Q&A: How to Cope When Life Interrupts Your Homeschool

This year has been crazy—my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, we had to move unexpectedly, and my husband broke his ankle playing soccer with the kids. To say that homeschooling has gotten short shrift would be a major understatement, and things don’t look to be settling back to normal any time soon. How do you handle homeschooling when life keeps getting in the way?

I’m so sorry you’ve got so much on your plate right now. Maybe it helps a little to know that even though you might sometimes feel like the world’s worst homeschooling parent, everything is going to be okay. Sometimes life gets in the way of homeschooling—and that’s the way it has to be because homeschooling is part of your life.

You don’t say how old your kids are, but if they haven’t started high school yet, give yourself permission to unschool for a while. Instead of trying to make new schedules and hunt for easier-to-use curriculum materials, just stock up on open-ended activities, like math games, puzzle books, art supplies, readalouds, building materials, etc. Have what we call “do something” time each day—kids can choose from a variety of activities you’ve decided on together, and that counts as your school time. They may reread the Harry Potter series, draw a series of still life pictures, or watch math videos on Khan Academy. During this time, be as present as you can be. When you have a lot to deal with, it’s easy to fall into the trap of checking your phone or your email all the time, but try to set aside short blocks of time where you’re just focused on being with your kids. For your own sanity, don’t try to make this active teaching time—just be with them, whether you’re reading together or playing Uno.

Think about how you’d like your children to handle stress, setbacks, and unexpected problems in their own lives, and try to model that behavior.

If your student is in high school and missing time could affect his transcript, talk about it. He may be fine with adding some lesson time to his summers or waiting an extra year to graduate—neither of which is a big deal. If he’s worried about falling behind, consider signing him up for a semester of online classes. It may not be the first choice for either of you, but if he wants to stay on schedule, it’s a straightforward way to do it.

Check in with yourself regularly to make sure that homeschooling still makes sense for your family. Sending the kids back to school—for a while or for good—isn’t a homeschool failure; sometimes it’s the thing that makes the most sense for your family’s life. It sounds like a lot of your life disruptions will settle down with time, but if you can’t foresee a time or event that would stabilize your everyday life, you might want to consider your options beyond hands-on homeschooling.

Above all, don’t feel guilty. Try to think about how you’d like your children to handle stress, setbacks, and unexpected problems in their own lives, and try to model that behavior. You’d probably want them to take good care of themselves and keep their focus on doing the best they can without beating themselves up about the places where they fall short. Sometimes, following our own advice is the smartest thing we can do.

This Q&A was originally published in the summer 2016 issue of HSL.