Dyana Robbins

 

Whether your homeschooling years are ending because you are launching a graduate into the world or leaving homeschooling for reasons as varied as the ones that brought you to home education, there are adjustments and feelings to reckon with when your homeschooling season comes to an end.

My homeschooling years ended abruptly two years ago when my oldest son asked to attend school for his 9th-grade year. Making the decision to send him to the large public school behind our home wrenched my heart. There were good reasons to send him, but my heart struggled with the possible consequences of that choice. I consoled myself, knowing my youngest son was still home and that I had more years homeschooling him. And then, we took a job opportunity in Singapore and my homeschooling years were suddenly over. I’ve grieved those years learning at home together. Thankfully the Lord has greatly comforted me through this time of transition. In light of the wisdom I have gained through this transition in our lives, here is some encouragement from one mother’s heart to yours.

 

Homeschooling is Only Part of the Plan

When my son went to public school, it posed many challenges for him. His learning challenges meant that he was not at grade level and required an IEP. He had never had to navigate large groups of same-age peers alone. His first day was truly terrible in almost every way. Fear and pain made me want to pull him from school immediately.  But, by spring, he had found his place; succeeding in his classes and finding a group of great friends.

Our son graduates next year from an international school and I marvel at all he has accomplished. He gets the credit for his work ethic and resilience, but I know that homeschooling helped him develop both. The years we spent laboring together over reading, writing, and spiritual formation have borne the most wonderful fruit. As I mourned and worried about our son starting school, God was unveiling new horizons for our family.

However long your homeschooling season was, you can trust that good will come from the investments you have made in your children. If homeschooling ended before you were ready, know that God is not surprised or unprepared. He knows what the future holds for you and your family.  His love is providing for all of you even as you make unexpected changes.

 

Life After Homeschooling is Wonderful Too

Honestly, many days of homeschooling were not wonderful. There were times I cried, prayed, and believed I could not keep teaching at home. But the whole experience was wonderful. Life is like that; we have pain woven through our routines and joys.

Two years after homeschooling, I have reclaimed parts of myself that were willingly laid down so I could homeschool my children. I have more time for friendships and am resuming a career I love. My life now is filled in different ways than when we homeschooled. I still miss those sweet years but rejoice as our family moves forward together, embracing new opportunities.

 

My life now is filled in different ways than when we homeschooled. I still miss those sweet years but rejoice as our family moves forward together, embracing new opportunities.

 

Releasing and Resting is Part of the Parenting Process

The bonds we make through teaching our children can be lifelong. My sons still listen to me and my husband carefully and they respect our guidance. I know other families who credit homeschooling with forging spiritual and family bonds that have lasted generations. What I have observed is that these families also let their children go well.

By encouraging teens to make their own decisions, even when you don’t agree with them, is part of this letting-go process. Trusting God and the truth that has been planted in your child’s soul, not the ability to make perfect choices, is how to successfully navigate this transition time as a parent. The examples other parents have provided in this area have helped me navigate our family’s unexpected changes.  I hope they encourage you too.

 

As I write this, we are living in some crazy times that have put us all through various transitions and have us considering many different educational options for our children. Ultimately, there are very few things we control.  But, God is still on His throne. His love for His people is unfailing.  As we release our children and other beloved things in this season, remember that He is always making things new…our children and us too.

 

 

 

 

 


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By Dyana Robbins

Previous articles I have written have focused on the great blessings that can grow from a special-needs marriage  and how to create an environment for your marriage to thrive. This final article in the series offers some help for marriages poised to fall.

Our marriages endure more pressures and strains as we parent special-needs children or have disabling conditions of our own. We need to look for marital danger signs and interventions to turn our marriages around. The information is drawn from my personal experience and time working as a counselor with families seeking help.


Recognizing the Danger Signs

To launch a rescue of any kind, one must recognize and define the danger. Here are some signs that your marriage is suffering:

  • Effective communication has ceased or is limited to only a few “safe” topics.
  • The marriage has a “business-like” feel to it. You are getting the work done but fun, easy companionship, shared goals, and activities are lacking.
  • You no longer seek one another first for sharing griefs, joys, or events of your day. Your first thought is to contact someone who will better understand you.
  • You are sharing a deeper emotional connection with another person of the opposite sex.
  • Sexual intimacy has waned or stopped. You might be having fantasies of an extra-marital affair or lack sexual desire at all.
  • You cannot imagine a future together.
  • One or both of you has escaped into something else. This might be video games, hobbies, social media, work, or substance abuse. This escape temporarily shields you from the pain of the failing relationship and demands lots of time and attention.
  • You have become polarized into different realms of existence due to disability, emotional avoidance, exhaustion, or revenge.
  • You focus on the children disproportionately because it holds you together. Life revolves around them. This tendency can be particularly strong when a child with a disability is in the home.



