Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Redemptive Motherhood

Holding Space for a Free Spirit

Welcome, sweet friends, and thank you for spending a few minutes to check out my 2017 Write 31 Days series: Redemptive Motherhood. I hope this glimpse into my motherhood journey makes you laugh and cry (the good kind of tears). I hope to surprise and delight you with the stories of these tender years, and I hope that if something you find here sparks a question or makes you curious about some part of my journey, that you will send me a personal note to connect. Thanks for reading.

Wonder can be lost, and confidence buried. The vibrant spirit can be weighed down and freedom can be taken. Truth can be obscured, strength can be impersonated, and the fear of failure can be deeply tucked away in the caverns of the heart where we barely recognize how it motivates every decision, and colors the lens through which we see everything around us.

Ask me how I know.

At 4 years old, I knew nothing of the undercurrent of the crumbled and complicated lives of adults. I spent my time sitting by the wildflowers my dad and I planted in our back yard, singing songs to myself while I picked a haphazard bouquets of flowers until my heart was content. I was carefree, imaginative, and weightless in the world of wonder I shared with my two year old kid-brother.

By the time I was seven and my second brother was a year old, things were a different story. Some of the trouble in our home kicked up, my eyes narrowed, and I traded the magic of  childhood for an oversized helping of worry for the next eight years, until the depression years began and further compounded the burdens I carried forward from there.

That means that sometime between age four and age seven, I lost some things that I never did see again until my oldest daughter was born. I have spent the last eleven years learning things about her and rediscovering things about myself. I can’t say I’ve liked everything that has bubbled up, but I have found that simply seeing what is there in the recesses of my heart has made me a better mom and a more courageous woman. A child is a mirror for the parent who is willing to see it.

While I’ve always been hyper-aware of social norms (so I can make sure I expertly fit into them), she is unaware or unconcerned with what people think (I can’t tell which it is), and I love that she is not bound to the need for approval, as I have been. She is creative, unafraid to try new things, always busy with a new artistic discipline or technique, always enthusiastic about learning and growing, even when it feels uncomfortable. In short, she is one of the most resilient, intentional people I know.

I recognized early on that she had her own brand of brilliance—the free spirit kind—and because I am acutely aware that free-spiritedness can be easily edged out by worry, I have gone out of my way to fiercely protect that childlike part of her, to hold space for her untamed heart. I see my mama role as one where I can best shape the identity of my children by giving them whitespace—beating back the sea of noise and voices that want to tell them who they are and what they must do to be enough—so they might discover for themselves what it is they have been created for. Let me tell you this: They were not created to stand in a line, to look like all the others, or to be timid, passive players in life.

For this reason, I have oriented my life around how to afford each of my kids the opportunity to explore the wonders and mysteries of the world, both outside and within themselves, by homeschooling them. Before this fair one, full of courage and creativity, turned five, I had zero intention of homeschooling her. I was not myself homeschooled. I actually looked at homeschool as a fairly weird or undesirable choice for my family, knowing that most homeschooled students I personally knew were on the quirky side, and that simply wouldn’t jive with my social norms paradigm.

It wasn’t until we were at the cusp of kindergarten enrollment that I started waffling. Our neighborhood school (the physical space) seemed cold and overwhelming. It was a secondary school building converted into an elementary, and did not have the warmth and design that would make a young child feel at home. I also happened to meet a mom with multiple children who sent her oldest daughter there a year before, and she relayed to me how she watched her vivacious, creative daughter closed in, struggled with challenging interpersonal issues (with other five year olds), and how and the end of that year, she decided she couldn’t continue watching her daughter flounder through the system. She pulled her out to homeschool. This conversation happened a few weeks before I would have enrolled my bright girl in this same school, and it was a critical conversation for me. I had never before considered that might shining girl could be stripped of her outside-the-box thinking and unique personality in a kindergarten classroom. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether that is what would have happened or not, but it set me on a new course.

With a desire to protect her active imagination, capable hands that figured out how things work, and intrinsic desire to learn, we started homeschooling that fall, mostly as an experiment. I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself, and reasoned that if it was a total failure, she could start kindergarten again at 6 in a school situation. We ended up having the time of our lives, learning, discovering many things about ourselves (myself most of all), and that one choice is something I feel has given her the room she needs to tend all her marvelous interests. She started sewing at 6 years old, and pieced together 3D stuffed animals without a pattern not long after that. She picks up creative skills like a boss, all of her own interest and motivation, and the many benefits we have experienced as a family cannot be overstated. She is curious, tenacious, and always is planning out the next mess, I mean project she is going to make.

I continue to guard the space around her because I believe it to be the best gift I can give her in these years before she launches into her adult life.

I don’t want her to spend her time trying to become desirable or praiseworthy in the eyes of others. I don’t want her to shrink to fit in the boxes that other people have constructed. I don’t want her to carry heavy things before she has the strength and maturity to do so. I don’t want her to lose the wonder, confidence, strength or freedom I see growing in her, and so I deliberately put her in spaces where these things are well-tended.

I want her to be concerned with being her most brilliant, fearless, and authentic self; unashamed, undeterred by limitations, and aware that she is loved for who she is, random quirkiness and all.

As I have intentionally held space for her free spirit, I have realized there has also been space for me to rediscover mine. My whole perspective about learning has changed. My approach to life has changed. My experience of freedom and delight in the small things is largely because of her insatiable desire to enjoy everything. It’s true when they say, “A child shall lead them.”

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1


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