Ep. 94 || Freedom in Education Choices: An Interview with Melissa Kruger on Private Schooling, Part Two Transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Laura:  Hey guys, Laura here. Welcome to part two of our 4-part series on educating our children and the gospel. If you missed it, last week Emily and I kicked it off with an overall discussion about education. Since we’re on the front end of making the choice for our own children, we chatted through all of the emotions that come with the decision, and the freedom that we can find in the gospel for individual families to come to different conclusions on this decision. Today we’ll be talking with Melissa Kruger who is using private education for her children. She’ll be sharing how God uniquely led her family to educate her children in this way.

Melissa serves on staff as Women’s Ministry Coordinator at her church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is the author of multiple books. One is a devotional that we often recommend at Risen Motherhood, Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood. Her newest book, In All Things: A Nine-Week Devotional on Unshakeable Joy, releases later this year. She blogs for The Gospel Coalition at Wits End, and you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. All of those will be linked on the show notes for this week. In addition, I just want to make sure all of you know about our landing page at risenmotherhood.com/education. This will be a special spot designated on our site for all our education resources. We know this is a big, important topic, so we want to make it super easy to find everything. There you’ll find the links to all of the interviews as we have them available, all the extra resources and tools that we found helpful, and the questionnaire document that we’ve developed. This is a document that you can use with your family to help serve as a springboard of things to think about as you and your family consider the decision of how to educate your child. Okay, now it’s time for the interview. Here is Melissa, Emily, and me.

Laura: Hi Melissa. Thank you so much for joining us today on Risen Motherhood.

Melissa:  Thanks for having me.

Laura: We are really happy to have you here. Can you start off by telling us a bit about your family, and what your typical day looks like? Of course, on Risen Motherhood we always love learning about your kiddos too.

Melissa:  Great. I am a mom to three kids; I have a 17-year-old daughter. I can’t believe she’s that old, which sounds terrible to say. Then I have a 14-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, as well. So we’re in 5th, 8th, and I have a Junior in high school right now. We’re kind of in that tween and teen years, and I love these years. It’s been a lot of fun. My husband is Mike, a professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary. I spend my days working for my church – Uptown Church – and I also work for a ministry called The Gospel Coalition, editing for them. Those are the things we’re busy doing all day.

Emily:  That’s awesome. We are so excited to hear more about that season of life too; I feel like it’s a different world that we’re not in yet.

Laura:  We’re looking forward to that world. [laughter]

Melissa:  I think it’s a great stage.

Emily:  I like hearing that.

Laura:  I know!

Emily:  That’s so encouraging.

Melissa:  I love it. I remember the young years, which I loved when I was in them with my kids. But they are hard. I mean, there’s just day after day of a lot of needs. It’s therefore nice to have some different type of work now. But I’ve enjoyed the teen years. I like talking to my kids.

Laura:  I love hearing that. I know, I like talking to my kids too when they learn to talk back. [Laughter]

Emily:  I want to talk to them about things other than, “Where are your shoes? Can you please go find those?” I want to have different conversations, so that’s encouraging.

Laura:  Melissa we wanted to have you on the show today to talk a little bit about your choice to privately educate your children. We know that you’ve been doing that for a while. Can you walk us through a little bit, like how long your kids have been in the private schooling system, and why you chose to educate them in that way?

Melissa: It is surprising to me. We’ve been in the private school system from the very beginning. When my oldest was 5, we started her at a great school here in Charlotte. I’ll be honest, it was much to my surprise since I grew up public school all the way and even taught in public high school. And I loved getting to do that. We moved to Charlotte, and we had researched different choices. We went to visit the school that we ended up at and just fell in love with what they were doing in the school. It reinforced everything we were doing in the home, which was a real positive thing to us. But one other big factor for us was that it was just so much smaller. As an educator, I had always been a fan of small classroom sizes, so that was one of the benefits.

But even as we made the choice that first year, we viewed it as a, “We will take this year by year as to what we will choose.” Therefore, we were open to all the options, and it has just turned out that, year by year, we have stayed in the same place, and we’ve been very thankful to be there.

Emily:  I love what you’re sharing. We have just dipped a toe in the education world with our oldest in early kindergarten. We have been in private school, and we’ve experienced some of the same things. I’ve seen a reinforcement of what we’re doing at home and the very small class sizes, which is kind of a neat feature of some private schools. But I like how you shared that it is year by year. I am amazed that even what we set out and planned to do when our kids were born – and when they were two-years-old –just changes every year. Every plan changes every year, so that’s just really encouraging to hear that you guys are still evaluating that, and there are different factors to consider as time goes on.

Laura: Along with that, we wanted to have you on to talk a little bit about that freedom in our decision. I know, as Emily said, we’re dipping our toes – both of us are right on the precipice of really making longer-term schooling decisions for our kids. But can you talk us through the gospel, and how and why we as Christian parents do have freedom to make the choice? Because it can feel so hard; it just feels like your whole life rides on this decision, your child’s life rides on this decision, and it’s going to be so defining. So what comfort can we get from the gospel?

