Dark Days (Homeschooling Through Hard Times)
by Frances C. Hansen and Julie Blackmon
Homeschooling brings its own set of unique challenges. But when life hits you hard, homeschooling is even tougher. Are you in a dark place, wondering if homeschooling is worth the effort? Maybe you feel your world is shattered into a million pieces and nothing will ever be the same again—including your homeschool journey. Here is the encouragement you need to keep homeschooling through hard times (from parents who’ve been there).
Whether your spouse, you or your child is suffering from chronic illness, trauma or depression, we hope these answers will bring healing and encouragment.
Frances Hansen’s Story: Hope in the Hard
The phone was ringing, interrupting our hectic routine. We were looking forward to gym on the tennis court that evening. I dodged laundry in my rush to answer, knowing it would be my husband Phil calling on his afternoon break.
His voice sounded different, and I tensed as I heard him calmly say:
“I’m okay. I’m at the emergency room. Nothing is broken. I lost my balance emptying a truckload of food. 450 pounds of boxed food knocked me to the ground. I’m waiting for x-rays. I’ll be home shortly.”
I looked at the kids playing on the porch. Strange things had been happening: Phil had been forgetting things, getting dizzy and tired, and suffering from severe headaches.
What would the doctors find?
He was under a lot of stress as the food service manager of the local rescue mission, working 10-hour days in addition to teaching our children.
Phil was a creative instructor. When our daughter had trouble with math, he made her an abacus. When he lacked the skill to teach art, he hired an artist to come to our home and teach chalk drawing lessons. I would come home to surprises of colorful parrots drawn on gray paper posted on the easel he had made. He taught the kids a fascinating lesson on El Niño and taught our daughter street games in the driveway.
We shared the responsibility of teaching. That enabled me to work in the middle of the week, and our joint schedule gave us all variety.
After the accident, Phil returned to work with a limp. There were more doctor visits, and eventually a neurologist explained to us the heartbreaking results of the MRI—multiple sclerosis (MS).
Instability Was Our New Norm for Homeschooling, And That’s Okay
Suddenly our days were filled with uncertainty. Phil was falling asleep in the afternoons, forgetting things, and had double vision and migraine headaches. He began using a cane.
That’s not all…
Soon, he could no longer work. I started working three days a week. My job as a registered nurse bumped into my role of homeschooling mom. The task of balancing work, homeschool, household affairs and Phil’s health grew to overwhelming proportions.
We had school wherever we could. The neurology clinic became our frequent classroom. My children would take seats, unpack their book bags, and resume the day’s assignments while we waited.
To add insult to injury, as renters, we were always subject to landlords, and when the last one decided to sell our house, school work was interrupted again with packing and finding our next place.
I can’t emphasize this enough:
Frustration was a new normal, but in the furnace of affliction, a new independence was being forged in our children.
Phil’s health gradually deteriorated over a period of seven years. Disability forced our family’s growth. We climbed over mountains of emotions and cried seas of tears. We fought, cried and kicked, but we endured. Phil got to a place where he was unable to feed himself, walk and eventually talk. Sometimes he didn’t know who we were. Our children learned about therapy types and empathy, compassion and selflessness firsthand.
Complications from MS took Phil from us at the age of 50. While his death left a void, our lives had been filled with invaluable lessons.
Homeschooling Through the Hard Shaped Our Hearts
When we were going through our worst times, well-meaning people would give us advice.
“Something has to go,” they would politely say—I knew they were referring to homeschooling.
Homeschooling had been part of Phil’s legacy to our children, and every one of them finished high school at the age of 16. Here’s where they are now:
Our daughter completed cosmetology school and got her associate degree in early childhood education. As a mom of six, she recently completed a bachelor’s degree. She works as a substitute teacher and runs her own hair salon.
Our eldest son received his associate degree, then completed a bachelor’s degree in human development. He became a lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
Our youngest went into the Marines, deployed four times, and was meritoriously promoted to sergeant, earning the Navy and Marine Commendation Medals. He got a bachelor’s degree in international relations and is now director of veterans affairs at his company.
The end of the story?
Our determination to continue homeschooling amidst the trials of life with distractions molded character and produced fruit in all of us. Times were difficult, but we ran the race one day at a time. We learned teamwork and purposed in our hearts to complete our mission. With God’s help to persevere, we accomplished it. We just didn’t give up.
Our story was one of me homeschooling through my husband’s chronic illness. If you as the primary teacher suffer from chronic illness, here are survival tips on how to homeschool through those tough times.
