Home Education and Mum’s Chronic Illness 

Home Education and Mum’s Chronic Illness 

Kylie Anderson

Let me introduce myself. I am a home educating mother of five. We have been home educating for 13 years and my children are now 17, 15, 9, 7 and 4. I first had symptoms of myalgic encephalomyelitis/ chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) in my late teens while doing VCE. I’d have periods of fatigue so severe I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks and then I would be basically normal for a year or so. After the birth of my second child I never fully recovered and my health has gotten worse over the years. The last two years I have been basically bedridden for six months each year and working on 25% of normal the rest of the time. 

This article is to share my experiences and advice for those in the same situation, who are trying to home educate with limited health. I am not speaking to those with children who have chronic illnesses though some thoughts may be relevant too. I am aware that chronic illness is a very broad category. Some of us suffer from fatigue, some from pain, some have lots of health practitioner appointments, some have better days and worse days, some have better months and worse months. So I realise my experience will not be the same as everyone else’s. Please take what is helpful from this article and ignore anything that is not relevant to your situation. 

Home educating with a chronic illness. Are you crazy?
To be honest, some days I want to say ‘yes’. So why would someone with a chronic illness choose to home educate? Of course there are all the regular reasons: philosophy, faith, tailored education, issues at school etc. Specifically related to chronic illness, my biggest motivation to home educate is that it lets my kids get the best of me, whether I am at my best in the morning, or the evening, or at night. Even at my worst, the kids being home all day means they can come into my room for cuddles whenever they need to, or if they think I need one too. Every precious minute I can function, I am with my family. Sometimes those with terminal illnesses or a spouse with a terminal illness will home educate for the same reason. They don’t want to waste a minute of the time they have left. Your children can keep learning for the rest of their lives. They have limited time and they want to spend it on things that matter. For me, the energy I would spend trying to get kids to school and pick them up again would mean I would be too tired to do anything but rest the whole time they are at school. Because I am in charge of their education, I know what they are being taught even when I would be too unwell to keep up with what is going on at school. 

Won’t my kids miss out? 

Yes and no. All kids miss out on some things. We can’t do everything as parents and often home educated kids have more time to do the things they love than kids in school do. Kids are better off having time to relax and be themselves than constantly going to activities all the time. There are times my kids have missed out on activities because I couldn’t take them. There are other times a fellow home educator took my kids to activities for me or came to my home to help run a science experiment. 

Then there are the gains. My teens are totally capable of doing all the housework including grocery shopping and cooking, which they have been involved in from a young age. Having to care for siblings and Mum teaches kids compassion, selflessness and to be gentle with others. Not that mine are perfect, but they are growing into adults I would want to be friends with. 

What about socialisation? 

I’m not going to give the standard home ed answer here. We do not socialise much with other home educators. When I am well we do more, when I am not we do less. In my opinion our children have enough social opportunities in their daily life without me needing to create them. We go to church every Sunday, my teens attend youth group, and my smaller kids will make friends with anyone they come across at the playground. But I am only talking about socialising. What about training them to know how to act in society? Again, I feel my kids have plenty of opportunities without me seeking these out. They shop from age eight and have to interact with the shop staff. They have to know how to pay for things. They know how to ask for help if they need it. They spend time at the doctors with me and learn how to sit quietly, without electronics, and wait. They make friends with the local librarians. There are many opportunities in day-to-day life to teach children how to behave well, even if that opportunity is saying, ‘I overreacted then, I should have handled it this way.’ 

How do you handle bad days? 

The best way to handle bad days will depend on how frequent they are, and how long they last. I’ve read lots of articles about what to do when Mum has an acute illness, but you have to handle things differently when you are sick all the time. 

Focus on what is important. This may be school work, or it may be you resting, or it may be connecting with your kids. 

Find curricula that work on bad days. Over the years I have moved toward curricula that are video- based so that I am not the one teaching most of the time. My kids could also use a workbook but mine prefer video-based. We read a lot which is independent once they learn to read. Audio books are also an option. There are educational streaming services you can subscribe to. Leave lots of time for free play and exploration, especially when children are young. 

Don’t feel guilty about doing what you need to do. 

We have a ‘no screens for play before 5pm’ rule. They may use them to work but not to socialise or play during the day. (COVID lockdowns made me relax the socialising rule). That said, if I really need to rest, or I need quiet, I will allow screens at times, because my needs at the time are more important than the rule. As you can imagine, four boys and a girl can make a lot of noise. 

Have different ‘modes’ that your children understand. Because my energy levels vary a lot, and often relapses last for months, we have different expectations for different energy levels. 

When I can’t get out of bed, the teens are expected to do their work. My nine-year-old does some structured learning, but not all that he would on a good day. My seven and four-year-olds do no formal learning on those days. If I am up and at my computer, my teens still work independently and I will start the day with 45 mins with my seven-year- old, then help my nine-year-old. All children are always expected to do their chores each day. You could set up a traffic light system where you can simply tell your kids if it is a red, yellow, or green day for you and they will know what is going to be happening that day. 

Remember home education is a marathon, not a sprint. My eldest has ‘missed’ at least three years combined of structured learning because of what I was unable to teach over the last twelve years. He is not behind. I used to stress. I used to say every year: ‘This is the year we need to buckle down’. I now realise I was trying to do too much and my nine- year-old is benefitting from my experience. Sometimes you come back to a subject after a long time off and be amazed at what your children learned when you weren’t teaching, or they come to you with something they read or saw on YouTube, because they were interested in it. This is real learning that sticks. 

Do things the easy way. When I first started home educating, someone said to me, ‘You either spend time and energy, or you spend money’. I know many home educators search the internet for free things, but I have found a purchased curriculum that fits my high-powered computereducation style is a much better fit for our family. We are not well off, but I have more spare money than I have spare time and energy. I buy Kiwi Crates and MEL Science kits because I don’t have the energy to find materials for a project. I have a lot of miscellaneous craft items and a lot of Pinterest ideas, but if it doesn’t come in a box, it just doesn’t happen. Even when I am well, often I don’t have the energy to concentrate for more than two hours a day. You become excellent at prioritising and not trying to do everything ‘the right way’ when you only have two hours a day to do everything. 

Get help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask friends or neighbours; ask other home educators. Kids can do housework, it might not be as good as you would do it but it’s better than nothing. Can Dad help out? Hire a cleaner if you can afford it. Do the things that only Mum can do and outsource other tasks to other family members. My husband started his own business so he could work from home nine years ago. Money comes in with new clients so we don’t have a predictable income, but having him home to make sure the kids were cared for when I couldn’t do anything became the most important thing to us, and now we love our family lifestyle. I know this is not possible for everyone, but it may be worth considering. 

Finally, remember that what your kids need most from you is you. One of the greatest perks of home education is the relationships it fosters within your family. If nothing else you are there with your family, walking this road beside them and they will treasure that later in life. 

Otherways 171 (Feb 2022)

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