When the Homeschool Adventure Doesn’t Look Like You Planned

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Today, I’d like to introduce you to Heather FitzGerald, a homeschooling mom and author of The Tethered World, a brand-new book with a homeschooled heroine. Heather has experienced the disappointment and unexpected joys of those times when the reality of homeschooling doesn’t look like it did in your mind. Here’s Heather:

My disillusioned homeschooling journey began when I read For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. Oh, the hours of exploring and creative learning that would take place when we embraced the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling, sigh. Our life would be worthy of a reality TV show!

When the Homeschool Adventure Doesn't Look Like You Planned

Yeah right. Unfortunately, my ideal, and my reality, didn’t exactly replicate. Besides the fact that I need structure to get anything accomplished, I also was blessed with a tiny bundle of boy who grew into a complex puzzle of autism.

Into the junk drawer went all of my best laid plans for, well, life in general. With one son and three daughters, I shifted into survival mode. And that meant cutting myself some slack. All of the hands-on, learning together dreams were delegated to needing my girls to work independently while I did endless hours of therapy with their brother. I won’t lie . . . it was a difficult run for many years.


And, every summer, I remained just enough of an optimist to think that the following year might look a little more like I’d hoped. (That’s me, digging around the back of the junk drawer for those lofty ideals) Alas, I learned that I needed to stop trying to make a cherry limeade out of the lemons in my life. Furthermore, I had to learn to love lemons. (By lemons I’m referring to the disappointment of my ideals being dashed, not my kids, LOL). I’m a little slow—or maybe a little stubborn—about accepting things as they are without trying to change them.

Each of you is somewhere different on your homeschooling journey. I thought I might be the voice of been-there-done-that and let you know that these homeschooling adventures don’t always play out the way we hope.


And that’s okay!

Let me fast forward to high school: I was still trying to live up to false ideals. Ridiculous as it seems, (particularly as I write this), I held on to a few scraps of my plan. One of those being: I’d homeschool until graduation.

It hit me one day that the young man my son had become needed some other males in his life before Dad came home from work. He spent eight hours a day with four females, and most of his friends were maturing faster and didn’t stay connected. I started to toy with the idea of using some of the special services at the public high school.

A friend asked why I wouldn’t consider enrolling him full time. Why? Because that’s not part of the plan! After praying about it, I knew I needed to be willing to investigate this option (academically my son had not progressed in several years, despite all I did at home), and trust God with how it played out.

After making some phone calls—and being treated with respect from the counselor in the special education department—I loosened my grip and began to warm to a new plan. Though I believe what we chose to do wouldn’t be right for everyone, I know it was right for us. (And looking back, I would not have explored it any sooner. God knew when to prompt in that direction).

Much to my delight, my son had five male teachers his first year. He looked forward to going to school and having friends that he could relate to. What a surprise to hear the teachers and counselors commend us for a job well done at home and offer praise for our son’s character and manners.

Fast forward to the present. My son is 21 years old and will begin his final year of school (he ages out). Interestingly, he didn’t step foot on campus last year, and won’t this coming year. Through his school district, he now has a job! Even in the summer they are taking him to a work environment created for unique individuals like himself. He gets to do a variety of worthwhile tasks and earns a paycheck that he’s eager to cash. It’s a job he should be able to keep even after this final year of school. (Click here to read an in depth account of our journey through autism and school).

Has your homeschool journey looked like you hoped at the outset? If so, I’m rather suspicious of you (okay, maybe a little envious at your success . . . kudos!).

If it hasn’t always turned out the way you hoped, don’t lose heart! Stay flexible. Don’t compare yourself with others, and keep your sense of humor. Learn to realistically assess your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your kids’.

Know that changing your plans doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It only means you’re adapting to what life throws your way and it’ll be an awesome testimony to your kids when they watch you handle it with prayer and grace.

Homeschooling won’t disappoint if your goal is adventure!

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!cid_ii_hy2dtucj1_14770ba18f873ed1Heather FitzGerald has morphed from homeschooling mom to writer over the past several years. Her new book The Tethered World will introduce you to your first homeschooled heroine, who also has an autistic brother with a special role to play in the “family business.” Read the first chapter here!

