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Caregiving for Homeschool Families: Some Questions to Consider

Homeschool families are notoriously family-centered, but I’ve recently been hearing questions and concerns about caregiving while homeschooling, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts here. Most of the people who have asked questions have been thinking about their parents or grandparents and have options available other than in-home caregiving, so I’ll mostly address things to consider in deciding whether or not to opt for in-home caregiving.

I was raised by my grandparents, so caregiving arrived early for me. My husband Donald and I cared for my grandfather from 1989 until he passed on from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in 1993, and for my grandmother until 2010. The observations I’ll share are based on my experiences and those of my caregiving friends during the past couple of decades and may not apply to everyone. Perhaps they’ll help as you consider what might lie ahead for your family.

You Gain

  • You learn to be flexible and patient.
  • Your children can become better acquainted with the loved one you’re caring for, and bless them by helping out.
  • You learn that people are more important than perfect schedules.
  • If you’re caring for an elder who is still mentally sharp, you can take the opportunity to learn from them.
  • You gain friends who understand some of what you’re going through.
  • You learn that a sense of humor can make an awkward or unpleasant situation bearable.
  • You learn not to rely only on yourself, but to lean into the strength of God.

You Lose

  • You lose time alone with your husband.
  • You lose time with your children.
  • You miss out on going places with your family if the person you’re caring for can’t go.
  • You lose freedom and flexibility in almost every area of life.
  • You lose touch with friends who aren’t similarly tied down.

Challenges You Need to Consider

Do you have a good relationship with the person who will be needing care?

If there are long-standing relationship issues or personality conflicts, and especially if the parent in question is bullying, manipulative, abusive, or otherwise dangerous, it may be best to consider options other than in-home care. The priority in your home must be caring for your husband and children, and that requires focus and emotional energy. If you have no other option than to take a person who is toxic, God will be there for you. I don’t recommend it if there are any other options.

Does the person want in-home care?

If you’re considering taking in a parent or grandparent who has expressed a preference for an assisted living arrangement, listen to them, especially if you live in an area far from their friends. Loneliness is one of the main problems of old age, and an older person with an active mind may not enjoy being stuck in a house full of children without anyone their own age to socialize with. Don’t override their wishes just because you feel it would be a good and noble thing to do — they’re likely to be miserable and can make you miserable as well.

Is your home accessible and suitable for two-family living?

The best arrangement seem to be when the older person has a separate suite of rooms away from the rest of the family. This allows your family a measure of privacy, and gives the older person a place to be quiet and enjoy their own pursuits. Older people tire easily, and the normal noise and rhythm of family life can be too much for them, so having their own place is very helpful. It also allows them to entertain visitors that might drop by just to see them.

If your home isn’t handicapped accessible, you may find yourself needing to make expensive alterations or even move in order to accommodate the elder’s declining capabilities. My grandmother was only 79 when she moved in with us, and she lived to be 100. In the early years, she was able to fix her own meals, tend her flowerbeds, and do little projects, but 18 years later she could barely get around with a walker and would spend a great deal of time dozing. Halls and doors must be wide enough to accommodate the walker, and at some point, probably a wheelchair, and the bathroom needs to have grab-bars and other safety features.

Do you have a good relationship with your spouse?

Raising a family and homeschooling are two of the most intense things you’ll ever do. While you’re doing it, you have to work extra hard to maintain a solid relationship with your husband, or you can find yourself drowning in daily difficulties and forgetting your primary responsibility (to love your husband– Titus 2). Add in caregiving, and it all becomes more intense. If you don’t have a very solid relationship with your husband to begin with, caregiving will challenge it even more, as you will have very little time together as a couple. If the person you’d be caring for has a difficult personality, it can strain a weak relationship to the breaking point.

Does your spouse support the idea of caregiving?

If you’re considering caregiving and your spouse is opposed to the idea, please stop considering it. Without the unequivocal commitment and support of both husband and wife, the outcome is likely to be extremely challenging. This is a huge, stressful, long-term job, and you’ll need each other more than ever in order to survive. If you take on caregiving in opposition to your spouse, it will probably be your children who are most hurt by the fallout, so it’s something to avoid if at all possible.

Do you and the potential “caregivee” have a sense of humor?

If you both don’t have a sense of humor, you may not be able to navigate the difficult days of dentures, diapers, and dementia without cracking. Some of the stuff that happens is so awful that you just have to laugh. If either one of you lacks a sense of humor, caregiving is likely be very challenging.

