Homeschooling through Crisis: When to Throw in the Towel?
For the past two years, homeschooling has become a ramshackle conglomeration of patches of school time pieced together like some kind of gnarly patch work quilt.
Now that we have officially closed up shop for summer I am able to look back on the last school year with a more sane perspective. Toward the end of this school year I would often throw myself into the depths of despair and have a full on Anne Shirley moment when I considered how little we accomplished in the school year. Now I am sitting here at our campsite in Mansfield, Massachusetts. School is out, the sun is gentle, the pollen is laid out daily in thick green sheets. Jack is playing in the dirt and rocks and our reverie is interrupted only by the songs of the birds in the trees above us. The boys are up to their teeth in dirt (and probably poison ivy) having adventures. Summer is here. I can crawl out of my depths of despair and calmly survey this past year.
Here is what I have come to understand: we are a family in crisis and may be for quite some time. Having Jack has changed our lives forever. For the good and for the complicated. His first surgery set school back over a month, second surgery another month without school, hospice three weeks, moving to Boston another month of scant school accomplished. Over the past year between the hospitalizations and other set backs we have really fallen behind and it is a constant worry. I’ve come to understand that having a child with a heart condition is a full time job on its own.
Many moms in my position are forced to leave their careers behind and be a nurse to their medically needy child. I am trying to force a round peg into a square hole. Before Jack, the boys and I could devote our day to schooling; reading for hours, gardening, going to the library or making science projects. I have been trying to get back to those good old days of schooling but instead of things getting better we are falling behind. Something has to give. I had nearly decided to put the kids into “real” school. I talked to the boys about the idea, expecting them to jump at the opportunity. Instead, they were beside themselves adamant that they didn’t want to do anything but home school. After the many sacrifices they have made in the past two years and the stress they experience having a special needs brother, I quickly realized that putting them in school would only add more to their plates. Okay, so what do I do? After pouring over easier, less-mom-involved curriculum I just became more overwhelmed.
Let’s step back and look at things.
Israel has taken to reading thick chapter books for pleasure. William has learned to create amazing drawings complete with perspective and perfect symmetry. Both boys know how to take care of a toddler and have all the basic math skills that kids in their grades are required to have. They are learning Hindi (thank the good Lord for Rosetta Stone) and have a solid grasp on world history and geography. In short, somehow, in spite of our inconsistent and sporadic schooling they are quite intelligent and can really hold their own.
Let’s step back even further. The boys have learned what it means to sacrifice. When we moved from California they gave up 80 percent of their toys and 100 percent of their friends and family. When they became Jack’s big brother they gave up attention from mom and dad and exchanged it for hours in hospital waiting rooms. And the kicker, they NEVER complain about it. They tell us they are sometimes sad and miss everyone back in California but they understand that the cost they paid is to keep Jack alive. They complain about who gets more cereal in their bowls and about going to bed at 8:30 but they never complain about leaving at 5 am to get to a doctors appointment for Jack which will last through the entire day. They have learned something many adults don’t know, they have learned self-sacrifice for the benefit of another.
As I considered these things I remembered something important. Life is school. Because there are so many trials in our life right now my kids are in the school of how to live through hard times. To be perfectly honest, they are doing better in all of this than I did when I was their age and dealing with broken family issues. I became an unruly, trouble making mess. They are drawing near to God.
So am I being unrealistic in pushing on with homeschooling in light of our new life? A sure sign of insanity is trying again and again the same failing thing and expecting different results. So let’s not be insane, shall we? But lets not give up on something worth fighting for. Next year will look different for us. A new season, maybe admitting defeat. But I have realized that we will be staying the course and I have peace about it.
So for those of you who are homeschooling in the midst of a crisis, hold fast, dear friends. After all, there are precious few years that we have with our kids. But stop trying to be super mom. That’s where pride gets in the way of our vision of education for our kids.
Divorce, death, and disease are realities that happen to homeschooling families and, contrary to what I used to think, they don’t mean that you need to stop homeschooling. On the contrary, if your kids are able to keep as many unchanged aspects of their lives they will be better for it. Obviously, there is no pat answer for this and it all comes down to seeking God’s will for your family. For some it will mean it’s time to consider traditional school and that is okay, more than okay. Point is, if you feel called to something God will make a way. The way will probably look differently than we expect or want but it will work out in the end. Hold fast, dear friends.