The following is a guest post by Annie Reneau of Motherhood and More.
This spring, our family’s life altered drastically. We were already in the midst of a big change, ending our year of traveling around the country. But then we were hit with a difficult change, one that we didn’t choose.
In early March, my healthy, vibrant mother-in-law, Judy, was diagnosed with advanced stage IV pancreatic cancer. The oncologists gave her a prognosis of three months. She passed away eight weeks later.
During those two months, my husband and I and our three kids moved into a new house in a new town to be near my in-laws. My husband — who has worked from home for many years — took over his mom’s duties at his parents’ business to help salvage their livelihood.
I started babysitting my nephew so my sister-in-law could care for Judy during the day without a 4-year-old clamoring for her attention.
Put all of those changes together, then toss in the emotional turmoil of watching a loved one lose a brutal battle with cancer, and you have some idea of what our life has been like.
Homeschooling during this time? Tough.
At first, I stressed about how upside-down our lives felt, how establishing any solid routine was practically impossible under the circumstances, how my energy levels just weren’t up to the tasks at hand.
So I prayed and struggled and prayed some more, and finally came to some realizations that helped me chill out and keep our relationship with homeschooling — and each other — relatively healthy.
Now that we’re on the other side, I thought I’d share some tips that might help others homeschool through a crisis.
Rely on community
Whether it’s the homeschooling community, your faith community, neighbors or other friends, don’t be shy about reaching out for help. I had a fellow homeschooling mom offer to take my kids whenever I needed her to, and I took her up on it.
If someone offers to make you a meal, say, “Yes, please, and thank you.” Allow people’s words of comfort and support sink into your heart. People really do want to help. Let them.
Keep schooling simple
If kids can read, write, and think critically, they can learn anything. So during a crisis, stick to the basic building blocks of learning and let the rest take care of itself.
My reluctant reader started delving deeply into a long book series during that time. Rather than worry about what she wasn’t doing, I let her read — sometimes all day. And you know what? Her vocabulary, spelling, reading speed, and understanding of literary structures improved dramatically during that time.
My eldest is writing a novel, so I encouraged her to work on that more frequently. I had our older girls read to the youngsters more often. I relied on electronic learning more than I normally would, but sometimes you have to let things go a bit.
My kids do better emotionally and educationally with a little external structure, but we kept it short and simple. I can’t say I never worried about what we weren’t doing, but looking back I can see that the worry wasn’t necessary. They were learning the whole time.
Honor the “other” learning that’s happening
When you face a major life challenge, you inevitably learn important life lessons. Through this process, our kids learned a lot about health, medical science, and cancer. They also learned that family steps up to do what needs to be done, the importance of lending love and support, and how trusting in God’s wisdom trumps all else.
They learned things I’d never learned in my 39 years, about the dying process. They saw the end-of-life stages first hand, as we walked with Judy through them together. What they gained through that experience was invaluable.
Make space for joy
A crisis is hard on everyone. Even if the adults are the ones bearing the weight of it, kids feel the effects, too. So take a break from it all sometimes.
Go to the park. Have a movie night. Visit beautiful places. Find ways to laugh together. If you can’t find joy in the present, reminisce about a fun family vacation or other happy memory.
Joy is not only okay during a crisis; it provides necessary balance.
Make time for rest, too
Stress is tiring. Emotional upheaval is tiring. Homeschooling itself can be tiring, even under normal circumstances, much less during tough times.
So make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Adrenaline can make it feel like you have more energy than you actually do, but it will catch up to you. It’s not lazy to put off the laundry or eat more meals out during a crisis — it’s self-preservation.
Remember that this too shall pass
As hard as things might get, no state of being is permanent. Keep moving forward and know that this hill will not last forever.
Even if it’s a crisis that permanently changes the landscape of your lives — such as the death of a loved one — life is still a landscape.
There will always be ups and downs, and some will be extreme. Remember that pain helps you appreciate joy, and hills help you build stamina and endurance for other climbs you’ll encounter.
And trust that your children will learn in the midst of — and because of — all of those experiences.
Have you ever homeschooled through a crisis? What tips would you share?