Do you love the person you are considering caring for?

If you love the person you’re caring for, you’ll probably be able to get through it, even if there are times when you don’t particularly like them (or they don’t like you). Even if you have very little in common and find them difficult to get along with, you’ll be able to pass along the grace that God has shown you, and be kind to them even when they aren’t easy to be with.

What kind of an influence will the caregivee be on your family?

If you are considering caring for a parent or grandparent who has significantly different values or worldview than you do, consider the age of your children and the impact the person’s influence might have on them. Attitudes are contagious, so consider in advance how to deal with things like a malicious tongue, impatience, manipulation, a liking for argument, or other negative behaviors.

If you have to deal with a toxic character, do you have a strong support system?

If you find it necessary to care for someone who is abusive, manipulative, bullying, or otherwise dangerous, you need help. A toxic personality will not only stress the caregiver, but will also almost inevitably poison the atmosphere of the entire household. Try to enlist a support system from outside your home to help you cope. This may include people from your church fellowship or community who can give you a break and deflect some of the toxic behavior.

Some Truths About Caregivers

  • We’re not perfect, and we know it. We survive by the grace of God.
  • Caregivers are like wishbones. We can never do all we need or want to do for one part of the family without shortchanging someone else. I hate hurting anyone’s feelings or leaving anyone out, so I end up feeling slightly guilty a lot of the time.
  • Yes, we get tired of caregiving, but we keep going. We’ll rest when when this season has passed.
  • If we had to do it over, would we have done something differently? I don’t think there was an alternative either then or now, so it’s hard to say.

Next articles in this series:

Advice for Friends of Caregivers

Learning While Caregiving: Crisis Homeschooling Tips

A postscript to the Caregiving series: Farewell for Now

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16 Responses

  1. Karen Davis says:

    Thank you for a great article that I can link to whenever this question comes up. It is one of the few life situations that I have currently still been spared so I can’t speak from experience.

  2. K. Rogers says:

    Excellent article, Janice! My mom has lived with us for over 6 years and during that time we have graduated 2 from homeschool and one from college. While it has been a blessing, I am finding that we are tired as her Alzheimer’s progresses. I am seeking out resources such as part-time caregivers and senior day centers during school hours. If you know your loved one has Alzheimer’s, please read up, talk with other caregivers, social workers, and doctors on the stages of progression. Pray and discuss this decision being aware of the difficulties involved.

    One more thought: make sure to discuss all care plan details with your siblings before you enter into caring for your loved one, especially financial arrangements, living wills/advanced health directives, power of attorney (durable and medical), etc. This is very important.

  3. Kimmie says:

    What a beautifully written post Janice. May God use it in many people lives as they step into similar situations. Thank you for sharing your life and heart here.

    Kimmie
    mama to 8
    one homemade and 7 adopted

  4. What an excellent, well thought out post! Wonderful of you to share what experience has taught you.

  5. MaryEllen Oliver says:

    Thank you for writing this. We cared for my husband’s grandparents for just 2 years while homeschooling, and it felt like far more time than that! We are entirely glad that we did it, but it was painful in the many ways you express so very well.

    We originally came in to help his Grandpa, who’d had his leg amputated, and that work – though very physical, and involving many icky tasks! – seemed absolutely worth it. He had a great sense of humor about being in his predicament, and a “well, someone has to do this, and today it’s you!” sensibility.

    My husband’s Grandma had slight dementia that increased during the time we were there. After Grandpa died of congestive heart failure, we could only take 6 months of living just with her – it was just too hard on our (grade-school age) kids to field comments from her that never would have come from the person Grandma used to be.

    As I remember them and our experience, I will pray for you in yours. May the Lord bless you and give you REST and TIME.

  6. Marilee says:

    My 93 year old dad has lived with us for 4 years now. We have gone through different stages of mental weakness depression/ anxiety. He is 100% cognitive but we are now struggling with a swearing grandparent, which seems to be almost like a turrets kind of thing.

    It takes a lot of wisdom to know when enough is enough and to get priorities right. Our 13 year old daughter is particularly troubled by this. It does make a different atmosphere in the home. I lean a lot on my husband to decide when it’s time for grandpa to live elsewhere. I am torn. I love him and want him home, but feel badly for our three children still at home( ages 19, 17, 13) having to live in this atmosphere. That being said, they are learning to care for him and help out and even take over when I need to be away.

    Our older married children have helped care for grandpa when we were away also. I have homecare coming three days a week, so we are free to go out on those days. Grandpa has gone to the nursing home for respite care during the summer months when we are on holiday.

