It's a challenge when a parent who home educates becomes ill, because you can't just call in sick the way one might do with an external job. It simply does not seem possible to get the rest that you would really like! I've recently reflected on how much I appreciate that our health is, by and large good. We've had some times of serious illness among the children, I have a chronic illness that I manage better as I get older, but in general our health is not a limitation during the average week or month.
These past couple of months have been a challenge simply because we have faced one virus after another. I had two days when I did need to call in sick from my job, but most of the time it has just been chronic aches and pains and lots and lots of snot. The thing I struggle with then is that I simply don't have the energy to do some of the extra things I would really like to do. My experience with illness (and indeed with most challenges in life) is that God gives sufficiently (2 Corinthians 12:9). Whilst this giving is often abundant, it is not always in excess of the actual needs presented. And that causes me to stop and consider those things that really matter. We might often use phrases like, 'You can't do it all', but at the same time, continue to burn the candle at both ends, take on extra projects, try to be in several places at one time. But the truth is, we cannot do it all. But as Jesus reassured Martha who was frustrated at her sister Mary's lack of help in the kitchen, 'Only one thing is needed'. (Luke Chapter 10, and a helpful book expanding 'a Mary heart in a Martha world' is reviewed here). Often as Christians, we can 'know' certain things, but it is times of challenge and trial which really remind us of what is true.
There are a number of helpful blogs describing how certain families have continued home schooling through the illness of one or both parents. (Simply google 'homeschooling whilst ill' and other similar keywords and you will find many hits). It can be helpful to read how other families have approached situations, but there is always that problem that nobody else's situation is exactly the same as your own - sometimes comparisons can be helpful, but sometimes you want to ask, 'What about if we have nobody to ask for help?', or 'what about when X, Y or Z?'. I would encourage you to sit down, to reflect and to pray, both alone and with your spouse, about those things which really matter. If we are talking about short term illnesses which are part and parcel of being human, then having a list of essential tasks and priorities might be all you need to lift the burden enough to recover. (Of course if you are facing something more challenging - perhaps requiring frequent hospital visits, operations, or treatments that make you feel very unwell for a prolonged period, then the decisions you need to make as a family are different - and I will not attempt to address these here).
What are the things that really matter? For our family, this could be our list:
1) Three meals. Whilst we cook everything from scratch, and often seek to involve the children in the cooking as a great educational opportunity, there is nothing to be ashamed of in having a meal from the freezer, opening a few tins, or having cheese on toast as a main meal. So long as it is not every day! It might be worth freezing batches of meals you have cooked at other times, in anticipation of such 'rainy days'
2) Bible time. Especially when people are not well, it is important to remember that God has not changed, and that His promises are particularly rich.
3) Time out in the fresh air - this can be a challenge if you are feeling dreadful. What I have found helpful when I've been less energetic than normal is to take the boys out on their bikes (they are aged nearly 3, 5 and 5) because then I can walk quite slowly around the park whilst they whizz up and down, playing races and all kinds of other games and generally getting cold and tired. It uses a lot of their energy, and conserves some of mine! (And also, a small amount of time in the fresh air is generally helpful).
4) Stories. Because we use literature-based methods, it can be quite nice to cuddle up on the sofa and read some of our favourite books time after time. I ask the boys to bring me a book each, and this keeps on going as long as their attention holds, which can be a good hour or so.
5) Free play. The boys all still nap, but the older two for a shorter time. Sometimes, if I am feeling awful, when they get up I let them choose a favourite game or toy (often lego) and ask them to play quietly on the floor whilst I rest on the sofa. I have been surprised at how kind they have been when they realise that mummy isn't well, and how well they have been able to play with little supervision for about 40 minutes.
6) Something else I keep for such rainy days is you tube Bible stories, such as those from the Beginners' Bible which I would highly recommend. We don't have 'screen time' as part of our day to day life, and I am glad for that, but it can have occasional value if the material is carefully selected (wildlife documentaries are also a big hit). I've explained some of my concerns about television elsewhere, but heard this delightful poem by Roald Dahl on the radio this evening, which says a lot!
And often, then, the day has almost passed. It can feel like survival. It can feel wrong to go to bed at 7.30pm shortly after the children. But we have managed to do the things that matter most, and another day is over.
I wonder what strategies you use when you feel very unwell?
- I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure.