how to overcome challenges

How to Overcome Challenges in Your Homeschool

We all face challenges in our homeschools. Whether it is special needs, unmet expectations, attitude, behavior or our own lack of motivation, we all have those days when we wonder whether it is all worth the effort. How do we overcome challenges?

How to Overcome Challenges in Your Homeschool

Unfortunately, for most of the challenges in life, there is no magic formula. Otherwise I could title this post Five Steps to a Problem Free Homeschool! Except the only thing I can think that would accomplish that is actually a two step process:

  1. Remove the children.
  2. Remove the parents.

So this is really more about focusing, prioritizing, giving yourself (and your children) grace and praying while you are working through solutions. And to do that, you have to start out by defining the problem.

What are your challenges in your homeschool?

Go ahead and write them down. All of them. I’ll be waiting right here.

After Mattias died, getting out of bed was a challenge. You can imagine what just about everything else looked like. Each day was this monumental task before me with only one real goal: Get through it. I noticed my children were falling behind. I noticed that they were starting to get out of work they didn’t like because I didn’t have the energy to fight them about it (much less train them). All of the life was draining out of our homeschooling because it had pretty much drained out of me.

And I was starting to fear that they would be better off in public school.

Thankfully, that’s not where I’m at now. Hopefully it’s not where you are at. (And if you are struggling with the loss of a loved one while trying to homeschool, please feel free to contact me. It can be a dark and lonely journey and so few people truly understand what you are going through.) I’m sharing this to say that this was my darkest place and yet here I am on the other side. All of my children are still homeschooling. My 18 year old will graduate on time and may be launching her career in less than a month. My children are still catching up on math, but they’re catching up. Things are pretty good. And I’m glad I was able to hang on.

It took years, but we’re in a good place now and I have a different perspective on the journey now than I did walking through it.

Why are you homeschooling . . . right now?

I don’t mean all those grand and lofty goals you may have had when you started or the 101 reasons you shared on facebook. I don’t even mean the ones you tell yourself to talk yourself down from the ledge. I mean really. Right now. You’ve likely thought about sending your kids to school at least once. If you’ve read this far, you may even be fantasizing about it. What has stopped you up to now?

Be honest with yourself, even if you burn your notebook after writing it down and keep your thoughts between you and God forever.

For me, it was a mixture of reasons.

I had been a relatively successful homeschool blogger. My blog was never a “big blog,” but I enjoyed the conversation and the extra money that wasn’t included in our budget was nice. There was a feeling of expectation and failing to live up to everything I had ever written about if I quit. And I did feel like I would be quitting.

Most of my friends homeschool. I am sure most of them would have understood if I threw in the towel, but what would we have in common if I stopped homeschooling? I didn’t care to listen to any lectures on how I was turning my children over to Pharoah’s schools. It was hard enough being told that I should question my faith if I did anything but rejoice at my son’s death.

And you know what’s really kind of funny now? I was just as scared of people telling me, “It’s about time!” As if it took this to recognize the error of my ways rather than realizing it was a sign that I was really struggling just to cope.

I also was afraid of having them out of my sight. I am not kidding when I say I wanted to tie them all to the couch and not let them do anything at all because they were safe there. In the first two months after Mattias’ death, I had heard at least 200 ways for a child to die. Straight from that child’s mother. I was neurotic. I obviously never acted on those impulses, but that didn’t mean I was ready to put them all on a bus and not see them for most of the day.

Take a close look at your reasons.

Are they any good? What do they tell you about your thinking? My thinking was clouded, but do you know what I noticed? A sense of failure . . . social expectations . . . fear. None of them were very good and all of them were about me. None of them were about what was best for my children.

So you would think that would mean that I would have marched them straight down to the school and enrolled them.

But I didn’t. Why? Because I hadn’t thought about what would be best for them, yet.

Why should you send your child to school?

Public or private, whatever your next step would be. Private school was never in our budget so it wasn’t an option. But be honest about what your child would gain being sent to school.

For me, it was academics. They would get the daily repetition they needed to improve their math skills. They’d have more structure than I was able to do on a consistent basis. Maybe my eldest would finally learn to spell well. I could take the time I needed to grieve and figure out this “new normal” everyone talked about and they wouldn’t fall any further behind.

That was the only reason I could come up with. For some people, that may have been enough. But fortunately, I had written out my educational philosophy long before any challenges had cropped up.

Why do you homeschool?

This is the true power of having a formalized educational philosphy or a mission statement, written out and stored in a notebook or even hung on the wall. Consider it your core values of homeschooling.

If you don’t have one now, in the midst of trials, it will be harder to walk through the process. Stress clouds judgment. Try to think through the basics of what you think “education” is. What is its purpose? What is the role of your children? What is the role of the teacher?

Take those answers and ask yourself if those goals are better met through homeschooling or some other form of education.