That is Us…What Can We Do?

First, I hope that you will believe that your marriage does not have to fail even if you have traveled far down that road. I’ve witnessed marriages turn around from affairs, addiction, alienation, and even abusive patterns.

While this article doesn’t provide counsel for your specific situation, it does provide principles and steps that you can apply to your marriage. Most often, you will need support in making the changes, but you can always start today with what you alone can do. The scope of this article does not specifically address the safety requirements for those in abusive situations, so if you are in that position, please seek help to secure your safety first. Without safety precautions, accountability and a willing partner, applying these principles to an abusive relationship would not be advisable. Now, let’s look at how we can turn things around:


1. Be Honest
One of the first things to go when our marriages struggle is honesty. Honesty with ourselves, our spouse, and those around us who can help decreases. The pain is deep and often humiliating. We hide, rationalize, and minimize the problems so that they seem manageable. Healing requires that we expose the wound and let it be treated.

2. Find the Right People to Help You
This might be friends, ministers, counselors, or other professionals. The right people will have the following characteristics in common: 1) ability to listen and identify problems accurately, 2) ability to speak truth lovingly to both of you, 3) wisdom and experience helping others with marital problems, 4) compassion, and 5) appropriate confidentiality.

3. Seek Help and Support Even if Your Spouse Will Not
I hope I am clear in saying this is not gossiping or complaining about your spouse to people who cannot help heal your marriage (especially your children!). This means seeking help and support from those who will safely listen, counsel, pray, intervene, and support your marriage as appropriate. Many marriages have turned around from one spouse changing their role and contribution to the problems.

4. Seek Healing over Validation
It may well be that one of you has done more damage to your marriage than the other. The desire to be validated as the one who is “right” can be very strong. This desire wars against the things that actually do heal your marriage. Turning your marriage around relies not on assigning appropriate blame, but on identifying problems, their solutions, and offering mutual forgiveness.

5. Humble Yourself
It hurts to hear how you have disappointed your partner. It hurts to speak of how they have hurt you. It hurts to talk of gasping dreams and desires. Pain is inescapable: We have a choice between the fruitful pain that healing requires or the agonizing pain of doing nothing. If we have to feel pain, let it come from laboring towards healing, not in passively letting our marriages fail.

6. Commit to Loving Acts Towards Your Spouse
This does not mean being a doormat. This means showing love in practical ways that matter to your spouse. While this doesn’t fix everything, it does create an environment for hearts to soften and for hope to rekindle.

7. Create and Commit to Regular Time for your Relationship
Special-needs marriages have little free time, but we must create a margin to work on our marriages and prepare to do so for the long haul. We often expect our marriages to heal more quickly than they withered. This is rarely possible. However, with time to implement the above steps, have fun together, and explore new possibilities, your marriage can experience renewal.

8. Put Faith Front and Center
When both spouses are Christians and have a troubled marriage, it is common to hear that they have floundered somewhere in their walk with Christ. This is not always true and we should be careful not to judge without knowledge. That said, it bears earnest consideration when we find our marriages desolate.



The Gifts of Forgiveness, Restoration, and Hope

When we wander from Christ, our marriages are vulnerable. Sin has room to grow. Repentance and forgiveness become strangers to us. Love and charity wane. Before long the burdens and inconveniences of our relationships weigh heavily as we shoulder them alone. Our souls become greenhouses for discontent and strife. We finally look up when our misery has become unbearable and ask “Why?”.

The wonderful promises we have in the gospel apply even here. If we accept grace, repent, and forgive, He is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us. Where we have failed; He will be unfailing. Where we can’t love; He will pour His love out over us. Where our hope has died; He can resurrect it.

Our faith in Christ will sustain and comfort us as we labor in a marriage that struggles and isn’t meeting needs. It even gives us the strength to offer what we have received from our spouses as we work towards healing. There is great hope in faith that cannot be seen in our circumstances. Focusing on Christ allows us to see the possibilities for healing and renewal in our marriages.


Reprinted with author’s approval. The original article was published on Dyana’s blog Ambling Grace

 

 


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This is Fred. 

When he first joined our family he looked like this, which is good, because he was a terror. His beginnings with our family are catalogued in an  earlier article.

This post talks about Fred’s work as a service dog with our family, how we all changed because of him, and steps to take if you think a service dog might help you or those you love.

 

Training and a Different Life
Fred’s work with Corrina, our trainer, proceeded quickly. First, Corrina taught Fred basic obedience and good citizenship skills. Fred obtained the AKC Good Citizenship Certification before we took him into public for training. From there, he learned scenting and tracking skills, how to provide deep and calming pressure on demand, and how to walk Jonathan through public places and traffic safely.

Fred developed keen scenting/tracking skills easily. Learning to calm Jonathan safely and on demand proved more difficult, but Fred picked it up fairly well too. Training Jonathan to stay with Fred in traffic and public places proved more difficult than training Fred to navigate traffic.

Our team (Sue, Corrina, and myself) brainstormed variations of harness and handle operations to find something that finally worked to keep Jonathan at Fred’s side in public. Using a service vest with D-Rings, I attached a clip-on handle for Jonathan to hold as needed. We avoided a harness for him because of the social stigma and safety concerns. When Jonathan understood what we wanted, he easily chose to stay connected to Fred. Staying with Fred was a much more desirable option than enduring mom’s death grip on his wrist!

Fred became adept at the following: finding Jonathan if he ran away, sensing and calming meltdowns, and aiding Jonathan by calming and navigating for him in public places. Children with ASD often run to escape stressful or overwhelming situations. Every outing came with risk. Here is a great article detailing this challenge. 

 

Even in the training phase, Fred’s help began improving our lives. I could grocery shop with much less stress and hypervigilance as Jonathan and Fred walked and waited together. I could give attention to my younger son and know that Fred was helping me watch Jonathan too. Jonathan was much less restless in the store because he could interact with Fred. Parking lots no longer terrorized me because Fred and I shared the load of getting both boys safely into our vehicle. Fred appeared to love the tasks we gave him as it allowed him to accompany our family everywhere, but the focus and work the outings required would tire him after a few hours. I could empathize; outings with two energetic boys wore me out too!

The greatest gift Fred has given us was not the additional safety or help even as life-changing as they were: It was his ability to “bridge the gap” for Jonathan to the community. People love Fred. They are drawn to him. Each outing brought people into our lives because Fred was with us. We went from being stared at in public for meltdowns or odd behavior to attracting people for positive interactions.

Fred’s service vest said, “Service Animal. Please ask before petting me.” People did…by the hundreds. Suddenly social interactions came to us rather than me chasing them down and facilitating them. People’s curiosity drew questions that I would direct to Jonathan because Fred worked for him. Jonathan couldn’t discuss many things easily, but he could talk about Fred all day long…and he did. His language and confidence grew as he had a topic he loved to share with others. His pride in Fred and great love for him showed. The hope that Gross’ book had stirred in my heart a couple of years before became reality.

 

Fred’s Accomplishments and Retirement
Here are a few career highlights from Fred’s work with our family:
· finding Jonathan after he got lost on a state park trail
· helping save a young friend who got stuck in sand during a high tide
· preventing myriad public meltdowns
· reducing the family’s stress
· helping Jonathan grow into independence in the community
· expanding his work to help my younger son as well

I’d love to tell you many stories about Fred. He is much more than a dog or pet to me. For several years he was a lifeline, an ally, and a dependable friend to us in a world that was often lonely.

The time came that Jonathan’s skills and abilities had grown to no longer require Fred’s assistance. He developed self-calming and regulatory strategies. He could process my directions and understand the dangers around him. My husband said it was time to let Jonathan stand alone and he was right. It hurt and scared me a bit to leave Fred at home, but we did fine. Fred adjusted after time to being our pet and friend though we still take him with us everywhere we can. He still guards Jonathan at night, greets him with joy each morning, and acts as a bridge to the community when he goes out with us.

One memory to end our story: Jonathan was competing in a cross country meet and I brought Fred along to encourage him. As we walked at the park, people from our team and competing teams came over to see Fred.

Teenagers disengaged from their phones to come meet and pet Fred. Many wonderful introductions and conversations were exchanged. One man came running with a glass full of water for Fred just in case he needed it. I’ve never seen anything like the attention and love Fred inspires; many other dogs were around the park, but Fred was the star. He will always be a star to me.

 

Is a Service Animal Right for Your Family?
While our story might inspire hope in you, I also want to impress upon readers the great work and responsibility that a service animal requires. Here are my tips for assessing if a service animal might be a good option for your family.