Melissa: What I like to tell parents is you’re the biggest influencer of your child’s education, which can actually be terrifying maybe, depending on how you feel about your parenting that day. But it is helpful to remember that whatever school option you pick – if you are in a public school, or homeschooling or in private, Christian school, or just private school. I mean, there are a lot of private schools out there that are not Christian in their emphasis – they will be influenced by whatever teacher they have during these different years in school. But what I see over and over again is that the defining factor in our children is the feel of the home that they are in everyday. The habits that we create in the home are teaching our children much more than they are actually learning in the school system is what we have seen. You can have that even in private Christian school, and there a lot of different ways people are viewing faith, even in our situation. A lot has to do with what’s going on in the home, and this is where the passage in Deuteronomy is so important. When Moses is talking to the Israelites and he’s saying, “Teach them when you’re walking along the road, when you’re sitting down, when you’re standing up.” What we’re doing in the little moments of our days with our children teaches them so much about life. How we respond, how we are prayerful or not prayerful, if we’re women of the word or not women of the word – all of those are teaching our children about life in deeper ways than we realize. Therefore, whatever school option we pick, it’s always good to remember that no matter where we put them for schooling, we’re always their primary educators. I find that pretty helpful most days. Some days, maybe not so much. But overall, it’s encouraging to know that even if our children are around other people, our habits in the home – what we’re teaching them – are the things that, over the long haul, are really going to teach our children.

Emily: Something that we keep learning over and over again, as Laura and I have been talking through these issues, is that the culture of the home has a tremendous influence on our kids. The culture of our homes is really formed by the habits of mom and dad and what they’re seeing us doing. I am curious; when your kiddos are in school all day, what does it look like to model that walk with Christ when they are at home for those few hours in the evening before they go to bed? Or in the morning? Are there a few things that you do intentionally to kind of shape them in those hours?

Melissa: One of the things that we do, we used to have family Bible reading time at night. Actually I’ll be honest, my husband would do that; that was my break time. He would go and read them a Bible story or whatever, and they’d talk about it. Now that they’re all in school, that time has actually changed to the morning. We all sit at the breakfast table, we have a devotional and some time to talk about it, and we take time as a family to pray together. We have cards for each day. It’s nice having a family of five, so each day we pray for a different person in our family. Then we have a missionary or a leader in our community that we pray for. What’s been great about that is that our kids get to know a little bit about the different missionaries we support, and they get to pray for their school, the community of our city, and our state, and our president. We’re trying to teach these habits again by actually doing it. I hope that when they go off, they’ll remember like, “Oh, you don’t just pray for your needs. You’re supposed to pray for what’s going on in your community and for missionaries who are far from us,” and things like that. Again, we’ve just found example in day-to-day life impacts more than anything else. I never really sat down with my kids and said, “You need to read the Bible everyday.” I mean, I am sure maybe I’ve said that at some point, but I’ll see all of my children choosing to read their Bibles. It’s this amazing thing – you pray for that for years, and they really do follow our example of what they see our lives being about. That’s a beautiful thing. My 11-year-old will say, “I need a devotional mom. I’ve got to get on it.” I am glad she’s holding me accountable to get hold of one. I like it.

Emily:  It’s so encouraging too because no matter what we choose for our education method, that’s still something we can all do in the home. It’s just something that can be universal, and sometimes people can feel like, “Oh, if you homeschooled, it may be a little bit easier to do that later in your day.” But you can still do that, whether you do private school or public school. I love that.

Melissa:  That’s right.

Laura:  Melissa, something that I know in any major decision that we make outside of schooling is a lot of times we just go through a lot of second-guessing or anxiety. Maybe you’ve made the decision, but down the road you’re feeling, “Oh my goodness, I’m not sure if that was right.” Did you ever struggle through guilt or anxiety over your decision? And what gospel hope did you kind of preach to yourself in that moment?

Melissa: Every time the bill comes through the mail, I am just like, “Huh, are we going to be able to do this every year?” Because I would say definitely with private, Christian education, the reality is there’s a very literal cost that you’re seeing every month. You have to say, “Could this money have gone to missionaries?” This is the guilt I feel sometimes; like better use of resources. I mean, that’s always the question you’re asking yourself when it comes to paying for private school. At that point you have to go back, you look at each other and you say, “This is probably what we want to keep doing.” You therefore pray about it a lot and then realize that there is freedom to how we do use our money. We’ve decided that this is worth it in the end, and we’re so thankful for what they’re getting to learn and to be a part of there, and how it’s reinforcing some of the things that we hope for them to love: just to see all of education through the lens of “God made the world” and “God cares about these different subjects.” I have good friends who’ve made every single choice. Some have made every single choice as one individual for public school. They’ve done all of the different private schools. The good news of the gospel is we are not saved by our parenting choice about what school they go to. There’s definitely the sense of God can work in their lives in the public school system. I mean, I became a Christian through the public school system through ministry at public school. That’s one reason why I wanted to go back into the public school. But he can also build up their faith through private, Christian education. He can also build up the family and the home through homeschooling. He is at work in all of these places.

