Homeschooling With Chronic Illness: Yes You Can!

Juggling motherhood and chronic medical conditions is challenging. I am a mother of two. I also have two types of cancer. I’ve lost my thyroid and adrenals to these cancers. The battle continues, and yet so does life. I can’t put my kids on hold when I don’t feel well.

Around 2017 I started considering homeschool. At the time I had a kindergartner and a first grader, and the kindergartner was not adjusting well to school. This caused me a great deal of stress and worry which is particularly awful for people with adrenal insufficiency and cancer. At the time I struggled with self doubt about the decision. Was I qualified? Was I healthy enough to teach my children? Would I be hindering them socially and academically?

An unexpected plot twist…

Flash forward to 2020. COVID caused the schools to shut down. For the first two weeks the school was scrambling to make a plan. Meanwhile, I happened to have a homeschool binder ready to go that I had been using every previous summer and spring break. 

And so it begins…

I updated our curriculum and off we went.
Homeschooling was a blast! We had so much fun learning through activities, reading, watching documentaries and (educational) YouTube videos together. We went on nature walks and journaled. Rode bikes, had a picnic. Made our own neighborhood maps and learned how to navigate. We found examples of math at home and in nature. We started a garden and learned about the environment. Suddenly, education was fun. This was nothing like public school, learning wasn’t work nor was it boring. It was a family activity that we all enjoyed. This was eye opening for all of us. 

A note…

I want to pause here and say, we had a very good public school. Our decison to homeschool was not due to any failings on the part of the teachers or staff. No one could have been prepared for COVID. There was only so much any of us could do in this situation. The teachers went above and beyond the call of duty, and I’m forever grateful for the influence they had in my children’s lives.

Distance learning…

After those first two weeks, the school began their distance learning program. We were required to participate or risk a failing grade. The fun was over. Now we were trying to figure out a barrage of emails, links, logins, and apps. Keeping track of the assignments posted in various places, logging in to numerous apps, filling out online worksheets and forms made learning drudgery again. All of us were more stressed and frustrated than ever. Virtual learning was particularly problematic for my daughter. I would watch her hyperventilate and shut down. I emailed her teachers asking how they normally handle her frustration with school work, and from their response I got the gist that this was actually normal. That this is what school was for her. This realization broke my heart.

Why? Why did it have to be this way? Why does learning have to be frustrating and stressful? We were having fun learning just a few days before.

We did our best to struggle through virtual learning. I didn’t want to give up this close to the end of the year. 

Except it was sucking the life out of us. Myself in particular. For one assignment I counted that we had to use 6 logins and/or apps just to complete one assignment, in one subject, for one student. There were so many tabs open that we had to navigate back and forth. The work itself was also a challenge and turning in assignments was usually a multi-step process as well. At this point, I was the one in tears. 

A painful reminder…

This forced me to relive memories of my own public school experience with undiagnosed ADHD. I was singled out and bullied. More so by my teachers than the other students. Rather than recognizing my learning style differed from the other students and helping me break these overwhelming assignments down, I was punished. They found various ways to place me in isolation, whether it be a study carol, a small room, the hallway, or a masking tape square around my desk at the back of the room. Obviously none of these things help a student learn. It only serves to crush their spirit and extinguish their love of learning. Though the school has improved greatly at accommodating special needs students in the 20+ years since I was a student at the same school…I knew I could not let this happen to my children. I had the opportunity to give them an individualized education. 

Every family is different. Distance learning did not work for us. We needed to go back to the method that was working– homeschool. 

Making the leap…

Even though I was confident this was the best choice for us, I was still nervous. Those doubts popped back up. It’s just so counter cultural to withdraw from school. We are so accustomed to public schooling that we can hardly fathom education without it. Researching and talking to experienced homeschool moms helped ease my fears, and I took the leap…
It felt just like that, a leap. Jumping right into unknown territory. We were really doing this!  

We went back to our homeschool curriculum and focused on having fun learning from the world that was all around us, fostering independence, and teaching life skills.

