This is a guest post by Jenna Kay. Jenna is a homeschool graduate and single mom raising three boys in South Carolina. She blogs about unextreme fitness at NotSoFitGirl.com.
Homeschooling is a huge commitment, as any homeschooling family will tell you. There’s a loss of a potential second income, the challenge to stay on track academically while balancing the demands of parenthood, the expense of curriculum, and the juggling of multiple kids in multiple grades. It’s a lot to manage.
As a product of private school, public school, and homeschooling, I knew from experience that homeschooling was what I wanted for my future children.
My love story was never really much of a love story. I only agreed to go out with my future husband so he would see that we had nothing in common. There was a lot of manipulation, some boundaries were crossed, and as a Christian, I felt like I had no other options—despite advice and warnings from my family, friends, and even my pastor. But married we were. In hindsight, I realize that the abuse began before the wedding, but it got physical shortly after the wedding. I left. He went to anger management. We reconciled. I learned how to alter my behavior when he got mad so as to mitigate the abuse. Not long after our 5th anniversary, baby boy #1 arrived, followed in quick succession by babies #3 and #4. Baby #2 was lost due to a miscarriage after my husband twice shoved me to the ground during arguments. The verbal abuse toward me never ended, though the physical abuse toward me was sporadic. When my husband crossed the line and put his hands on one of my children, I packed up the kids’ and my things and left. More apologies. More anger management and counseling. More promises. We reconciled again. But things never really got better. The abuse never ended, and it was exacerbated by his anger toward me for having reported the abuse toward our son. When I found myself standing on the driveway coaching my then-7-year-old how to behave so as to not further anger his daddy, who was on the warpath because I had let him oversleep, I knew that my children were not being raised in a safe environment.
I never, ever, wanted to be a divorced, single mom of three. If I had a magic wand and could change my husband into the man he often pretended to be out in public, I would do it in a heartbeat. I loved him. I still love him. But I couldn’t let my boys believe that it’s okay to treat people the way their father treated us.
When you’re a homeschooling mom going through a divorce, everyone expects that you’ll toss your tweedles into public school, get a job, find a new man, and live happily ever after. But homeschooling was my ministry. Raising my children was what I wanted to do when I “grew up.” The last thing I wanted to do, in the midst of this chaotic turn in their lives, was further disrupt their reality by putting them in public school.
It wasn’t easy. We moved in with my parents, which was tough for the boys and me, and harder on my parents. Empty-nesters for a number of years, they were overwhelmed by the energy of my three young boys, despite being young grandparents. The boys had little room to play. Where we had once had a nice, dedicated school room, we now used my parents’ kitchen table, though my dad did make a beautiful book shelf for us to keep our school stuff.
Money was also an issue. While my husband was paying some support, it wasn’t enough for us to live on. We went from about a $100,000 a year income and free military housing, to about a $15,000 a year income. I couldn’t afford to get us our own place. My parents provided so much for the boys and I, more than I could ever repay. I had to really change my spending habits, which was probably the biggest challenge for me, personally. I wanted the boys to do homeschool PE, art classes, Cub Scouts, have memberships to the children’s museum and science centers, and participate in local homeschool activities. But we just couldn’t afford it.
It was also a challenge being a single mom in a world of happy, Christian couples. While the majority of the families at our church homeschooled, we weren’t included in group activities like gingerbread-house-making parties, trips to the zoo, and end-of-the-year barbecues. When a family plans a dinner party, they think of families similar to theirs—and so the single, homeschooling mom is often overlooked, though she is probably the one most in need of an evening talking to grown-ups.
Homeschooling moms know that sometimes you just need a break, and that’s even more true for the single homeschooling mom. I’ve been blessed with friends and family who have watched my children while I meet with a Guardian ad Litem, or my assistant pastor who volunteered to teach the boys how to build shelves at the church on Ladies Bible Study night at church, so that I could participate in the Bible study. My local YMCA also offers a monthly parents-night-out, which I’ve taken advantage of to meet a girlfriend for dinner, or get a pedicure. However, the Lord has really worked on my perspective of “needing a break.” Raising my children is a ministry. If I was a missionary in a foreign country, I wouldn’t get a break. I’ll have plenty of time for solitude once my tweedles are raised and out on their own. I’m SO grateful for the time I get to spend with them—every moment is precious.
Other single homeschooling moms (there are a LOT of us out there) will tell you one of their biggest obstacles is getting people to understand why we’re determined to raise and homeschool our children, when it just doesn’t make sense to so many. When I stood before the judge in our fist divorce and custody hearing, the judge looked at me over his reading glasses and admonished, “Homeschooling is a luxury you may not be able to afford.” However, he ordered that I was to continue homeschooling for at least that school year, to provide some continuity for the boys in the midst of all the other disruption. I take issue with his assertion that homeschooling is a “luxury,” however. Raising my own children is not a luxury. They didn’t ask for their life to be disrupted, for their family to be torn apart. Why shouldn’t they have as much access to their mom after a divorce as they had to her before the divorce? It seems counter-intuitive to me, to further separate a child from his custodial parent when he or she is already separated from their non-custodial parent. My husband lives more than 6 hours away, so the boys don’t get to see him very often. Homeschooling gives us a lot more flexibility to work visitation around just their dad’s schedule. If you throw public school into the mix, coupled with the rigidity of a full-time job, that puts a lot of limitation on visitation.
Regretfully, I succumbed to the pressure to put my tweedles in public school this year, and am working part-time. It’s much, much more stressful than homeschooling. Two of the three tweedles have adjusted fairly well, though all three beg almost daily to homeschool again. They miss the time we had together. They hate being in a classroom rather than being out experiencing the world around them. Because of my work schedule, we only have about 2 stress-filled hours together in the evening to eat dinner, finish up homework, take showers, and get to bed. We’ve lost some of that cohesiveness. I don’t have time to read them bedtime stories. I don’t know my kids as well as I used to. And with the added influence of classmates, they’re changing so fast—not necessarily in good ways—that it’s hard for me to keep up.
I pray daily that the Lord might create an opportunity for us to resume homeschooling. I know it’s possible—there are a lot of single homeschooling moms out there who daily sacrifice so that they can be a consistent pillar for their children. If you know a single mom or dad who homeschools, perhaps you can consider ways that you might help them in their ministry to their children. After all, they’re homeschooling for all the same reasons that you are, and maybe a few reasons that you’re blessed to never have to consider.
Homeschooling Through Difficult Times Series