1. You must love animals. If you cannot commit to sharing all your day with an animal companion and caring for their needs, find another option.

2. Commit to the investment. Training and care for a service animal is costly. They provide great assistance to your family and it will cost you time, money, and energy in return.

3. Research before you jump. Just because a service animal has helped others, does not mean one will work for your family. Learn and know what you can reasonably expect the dog to do and whether it matches with what you need, can provide for the animal, and the law.

4. Do NOT skimp on training or fake service training for your pet. A disturbing trend has emerged where people get a vest for their pet and call them a service animal. Those of us who have trained and worked with service animals can spot them quickly. They behave like a family pet who has gone out for the day, not as a trained service animal whose focus is on their job. It may be comforting to have your pet with you, but that is not a benefit that rises to federal and state laws. Please don’t jeopardize the reputation and freedom of those benefiting from service animals to perform daily necessities.

5. Recognize that the dog will retire. The day will come when the strenuous work becomes too great for the animal. Compassion and love dictate that you respect the animal’s limitations. Some dogs work longer than others. When it is time for the animal to retire, return the love and support it has provided to you; they have earned it. 

 


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By Dyana Robbins, M.Ed

Fred entered our lives when my oldest son, Jonathan, was seven years old. For several years, Jonathan had wanted a dog. We had another family dog, but Jonathan desired one of his own. Our dog was older and not able to run with Jonathan or tolerate the noise and rambunctiousness of my children. Another factor in this decision was my son’s diagnosis of ASD-related challenges and developmental delays. My husband, Chris, and I worried that Jonathan’s intensity and energetic play would overwhelm a dog, so we began researching which breeds would best suit our wonderful son.

Far and away, Golden Retrievers met all the requirements for Jonathan’s pet. They are loyal, patient, energetic, and exceedingly tolerant of children’s inadvertent roughness. Unfortunately, they are also costly to obtain through breeders. I began praying for the right dog to come into our lives. Within a short period of time, an acquaintance shared a post looking to rehome a Golden Retriever. I responded and Fred came to our home for a three-day visit so we could determine his suitability for our family. We were completely unaware of the great change this visit heralded.



Awkward Beginnings and Mutual Need
Fred was a young dog who had been hit by a car, ended up in a shelter, and was then adopted by a young woman who had no time for him. All of his tough beginnings were on display when he came for his visit. Fred leapt on everyone daring proximity. He was so hyper that he couldn’t listen to a command or even respond to his name. His front left leg had significant muscle and nerve damage from his accident which caused a noticeable limp. Yet, he and Jonathan immediately bonded and I knew we were committed to making the relationship work.

After convincing Chris that we could somehow tame this wild beast and survive the experience, we welcomed Fred home. Within weeks, we observed remarkable changes in Jonathan as he interacted with Fred. His empathy and gentleness were growing as he learned to care for his dog. Jonathan began noticing Fred’s needs and wanting to meet them. He asked questions about Fred’s thoughts and feelings; exhibiting a growing “theory of mind.” We were greatly encouraged and hopeful about the future.

Fred’s leg grew stronger as Jonathan walked and played with him. He became calmer and able to receive training. He even mastered basic obedience skills. Jonathan and Fred found in one another what they both needed: unconditional acceptance, love, and a joy in companionship that fueled their growth.



More Than a Pet
Fred became an integral, beloved member of our family. Intrigued by the transformation in Jonathan, I began looking for others who had experienced something similar with their children. There was not a lot of research on the relationship between children with autism and dogs at that time, but there was some. Most information was anecdotal. I ran across a wonderful book called, The Golden Bridge: A Guide to Assistance Dogs by Patty Dobbs Gross. This book details a mother’s experience obtaining a service dog for her son with autism and the benefits of service dogs for children with developmental challenges. Reading this book compelled me to explore whether Fred could be more than a pet for Jonathan.

Jonathan was attending twice-weekly therapy sessions with an occupational therapist, Sue. I presented my ideas about Fred to her and was shocked to learn that she was writing a doctoral dissertation on the assessment of dogs for suitability for service work. We became excited about the idea of using her assessment tools on Fred and obtaining training for him if he passed. Sue was also instrumental in helping me develop helpful tasks that Fred could perform. These tasks had to meet federal criteria and Jonathan’s needs. I brought Fred in for assessment: He passed with flying colors. Next, we focused on finding the right trainer.