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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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  1. This is Great! My homeschool journey began with two months left of a school year, at a private Christian school, with a fourth & second grader, & a Pre K. God told me to home school. Then confirmed. Then confirmed it again. So I pulled my kids out & was thought to be crazy!! The years that followed were….. Tumultuous. Living with an OCD mother in law (the messy world of homeschoolers (especially just starting out-picture a baby foal plopped to the ground, messy, unable to get its legs under it)& museum like neatness of a perfectionist are soon collided), moving four times in 2 yrs & finally, the death of a child have rattled us & shaken any ‘plans’ for anything to the core!!! BUT…… Just this year, I think maybe, it’s all falling into place. It only took four years!! But when you plant a fruit tree, you yield no fruit for the first three years. Then, in the fourth year, you are actually able to enjoy good fruit!!!
    Thanks for sharing your journey. It’s helpful to identify with others:)

    1. Hey Heather (gotta like that name!),
      Thanks for stopping by and for your reply. Wow. That’s a lot to wrangle in a few short years. I am heartbroken to hear that you lost a child. What a comfort, in the midst of so much upheaval, to know how God confirmed this calling to you several times. It’s always good to have those spiritual markers along the way . . . good to look back at them when it feels like we may have lost our way, too. Life is messy, but yes, homeschooling makes it even messier 😉 That’s the nature of creating a colorful, beautiful masterpiece, though. Blessings on your continued journey!
      ~ Heather

    2. That sounds like a rough journey, Heather. I’m sorry for your family’s loss. I can’t imagine. I love the fruit tree analogy. I have told many, many people that I didn’t feel like we really hit our stride until Year 4.

  2. As you know, even after 12 years I’ve not hit my stride! I love this post as it so poignant with all that is going on chez moi. Changing directions and leaving behind long held believes about what is best for your children is really hard.
    Heather, your son sounds like a wonderful person who has shone and grown where he was planted, whether at home, at school or at work.

    1. Thank you, Claire! I understand how you feel, as I never feel like we quite find the elusive ‘groove’ that I think we should have, especially after this many years. I guess I should face the fact that bumping along and recovering lost ground IS our groove, LOL.

  3. I loved this post and can completely identify. I had all kinds of grand plans, fueled by speakers at homeschooling conferences and the perfect families I seemed to be surrounded by!

    Reality hit me earlier though, and we decide to send my son with Down Syndrome to public school because I just couldn’t manage taking care of him and homeschooling two of my other kids who have LDs. He’s safe, loved and occupied during the day and is learning at his own pace.

    1. Hi Marya! Aren’t the homeschooling conventions the bittersweet bane of the school year? Getting to attend always revived my sagging spirits, but also tended to set me up for more disappointment if I tried to compare myself to others (particularly those speakers!). I applaud you for doing what you feel is best for everyone involved and am thankful that your son is in a place that gives you peace!

  4. This is beautifully written and I can relate to a lot of it. I have two sons with OCD, one with mild ADD and one with a tough case of ADHD and dysgraphia and dyscalculia. I have two daughters, one with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and one with anxiety and dyslexia and probably ADHD. It’s one tough road homeschooling them, and so often I feel like no one can truly understand, until I read a post like this. Thank you for sharing your journey. As homeschoolers, we’re all a work in progress, both parents and children, and we’re traveling together, which is beautiful. I don’t know if there’s any avenue of growth so powerful and effective as the nuclear family and all that it goes through together.

    1. Wow, Christine, you have your hands full and I bet your house is brimming with a lot of energy every day! What a lot of challenges to navigate, but God is generous with wisdom for the journey, isn’t He? Thank YOU for stopping by and sharing a peek at your family dynamics, I’m saying a prayer for you tonight! Glad you found encouragement from our personal journey.

