Apr 7, 2015

Chronically Ill Homeschooling Part 1 - When Mom's Sick

Choosing to Homeschool
My husband and I chose to homeschool when our now 20 year old daughter was finishing up Kindergarten.  Looking back I sometimes wonder to myself, "what were we thinking?"

At the time we wanted our daughter to have the best possibilities for learning without the distractions and interruptions she had experienced in school.  She was and is still very bright.  She was reading before entering Kindergarten and became very frustrated with school for a number of reasons.

Long ago, as we chose to homeschool our first daughter, we had very deep convictions for why we felt this was the best option for our family.  There were also reasons we could have worked around but were still very important to us.  We didn't want her to be discouraged or distracted by her learning environment.  We wanted our daughter to love learning and to learn at her own pace without having to wait for others.  Most importantly, we wanted her to be able to explore and discover the amazing world God created without fear of mentioning His name.

We hoped that by homeschooling she would avoid wasting time on busy work and would be able to use that precious time to explore her talents and gifts.  While we had many reasons for why we chose to homeschool, we continue to add to our list as the years go by.

I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "Hindsight is 20/20"?  Now that she's graduated and our 2nd will graduate this Spring, I can look back and see how homeschooling has served our family well especially through chronic illness.

When my children became ill we didn't have to struggle with the red tape of a school system in order to allow them time off from school when they were their sickest.  I didn't have to fight for special accommodations or tutoring.  We continued to homeschool, much differently mind you, through all of our illnesses including mine.

When Mom is Sick
Homeschooling was most difficult when I became ill with Lyme disease, which happened first.  You can read my story, When Everything Changed, if you haven't already.

I could never have held together our homeschool on my own during my time of fatigue, pain and cognitive impairment while also visiting doctors and trying to get a diagnosis.  Thankfully, my husband was always a huge help.

Homeschooling through chronic illness was very tough, I won't lie!  There were many frustrating and difficult days which included tears and sometimes tantrums but I won't tell you whose they were. Quite honestly, there was at least one year I'd like to completely forget altogether. 

Despite the hardship, homeschooling through illness has worked for us.  It has given us the freedom to educate around our most important needs.

My three girls hadn't shown any Lyme disease symptoms until a few years after my initial symptoms so they were still able to do their chores and help when needed.  In fact, when I became ill my girls willingly stepped up to help out.  They were still young enough to think that doing chores was actually fun.  They've since changed their mind about that.  

We had a new baby in the house and the girls loved to pretend they were Mommies taking care of things.  They learned so many things including how to prepare simple things in the kitchen like macaroni and cheese, homemade pizza, and chocolate chip cookies.

I suffered a great deal of pain and walking was very painful for me so the girls would often help to get things or they would bring their books to me so that I could help them with their school.

My husband hired a friend to come clean the house several times a month which was the most wonderful gift to me.  I would often catch her praying as she worked and she shared that she always prayed for those she cleaned for.  I just loved that.

My husband also insisted we order a curriculum that was already put together and easy to follow in order to alleviate the burden on me to plan lessons, teach and organize the way I had been doing.  As much as I didn't like giving up that role I knew I couldn't do it and that it was a wise decision.

While I couldn't wake up very early, I forced myself to get up each day and attempted to keep my schedule.  I would begin breakfast, Bible time and review lessons with the girls but I often found my energy lacking greatly.  I required frequent rests during the day and went to bed early in the evening.

My biggest frustration was the mental impairment I struggled with on a daily basis.  I was forgetful, I had a terrible time with understanding what I read and had great difficulty making sense of and teaching math.  I found it difficult to concentrate, to communicate clearly and even difficult to understand what my husband or girls were saying to me at times.

Despite my condition, we found ways to work through it making sure the girls were learning what they needed to.  I'm sure we didn't cover everything we could have if I were well but the kids worked hard and they learned so much through the curriculum we chose but also on their own just from reading good books.

Thankfully I found that God fills in the gaps when we ask and trust in Him.

Practical Helps
There were many ways we had to adjust with how we functioned as a family and homeschooled.  To begin with I kept check-off lists to help me track what we needed to do and what the kids completed each day.  That sounds like a relatively normal thing to do right?  My lists were extreme and I had to write down everything because I literally could not think.  I found it helpful to use different color pens so that I could understand what I had written.  I also used sticky notes and a white board that I placed on my fridge with removable Command Strips.

I had a very difficult time processing simple tasks and I found multi-tasking to be impossible, I even struggled just to plan the day.  I knew that I had to do certain things but I didn't know how to go about getting it done.   We had our rhythm and our schedules established from previous years so I tried to continue with those the best I could.  I found it helpful and even imperative at times to use timers and reminder alarms on my phone.

I felt as though my brain wouldn't work, that's the only way I know to explain it, and getting through each day was difficult and exhausting.

When I was well enough, I signed my girls up for classes when I had the opportunity and this took the burden off of me to teach and grade certain subjects that I had more difficulty with because of my illness.

My husband always helped with Math and he led the dinner conversation which usually revolved around what they had learned that day.  This went beyond the "what did you learn today?".  My husband engaged the children in discussion and often went deeper into the topic whether it was History, Science or Bible.

Around the House

Day to day tasks are always difficult when we're not feeling well but impossible when you're down for a long period of time.  Thankfully a friend cleaned my house for a short time but there was still the matter of getting groceries, cooking, laundry and all the other things that needed to be done.

This was a very difficult time for me because I liked my home a certain way.  I liked for it to be clean and organized and clutter free.  I just couldn't make it happen.  I wasn't physically able to scrub my tub or kitchen floor and had to be ok with letting things go. 

I had to let go of my high standards and allow my husband and children to do what they could. I had to be thankful and appreciative of their work and service even though I wanted things done a certain way.

When my girls cleaned the kitchen or reorganized the counter tops or another part of the house, it was important for them that I enjoy their creativity and hard work by expressing to them what a wonderful job they did.  Many times I ended up loving what they came up with and I was so appreciative of how much they helped out.

While I could send hubby to the grocery store for a few things, I ended up finding a grocery company where I could order our groceries online and have them delivered right to my kitchen.  For a small delivery fee a necessary task was done for me which was such a huge help, especially since every step I took caused intense pain.

There are so many other ways we can rearrange how we live in order to keep our homes running and for continuing to homeschool when Mom is ill and while it's harder it can work if the whole family pulls together.

I'm so sorry if you're here reading my blog because you have a chronic illness.  I know how hard it is and how many fears and uncertainties you might have.  If you are going through a challenging season whether you're suffering from health problems or some other difficulty, look to God for your help.  He will provide the guidance, support and encouragement that you'll need to get through to the other side and then you'll be able to encourage someone else in the future.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.


  1. Tricia, I salute you for the strength and fortitude (and faith!) it has taken to handle all of the lyme-related challenges that you and the family have been through. I knew you had been through a lot, but this really sheds light on how intense the struggle was. God has been faithful throughout, and I'm glad you have this blog in which to share the journey with us all.

    1. Thank you Alison! When I look back I know for sure God walked with us every minute! This trial has done amazing things for my faith.


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