Homeschool for us means hikes, gardening, experiments, building things, art projects, raising insects, making yogurt, drawing maps, writing codes, riding bikes, having picnics, doing yoga, and so much more!

Traditional school teaches them that learning is work– boring. Once my kids began to realize that learning could be fun, something changed in them. They wanted to learn all the time. Learning became our lifestyle. They willingly chose to learn as often as they could. I was not expecting this at all. 

Things were going well, we were back on track, but homeschooling with a chronic medical issues is not all sunshine and rainbows.

Homeschooling when you’re sick…

Because I have adrenal insufficiency, when my body is dealing with any illness or infection it is more serious than dealing with a few symptoms. It starts before I show any signs of an illness. I start to slow down, like a dying battery. The fatigue builds the more the infection grows. In a few days I can barely sit up, it becomes harder to do basic things like get dressed, make myself food, get water. I was in pain, that was getting worse by the day. At the same time my patience was wearing thin and my brain was getting foggier. I was teaching while curled up on the couch.

I went to an urgent care and they were too distracted by my cancer diagnosis to consider that perhaps I had an ordinary illness. I got no help and went home still in pain. 

A few days later, the pain was much worse. I would teach in the morning balled up on the couch, then once our lessons were over,  I would curl up on our hammock while the kids played outside. We would also read together in the hammock. I was struggling, but still homeschooling. 

I was sick, struggling with pain and fatigue. My adrenal insufficiency was flaring due to an underlying infection. I would teach from the couch then move my sore, tired body to the hammock so my kids could play outside. Chronic illness mamas find a way.

Finally, I couldn’t take the pain, and this time I was able to get to my primary doctor instead of urgent care. My doctor could easily see I had a kidney infection. I was given a round of antibiotic and felt increasingly better each day. 

You can do it Mama…

It is tough when your health is fragile. It’s hard to homeschool when your health makes you bed bound, but its not impossible. You can read or have them read to you. Even if your kid is too young to read, have them “read” you a picture book. Watch documentaries and videos together from the couch or bed. Sing together, play a simple game like go fish, war, connect 4, guess who. You can make this work!

Life skills are a win-win…

I emphasize life skills because I’ve always been a chronic illness mama. Even when my kids were toddlers I needed them to help out. Teach them everything you can. Have them help you with a chore at first. At 2 years old my son was helping me unload and load the dishwasher. Of course he couldn’t do it by himself back then, but we all start somewhere. It’s okay if they do a terrible job at first. They are learning. They might make a mess on the floor. Show them how to grab a towel and clean it up.

Kids love to help, and it builds self-esteem.

Don’t micromanage or criticize how they do it. Make peace with the imperfection. All of this will come in handy one day when you feel like utter crap and your kids can help with the basic household chores and even bring you food and water when you’re too sick to get out of bed. 

It seems strict, like Cinderella or something. Don’t be fooled. You’re actually building their confidence and self esteem. Praise them for their effort. Let them know how much they helped you and how much you appreciate them. Tell them a family is a team and it’s good to help each other out. Tell them you are proud of them and that they should be proud of themselves too. They will love being a capable, contributing member of the family. They will love knowing they are valued and important. 

You are doing great…

Before you beat yourself up about all the ways you think you and your illness are hindering your child, stop and think of all the ways you’re helping them. They see you struggle and never give up, they learn perseverance. They see your hard days, they learn compassion and empathy. Maybe you can’t physically do or provide all the things the other parents can, instead your child learns to be content and grateful. 

He brought me some flowers when I was sick in bed. Dandelions wither away, but the love you share with your children does not.

You are not failing! Even with your imperfections and mistakes, you are the perfect mama for your kids! You CAN do this!

Hang in there mama!


One thought on “Homeschooling With Chronic Illness: Yes You Can!

  1. Wow. Your blog is so incredibly inspirational! An adrenalcorticalcarcinoma survivor over here with adrenal insufficiency and trying to navigate life. Thank you for your honesty and transparency! Keep on tackling life one day at a time 🙂


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