“How can being home all day with a sick mother be the best thing for the children?” I’ve never been an anti-classroom zealot. That’s why it surprised me to hear the Spirit’s prompt to continue homeschooling when I became ill.
I argued with God
“Let’s be reasonable here,” I said. “How can I homeschool when just getting up in the morning is a struggle?” “With difficulty,” came the answer, “And with help. ” It is not the best thing for every child. But I somehow knew God wanted this for my children, at least for a season.
When I started homeschooling, I never imagined that I would become homebound with illness. In the fall of 2000, I served on the board of directors of Tampa Bay’s largest homeschooling co-op, started and ran a local curricula lending library, published a homeschooling newsletter and website, homeschooled my five children, and volunteered in my church.
I enjoyed the busyness of life and planned to expand my homeschool ministry year by year. By 2001, I needed a walker to go to the bathroom. Unrelenting pain and dizziness took me off guard. My already poor eyesight grew dimmer until I could no longer drive. Crushing fatigue kept me from the things that I loved to do. With frustrated plans and an uncertain future, I had to start over again with a new set of rules.
Life was not supposed to go this way
It took some time to realize that God had a plan for my children’s education, and His plan included my illness.
In those early days, I prayed for, and expected, total healing. The kids took a break from schoolwork as I looked for a solution to my health issues. I imagined a doctor, or a medicine, or an herb, or a diet, would fix everything. Then I would praise God for miraculous healing, and we would pick up where we left off.
No magic cure dropped from heaven. It became evident that God had a different route for my journey than I anticipated. Now came the hard decision: How could I tackle my children’s education when everything I knew was changed?
Through tears and time, I understood that God was not sleeping when I became sick. He didn’t look down one day and exclaim, “Oh no! I didn’t realize…!” No matter how out of control things seemed to me, they weren‘t.
God knew my children’s futures and the role that my illness would play in their overall development. He committed to their long-term well-being before I ever met them. He educates the whole child. Academics are important. But God is also interested in their spiritual, emotional, and character development.
I’m a glass half-empty kind of gal. I tend to think about how things should be, or how they might be, if only. That kind of thinking, however, paralyzes. It’s as if I walk out to the edge of the diving board and freeze, afraid that the pool of God’s grace is somehow not deep enough to safely receive my failings.
After a frustrating time of trying to pretend that sickness wasn’t really an issue, I learned some basics about how to work within my new situation. Maybe some of these suggestions can also help you work with the challenges of your illness or pain.
Make two schedules.
Make one schedule to follow when you are well and another for days that are more challenging. Wake up and bedtimes, mealtimes and naps should be the same. Post the schedules where everyone can see.
Get dressed everyday.
Get up. Get dressed. Wash your face. Brush your hair. If your illness prevents you from wearing regular clothes, invest in some housedresses or sweat pants, and comfortable slip on shoes. Getting up and dressed signals to your children and to yourself that it is a school day and you are ready to accomplish something.
Focus on the things that only you can do.
Anyone can grade papers, clean house and cook dinner. Only you can tease your husband, rock your baby, and say that same old joke in that irreplaceable way that you do. Only you can pray for your family with the earnestness of wife and mother. Use your limited energy to be the person God made you to be. That’s the person that your family needs the most.
Take short cuts.
For schooling, use pre-made curriculum, teacher’s keys, and a calculator for checking math. Do reviews orally, so grading is immediate. Use a slow cooker for dinner. Serve salad from a bag. Conserve energy wherever you can, so you have more strength for the things that are important. Don’t valiantly push through housework, only to snap at your husband when he walks through the door. Don‘t scrub the bathroom tiles, and then send your kids to bed angry. In ten years, your family won’t remember if you kept the appliances shiny, but they will remember if you had a kind word and a smile.
If the kids offer to make PBJs for dinner, if your sister picks up a few groceries, if your mother-in-law does a load of dishes, accept these gifts with thanksgiving. You have other gifts that you can use to serve. Anything that helps you conserve energy helps you homeschool.
Everything is “homeschooling. ”
Homeschoolers have a tendency to discount learning activities not done during “table time.” If you have a conversation about politics with your teen, write it down. If your little one plays a computer math game, write it down. At the end of the week, you may be surprised how much you get done if you approach homeschooling as a lifestyle of learning.
Put your kids to work.
On better days, teach your children to help around the home. Even little ones can wash fruits and vegetables, fold towels and put away their toys. Expect it of them. Having responsibilities gives kids a sense of accomplishment and belonging.
Keep moving forward.
Homeschooling is not all or nothing. On days that you are very ill, and not able to do your regular lessons, get creative. Call out times tables. Play twenty questions. Review parts of speech. Tell history stories. Ask your child to read to you, or watch an educational video together. You don’t have to sit at a table to do schoolwork.
Get the kids out of the house.
You may be homebound, but your kids don’t have to be. Let trusted friends and relatives take them to classes and events outside of the home. Sign up for sports at the Y, classes at the community center and youth activities at the church. It takes faith, and sometimes tears, to relinquish a role that you had hoped to fill for your children. Do it anyway. You’ll still be Mom.
Don’t date your lesson plans.
Dating lesson plans only reinforces the feeling that you can’t keep up. Don’t try to be where you “ought” to be in the school year. Be where you are. Date the assignment after your child finishes it, for your records.
A classroom school year is 180 days. Homeschoolers have 365. If you lose a chunk of time due to illness, just pick up and start again where you are. It really is OK. Don’t fret over being “behind”. That just discourages your children and you both.
When I gave up the drive to restore my lifestyle to the way it used to be, God revealed a new exciting life. As long as I mourned the loss of weekday co-op activities, my family remained isolated. When I became open to a new direction, the children joined sports teams, music lessons, church activities and library youth clubs in the evenings and weekends, when they could get a ride. As long as I pouted because I couldn’t take my teenager shopping or teach her to drive, our relationship remained tense.
When I was able to thank the women who filled that gap in her life, I learned to communicate with my daughter in a way that no other woman can. As long as I was angry that I could not push my baby on a swing in the park, I felt like a bad mother. When I learned to embrace the great fun of belly blows and lullabies, I reveled in my little guy’s unconditional love. When I made the choice to jump into the water, I found God in the pool ready to catch me. His grace is sufficient.
Kathryn Frazier is a freelance writer and homeschool consultant.She lives joyfully with her husband and five children in Tampa, Florida.