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Asha Dornfest

Author & Home School Teacher

Portland, OR

Leaning into a problem doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. But learning to trust yourself as you move through the various intersections of your life changes everything, and makes it more likely you’ll sense the path you need to take going forward.

My son started fourth grade at a small private school geared toward kids who struggled in a traditional classroom. We couldn’t afford to send him there, but we didn’t know where else to turn. After a two-year skid through various public schools and a myriad of therapies and interventions, we were out of options.

But despite the specialized environment, our son was still locked in a downward spiral of depression and anxiety. Everything about him suffered: his academics, his social growth, and – most alarmingly – his health and self-image.

And so we did what we said we would never do: We pulled him out of school.

Home schooling was never part of my plan. Frankly, it wasn’t even a method I fully believed in. I didn’t see myself as a teacher. My husband and I feared we would derail our son’s development completely. Doctors, educators and even some family members questioned our decision. As for me personally, I was already on shaky ground after many challenging years of parenting. I was terrified I would essentially disappear.

And yet, despite our fear and lack of confidence, we found the strength to lean into the challenge. Somehow, we sensed this was the path to take. I won’t say “knew,” because knowledge had little to do with it. “Leaning” describes it perfectly because it was only after we surrendered our equilibrium that we could see we’d made the right decision.

It took time, but slowly, quietly, my son returned. Learning at home gave him the breathing room he needed to feel safe again. He began to trust the world and his ability to move through it. His willingness to scale the slope of a learning curve increased. By the end of what would have been fifth grade, he pressed us for more academic difficulty and variety, and his self-confidence soared.

That fall, the boy who wouldn’t set foot inside a school building 18 months earlier enrolled in our neighborhood public school for sixth grade — and has thrived ever since.

It would be easy to end the story there, but there’s more to it. The experience changed me as much as it did my son. As his trust in the world – and himself – grew, so did mine. I’ve brought the confidence I gained through this process into everything I’ve done since then, both in work and parenting. Now, when I wrestle with a decision about a new writing project or a dilemma at home, I consult myself first, rather than looking to “experts” to define my baseline. This is not to say I always feel confident about my decisions, but I at least trust myself enough to claim the final say.

Leaning into a problem doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. But learning to trust yourself as you move through the various intersections of your life changes everything, and makes it more likely you’ll sense the path you need to take going forward.

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