“Divorce can be like a Scarlet Letter of sorts. You never want to be the D-word. It’s hard to even bring yourself to say it about yourself.”
Yet that’s where homeschooling mom Nancy Vining found herself a couple of years ago. Divorce and homeschooling may seem mutually exclusive, but Nancy was determined to make it work.
She’d always homeschooled her two children. Very early on, she began teaching phonics games to satisfy her daughter’s “insatiable thirst for words,” and watched as her daughter read her first word at age 2.
Nancy and her husband saw homeschooling as an attractive option because they wanted to weave their faith into subjects such as science and history. They also had concerns about the safety, quality, and culture of the public school system. But one of the major reasons Nancy liked the idea is simply because she enjoyed being with her kids and didn’t want to send them off for the better part of the day, every day.
Initially, she thought she’d school only through elementary school. “Teaching both my kids to read has been a huge highlight of our homeschooling…I got to open their little lives to a whole new world of being able to read books, signs, and anything they came across.” As they progressed and the kids thrived, she decided to keep going through high school.
Just as her daughter reached high school, Nancy’s life took a sharp turn when she and her husband divorced. The transition was hard. “All of a sudden, you are everything. Cook, House Cleaner, Teacher, Principal, Guidance Counselor, Mentor, Provider, Driving Instructor, and Mom. There are many nights of tears where you don’t know how you can do it all.”
Many friends found the situation hard to respond to. “They just don’t know how to be your friend in the mess of it all.” Her family and a few close friends offered her invaluable moral support and the occasional gift to cover financial needs. But they all lived hundreds of miles away; Nancy couldn’t rely on them for babysitting, rides, help with house repairs, or the homeschooling. If she wanted to continue to educate her children at home, she had to pull the load herself.
“Because I had been home from my career for 12+ years, I was able to get spousal support and of course child support, both of which help.” Nancy drew on that dormant career as a CPA to fill in the gaps. This past year, she taught Economics and Accounting at a homeschool co-op, which worked well because her children were already there. She found a second part-time job as an accountant for a small local church. “They have been very supportive of my homeschooling and have allowed me to work from home as much as I can.” In addition to her two part-time jobs, Nancy is also building a home-based business, working during the “open times” of her day—in the morning before school, waiting during appointments, while her children are in a class, and in the evenings.
As for school, their days are busy and each year looks a little different. While Nancy sits down with each child for some subjects, both are fairly self-sufficient workers. “I am there to plan, guide, help, and grade their work.” Time management, she admits, is still a work in progress for both of them.
School also involves the co-op, a dual-enrollment class at the local community college, and an online course. And sports season “is a whole new level of crazy.”
“You just keep going and doing and praying and soon you find you are through another school year or another baseball or soccer season. You realize that you and your kids survived. And not just survived, but you enjoyed it and you grew together as a family. And then the struggle turns to joy.”
Nancy’s advice for other parents caught up in this struggle?
- Take it one day and sometimes one hour at a time. You absolutely cannot look too far ahead. You will get overwhelmed and discouraged.
- Find and make friends who will encourage you, tell you that you are indeed a good mom, and that you are doing your very best and that is enough. You know your kids better than anyone, so you are perfect for the job of raising and teaching them.
- Don’t suffer in silence. Find help. I have been amazed at how our needs have been met just by asking around for someone with expertise, whether it is a handy man, a neighbor, a friend of a friend, or a total stranger.
- You must trust God for the day in front of you and ask Him to give you peace and help you with decisions. He walks with you every day. He cares about the details.
The life of a single-parent homeschooler is hard; Nancy wouldn’t wish it on anyone. “I look back and I don’t know how we make it all work and actually sleep, eat, and stay sane.”
“But we have found our new normal,” she adds. “And it’s a good new normal.”
If you are a single parent struggling to homeschool, contact HSLDA’S Home School Foundation for information, resources, and financial assistance.
Photo Credit: First graphic design by Anna Soltis. Second courtesy of author.