Julie Blackmon’s Story: Surviving Sudden Trauma
When the smooth activities of daily life come to a screeching halt because of a collision with the traumatic, how do you persevere with life, much less homeschooling?
Whether it is the shock of serious health issues for you or someone you love, the death of a friend or family member, the deep betrayal and abandonment of divorce, financial devastation, or any other unexpected hardship—regardless of current feelings, there is power to continue homeschooling and there is hope for the future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
When my family encountered “The Trauma” (as we termed it), it was incredibly sudden, completely unexpected and severely life-altering. This trauma caused our environment to change drastically and it included a move to a new home in a new city, with much uncertainty and fear regarding the future.
Getting Through the First Days
When hardship comes, there is a period of time when it is difficult to sleep, difficult to eat, and difficult to even think clearly or make wise decisions.
How did we actually use these emotions?
Following many tears and massive amounts of prayer, a clinging, questioning, battered faith in God ensued. It was a faith that would definitely not register among the Hebrews 11 heroes of the faith hall of fame, but it was a deliberate choice to hold tight to God’s promises regardless of the present disappointments and heart-wrenching feelings that seemed to overwhelm from within.
The typical feelings associated with any grief process are shock, anger, guilt, sadness, hopelessness. If you are suffering from depression, here are tips for homeschooling through it all.
Homeschooling Though We Felt Helpless
In the middle of all of this trauma drama that would not end as suddenly as it began, there was a commitment to continue to educate my four boys who were still at home.
It was a daunting mountain of a task when I was at a point where it seemed my brain could not even get a message to my lips correctly. I would say things like, “Look out for that potholder” when attempting to warn my fifteen-year-old permit driver of an upcoming pothole.
Confusion is a Large Part of the Grief Journey (And That’s Okay)
When mourning, it is difficult to concentrate on anything other than the loss (of health or a loved one).
But there’s a catch:
While confusion and exhaustion are a normal part of the grief process, my kids and I began to take steps to eat healthier and sleep better, and we purposed to do things that placed us in better physical shape. We also made the choice to avoid relationships and conversations that were unhealthy, which included unfriending some “friends” on Facebook who brought back unpleasant memories or caused emotional upheaval.
Although unseen to the naked eye, the trauma had left us with gaping wounds that threatened to fester and become infected if not protected. Our Great Surgeon, Jesus, began shining His light and healing our injuries as soon as we called out to Him, but we also had to recognize the activities or personal relationships that pulled at our Band-Aids and tugged at our stitches.
Here’s the deal:
We had to make wise choices to protect ourselves in those areas and allow time for our hurts to heal.
Let Grief Run Its Course (Grieving is a Natural Process)
Grief is a necessary process, the length of which depends on the individual; but it is also necessary to allow the grieving to run its course now or it will resurface later.
As we began this process of healing, we have had to re-evaluate where we were in life and our goals. This process has progressed into a new normal that starts new traditions and new schedules.
That’s not all…
Our homeschool looks drastically different than before. With a single-parent homeschool comes new challenges and new, creative ingenuity—but it still works. God has taken what seemed an impossibility and made it more than possible.
Form New Expectations (And Let Others Come Alongside You)
When pausing to re-evaluate, drop all previous expectations and seek God for His plan for your homeschool and for His creative solutions to your new needs.
One way God turned an unworkable situation into a workable one was by sending His people—His church—to help us during our time of grief. We are not meant to go it alone.
I can’t emphasize this enough:
It seems an easy thing to join in and give to others when you know there are needs, but to receive gifts God sends through His people can be likened to a large dose of medicine: while it assists in healing, it may be unpleasant to the taste buds. God has used this method to bring my family to a point of humility and to permeate our lives with deep gratitude, even in sorrow.
By refusing to allow others to help, we run the risk of stealing their blessing.
God has shown my family that His promises are true. He has not left us or forsaken us. He has hidden us in the shelter of His wings. He is the One who binds our wounds. He is faithful to deliver us, even on the path of loss and unfathomable sorrow.
God is working for our good and for His glory. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
We have continued in His call to homeschool, even through this hardship. While it has been difficult, it has been a source of great blessing that God has used to draw each of my kids and I into a closer trust relationship with Him and to bring us closer together as a family.
Sometimes our homeschooling trek teaches life lessons that abound outside of standard academics. Grief is a part of life that cannot be avoided, but it can be embraced as a means for God to teach and to bless us with an unimaginably abundant splendor that can only come from His hand.
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