    Spiritually, I am thankful to have the time to pray and read the Bible daily with grandpa. As his body gets weaker, his spirit is growing in sensitivity to God. This has been my prayer for my dad for so many years, and I see God working this out even through these difficult circumstances.

    To love when it isn’t easy. To do hard things. Some of life’s most important lessons.
    My husband and I daily pray together and ask for God’s help to do what is right.

    We’ll trust God to lead us day by day, with joy , for His glory.

    Marilee

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Marilee. You’ll be in our thoughts and prayers– I know what it’s like. There are daily challenges and blessings, but like you, we found that the Lord gives grace and reveals the next step when it’s time.

      My grandmother fell in July, and has been in a nearby nursing home since. It’s a completely different experience for us after so many years, but we’re just taking each day as it comes.

      Grace and peace,
      Janice

  7. Marilee says:

    Hi Janice,
    Thanks for your reply and we appreciate your prayers.
    My mother lived with us about 20 years ago now. She had Alzheimer type symptoms. At that time I had young children and was nursing a baby. My husband could see that having a monitor on all night in case my mom got out of bed and wandered was wearing me out, plus homeschooling 3 boys and caring for an infant. So for the last 6 months of her life my mom was in a nursing home. I think that taking her there was one of the hardest things I have done in my life. The day I phoned to ask about availability, the manager answered the phone and said to me” this is very strange, I just got your mothers file out and have it in front of me on my desk” I had put her name on a list a few years earlier. Of course, for me it was an encouragement from God that this was the time to go ahead and move her. We visited often and did activities with the folks on her ward. We had many sweet visits together, singing hymns, and reading the Bible together. God is faithful in all our trials. Families should not feel guilty if the need arises to take a loved one to a nursing home. God will guide us through.
    We’ll pray for your family ,as you minister to your mom at the nursing home.

    In the bond of Christ,
    Marilee
    Marilee

  8. SW says:

    Hi ladies,
    Hoping for some encouragement on a decision I need to make. I know this is an older post, but wanted some advice from those who’ve been in this situation. I have been homeschooling for a few years, and my daughters are 4th & 7th graders. I am also a caregiver to both of my parents, one of whom does not drive and needs an organ transplant. In spite of numerous doctor visits, we have been able to stay on top of schoolwork and get the kids to art/music lessons and do generally what we need to, as my other parent is there with my mom so she is not alone. In the past few weeks, my father has been diagnosed with a terminal cancer for which no treatment can be utilized. So, eventually, my family will need to move into my parents home because my father will need care that my mother cannot perform, and she cannot be left alone, even if we were to get a home health worker for Dad. I am trying to decide whether it is rational to be able to expect to continue homeschooling. Or if this situation would be really too depressing to my children, who want to continue to homeschool. I fear that we will be more home-bound (except for doctor visits) and they will suffer for just lack of being able to get out of the house and get together with friends, etc. Anyone been through this type of situation where both parents are ill?

    • Bless you for caring for your parents. I know it’s not easy. We did have both my grandparents (who were like parents because they raised me) until my grandfather’s death. He had Alzheimer’s, but my grandmother remained in reasonably good shape for a number of years. She ended up being with us for over eighteen years, which was most of our homeschooling years. She could not be left alone for those years, so we had a very home-centered life except for church. For many reasons, it turned out to be the biggest blessing I’ve ever received, and I’m eternally thankful for it.

      While we might have enjoyed a few more activities, the truth is that homeschooling works better when you are home-centered. The boys were able to be helpful in many ways, and they got to know their grandparents as few children have the chance to do. When something this important is happening, it can be very traumatic for children to be sent away for most of the day. To make it easier on all of us, I tried to schedule all errands and appointments on one day of the week, and would take one child at a time for special bonding time. The other thing you can do during this difficult time is to ask friends to pick up your girls and take them to activities. Many people will say, “let me know what I can do,” and they mean it, so let them help you in this way.

      Very often a caregiving situation reaches a peak at which you think you can’t do it another day, and then it’s suddenly over. With a diagnosis like this, that would not be surprising. You may be able to obtain hospice care for your father, which is truly a blessing. It provides necessary medical equipment, paid for by Medicare, and enough good home healthcare to make everything go smoothly. From what I recall, hospice is prescribed by the attending physician, and many or most costs are covered by Medicare, though with the current healthcare changes, I don’t know for sure. Your father’s physician should know.

      I hope that is helpful. You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.

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