My wife, Cetelia, and I have been married for twelve years, have homeschooled the past five years, and have three children, Max, nine; Caitlin, six; and Kuria Joy, four. As you well know, homeschooling your children and having them by your side 24/7/365 is both a blessing and a challenge. Life becomes more challenging when you factor in extra-curricular activities, birthday parties, play dates, library trips, social outings and possibly—puberty. Oh yeah, did I mention that somehow and somewhere in the throes of incessant child rearing demands, school responsibilities and ever present obligations at church and the community, you’ve still got to actively build your marriage? Whew!
How does a homeschooling couple keep their marriage healthy and functional while fulfilling their calling to homeschool their children in an excellent way? Below we offer four strategies that we strive to practice daily in the midst of our crazy-busy homeschooling lives. While simple to understand, they’re not always as simple to implement. As you read through them, take an inventory to see how well you’re doing.
Renew Spiritually Everyday
This first practice is personally spending time with God each day to be renewed. We know what it’s like to go to bed late, wake up early (or hit snooze a few times to cram in a few more minutes of sleep!). Either way, once your eyes are open and your mind focuses on the day, it’s easy to start thinking about the multitude of things you must do for a successful day.
For the spouse who works outside the house, the focus also includes clothes, work and managing projects and people all day. For the homeschooling parent, that list can include getting themselves dressed, getting the kids up and dressed, fixing breakfast, teaching and training, fixing a snack, chasing down the dog who’s gotten outside the house, fixing lunch, doing more teaching and training, attending a play date, going to the library, going to a dance rehearsal, attending piano lessons, and hustling to a basketball practice. For both spouses, the lists seem endless!
To have the energy, faith, courage and perspective to accomplish all those things and give yourself to your mate, you must renew spiritually. C.S. Lewis wrote, “The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” Listening to that other voice can be through prayer; reading the Bible, a book or devotional; listening to praise music, a Christian podcast or an audio Bible; or even watching a message on television or the Internet.
While the ways to spend time with God are virtually endless, the practice of spending time with Him cannot be overemphasized. When you let the other voice speak to you, you find strength and direction for your day, which includes time with your spouse after the children have gone to bed. Spouses who are caught up in the busyness of life and neglect their time with God will slowly, but surely, find themselves running on fumes. This will lead to a marriage that runs on fumes and is ultimately displeasing to both spouses. Life is busy and tough. To have the strength to make it through each day and give yourself to your spouse, you must renew spiritually on a daily basis. Seek to put God first daily so you can become more like Christ in your marriage and in every other area of your life.
Put Your Marriage before Your Children
We strongly believe that couples must put their marriage before their children. Said another way, the children should be raised from the strength of the marriage, not in spite of it. (Note: this is a highly controversial topic, and we understand that you may disagree with us.)
Why do we believe that you should put your marriage before your children? For starters, you have to remember who you made a covenant with at the altar. While you may have brought your children into the world and nurtured them, you never made a covenant with them before God and many witnesses. That covenant was made with your spouse. Therefore, after Jesus Christ, your first allegiance should be to your mate.
Many couples start out with their priorities in order but see them quickly disordered when the children arrive, and to a certain extent, it’s understandable. Newborns, toddlers and small children obviously cannot take care of themselves, so that role is naturally and rightfully filled by the mother. As the mother digs into her role, it’s common for the husband to dig into his work. If the husband and wife are not careful, they can grow apart and wind up putting the needs and demands of the children (or the job) before the needs of their marriage. Perhaps this is why the divorce rate spikes between years three and seven of marriage (when the children are born), and after twenty-one years of marriage (when the children leave home).
We can relate to the difficulty of keeping the marriage on the front burner and know how easy it is to let the children’s needs take center stage. While we are not advocating that you be derelict in your duties as a parent, we are encouraging you to ensure that your marriage remains your closest and highest human relationship. Teach your children to respect your time with your mate and cultivate your friendship with one another. Be sure that neither you nor your mate take sides with the children against one another over sensitive issues.
Cultivate Your Friendship
When was the last time you and your mate had a date? When was the last time the two of you packed the kids up and sent them off for the weekend so the two of you could hang out and be buds? How often do you and your spouse participate in shared interests? How long has it been since you and your mate shared a hearty laugh? If it has been a while for any of these, you’re missing out on great ways to cultivate your friendship!
Before you and your spouse became homeschooling parents, the two of you were friends who had common interests and looked forward to spending time with one another. Although days now may be clouded over with diapers, book bags and rides to soccer practice, we’re willing to bet that friendship seeds are there—they just need to be cultivated. Ways to cultivate your friendship with your mate may include a regular date night (in or outside the house), spending time with other marriage-minded couples, attending concerts, sports events or engaging in other activities that allow the two of you to be friends and lovers for a few hours instead of tired, homeschooling parents.
Without a doubt, taking this time with each other has been the biggest area of struggle for us. Both of us tend to suffer from “someday sickness” where we try to front load all the work and responsibility so we can enjoy life someday. Being responsible is good, but it can be taken to the extreme, and we have done that. Kevin’s mom has helped us to see that we need to enjoy life now and not wait until our kids reach a certain point in their growth. This has been helpful to both of us, especially Kevin, since he has serious workaholic tendencies. We have found a wonderful woman at our church who will drive nearly an hour once a month to care for our children for free so we can go on a long date. We can cultivate our friendship and see in one another what we saw fifteen years ago when we first met. Although we have matured and changed, the little things that first attracted us to one another are still there and simply need to be cultivated so we don’t lose our friendship and love in the midst of being parents.
Affirm Your Homeschooling Mate
While the previous suggestions were directed towards both spouses, this final strategy is for the spouse who is not the primary homeschooling parent. In our case, this is Kevin. While he is as supportive as he can be, the bulk of the homeschooling responsibilities fall on Cetelia while Kevin is at work. Cetelia suggests that one of the things the secondary homeschooling parent can do to strengthen the marriage is to continually affirm his or her mate. Some things in life provide immediate feedback or an instant result, e.g., giving a presentation at work and getting good reviews as soon as it’s over. However, immediate results are not always present in homeschooling. Maturity takes a long time, and the outcome of the hard work, effort and prayers invested in the children may not be seen for many years. This delay can cause the primary homeschooling spouse to become weary in well doing and lose heart. To avoid this natural tendency, ensure that your mate knows you appreciate his or her efforts, and continually (and authentically) offer praise for his/her efforts and the growth recognized in the children. This affirmation will not only encourage your spouse to continue giving his or her all to homeschooling, but will also bring the two of you closer because words of kindness act as a magnet between hearts.
As you go forth with your busy schedule at home, work, church and elsewhere, recall these four strategies and put them into practice at every opportunity. Having a healthy, functional marriage is challenging, and it becomes more complex when you add in homeschooling. To make your marriage work, renew spiritually everyday, put your marriage before your children, cultivate your friendship with your spouse and affirm your homeschooling mate. As you do, you will see the positive impact on your marriage.