If you clicked over to peek at mine, you will notice that academics aren’t really at the forefront. They are important, but not for the same reason they are important in a public school. I have different goals in educating my child than the state. And while there certainly may be a point when an alternative to homeschooling is viable, for me, struggling in math was not compelling enough to give up everything else I believed about education.

And then there was the fact that I wasn’t the only one grieving. My children were grieving, too. Perhaps, they needed that time to heal just as much as I did? Perhaps we are where we are now because we took our time, even if it plagued me with feelings of guilt and failure.

So the key to overcoming challenges is?

Different for everyone. But you can’t get there without knowing precisely what your challenges are. Face them, define them, remember what you are striving toward. Never forget that the journey is part of the goal. It strengthens all of us. Confront your challenges head on and hold fast to the vision of the end goal. That is what gives you strength to keep going even when it seems too hard. You have to believe the struggle is worthwhile to keep struggling.

And pray. Asking yourself these questions will give you a clearer picture of what you are praying for, but He understands the groanings of our spirit, even when we do not.

This is part of the Blogging Through the Alphabet Challenge, where I am sharing some homeschool encouragement, from A to Z! Check out what I’ve written so far!

how to overcome challenges

Yes, I actually let my kids watch Beauty and the Beast

OK, so not that Beauty and the Beast. Without having seen it, I’m not sure what to make of it or the controversy. It seems odd that Disney’s big coming out would involve the comic relief and the villain, but whatever. I kind of hope it is as bad as all that because I’m kind of tired of Christian groups sounding the alarm over nothing. Sometimes, it seems like they’re part of the marketing. Float a little controversy in front of the right people and you have instant buzz and instant curiousity. Because seriously, it’s like the second highest grossing film EVER. Right behind Harry Potter. The controversy isn’t driving too many people away.

Beauty and the Beast

The 1991 Disney version is bad enough. I mean really, it’s a bizarre mix of bestiality and Stockholm Syndrome held together by a cast of talking tableware.

Or is it?

What is the main message of Beauty and the Beast?

If you are to believe Disney’s marketing, it’s only the greatest love story ever told. It has everything. A father held captive by a beast. A girl who offers herself in his stead. A curse that can only be broken by love . . . a love that has to somehow be able to see past a beastly exterior. And a beastly temperament. And, you know, that whole being held captive thing.

Most people will tell you it’s a fairy tale with an important moral: Beauty is only skin deep.

But Disney is Disney. They’ve built an empire on harvesting fairy tales and cleaning them up for the mass market.

What was the original Beauty and the Beast about?

My 10 year old actually read the original (or one of its many versions) and was quite disappointed in the movie. It strayed too far in too many key points. Rather than Gaston as a counterpoint to the Beast, you have narcissistic, worldly sisters as counterpoints to Beauty’s perfect femininity. And the spell breaking love is demonstrated through a tear rather than a kiss.

But this, too, was a story with a message. It is also controversial, though not quite so much for the plain features of the text. The controversy comes more from not being able to agree on the inspiration for the story to begin with.

So what was the inspiration for Beauty and the Beast?

Camp 1 says this a prepatory tale for young ladies awaiting arranged marriages. Don’t fret about his looks or manners. Learn to be happy in your new prison. The man may be a dolt, or even a genuine beast, but your femininity and social graces will captivate him, change him and turn him into your prince. I think the most compelling case for this is the social milieu of the major characters. They are neither peasants nor royalty. They seem to belong to the closest thing to a middle class that feudal Europe had to offer. I don’t know how many of the original fairy tales you have read, but this isn’t really typical.

Camp 2 says it’s a fairy tale inspired by real life. Petrus Gonsalvus was a very real man with hypertrichosis, also known as “werewolf syndrome” for the excessive hair growth that occurs all over the body. He first came to the court of Henry II in 1547. He became quite famous due to his condition, moved from court to court and was studied across Europe. While in the Netherlands, he married the very beautiful Catherine. Although he lived as a nobleman, he was never quite accepted as fully human. I think the most compelling case for this view is, well, the “beauty” and the “beast” aspect of the history.

Or maybe it’s a bit of both. I could totally see some well-meaning 16th century parents telling their daughters, “Look, at least you’re not marrying that guy!”

And what does that have to do with the movie?

Disney chose to play up the being-held-captive side to the movie. Themes involving arranged marriages don’t go down so well these days, but Belle is not the only prisoner. The Beast is cursed. His temper is an expression of his own captivity. He continually convinces himself that there is “no point” to pursuing Belle or doing anything to encourage her to like him. And then he lashes out.

He was cursed for not sheltering an old woman. Now he is forced to live his life as the witch saw him. He’s hideous, forced from human contact and held captive in his own castle. With Belle’s arrival, he protects what dignity he has left by pushing away the one thing he needs to make it all go away. He is the one who chooses to open his heart and allow himself to love. He makes the first step and ultimately releases her from her bond to him. The great act of love is him releasing the one thing that could release him.

