plan, we always communicate openly.
Yeah, we strayed back to being foolish, but the children (yes, the children) were confident enough to call us out on the nonsense. We had become so accustomed to this “open communication” way of life, that our children were able to talk to us about where we as parents were not keeping up to our promises. This open communication is how we as parents identified with their needs, desires, dreams, heartache, joy and love. Because of homeschooling, we embrace touring around our new country, exploring and making adventures of the simplest of days. We live in peace in our home because we are aware of how each person (and animal) in our home is feeling. We pray together! We talk daily about the events of the day, we eat dinner together, we create menus for the week, for outings, for school and work everyday because we are a family that is connected to one another.
Yeah, of course it’s not all peaches and cream, we must deal with all the same stuff other families do. There are days when the children just want screen time, days where we have other children in our home, days where we are scratchy with each other and days where we must put our heads down and get the job done. We are not a family who draws perfect pictures. We are about raw and honest truth. If I have done something that is not good, or kind or in line with our convictions, they call me out, not in anger or with malice, but with love and this is applied to all members of the family. The same way we speak to them, they speak to us. If we do something wrong, we apologize, and we fix the situation. If someone needs to cry or get something off their chest, the floor is open.
The time we spent homeschooling, taught us as a family to connect, it taught us to be honest. We found our determination, our family connection, our open platform for communications and self-expression. We found a way to be more than just 4 people living together bound by 4 walls.
Now almost 2 years after our move to the Netherlands, we are feeling at home. We miss our family and friends from South Africa, but we are never far from them and all they are in our lives. The children are both in Dutch schools, learning and thriving while still playing and exploring their new lives. My husband and I are closer than ever, we are talking freely, we take time to spend as a family and as a couple. We make decisions with clear minds and we include the children in all that is happening around us. This move, was possibly the biggest risk I had ever taken, knowing all that life had rolled into the path ahead. The roadblocks are no longer experienced as hardships or failures, these obstacles are tackled with an understanding that this is a lesson, not a failure.
Because we have learned to navigate ourselves and the people around us, we are growing in confidence, we are reaching forward, we are adventuring while still doing what real life demands of us. Yes, there is still so much ahead, but I believe that the path behind us, the lessons learned, the emotions unlocked and exposed, has made the journey ahead so much clearer. The weaknesses and the strengths led us to this place. These real life experiences are what allowed for us to grow, to find home not in 4 walls or in a country, but in our family. We are home, us 4 people, with 4 cats living in a place that still feels new to us, we are home.
We have such a beautiful journey ahead, and we have learned so much up to this point, even though we know our road is not paved in gold, we have stood strong and we are moving forward to the future that has been prepared for us. So in this moment, as I sit here and reflect on the last 5 years, I have no regrets, I have no questions regarding the way it all played out and I am filled with confidence, because I know that with our faith in hand, our family standing strong, our minds filled with dreams and goals and our hearts filled with love, life will always be a beautiful journey.
Photo taken in Dullstroom about 4 yrs ago. One of our wonderful family adventures.
Our family theme song is: Rather Be, Clean Bandit (It is so fitting with this post)