That’s the hope for us as parents – that we can trust he is going to lead and guide us based on numerous factors about where he puts us. That he has a reason for us to be in whichever place he’s placed us. That’s what we hold onto. We have a good God who is over all things, and we can trust he’s leading our family’s lives.

Emily:  That is a big encouragement. Something you pulled out that I notice I’ve done is oftentimes we bring our own experiences of school into the equation. Which, I think, is good in a lot of ways because we should learn from experiences from the past. But also, more than that, we need to trust God with whatever circumstances he’s given us, and whatever he’s leading us to do. I know for me, I sometimes bring bad memories or experiences into it, and it’s like, “No, I can trust God that he can work differently than maybe what experience I had.” But then you’re saying, as well, even if we don’t get to do exactly what we preferred, or how he worked in our situation, it’s still, “No, he can work in our children’s lives. He’s not constrained by our schooling choice, and he’s actually sovereign over that.” Thanks for bringing that out.

Melissa:  It’s interesting. I really had a hard time deciding to do private, Christian school because I felt like my faith had grown so much because I was in a public environment. It just was always the opposite. I had to learn to be bold in sharing the gospel with people, because I was in this large public high school. I was concerned that my kids would never learn to do that. But what I’ve loved watching is how every year, all throughout elementary school, they have Missions Week at my kids’ school. Every one of my kids just has this heart for the nations. My oldest daughter right now is actually working with this soccer ministry, and she is with this whole group of young girls from Nepal. They’re here in our city, and she comes back glowing, giddy to work with them. God has worked on her heart to give her a love for sharing the gospel with people and working with these kids. It’s just wonderful to see that it’s him in our children that makes them love sharing the gospel with people. It’s not just the experiences we have, which, so often we can think, “Oh, it’s because I grew up this way.” But that is just how he worked in me, so he can work differently in them. But yes, it’s tough and you always worry about these things as you’re parenting. [Laughter]

Laura:  And with that Melissa, what would you say to a mom listening, and even her husband – I know a lot of husbands listen to Risen Motherhood actually, which is pretty cool. [Laughter] Maybe the wives are making them, I am not really sure – But what advice would you offer to two parents, or a mom that is thoughtfully and prayerfully wanting to work through the various education options? How do they really find out what the right fit is? The million dollar question, right? [laughter]

Melissa:  Yes, that’s right. The first thing, obviously, is to pray that the Lord would give you not just wisdom, but also what I like to call kind of “divine encounters.” That you talk to just the right person at just the right time, and that the Lord will guide you in that. That he would just give you really good insight on what is going on. But also I do think it matters so much for your individual child. As we all know, every child is different even if they come from the same two parents. We have three very different children, so every education choice isn’t necessarily the same, even for every child. I know friends who have children who are really gifted in certain musical talents; they’ve chosen public school for high school because the kids had more opportunity there than they could at a private school in our situation. Be open to all the options and really research them as you’re thinking through this. Be open-hearted before the Lord and willing to do what he might ask you to do. That might seem very outside of your box; I know for many of my friends, homeschooling did not feel like anything they ever thought they would do. They have found themselves homeschooling and actually loved it. I’ve watched different people make choices that were kind of outside of their box. I feel like they’ve been women who I respect so much because they’ve been open-hearted to what the Lord wanted. They haven’t just said, “No, this is what I want.” They’ve really looked at their child and said, “I need to do what’s best for my child. Not just what I think might be easiest.” Or, “I have something to prove by doing either option.” I do believe he just directs us in all these things.

Laura:   I wonder how many moms out there who are past the decision-making stage, or at least the initial decision-making stage, will actually say that they did what they thought they would do with their education choice. [Laughter]

Melissa:  I know. That’s a really good question. I was even a teacher, and I was terrified to homeschool. But I ended up homeschooling my kids one semester. We lived overseas in England, so it was just easier to homeschool them because we were there for just a little time. I asked my kids afterwards, “Would you all want to do that again?” [They were like, “No!” I laughed. I was actually a teacher; it should have been easy. They were like, “We’d really rather go back to the school mom.” I said, “That’s great, we’ll do that.” [Laughter]

Emily:  That’s great. Well, we really appreciate you being willing to come on and share from somebody who’s much further ahead of us in the process and to offer encouragement and hope. I know it’s the same for many moms who are listening and kind of wringing their hands, wondering what to do and feeling afraid of making the wrong choice– that we do have freedom in Christ and we can trust God. More than anything, we can pour into the culture of our home by just working out an authentic relationship with Christ in front of our kids and living out that day by day. Yes, and just trusting him. Here I am just preaching it to myself instead of listening. [Laughter] Thank you so much for joining us.

Melissa:  Thanks for having me. It’s been fun.

Laura:  Thanks Melissa. Thanks for tuning in today to the Risen Motherhood podcast. We encourage you to check out our web page, risenmotherhood.com/education. On that page, we’ve made it easy to find all our resources on this topic, with links to interviews and the education questionnaire. Plus tons of additional articles and tools that we’ve found helpful for our families as we navigate this topic. And of course we’d love it if you came and found us on social media, where you can keep up with the ministry of Risen Motherhood. You’ll find us @risenmotherhood on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks for joining us.