Corrina became a friend and ally as soon as I called her. Searching for a certified trainer that could help Fred become a service dog was difficult. All the places that advertised to train service dogs required a long separation from Fred, lots of money, and travel. Given the bond that had already developed between Fred and Jonathan, our need for continuity, and a budget-friendly option, we needed a local trainer. Corrina fit the bill, but had not trained dogs specifically for service work before. She willingly looked at federal and state laws and requirements for service dog certification with me. She read Sue’s tasks for Fred and decided to jump on the wagon with us.

Fred would be trained in scenting for Jonathan, providing deep pressure to aid in calming meltdowns, and helping Jonathan navigate traffic and public places. The tasks seemed large, but Corrina’s confidence and enthusiasm encouraged me that Fred’s transformation to service dog was not only possible but doable. We began training in earnest and Fred eagerly assumed his new work duties.

In my next article, I’ll share more about Fred’s transformation, Jonathan’s steps towards community, and how Fred continues to help our family nine years later. I hope you’ll come back to read it!

 

 


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By Dyana Robbins, M. Ed

Reading this, you are likely a special-needs parent and/or married to someone with special needs. You might need encouragement or strategies for marital happiness in the face of trials. Well, my prayer is that this article will provide both.

 

The last time  I covered this topic, I focused on the strengths that special-needs parenting fosters in our marriages. This article shares how to lay the foundation for those strengths to develop and flourish in our demanding lives. You don’t need me to describe the demands of your days or how challenging they can be, so we will jump right into building a marriage that thrives.
 

First Things First
Other families can coast without defined priorities or a solid foundation for longer than we can. There’s nothing fair about this truth. Therefore, we have to know what matters most and focus on those things; sometimes focusing on only those things helps us thrive. What follows are my humble ideas about what those things are.

 

Settle that Your Marriage Always Comes First

This means that every other relationship is secondary. It means that all other responsibilities are secondary, even to our children with special needs. Their needs might demand immediate attention, and more time than we can devote to the marriage relationship. But, we can commit ourselves to giving our marriages priority every time there is not a crisis situation.

 

Amidst our constant appointments, interruptions to our schedules, and sheer exhaustion lie moments to build one another up. Seize them in the ways that matter most to your spouse. Intentionality and persistence are key. It’s much easier to let those moments slide by.

 

Ensure your spouse knows that he/she remains the person you prioritize to give the best of all the energy, focus, time and support you can give. In our situations, we can’t always tend their needs first, but we can choose to give them our best at every possible opportunity.

 

Protect Your Spouse’s Role in Your Home
Each marriage will assign duties differently. This should be done in partnership and by agreement. When others question the contribution of your spouse, defend your partner. Share their strengths and assistance in balancing the many needs of your family. When valid concerns are raised by others, address them with your partner; not in the court of others’ opinions.

 

Many children with special needs employ the same strategies and leverage that typical children use. Coupled with the sympathy and concern they engender, those strategies form a potent combination to divide you from your biggest ally. When your child(ren) sow division between you or disrespect your partner, protect your spouse’s position.

 

Enjoy Life Together
Every day, no matter how dark, has something to be savored. Relentlessly find those things and share them with one another. One of our darkest days, our son struggled for life following a routine surgery. As we pled with doctors and helplessly watched our son’s battle, I looked at my husband and remembered all we have come through together.

 

Facing our greatest fear, I found great comfort in the history I shared with my husband, and his presence with me. I told him this. We consoled one another with memories of past challenges we’d overcome and how we would endure together. It was a precious, bonding experience nestled right up against the greatest trial we could imagine. This has often been true in our lives. Thankfully, our son recovered. He still provides ample opportunities for us to cling to one another!

 

Every day, no matter how dark, has something to be savored. Share that with one another.


Pursue interests, goals or hobbies however possible. If you can share them; fantastic! If not, ensure that your partner knows you are supportive and happy that they enjoy them. Understand how strengthening and important these activities are in your lives. Lives that orbit too closely around a disability’s sun will eventually be consumed by it. Affirm the other important facets of life together to prevent disaster.

 

We are more than parents to children with special needs. We are more than partners with special needs. Our history, present, and future contain many aspects of life that are larger than the challenges we face. The stresses of a disability shrink as we embrace it as a part of our life, not the whole.

 

Forgive, Forgive, Forgive
If forgiveness is necessary for typical marriages, it is exponentially more vital in ours. Difficulties in caretaking, time pressures, and financial shortfalls strain every fiber in the tapestry of our lives. Relational fraying and tears in the fabric are inevitable. We need forgiveness’ patches, seams and glue to mend every flaw and hold us together.

