“Sylvia, you are going to have to learn to share the load.”
I had just poured out to the counselor how I wasn’t sure how I was going to homeschool our four children while running the household and maintaining my 30-hour work week. My husband’s health was improving, but he wasn’t well yet. I was overwhelmed with the thought of all the things that needed to be done in a day, already feeling like a failure before the school year even started.
The counselor, honest and kind, sat across from me and told me I couldn’t do it all.
A year before this conversation, our family looked fairly typical in the homeschooling community: dad went to work full-time, mom stayed home and took care of kids and homeschooled. I worked part-time but mostly for extra-budget things like vacations, and only ten hours a week. I taught co-op classes, was involved in church, and had started slowly working toward a degree in nursing.
My husband, Kevin, had dealt with anxiety issues for most of his adult life, but it was managed with a low dose of medication and created little interference. At the end of 2017, a car accident and a series of extremely stressful work situations took their toll on him, and he began having up to ten panic attacks a day. It finally became apparent that he needed to leave his job in order to address his health crisis. At the same time, a part-time job at my church matching my skills opened up. Within a short period of time we turned into a family where mom worked two part-time jobs and dad was home sick … and summer break was coming to an end.
After I cried with the counselor, Kevin and I sat down and made a plan where he taught two days a week and I taught two days a week (he worked from home the days I taught, I went to work the days he taught). He wasn’t able to drive long distances, but he could go to the grocery store around the corner. He made dinners a couple nights a week. On days he felt really bad, we let things roll. We went to counseling. He found a better medicine. Things improved a little at a time. Eighteen months later, we have learned a few things about homeschooling in hardship
1. My expectations are my worst enemy
I had a picture in my mind of what homeschooling and homemaking should look like. I began to feel overwhelmed when I couldn’t make the picture match my reality. What I learned is that the flexibility of homeschool was a huge gift in our crisis. Dad could teach school, we could have evening class (or Saturday!), and I could modify curriculum or even stop a subject for a while. I know a family who dealt with a serious health emergency by taking a break from school completely for a season. I have the freedom to make school work with our whole life, not dominate it.
2. Grieve the losses
It’s all right to be sad over things that aren’t the way you want. My youngest child was seven when I went to work. She’d cry and cling to me as I’d leave. In the beginning I was defensive, but then I learned to say, “I miss you too when I’m gone. It’s hard to be away from you.” I had to put my own schooling on hold. My husband wants to be well. These are sad things and we’ve cried over them.
3. Gratitude allows me to celebrate
There are things in my life that are good. When I get too grumpy, too overwhelmed, or tempted to turn to bitterness over how things are, gratitude realigns my heart. I’m grateful for a husband who does the hard work to get better. I’m grateful for a household full of love. I’m grateful for the other families I’ve found who are surviving really tough things who understand what it feels like to walk through the fire. I’m grateful for a God who never leaves me. I’m grateful I still get to teach my children.
4. Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others
Here’s the honest truth: I am TERRIBLE at this. If we were on an airplane and the cabin depressurized, my first inclination would be to help everyone else put on their masks until I collapsed. In life, if I fall apart because I neglect myself, no one gets help. I’m learning that it isn’t selfish to say no to a legitimate request because it’s more than I can do. It isn’t wrong to sometimes use my precious free time to do something I want to do instead of something someone else wants to do. It’s okay to take a nap, delegate a task, give 85% of myself to an activity instead of 100%, or spend money on an item that makes my life easier. Balance means we all get a turn receiving care, and that includes me.
5. Suffering is a teacher, not a punishment
We live in a fallen world and lots of things are broken, which means suffering happens to all of us. Walking through it has solidified my trust that God is good and He sustains me. Suffering is not caused by my lack of faith or disobedience. God does not sit in Heaven shaking His head at my fragility and failure. My circumstances are not something God is doing to me, but something He is walking with me. In it, He has gently shown me my own pride, rebellion, idolatry, and lack of faith, which points me back to His goodness and grace.
6. The long-term crisis is not less valid than the big emergency
We are in this stage now. I call it the slow burn, the fatigue that’s caused by stress over a long period of time. Maybe there was a major event, but the long-term grind can be just as exhausting. I’ve found that those with long-term illnesses or those grieving the loss of a loved one have much to teach me about endurance. I work hard to continue to talk about it, to ask for help, to acknowledge when it is hard, and to reevaluate and change if necessary.
You are not alone
If you are in the middle of hardship, you are not alone. I found out that there were many families around me who homeschooled as they dealt with situations that disrupted their plans. Because they were willing to talk about their challenges, I was brave enough to share my own. This may be my new “normal” life, but I know I have others who walk with me in it. And while I will never say I’ve enjoyed the experience of suffering, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned from it.
Questions about homeschooling in Arizona? We’re here to help!
Arizona Families for Home Education (AFHE) is the statewide homeschool organization here in Arizona. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit run by a board of directors made up of couples who are all homeschooling parents ourselves.
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