The Climb

by Jen McDonald

“Come on, Mom! You can do it!”

I paused at the base of yet another hill, panting for breath, and looked up. My husband (who does weird things like run six miles at once for fun) and my oldest daughter were near the top, beckoning and encouraging. I’d thought we were nearly finished with this hike, yet looking beyond them, I could see another peak, and another, and another. . .

Though we’d been hiking for a couple of hours already, we weren’t even close to being finished.

Living in Hawaii, one of our favorite family activities is hiking. Each week or two, we choose a different trail to explore, in hopes of viewing scenery off the beaten path and experiencing as much as we can while we’re stationed here with the Air Force. Our children are older and busy with jobs and college classes, so the “gang” hiking varies with each trek.


This time, it was just me, my husband, and our seventeen-year-old daughter. As they went on ahead of me (my family knows that I move a little slower after knee surgery a few years ago, but that I’ll get there . . . eventually), I had to quit focusing on the distance ahead of me, but concentrate on the next step only. I had to take my mind off The Climb (and I don’t mean the obnoxious Miley Cyrus song).


Since we’ve homeschooled for umpteen years (okay, almost eighteen), the parallels between homeschooling and hiking are not lost on me. As we head into a new school year, I hope some of them will encourage you, as they did me!


As I mentioned, when hiking, I do best by concentrating on the next few steps, not on the distance still left to go. With homeschooling (or parenting, in general), it’s best if I deal specifically with whatever hand I’m dealt for the year, the month, even the week, instead of attempting to figure out every possible scenario ahead of time. This definitely goes against the grain for a list-checker like me!

But I cannot know what a year will bring. I don’t know what learning challenges, illnesses, moves, or deployments (since we are military) will come up. I can’t even know that, the week I have an awesome field trip and hands-on activity all prepped and planned, the whole “class” will come down with the stomach flu. But God does. Whether big challenges or little, God is not surprised and promises the strength to get through each season.




I can be a bit stubborn — just ask my husband. There have been numerous times when Steve navigates a difficult part of a muddy path and extends his hand back to help me. Usually, I accept the help, but sometimes I protest, “No, I’ve got this!” On our last hike, I said those words right before I slipped and nearly toppled off the side of a boulder. Why? Because of pride. I want to prove that I can do it myself.



If you’re going to make it through the long haul of homeschooling, you need someone alongside. Whether that person is your spouse, a close friend, a support group, or an online community, find your “help.” Helping yourself may also involve taking some moments before the day starts to gather your thoughts and enjoy a quiet cup of coffee. It may be giving yourself permission to go out alone from time to time, without guilt!






I’ve found that my husband’s and my definition of “hiking” varies greatly. To me, anything involving a sheer rock face is not hiking, it’s rock climbing. To him — the more dangerous, the better! Coming across a steep trail with ropes attached to pull oneself up is great fun . . . in his world. I prefer my feet firmly on the ground, thank you very much, but I make the best of it, with only a few grumbles about being tricked into rock climbing again.


In homeschooling, I often have a set idea of how things should go, whether it is a curriculum, schedule, or method. Yet I’ve ended up with children whose learning styles vary greatly from each other. What worked for the oldest doesn’t always work with the next one. And the fit between my preferred teaching method and a particular child’s learning style isn’t always smooth. Learning flexibility has been one of my greatest personal lessons in our homeschool. The teacher has been taught.


On a long hike, it’s easy to forget to simply enjoy the scenery. Often, I am so focused on my breathing or getting a drink of water that I lose the enjoyment. But, especially here in O’ahu, there are stunning vistas and breathtaking views. I have to consciously remind myself to stop, look around, listen to the sounds of the jungle, and appreciate the scenery.


When you’re in the midst of teaching a pre-reader to sound out vowels, potty-training a toddler, and wiping up the little messes all day that go along with a growing family, it can be easy to miss the “scenery.” Stop. Take a moment and admire the baby’s dimpled fingers, the way the pre-reader furrows his brow and sticks his tongue out as he concentrates on “bat.” This time will pass more quickly than you realize, and you don’t want to miss these fleeting moments as you strive to keep everyone on task.




Since we hike a lot of mountains, it’s easy to become focused on the destination — the summit. In fact, we have some friends that time themselves and practically race to the top! (I don’t understand those people!) But I’ve learned that the journey is as important as the destination. While there is something satisfying about the accomplishment of reaching the top, in retrospect, I often realize that some of the best moments and views were on the way up and in the meandering side paths we took.

As homeschoolers, we want our children to do well. We hope that they will be smart, have a well-rounded education, get into good colleges, or find a career that they love. But in reaching that goal, let’s not let the destination become the main thing. Let’s not race to the top. Allow yourself to take a side trail once in a while, whether it’s in the form of a project you wouldn’t normally do, letting your kids plan and cook a meal, taking an unexpected day off to enjoy the sunshine, or whatever else refreshes you and your children.



Jen McDonald has been "married to the military" for over 25 years. A mom of four, including three homeschooled graduates, she's a foodie, insomniac, coffee addict, and runner wanna-be. An experienced writer and editor, she’s contributed to several books, written for numerous national publications, and will release her own book for military spouses this year. She loves to connect with other military spouses and homeschooling moms via her Facebook page, on Twitter and Instagram as @jenmcdonald88, and at


Used with Permission: Originally Published at

Write a comment

Comments: 0