Homeschooling During a Family Health Crisis
Note: Some names in this article have been changed to provide anonymity.
“With all that is going on in your life right now, why don’t you just put your kids in school?”
Have you ever had someone say something similar to you, perhaps a relative, a good friend or a church leader? In the course of a lifetime, everyone experiences challenges and setbacks occasionally. Some of us are called upon to experience serious crises that shake the foundations of our faith. For some, it is not possible to continue homeschooling under certain extreme circumstances, but for others, homeschooling can be part of the healing process. 1993 was such a year for my family and me.
By then we had been homeschooling for almost 10 years. Even before we were married my husband, Ken had some health issues but nothing so serious that it had much impact on our daily lives. However, that quickly changed one evening when he developed a stomachache and shortly thereafter began to vomit blood. We lived only a few blocks from the hospital, so I drove him there myself. When hearing the problem, the on-call nurse in the emergency room gave him a small spit-up container while we filled out the paperwork. In a matter of moments however, the container was overflowing and there were several pints of blood on the floor. Suddenly, he was being taken away on a gurney without completing any paperwork!
Over the course of the next several months, he was in and out of the hospital several times and eventually there was little more the doctors could do for him except recommend him for a liver transplant. As his condition deteriorated, he was put into intensive care in a hospital an hour (or more when traffic was bad) away from our home. He remained there for 3 months before receiving liver and kidney transplants, then spent another month recovering in the hospital before being sent home shortly before Christmas. He convalesced at home for about 6 months before returning to work, making the time that he needed special care over a full year in all.
Traveling the Los Angeles freeways back and forth and spending our days at the hospital on a daily basis was draining for our entire family. My ward and homeschool support group provided a lot of help, but some people thought I should just put my children in school and have one less thing to worry about each day. To them, it seemed like a no-brainer!
A Lifestyle Choice
You may already know that homeschooling is more than just an educational choice; it’s a lifestyle. By definition we have chosen this path for an important reason (or set of reasons) and we probably aren’t willing to leave the path even when things get difficult. That was how I felt. I also believed that sending the children into school at this time would be even more stressful than life already was for us.
I wondered if other LDS homeschoolers had experiences similar to mine, so I asked several women who have had health concerns in their families about their feelings and experiences.
Ramona’s husband has ongoing health conditions that require regular physical therapy and a low-stress environment. She feels that the flexibility that homeschooling provides makes it possible for their family to have much more quality time with Dad than would otherwise be possible. When they have doctor appointments, lessons may have to be postponed, but can be made up at other times, if necessary. Ramona thinks that living with a public school schedule would have made things much more difficult during these challenges.
What if the health issues are your own? Is it still possible to homeschool when the teacher has difficult health challenges? Certainly this will have to be answered on a case-by-case basis, but for many homeschoolers the answer is, “Yes!”
When Monica was experiencing severe pain and was often bedridden, she continued to homeschool while searching for answers to her condition. She feels that her children learned many important life skills during this time and also became more self-sufficient in their studies. She expressed one advantage of homeschooling this way, “The children in many ways have less stress if they know what is happening and can help, instead of being shoved aside. I believe they would have felt rejected if they'd been forced out of the home since they had always been homeschooled and liked it.”
Doreen was in an automobile accident that caused a neck and brain injury that she still deals with today. She has undergone surgery and other treatments, which have helped, but still experiences physical limitations and pain and she goes to frequent physical therapy sessions that interfere with her homeschool schedule. Doreen decided that she would not let the accident ruin what she and her husband had created for their children, so she never considered putting the children in school. She has a spiritual witness that this is what God wants for her family, so she makes it work. She feels that homeschooling brought unity to her family and that running back and forth to the several schools her children would have gone to would have made for even more stress during a difficult time. “I couldn’t have kept up with the demands placed on me to be everywhere and everything to all the kids.” she said. Doreen also remembers how wonderful it was to have the most important people in her life there to welcome her when she came home from the hospital instead of in their various schools.
