hearts at home
In Sickness and In Health
Mary, Mother of Sorrows
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When hearing the word challenging, many will think of homeschooling a large family (how large is large, anyway? Is it four, eight, fifteen children?), or lack of "proper"socialization (i.e., lack of constant same age peer association) or the fact that someone in the family doesn't approve of home education.
While these things can indeed be challenging, it is my intention to cover situations that, for the most part, may never change or will never change. There all many kinds of crosses families bear: a physically, emotionally or spiritually absent spouse; learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder, and the acceptance and socialization we expect but may not receive from other homeschoolers.
Perhaps one of the heaviest crosses any parent must bear is parenting alone. Some are tragically widowed, while others are abandoned through separation or divorce. There are also those who are single parents in a different sense - they are wedded to an unsupportive, negligent, or abusive spouse.
Such a parent who is led to Catholic homeschooling is in the most challenging situation encountered. They are constantly faced with spiritual battles, as well as temporal ones - earning a living, difficulties in paying bills, little or no help in raising the children, household chores, or outside maintenance. How do they cope with all this and homeschool, too?
"It goes back to remembering Christ hasn't abandoned us. He's all we have to rely on," says Rose, homeschooling wife of an alcoholic spouse. "I have to admit there are days when I'm very angry and resentful but I'm careful not to take it out on the children. There are days I want to blame someone for this mess. I think 'If my husband hadn't done this, I wouldn't have done that.' But that gets me nowhere. Somedays when I treat him with kindness, he often responds to it. But it's so hard to hang on. Whatever it is that has a hold on him is more powerful than I am. But I have to remember that God is even more powerful."
"My husband's death has been the hardest thing we've ever lived through," confides Nancy, whose husband died from galloping leukemia last year. "I can't imagine what it would have been like sending the children to school every day while we were in that first year of grief. There were days I wondered how I could do anything. I was so depressed I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. Somehow having my children around me kept me going. Perhaps we didn't do every day things as well as we would under normal circumstances, but we weren't in normal circumstances."
Interference and thoughtless comments on her life or her decisions only added more grief to Nancy's loss. "Even then, people asked me, "You aren't going to continue homeschooling now, are you?" It seemed to me that they were saying that perhaps now, with my husband's death, I would finally come to my senses."
"From one week to the next we don't know how we're going to feel, how we are going to cope," says Eileen, married to a man who hid his drug habit in their early years of wedlock. Now it's an addiction. "Al is good at keeping himself physically and emotionally distant from all of us."
"In the homeschool world, nobody talks about or acknowledges our situations. Many of them act as though we aren't around or that we shouldn't even attempt homeschooling. We don't feel like we can talk our problems over with anybody in our support group," adds Eileen. "Many of the resources out there give advice on how to homeschool but they don't address our problems. And that hurts, I admit it."
"My husband has missed so much with our kids. He doesn't see what he's doing. He's in denial with his alcoholism. And I worry about my children," Rose admits. "How is this affecting them now? Will they turn out the same way? I have done everything I can to teach them the faith. I have to accept they have free will - they will have to make their own choices. I pray for them constantly."
"One of the most disappointing things is that you find out quickly who your true friends are. They let you down when you need them most," interjects Rose. "They give advice that isn't needed. They think they know how to cure your troubles. It's easy to lose your faith when you're abandoned. You try to practice the virtue of perseverance because you really are challenged and put to the test."
Nancy interjects at this point, gently and in a quiet voice. "This is what is the hardest for me to bear. I don't understand why God let my husband die. My husband was a good man and he loved us very much; our lives centered around each other and our children. He will never see them grow up, never dance at their weddings, never hold his grandchildren. I try to be both mother and father to the children, but the fact remains I am their mother. I appreciate others offering help, but their idea of help is different from mine. Sometimes people interfere thinking they can discipline my children. Their excuse is, 'They have no father.' They think they have a right to say or do anything they like to my children because my husband has died! And some have actually said to me, 'It's such a shame your family is broken up now.' Our family is not broken up. We're still together, and I'm trusting that my husband is still watching over us."
"We had to run away from my husband. He was abusing me but when he turned on the children, I finally said enough. I took them and we left when he was at work," shares Anita, who separated from her husband by moving out of the state. "We all had to lstop listening to other people's advice and learn that submissiveness didn't mean we had to take abuse. It was hard going at first, but we made it. We comforted each other and we reminded each other what a relief and blessing it was to be safe. Just be safe! Nobody who hasn't gone through this could understand. I got a job and eventually brought much of the work home. I can't work a 9 to 5 job like other parents because I am committed to homeschooling my children."
"We've learned not to look to anyone except Jesus Christ. I think often of His poor life and His Passion. Sometimes that frightens me, I admit. I'm afraid of the cross and I wonder what I can do to change the situation. So I compare myself to Simeon, who was forced to carry the Cross," Eileen shares. "I don't want to be forced. I want to do it lovingly."
"I pray for young couples who are just starting married life," says Rose. "The whole key is to pray often. Always keep yourself in God's presence. Follow Christ and follow what He wants us to do. That's not easy. It's a spiritual contradiction sometimes. Young families need to know that."
"I always look to Our Lady of Fatima. I really hold onto her," she says. "She said the sacrifice Jesus now asks of us is the offering of our daily duty. That's what we focus on. The children and I pray the Rosary every day and somehow we make it through. We try very hard to make the devotions of the Five First Saturday's. We wear the Brown Scapular because it is our spiritual armor - a sacramental. We pray the Divine Mercy novena."
"Someone told me one day I was wasting my life because I stay home, taking care of all these children, homeschooling them, while my husband flits where ever and whenever he wants to," Eileen chimes in. "I admitted it's hard hanging on. But I told my friend that someday God will ask us, 'What did you do for Me?' I will point to the children He gave me and tell Him I did the best I could. And I think often of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy."
"It's hard to look beyond the other person's faults. We have to know these people are sick somehow - spiritually. And we have to remember our marriage vows - for better or for worse," Rose commented.
"If it becomes a matter of life and death, however, it's time to take the children and leave," Anita is quick to add. "It's very unfair of people who point to saints who put up with abusive situations. The Church doesn't say that 'till death do we part' means my husband can beat me or kill me or the kids. Sometimes separation is the only answer here on earth. I'm not saying it's the only solution in every circumstance, but sometimes it is. That was hard for me to realize and accept."
"It's hard not to be bitter. You look at other happy marriages and wonder what went wrong with yours," comments Eileen. "What did you do to deserve this? And you find out, sooner or later, that you didn't do anything wrong. I finally realized it was my husband's free will to become addicted to alcohol. Nothing is more important to an addict than his drinks or his drugs."
"I know I can't go back and change things, " Rose adds. "There are days I fret and stew. But then I have to realize this whole situation is not my fault. I can't change my husband's alcoholism. I didn't cause it and I can't cure it. All I can do is hang on and pray for him every day. I have to nurture my family, my self, and my faith."
For those who have lost a spouse or child through death, it is hard to understand why God allows the young to die. Allow yourself time to grieve for loved ones who have died. Do not allow other's expectations of how long you should sorrow or how to deal with your own life over-rule your needs and your children's needs. Other parents in similar circumstances have offered the following advice:
It takes faith, love and commitment and some creativity to keep a family together under normal circumstances. When you are parenting alone, you pull strength from somewhere...and you are surprised at finding out that God is with you. It's usually spiritual strength, not physical strength that keeps you going. It's a miracle of grace.