  5. Great post, Heather, my friend! And a great place TO post, on Kris’s super blog! Looking back, I wish I had not put our youngest in a partner program at the local school just because his older brother was doing it. I WISH I had treated them each specifically for each one’s own needs (like you did, Heather!). But if one went, they both went. Dumb decision. Ryan never wanted to attend. He finally stayed home his sophomore year, the year before Running Start, but I feel I lost something in those years between 6th grade and 9th grade, even though he was only gone 2 days a week.

    But experience is a great teacher, and I can counsel my daughter (who has 8) to go with her gut and not make the same mistakes homeschooling that I made. Slow down. Let them stay in high school until age 19 or 20 (again, like you’re doing, my friend!)

    Happy writing!

    1. Hey Susan! Hindsight is a great teacher, isn’t it? God’s grace covers those misguided decisions, though, so we have to just obey the best we know how at the time and leave it in His hands. What a treasure of advice you must be to your daughter (hopefully she listens, LOL). I know how much your advice has blessed my life!

  6. Kris and Heather,

    Long distance admirer of Heather and her writing. I thought since she had a guest post, I would say hi. I hope that is okay.

    My wife and I spoke briefly of homeschooling my two monsters. My daughter is ten and entering 5th while my son is almost 7 and entering 2nd grade. I asked her to count me out on the homeschooling project because I didn’t want to be responsible for raising two kids as dumb as me. Ha ha. I spent high school cutting class and feeding my homework to the dog. It was fun at the time but as my daughter has advanced through the grades, I am finding that I have to do some outside studying just to be able to help with homework.

    I admire all those who homeschool because it is something that I cannot do. Fortunately for me, my wife, who really runs that house and makes all the important decisions saw that we were better off to send the kids to school. We chose a local Christian school to send the kids, so far it is working for us. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone but once again, my upmost respect to those who can raise the kids and teach them at the same time.

    Thanks for letting me chime in.

    1. Hey Rob! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your side of the educational dice. Education is in YOUR hands as a parent (thankfully we still DO have that freedom in this country), and it sounds like you are doing what you feel like God has lead you to do on behalf of your children. Every household is different and the dynamics, personalities, and circumstances etc all must be taken in to account.

      We originally wanted to do a private school but didn’t have the funds. God uses many different situations to get us where He wants us. I was terrified of the idea at first. I’ll say homeschooling isn’t nearly as intimidating as it seems from the outside looking in. There are so many resources these days (Kris’ blog is a great example!), that help to equip. I do not have more than a high school education so it felt overwhelming to consider. . . but you don’t eat an elephant in one bite…and thankfully you don’t teach everything at once. Little bits at a time!!!

      What I didn’t have space to explain in my post is that our oldest daughter went to a Christian school for her junior and senior year. She graduated with 6 other kids in a school of about 75 students. It was a wonderful fit for her, whereas my younger two daughters have/will graduate as 12 year homeschoolers. And let me clarify that “home” school definitely doesn’t mean we are home all day. Tons of outside classes, even dual credits at the local junior college, keep us out and about and well rounded 🙂

  7. My first Charlotte Mason experience was a nature walk in the back yard with my three children under the age of 6. We managed to “find” and disturb bumble bee nest. The nature walk turned into a PE lesson as we all ran frantically back to the house flailing arms and hitting the bees off of each other. Nothing. NOTHING in my homeschooling experience was normal or how I dreamed it would be. I don’t regret having done it, but I also don’t miss its passing. I was so relieved when my last child graduated. I am just happy to say they are all functioning members of society.

    1. Oh, my. I am 100% certain that was not funny at the time as we had a similar experience with yellow jackets. That being said, your retelling made me laugh. 🙂

    2. Deanna, sounds like I’m in good company with you 🙂 I’m guessing that nature walk was quite memorable for you and the kids so it probably served its purpose, ha ha! Your kids are stellar and it’s a testimony to the great parent and teacher that you are/were. I’m not a natural born educator either, so I understand how you can move on from that part of your life without a backward glance. So thankful for programs within the homeschooling community that fill in all of my gaping holes as a teacher. I’m mostly taxi mom these days! But I’m thankful for having these years with my kids to really know them and help to mold them, it’s a much easier task when you are in their lives steadily through the day!

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