Homeschooling the Kids You Actually Have

I came across Kate Bowler, author of The Lives We Actually Have, about a year ago. Faced with Stage IV cancer during the prime of her life, Kate realized that while there is no escape from the pain of this world, there is much truth and beauty to be found in the midst of that pain. Kate has lived her life since her cancer diagnosis spreading joy that goes beyond positive thinking but rather encourages others to find gratitude in the lives we actually live. Her book includes “blessings” for the beautiful days, terrible days, and those in between.

You could say that Kate Bowler is a wonder chaser. Although I would never want to compare homeschooling to what Kate has gone through, we at Chasing Wonder know that homeschooling moms are often overwhelmed, worried, tired, and face special challenges. We know because we have been there ourselves. Chasing Wonder wants to help moms find joy right where they are, accept the lives and kids they actually have, and simplify homeschooling. We want moms and their students to have an easier time finding wonder in the beautiful days, the terrible days, and every day in between.

While I am not facing anything as difficult as Kate was, learning about her inspired me to apply some of Kate’s outlook to the life I actually live, including homeschooling the kids I actually have. I find the idea of seeking miracles amidst the mundane to be a compelling life lesson. Would you also like to chase wonder in your homeschooling, even during the drab and demanding days?

Homeschooling, as an extension of committed parenting, often draws you in with promises and high hopes. When you begin homeschooling, you have so much to look forward to: You understand how good it will be to spend more quality time with your children. You desire for your children to have incredible sibling relationships with each other. You want to find your child’s strengths and build on them, while working on deficits in a safe environment. You want to impart life skills, a deep sense of morality, and the values most dear to your heart on to your children.

But, then, real life often gets in the way of these ideals.

There is the life you actually live, the children you actually have, and the you that actually is.

Quality time might be elusive even with quantity time increasing. You–and your children–might feel weary of not getting breaks from each other. The siblings might be taking rivalry to a whole new level. You might have a child with special needs that makes “normal” family bonding extra difficult. Maybe the curriculum you picked seems to shrink your child’s strengths and magnify their weaknesses. Maybe no one will do chores, at least not without grumbling. You might find your kids just plain being mean more often than you ever thought possible or arguing too much with you and each other. Maybe one of the parents or children has a chronic illness, and the stress of adding in doctor appointments and pain or symptom management adds to your daily battle. You might be taking care of an elderly parent on top of homeschooling. Perhaps you’re in the middle of a move, a job change, a church change, a complicated extended family, or you’re all adjusting to the recent death of an important family member.

How do you accept the place of struggling you find yourself in, and yet begin to ruthlessly chase wonder and connection in the midst of it?

It starts with looking around and taking inventory of what is going on right now. Take stock of the good, bad, and ugly. Where are your dreams falling short? Where are things not working as well as expected?

Next comes ruthlessly accepting reality, including your feelings about this reality. When I come across negative emotions or reactions, as a Christian, I lean in to trusting that God has a plan for my life, spending time in prayer sharing my emotions and fears, feeling His love wrap around me right where (and who) I am today. Sometimes sharing how I feel about a situation aloud with a spouse, a good friend, or a therapist who accepts me “as is” will bring a huge sense of relief. I also find that when an uncomfortable emotion arises within me, stopping what I am doing and leaning into that emotion for 10 seconds helps immensely. Am I suddenly and intensely angry with one of my children? I feel my shoulders tense and my jaw clench. Instead of telling myself I’m a bad mom for this emotion, now I relax my shoulders, take a deep breath, and let the anger move like a wave through me. The acceptance of our emotions in these various ways, or whatever ways work for you, seems to tremendously tame them.

Once you’ve looked at the struggles and made peace with the life you actually live, only then can you look at what aspects of your life are within your control and where changes can be made. Yes, you want to accept the realities of your homeschooling lives, and look for joy in the middle of the hard. But, you also can begin to define the biggest “pain points” and find ways to make life work a little better.

Infinite possibilities can be exciting, but sometimes even more beautiful is doubling down on the life that you have. –Kate Bowler

At Chasing Wonder, we have found one of the best ways for homeschooling moms to feel less overwhelmed is to first accept the reality they are living, then sit down and consider their highest values and most important priorities. Once a thorough evaluation has been made of what actually is and what the most important values are, parents are free to set up simple systems that reflect those values and priorities–rhythms and routines so streamlined they become a lifestyle. Chasing Wonder: A Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Yearly Planning helps you do just that. Even better, our Clarity and Connection Bootcamp (coming soon!) allows us to walk thoughtfully through these steps with you.

My son, who is pursuing his MA in clinical counseling, tells me our materials look a lot like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. After googling, I think he’s on to something.  According to Psychology Today, ACT helps clients stop “avoiding, denying, and struggling with their inner emotions and, instead, accept that these deeper feelings are appropriate responses to certain situations.” ACT teaches clients to accept the hardships, and commit to making necessary changes in behavior so as to not let the hardships or their feelings about the hardships prevent them from moving forward.

“We as a culture seem to be dedicated to the idea that ‘negative’ human emotions need to be fixed, managed, or changed—not experienced as part of a whole life. We are treating our own lives as problems to be solved as if we can sort through our experiences for the ones we like and throw out the rest. Acceptance, mindfulness, and values are key psychological tools needed for that transformative shift.”

Steven C Hayes, developer of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

We don’t have to trade in the kids we have for better kids, or wait for the new job, better house, or more interesting curriculum for us to be happy. We need better connection, clarity on priorities and values, and simple tools and systems to fall back on. And we need an eye for chasing wonder in the middle of chaos.