Well, you did it. After twelve years of school–maybe even homeschool–your child has finally graduated. Congragulations!
For some students there’s no question, because they already have a job or apprenticeship or college lined up. But what about those who don’t? What about a daughter who wants to get married and raise a family, and isn’t planning for a career? What about a son who doesn’t know what he wants to do? Is this a time for them to take a vacation and live a life of leisure until something better comes along?
Charlotte Mason devoted an entire section to this question in the fifth volume of her series (“Some Studies in the Formation of Character,” starting on page 236). She was talking specifically about girls coming home from boarding school, because that was a common scenario in her day, but the principles and suggestions apply to any graduate who’s in the period between school and adult life.
Students coming out of public or private school may need more time to develop their characters. They’ll need to weed out bad habits, learn appropriate manners, and improve thinking patterns that may have gotten lazy. They’ll probably benefit from some exposure to art and culture that school couldn’t provide. They may have absorbed current trends in thinking without realizing it, so you might bring up current issues and challenge them to back up their opinions–force them to think out why they think what they do.
It’s typical for youths to be obsessed with themselves. This is a great time to help them learn to focus elsewhere: to realize that others have the same noble ideas and intentions, experience the same feelings, and have the same rights as they do. Charlotte Mason’s fourth book, “Ourselves,” can be a wonderful way to teach this others-centered perspective.
Graduates aren’t children any more and can’t be controlled or punished like children. Although they’re still living under your roof and need to respect house rules, they are entitled to some freedom in deciding how to schedule their time, how to spend their money, which books to read and clothes to wear, and who to be friends with. It takes time to learn to make good decisions, and it’s better for them to make their mistakes and learn personal discipline now rather than later when frivolous spending or bad time management could mean having no rent money or losing a job.
But you should have some expectations, and you should keep an eye on how your child spends their time. There should be a limit on nights out: a couple of nights a week is great for a young person who needs a social life, but they should also spend nights at home taking part in the quieter joys of family life. They should have duties or chores at home that depend on them. They should have a daily schedule that includes two hours out-of-doors for exercise, two hours of educational reading, and time to learn what it takes to run a household. A son as well as a daughter should know how to do some basic cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, sewing, and housecleaning. Even if he never lives alone, a man who can do those things will be a great blessing to his wife when she’s sick or recuperating from childbirth (or just frazzled after a long day with a toddler!). But so long as everything gets done, you can let the graduate decide how to allot their time.
Life can go on this way for a year or two with the youth enjoying a relaxed life at home, helping out around the house and learning some skills for later. But at some point, he or she will become restless. Everyone yearns to be needed and to do something useful in the world, and a life without a way to meet that yearning (which is a basic human need) can make a person feel like they’re just spinning their wheels. A girl waiting for Mr. Right to find her might need to enroll in some classes or consider a career, at least for the short term. In Charlotte Mason’s day girls were limited to either nursing or teaching, but these days almost any career is open to them. If money isn’t an urgent need, then ministry or volunteer work might be a good option. Serving their country in the military is another possibility for a youth who needs real work.
There’s plenty to do with a graduated student–developing good habits, taking in art and culture with them, encouraging them to think out their beliefs, training them in life skills, doing educational reading, letting them practice decision-making with their growing freedom. If the interim while waiting for adult life is grasped as a final season of preparation, then the time between graduation and the next step won’t be wasted. Well spent, it’s an opportunity to teach a student how to really live.