This was a bad day. A horrible day. A day which has made you question why in the world you ever dared to think that you could homeschool your own children in the first place. This was a Really.Bad.Day. You would be tempted to call it The Worst Day Ever Possible, except that you are afraid that tomorrow may sink even lower.
Parents who are new to homeschooling, as well as those who have been at this for several years, will all experience Disaster Days from time to time. Books will disappear. Previously learned lessons will evaporate from memories. Chores will remain undone. Pencils will remain untouched. Children will fight. Children will scream. Parents will scream back. Tears will flow.
Right now, you need to take a few deep breaths and try to stop shaking. Let the children go outside to play in the relative safety of the back yard or send them to their respective rooms for a period of contemplation and personal reflection, while you and I work at redeeming this Day of Disaster.
Your first assignment is to look back over the day for anything positive. Did most members of the family perform their daily routine of personal hygiene? If not yet, maybe they can still get it completed before bedtime tonight. Was enough food consumed to be considered a meal? If not yet, you can have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a glass of milk for supper or a bedtime snack, covering the four basic food groups in the most basic way.
If a single workbook page was completed, you have made progress. If a single lesson concept was explained or discussed, you have made progress. If a single page of a single book was read, you have made progress. No, it is not a giant leap of progress, it is not a baby step of progress, and it is not at all what you had planned to complete today, but it is progress, nonetheless.
Maybe the dirty dishes piled up to new record heights, but that is probably a good indicator that your family ate today. Maybe your toddler escaped from the house and ran around the neighborhood stripping off his clothing as he went — but that is an indicator that he is mastering the skill of dressing himself. Ok, undressing himself, but it is still a necessary skill in life. Maybe a pipe burst under the bathroom sink and flooded the whole room, but once the proper repairs have been made and the mess is finally cleaned up, that floor will be cleaner than it has been for quite some time. Give yourselves a hearty pat on the back for any subject that was actually completed today. Bonus points will be awarded to any family who completed an entire load of laundry — even if it was only the towels that soaked up the flood in the bathroom. Partial credit will be given for any load that has made it through any single step of the washing-drying-folding-restocking process. Progress is usually present, even in a Disaster Day — but sometimes you have to look closely to find it.
So what about those of you who cannot find even one step of forward momentum in your Disaster Day? There are times when we all must accept the lack of backsliding as a sign of progress. You may not be inching forward, but you are not sliding backward, so, therefore, you are holding your ground. Maintaining your position — that position you worked very hard to achieve — is progress in itself. You may feel like you are just hanging on by your fingernails, but you are still hanging on.
Perhaps sickness has invaded your home, stopping everyone in his tracks. Perhaps you and your family have been pushing yourselves too hard, and this is the only way any of you would get a day of rest. Rest, therefore, and know that your bodies are purging themselves of nasty things and will regain the strength needed to continue on once this vile sickness has passed. Stop reciting the lists of tasks completed by the over-achievers down the block, concentrate on getting well first, and then tackle what you can do, when you can do it.
Perhaps you have been the unwitting victim of some outside influence: a weather-borne disaster, an accident, a death in the family, or another serious, unforeseen disruption. Life happens. None of us can plan for every possible contingency, but each of us can learn from our circumstances and be better prepared for the next time life throws us a curve ball. Becoming better prepared is learning a lesson, and learning a lesson is a sign of progress.
When my children were toddlers, their meals and snacks were often unbalanced combinations of foods. I learned to view their entire day of food intake and balance that, rather than attempt to balance each individual meal for picky eaters. Similarly, when we began homeschooling, I learned to “balance” the entire week of lessons, instead of trying to do everything on each separate day. Some days we did no spelling lessons; some days we did only math. Considering the entire week, we covered all of our lessons. Usually. Once in a while, I had to expand my view to balance two weeks together, but I could see that, in the end, we would still accomplish all of the important things that we needed to accomplish. Our local public school operates on a six-day schedule (don’t ask), proving that not even the “professional educators” can get everything done in a week’s time. Make your plans, do your best, and stop beating yourself up for things you have no control over.
When confronted with a Disaster Day, encourage yourself with these pointers:
1) Look for any signs of progress.
2) Accept the lack of backsliding as a sign of progress.
3) Learn from the Disaster Day and call those lessons a sign of progress.
You can survive a Disaster Day, and you can draw strength from it to tackle tomorrow as the fresh start that it is.
If you still need more encouragement, see:
What Didn’t Work for Today Can Be Changed for Tomorrow
Your Children Will Not Always Be Like This
Homeschooling Is Hard Work
Looking Back on the Bad Days
Topical Index: Encouragement for Parents