So what’s the real moral of Beauty and the Beast?

I think it is clearer when you compare the Beast to the beastly Gaston.

On the one hand, you have a cursed man.  His very humanity was taken from him, he’s been driven into a solitary castle with no human contact and his only hope is to somehow find love. On the other, you have the very model of manliness. Strong, good looking and the desire of almost every woman in town. One is a beast because of the prison he was forced into. One is just a beast.

So the Beast takes Belle captive in exchange for her father’s freedom. Maybe more in hopes that the curse can finally be broken. But the climax of the movie is not when Belle returns. It is when he, out of love, releases her from her bondage. He is the one driving the story forward. He is the one with a major conflict. He is the one who changes.

Belle is the same young woman at the end as she was at the beginning. He was the one with a love powerful enough to change, and powerful enough to allow her to see his humanity.

I don’t see “Beauty is only skin deep” so much as “True love changes you for the better.” It’s like that greatest of all love lines in As Good As it Gets, “You make me want to be a better man.”

And that is totally a message I want my children to ponder.

how to overcome challenges

How to Help Your Child Navigate Life

Children grow up. They move out. And they bring with them the not-so-quiet confidence of youth not yet tempered by experience. How they navigate life through the transition depends a lot on the relationship you have built with them up to this point.

helping children navigate life

We are standing at the cusp of this transition with our eldest. The subtle shifting from directing to offering advice has been easier than I expected. Then again, she’s a pretty responsible and driven young lady. I imagine there would be much more trepidation coming into this phase of parenting if I didn’t agree with the decisions she is making!

Help them lay a solid foundation.

We all want to see our children weather the storms well and not have their values swept away in the first strong crosswind. In our home, we look to Christ and what He taught and how He lived.

And we fail. Especially the last several years, I feel like our lives have been marked more by just getting through it than actual involved, proactive parenting. Sometimes, I feel like my daughter has become this courageous, dedicated, loyal, determined, faithful young woman in spite of me and the years the locusts have eaten.

But then I think maybe there are some things we did right. Before Mattias’ death and after. Chief among those, I believe, was the determination to help them lay their own foundations, not grow up sheltered by ours. Besides, the Holy Spirit and a desire to live for Christ will take them so much further than fear of what we might say if we ever found out.

Give them a good compass.

After all, you can’t navigate without knowing what direction you are heading. I have worked hard to replace my somewhat reflexive, “What were you thinking?!” (which really just implies that they weren’t thinking) with a calmer, “What were you thinking?” (which invites them to reason through their own decision making process). What I want is for them to learn to analyze their own motivations, know their own weaknesses and consciously learn to own their own actions and reactions.

And to apologize well. That we’re not so good at. A couple of my children are actually quite adept at the apology that makes it quite clear that they are not at all sorry. Any tips on that one are welcome!

Practice using the life boat.

I try to make our home a soft place to land. I strive to strike a balance between supervision and trust, guidance and freedom. They need enough structure and “fences” to form healthy habits and draw nearer to God. But they also need enough freedom to fail while I can still help them talk through what happened and guide them through making better choices. Experience may be the best teacher, but she isn’t very kind and she has very little grace. I believe it is better for my children to gain that experience a little at a time as they grow and move toward independence rather than moving suddenly from being under my complete control to absolute freedom overnight.

I want my children to know that while I may not always be pleased with their decisions, our home is always safe. No matter what happens, we will be here to help them figure out the best next step.

Help them release the docklines and see them off.

There is a time when a child is an adult, whether they are ready for it or not. I think we have to respect that, even if we disagree with the choices they are making. Ironically, I think the more quietly we step away from the helm, the more likely they are to return to ask for our advice and listen when we give it.

This is when we get to make that beautiful transition from being a parent to being a friend.

This last bit is not something I have had to deal with just yet. My daughter is making that transition and is doing it quite well. I’m sure this would be far more difficult for me if I felt like she were straying too far from the values she was raised with. But my role changes when they are an adult regardless. And I think of an interview I did with Lisa Hodgen (Me and My House Ministries) for one of my first magazine articles. I doubt she knows how much her words blessed me as I was barely starting out on my homeschool journey and she shared with me her heart after having a child leave home and walk away from the faith.

“She still has these things, a foundation to return to, when God opens her eyes, bringing light to deliver her.”

She reminded me that we all have to decide on this faith for ourselves and that building that foundation is not in vain. Christ is never more than a step away, no matter how far or how hard we run.

And we get the privilege of loving them through it all.

This is part of the Blogging Through the Alphabet Challenge, where I am sharing some homeschool encouragement, from A to Z! Click on the tag to see the rest of the series!

how to overcome challenges

Is God good?