 

Our family’s faith enables us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Still, the need to forgive quickly and as often as needed chafes at times. Hiding in the warm folds of my resentment has caused several crises as we grappled with accepting our sons’ diagnoses and when my sacrifices exceeded my husband’s. He enjoyed ample opportunity to resent my failings as well! As we fought towards unity, acceptance and forgiveness paved the way for healing. Continually, we strive to understand personal struggles which worsen from burnout and forgive the wounds these struggles bring.

 

Practicing forgiveness wrings every drop of selfishness from us. It hurts, but the alternatives are much worse. We all know individuals whose bitterness and chronic disappointment poison their relationships, contentment, and souls. Forgiveness and understanding insulate our marriages from the ravages of all that beat against them, within and without. Practice these humble acts regularly and watch your marriage thrive.

 

The next article in this series will focus on how ideas to repair or save our marriages before they fail. I hope you will come back to read it and share your thoughts!

Reprinted with permission from Dyana’s blog, Ambling Grace.

 

 


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By Dyana Robbins

 

There is nothing like the excitement of starting something new. The sense of adventure, hopefulness, and the promise of new ventures can be intoxicating. Some people experience a new challenge with enthusiasm that borders on fanaticism. I am one of them. It happened to me when I began homeschooling.

 

I started homeschooling out of a deep conviction that it was the only good option for my son. This was based on my experience trying all the other available options. Those experiences led me to reroute my career and life to meet his needs.

 

These factors set me up to embrace homeschooling like a drowning person grabs a flotation device. Some great things resulted from those bumpy beginnings, but eleven years later, I see my mistakes during that time too.

 

1. Jumping Into a Pressure Cooker
The intense responsibility and commitment I felt to my son drove me to extremes. I learned EVERYTHING I could about homeschooling and I fell into thinking homeschooling was the best educational option period. For everybody. 

 

Not only that, but a certain brand of homeschooling that idealized parental authority and influence dominated my thinking. It seemed to provide the remedies for the problems in our culture and educational systems by strengthening the parent’s influence in their children’s’ lives.

 

I still agree with many tenets of this movement, but recognize that I had thrown my hope into a method as THE answer rather than seeing it as one part of the healing and help my son needed. This led to me being stressed when my family didn’t mirror the results or lifestyle idealized in this group. 

 

I was not a relaxed and joyful homeschool mom; I was striving and driving us towards an ideal that intensified our struggles. You can be wiser than me; avoid the idealization of any one method or even homeschooling itself!

 

2. Defending Our Decision to Homeschool
We had never known anyone who homeschooled when we decided to pursue it. It seemed such a foreign and radical idea. My struggle with the decision made others’ questioning of it painful.

 

People who were merely curious met with the same lengthy explanations as those who opposed our decision. Thankfully, none of these exchanges were heated, but I’m sure those on the receiving end of my explanations often wished they weren’t!

 

Those who disagreed with us did not change their opinions following lengthy discourses. Several friends, professionals, and family DID change their opinions by seeing the results of our choice over time.

 

3. Homeschooling as Insurance
Some of homeschooling’s appeal for me centered on its insulation from bullying and negative social pressure. That is a benefit of homeschooling but it isn’t foolproof: We have still encountered these things in co-ops and social gatherings.

 

Maybe all parents secretly desire the formula or program that guarantees successful parenting…I don’t know. I do know that despite my attempts to avoid that trap, I fell into it anyway. Somewhere along our journey, I began trusting that homeschooling was insurance against some of the very human struggles my children would face; within and without.

 

I overemphasized our influence and underestimated humanity’s sin nature and the natural developmental challenges we all face. My children have not fallen into any great difficulty so far, but I know they might one day. If that day comes, it will not be homeschooling that saves us.

 

Homeschooling has been a wonderful tool that the Lord has allowed for shaping and disciplining our children, but it is only a tool in the Lord’s hands. He alone has the power to restrain and forgive their sin and to overcome their struggles as they trust in Him.

 

4. Doubting my Decisions…and Then Doubting Them Again!
A list of all the decisions on curriculum, therapies, and activities that I questioned could fill this page. After lots of research and deliberation for each decision, I would move forward and then proceed to question everything we did. This did not make for a happy homeschool.

 

Thankfully, time and experience revealed that our choices could be easily changed or tweaked without destroying our children’s future. The weight of each decision was much lighter than my fears led me to believe. More experienced homeschooling moms encouraged and helped me past this hangup. Their assurances that we didn’t have to have it all figured out to be successful lifted the crushing burden I kept picking up.