Debbie was on crutches for 18 months after a fall twisted both her knees. She underwent 2 surgeries as well as physical therapy during that time. As luck would have it, she was also taking care of aging relatives that needed a lot of help. Despite these difficulties, she agrees that it was actually easier to have the children, ages 5, 8 and 11 at the time, home with her than revolving her life around three different school schedules.
Appreciation for Needed Service
All of the women expressed sincere love and gratitude for those that stepped in to provide what was needed, sometimes for long periods of time. There is nothing that bonds people together like service. Monica appreciated the women that drove her to various appointments, and Doreen was relieved that the ward brought in meals for her family. Her in-laws provided a maid who temporarily did work that Doreen and her children weren’t able to do.
Debbie felt that the emotional support she had from her friends was as important as the physical help. I would have to agree. One of the things that stands out to me was the day I came home from the hospital to find a birthday cake and balloons that my friend had brought over. I had completely forgotten that it was my birthday! That gift meant even more to me than the many dinners because I knew that it wasn’t done because of an assignment.
Even though all of the women I communicated with for this article were glad that they continued to homeschool, and appreciated all the help they received, most of them also admitted that they did have some needs during these times that were not completely met. One felt that her homeschool support group excluded her family from activities, probably without realizing it, just when they needed them most. Another felt that sometimes friends weren’t really listening to her when she expressed her needs. Some felt that in retrospect, they should have asked for more help but were hoping that someone would magically see their needs and fill them, a defect I have sometimes noted in myself. I have found it hard to surround myself with mind readers, however.
While we are going through the crisis, we may worry that our children are not learning enough or not keeping up with their grade level in government schools. Again, this may have to be answered on a case-by-case basis since not all families or situations are alike. However, children learn quickly so they can often make up a large amount of missed schoolwork in a short amount of time. Academics don’t have to be done in one long block of time, so you can plan reading, writing, and arithmetic in between appointments and you can do a lot from the bedroom or sofa. In addition, children continue to learn academically even when we think not much is going on.
All of the families I contacted felt that their children learned lessons that were even more valuable than schoolwork during their trying times.
“Through our trials, the children became stronger, more competent people.” Debbie said. “They were in charge of most of the daily chores. Things might not have gotten done the way I would have done it, but they got done. I was impressed that part of our trial with my knees was so that the children would realize how much they could do!” She continues, “I was blessed to have little whispers reminding me as I watched, and saw growth taking place. Not only did my children grow in their normal school subjects, but these opportunities allowed them to grow in other areas they wouldn't normally have had an opportunity to grow in.”
Monica noted that, “My children all matured. Some lessons have nothing to do with academics.”
Besides what the children learn, they can be a strong catalyst for healing. When my husband was at death’s door, one of the things that kept him going was the daily visits from the children. If they had been in public school, those visits would have been far fewer.
Spiritual and emotional lessons are at the heart of health problems and the things we learn from our health challenges help us to become better mothers and teachers.
I asked the women I spoke with if they had any advice for other families currently going through a health crisis. Monica responded, “Pray. If you are not supposed to homeschool Heavenly Father will let you know and that is fine. If you are prompted to homeschool, then whatever you provide will be enough. Heavenly Father would not ask you to do it if what you were able to give were inadequate.”
Ramona also recommended prayer. She added, “There have been times when my husband and I have had to consider what is best for us even if the public schools are broken. Every time we have considered putting our child in public school to make our lives easier, the overwhelming answer has been that we will be sustained as parents if we continue to do what we know is right, and righteous.”
“Priesthood blessings are a must. They help you find direction if only to know that the Lord loves you as His daughter and steward over His children,” Doreen reminds us. “When you know that your Father loves you and wants to bless you, you see those blessings and continue to do His will. You can’t go wrong when you follow the promptings He gives you.”
Certainly dependence on the Lord will see you through any situation whether you homeschool or not. In my own life, the times when I was going through my hardest trials were also the times I felt the Spirit the most. He will also provide the direction we need to decide whether or not (and how) to homeschool during a health crisis.
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