A recent comment, words of encouragement.

“You will again call God good.”

Pause for reflection.

is god good

I’ve cried out in anguish with a sorrow so deep there were not words to attach to the prayer. I’ve cried out in anger over sliced hot dogs, snipped drawstrings and safety fences that in the end were not enough to spare my little boy from a terrible accident. I’ve wrestled with why. Why? Why isn’t my little boy here, asleep in his little bed with his bottom in the air and a car tucked under his arm?

But did I ever stop calling God good?

I think of recent conversations, Facebook statuses and Twitter updates with others extolling the virtues of God.

“Car needs over a thousand dollars worth of work. Didn’t know how we were going to afford it. Then we did our taxes and the money we’re getting back covers it almost exactly.

Isn’t God amazing?

“Had lots of errands. Forgot to fill the tank. Low fuel light came on as we came into a part of town where I did not want to stop. Ran out of gas, coasted down a hill, into a gas station and right to the pump.

Isn’t God faithful?”

“Hubby got the job! After over a year, our savings held out and he got the job!

Isn’t God good?”

Pause for reflection.

What about when things don’t turn out so well?

As I knelt on the floor, the weight of a dresser on my back, trying to keep my son’s head and neck straight as I rolled him to his side so he wouldn’t aspirate on his own vomit . . .

{Was God amazing?}

As I stood shaking in the ER, wanting to be with him (needing to be with him), terrified of being in the way as I heard them trying over and over and over to get him intubated . . .

{Was God faithful?}

And, only minutes after a nurse had told us he would be in room 201, went over the use of the respite rooms, admonished us to be strong for him, as the surgeon came in and told us he couldn’t save our son . . .

{Was God good?}

It isn’t really something we post to Facebook quite like that, but even in tragedy, God is amazing. He is faithful. He is good. Because His character is not dependent on my circumstances. His character is not revealed through my wealth nor through my safety nor through my comfort.

His character is revealed through the cross.

And as I think of my son crushed, his skull broken, his form lifeless, I can think of only one thing.

Our Father did it willingly. For me. For you. For the world He loved so much He gave His only begotten son.

Happy Easter.

(This was reposted for Easter.)

how to overcome challenges

I homeschool for liberty

I homeschool for liberty . . . their liberty, our liberty and the liberty of our nation.

homeschool liberty

Their liberty

I want my children to have some control over what they are learning. They need time to follow their passions and sometimes even to just be bored. My eldest’s obsession with horses led her to read every book she could find, even after we finally bought her one. And her love and hours in self-directed study seem to be turning themselves into a career.

I enjoy the freedom to take them to the zoo or the museum or even just for a hike in the woods. We have all of Nebraska as our classroom and the lessons learned in the woods are just as important as those learned in a text book.

They learn from living books, from others who are passionate about their fields and from life. What better curriculum is there?

Our liberty

I am Christian and I do believe that the education of our children is our primary responsibility within our family. I don’t see sending your child to public school as sin and I hold no judgment against those who choose that option. However, sending a child off to school (public or private) does not absolve a parent from the responsibility of teaching their children in the Lord. I happen to find that much easier at home.

And it’s not that we isolate them. I just strive to hold Christ as the standard and encourage them to compare what they see in history, in literature and in our culture to what the Bible says about how we should live.

I wish to maintain this liberty we have from how the state believes children should be educated. The state is primarily interested in producing good workers for industry. I am primarily interested in expanding the kingdom of God. That’s why I write about the problems with vouchers for homeschoolers. That’s why I keep an eye on our own state legislature. And that’s why I am looking for more ways to join the fight for educational liberty in the United States. If the minds of our children cannot remain free from the influence of the state, what area of our lives can?

The liberty of our nation

That sounds rather dramatic, but really, what is the greatest threat to our liberty today? It isn’t government overreach. It’s voters who ask for it. It’s citizens who don’t bother to vote. And it’s people who lack the self control necessary for liberty. Because at some point, the state has to step in to protect the lives and properties of others.

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” ~John Adams

Liberty is only possible when the citizenry is capable of governing themselves. We have to learn to value liberty and to exercise self-control in order to be worthy of it. That’s why I homeschool to educate my children for liberty. I strive to foster in them a love for liberty and inculcate in them values and habits worthy of that liberty. Because in the end, the only true liberty is that found in Christ.

This is part of the Blogging Through the Alphabet Challenge, where I am sharing some homeschool encouragement, from A to Z! Check out what I’ve written so far!

A is for Adventure
B is for Boredom
C is for Christ
D is for Daydreaming
E is for Every day
F is for Failure
G is for Grow
H is for Homework
I is for Impromptu field trips
J is for Just enough
K is for Kindle their fire

Image courtesy of wikimedia under a Creative Commons license.