 

5. Comparisons
Oy yoy yoy…this was terrible. If you want peace, don’t compare your homeschool, family or life with anyone else’s. Looking for affirmation that we were not failing our kids in every way, I would at times check our progress against other families,’ hoping for encouragement. No, no and no.

 

One more NOOOOOOOO. This is a life-stealing, joy-killing practice. If you want to become a judgmental, condemning person or feel like a failure at every turn, this is the path for you. However, if balance and health matter to you, run from this temptation every time it dares to pop up.

 

Most of us would agree that our families’ needs are unique and that comparisons are fruitless….it’s why we homeschool. Join Facebook forums, support groups or co-ops and it becomes evident that comparisons to others run rampant anyway. We talk about curriculum, lifestyle, method, or educational choice in ways that reveal the comparisons undergirding our positions.

 

We have to guard against forming harsh judgments of ourselves and others based on what works in other families. Hopefully, you can sidestep this pitfall and be an encouragement to others.

 

In Conclusion…
Reflecting on the mistakes of my early homeschooling years hurts a little. Exposing it to you hurts a little more, but I also hope it encourages you. If you find yourself commiserating with my past experience, you should know that homeschooling doesn’t have to be that way. You can change and move forward differently.

 

If you are wondering how such a crazy, immature, and fearful woman got into homeschooling anyway, I’m with you. But, God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise and I’m living proof of that truth. Somehow, our sons grew beyond every prognosis we were given and are even likely to be productive members of society (that’s a joke; they will!). We’ve all changed and grown. We are still changing and growing. When I graduate them, I’ll be writing an article about mistakes I made at this point. Stay tuned…

 

 


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By Dyana Robbins, M.Ed.

As the new year approaches, more families will be considering homeschooling. Each January, an influx of new homeschoolers hits online forums, support groups and homeschooling resources looking for encouragement and help. If you are one of those families, making the leap into homeschooling might seem terrifying. I hope to dispel that fear by sharing the reasons our family chose to homeschool and how that decision has played out the last eleven years.

1. American culture is tough on childhood
Some areas are blessedly immune from the frantic pace characterizing the majority American culture, but I don’t live in one of them. Pressure to have children involved in lots of activities and perform at a high level erodes the quality of life for even our youngest children. As we pushed back against this trend, we found that a more relaxed lifestyle allowed our children to thrive. This led us to reconsider schooling options as they approached kindergarten. We wanted our family to have a rich, well-rounded life and to be well-rested and happy.


2. We wanted a strong family for our children

The pressures on families today mean that they spend little time together that is not rushed. We desired to model and teach our children life lessons through daily life and shared experiences. I’m so thankful we have been able to do that the last eleven years. We have traveled many places, made special family relationships, shared ministry experiences, and collected a lifetime’s worth of joyful memories. While our family is far from perfect, we laugh, cry, live, and love well together. I credit much of that to the lifestyle homeschooling has afforded us.


3. Our children do not learn well in typical classrooms

Our preschool experiences demonstrated that typical classroom learning failed to impart true learning to our boys. We had committed, skilled teachers, a great environment, and still they could not learn well. When our children were diagnosed with developmental and learning disabilities, we hoped they could thrive in a classroom with appropriate supports. That did not happen for us. This does not mean that all families in our situation should homeschool, but I do believe it means homeschooling must be an option for all families who need it.


Homeschooling has allowed our children to surpass every expectation therapists and doctors originally held out to us. With all the time, love, help, and attention we have been able to offer them, we have seen tremendous improvement. I am so thankful that we have had the ability and freedom to make this choice for our family when we needed it most.

4. Our Spiritual Convictions
Spiritual reasons are often cited for homeschooling, but I think our family has a twist on this qualifier. Yes, our beliefs were important to us and we wanted our curriculum to reflect those beliefs. However, we also wanted our children to gain exposure to opposing value systems and grapple with them. Homeschooling has allowed both in a way that provides the time and space for deeper discussion, interaction and reflection.

Also, we wanted our lifestyle to reflect a greater focus on others and service that flows from our convictions. Traditional schooling schedules make that very challenging. Homeschooling offers freedom to live our convictions more fully.

5. It’s an Adventure!
So, if you are standing on the edge of this decision, you might be experiencing fear or apprehension. You don’t know how this will turn out. Will your children thrive? Can you teach them well? How will you stay sane while living all day with your children? These are common questions almost every parent considering homeschooling asks. We had them too.

