If you read all the blogs and the articles extolling the virtues of homeschooling, it sounds almost idyllic. Peaceful. Gentle times spent building relationships with our family, cherishing those amazing moments of discovery and learning.
Those moments happen, of course. And it can certainly be peaceful and gentle. But what about when it’s not?
What about when life smacks you around and sends you swirling down the toilet bowl of all your dreams? When nothing is going the way you want, when nothing works? How about life crises or emergencies? Homeschooling doesn’t seem so great then, right? Because it’s hard. It’s super hard. It seems like an impossible mountain to climb just to make sure your kids get the education they need.
What if, like me, you don’t have another choice? There is no option to put my kiddo in public school. We can’t afford private school, and they certainly couldn’t give him any services to accommodate his needs anyway. There IS no other option for our family right now and I know that. I’m backed up against the wall of learning disabilities and my kid’s well-being.
You know what? I don’t like feeling trapped. I hate being told what to do. So knowing that I have no choice is itself, a stressor. If I let it, it can start to breed a gangrenous sort of resentment towards my kid. It’s not his fault, but he is still the reason why I feel trapped, pitting my own needs against his and making the choice to give him a better start to his life. That’s a scary but honest analysis I had to have with myself, to come with terms with how I feel.
You see, I hold myself to an impossibly high standard. My son is twice exceptional. That means that his valleys of issues lie deep, while his mountains of challenge push me far beyond my limits. There is no easy ground, no middle way. I have to meet him where he is at every level and make sure that he doesn’t get bored. Boredom is where growth mindset withers and dies because nothing is difficult. You can’t learn from easy.
It’s not enough to say “we’ll take a break and coast for a bit” – I have to keep up with him. Which is a problem, considering my current health issues.
So what do you do when you’re stuck with a situation that isn’t working? Maybe there’s a chronic illness, like mine. Maybe an ill relative, like a friend of mine another year. Perhaps it’s the kid who’s struggling or has the health issue – whatever it is, don’t panic. Homeschooling is DESIGNED to work around stuff like this if you can keep a flexible mindset. Here are a few of the things that I did to help strategize for the upcoming, challenging school year.
Chill and plan
Literally. Take a break. And when you’ve had a break and de-stressed a bit, plan some long-term goals. Not super specific stuff that will only add to the stress, but rather general goals. My goal for this year? To get kiddo reading fluently and comfortably. If we can spend the entire year focused on that, we’ll have a much better foundation for the next few years.
Sometimes your goals will have to align more with your state’s requirements, of course. Sometimes you might not make your goals – and that’s ok too. The important part is having them and working towards them.
I’m very much an organized person. So the thought of winging it through the year like we did last year (it worked, I’m not complaining!) scared me, because I know my limitations are so much bigger now. I don’t want to fall so far behind that I feel like we can’t catch up.
I’m not a big planner, but for this year I mapped out very specific points that I want to hit each week along the way. If we wiggle them around, stretch them, or switch them, it’s not a big deal. I wanted to have a roadmap for myself to help my stress levels stay down.
If you’re not like me, that’s fine! Maybe try keeping a roadmap of where you’ve been instead. So when you start to worry about missing things or not doing enough (because we all worry about that, good and bad times alike) you can flip through your notes and see that yes! You guys have been working really hard!
I should probably note that I sat down with the Engineer and talked to him about what he wanted to learn for the next year before I planned anything. His choices shaped the entire direction of our science this year, and some of the math as well.
I hate comparing my kid to other kids. Seriously. It’s the most stress inducing thing ever, because every kid is different! That said, there are national and state norms that you can use to evaluate how your kid is doing. If they’re a bit behind in something, don’t panic. Just make a note to work on that section. If they’re ahead, yay! Make a note to move on forward. Sometimes knowing what’s expected in public schools is reassuring.
One of my easiest ways to do this is to print out my state’s Standards of Learning. I sit down with a pen and mark everything off that kiddo has mastered already. Then I go through the list to see what he needs to practice, and what we haven’t covered yet. Given that teachers in public school are supposed to just cover the material and not promise mastery, that’s still a high standard.
Doing this helps to create that roadmap of things we need to work on. It’s a good mental check for those dratted anxieties.
Ask for help
I’m the world’s worst at asking for help. I swallowed that pride and asked a friend (thank you!) to lend a hand at one of our lowest points just so that we could catch up. I’m super grateful for her help, and knowing that we had that kind of support lifted a huge weight off of my back.
Maybe you don’t have a great support network – I get that. It’s hard in this day and age to build the kind of close community that our grandparents used to have. If that’s the case, re-evaluate the things in your life that can be done by other people. See if you can find a break by paying someone else to do it for you. Ordering groceries online, paying a house cleaner, ordering from a meal service instead of trying to cook everything by yourself – these are all good strategies that can help. They may not be affordable for the long-term, but can help you buy the time you need to make it through.
Not everything has to be done. And it certainly doesn’t have to be done right now. I’ll admit, housework is the first thing that falls around here. Dust bunnies are multiplying, bathrooms need cleaning, and don’t even look in my closet, people. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that it has to wait. I’ll catch back up later.
Take that same laser viewpoint to your homeschooling plans. Do you really need to do all the extracurricular activities right now? Can we skip that camping trip? You can always add-on more things – pare it down to what you know you can handle first, then expand later.
For me, a priority is the art class that I teach. It’s a vital community for my kids and I value it enough to kick other things to the curb. I could have said “sorry guys!” and quit, but I’m not going to do that. I’m cutting back other responsibilities to give myself the time and effort I need to do it right. It’s important.
Make sure that it’s a family decision to prioritize. Pull your kids in on the decision-making so that you can avoid hurt feelings and resentment right from the start. Be honest about what you can handle, and help them understand that it’s not always going to be this way.
Focus on relationships, not results
Homeschooling is so often focused on the results. We have to prove ourselves to everyone, right? School officials, family, friends, the media …. the list goes on and on. If you only focus on results in a crisis situation, you’ll end up stressed out and wiped out. If everything else fails, focus on relationships.
This might be the year that you spend reading a lot. It might be the year of YouTube videos and experiments. It might be a year of child-led exploration, guided by curiosity and freedom. No matter where it takes you, don’t let it become a battle. You already have a battle on your hands and you’re fighting to survive.
If your child is happy, learning, safe, and curious, you’re doing a great job. Even if the curriculum is sitting in a dusty pile on the shelf.
Be open to other options
I can’t send my kids to public school. I just can’t. That might not be the case for you. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a break from homeschooling. If you need some time to rest and recuperate while someone else teaches your kids, there’s NO shame in taking what’s available. Schooling is not set in stone – you can always start over later or come back to it. Or you can do a hybrid model, assuming your state allows that.
Homeschoolers tend to get stuck in this “I cannot betray homeschooling!” rut. Phooey! Homeschooling is a choice. It’s not the best choice, it’s not the only choice, and it may not be a choice that works for your family right now. That’s just fine – find what works and run with it. And if that means leaving homeschooling behind, that’s ok too! No guilt. You do what’s best for your family at this point in time.
You can do this. It might not look like the blogs or articles, and it will be hard. Not impossible, just hard. Take a deep breath, grab your family, and figure out what works for right now.
I should probably mention that one of the things I’m cutting back on is blogging. I’m still blogging, just less. It’s important to me and I refuse to give it up – I just have to adjust it to fit my abilities at the moment. Don’t go anywhere – I’ll still be around!