Can I suggest to you that those very questions might just be a reason that you should homeschool? No adventure comes without risk. That risk is the heart of all grand journeys. Following expected paths may seem comforting, but it will never challenge, stimulate, or incite growth in your family like launching into the unknown will. Our family has enjoyed many wonderful experiences and changed in ways we never could have if we had followed a wider path.

The learning, and self-awareness that comes with homeschooling is worth the leap. Even if you decide after a while that homeschooling is not the right decision for your family, you will make that choice with the confidence and knowledge gained from experience.

Eleven Years In
My oldest son is a ninth grader and decided he wanted to attend our local high school this year to graduate with a trade certificate and explore a world he doesn’t know. We grappled deeply with this decision and allowed him to attend school this year. We are still homeschooling our younger son.

Having a foot in both worlds reveals several things to me that I share in the hopes it might help you with your decisions.

  • My son is only able to be successful in public school because of his years of homeschooling.
  • The concerns we had about public schooling are valid, but his age and maturity are allowing him to navigate them well. The strong base of responsibility and family support that homeschooling has helped us cultivate is partly responsible for his success.
  • Our family has a deeper appreciation for all that homeschooling has given us as a foundation for the children’s teenage years. I am immensely grateful that we have been able to pour so much love, instruction, and time into them.

 

 

 


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Dyana Robbins

 

The holiday season offers many wonderful things to us: time away from work, more time with friends and family, traditions, and expressions of love. For many, this truly remains the happiest and most-anticipated time of the year. However, there are years when the holidays seem much less joyous. Deaths, losses, difficult circumstances, broken relationships and other factors can threaten the joy we want to experience.

 

Here are some thoughts that I hope will encourage you if you find yourself facing a difficult holiday season.  Some of them are humorous, others more serious, but all have helped our family celebrate the holidays in difficult years.

 

1.  Treat Hallmark movies and Christmas sentimentalism like a plague
Please don’t call me Scrooge; I know how committed people are to their Hallmark Christmas movies.  I have even liked a couple of them myself. However, when we are battling discouragement or even despair, the idealized versions of Christmas, love, and family that are peddled to us can intensify our pain.
Movies and many Christmas songs’ sentimental version of life can highlight places in our lives that don’t reflect the same perfection.  Instead of providing help, they actually create larger wounds.  If you must indulge in these entertainments,  make sure you balance them with movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Carol.”  They have some good old adversity and life lessons that balance out the schmaltz.  And for music, immerse yourself in songs that offers real joy and hope.  My favorite is “O Holy Night.”

 

2.  Simplify
We hear this advice everywhere, but what does it actually look like to practice simplicity?  It differs in families, but simplicity rests on the following principles:  contentment, pruning of useless or harmful things, and a grateful perspective.
Even in the most difficult times, we can practice simplicity.  As we rid ourselves of fruitless thoughts, useless energy expenditures, taxing social engagements, and burdensome traditions or expectations, joy can fill the space they vacate.  We can appreciate the beauty of what remains, the graces of each day, and enjoy rest.

 

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” ― Henry David Thoreau

 

3.  Do something new
One of life’s greatest joys, is to experience or learn new things.  Whether you create new traditions, learn a new game, skill, or song, take a different route for Christmas light viewing, or bake something different, your venture into the unknown affirms life and fresh beginnings.  The scope and cost of these changes need not be great; just doing them brings happy feelings and memories.

 

4.  Avoid or limit negative influences
This may be the most difficult of my recommendations. Often, negative influences come from our closest  family members, or others we’re pressured to spend time with over the holidays.  If you feel guilty avoiding them entirely,  do all you can to limit your exposure to them.  
You can do a shorter visit, make sure others will be around to dilute their impact, gather in a place you feel most comfortable, or have the nearest exit mapped out for an emergency evacuation.  We need to show love to difficult people, but during dark seasons in our own lives, we might need a break or limited engagement to care for ourselves.
Likewise, give yourself permission to rest from considering or deciding about stressful or negative things.  Even a short break from decision-making can help you recharge and focus on the joy of the season.  Truly, our problems can almost always be put on temporary hold, instead of demanding all of our time and attention.

 

5.  Celebrate Christ
If you find yourself in the darkest of times, my other recommendations will ring with inadequacy. There are some problems we cannot change, fix or remove; they simply must be borne. Even bearing those burdens, hope shines and lights a path for joy.
Isaiah 9, in the Bible, talks of Christ the Savior.  Consider this beautiful passage with me:

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

 

One dark day, the God of Heaven sent his son to us.  His arrival fulfilled many prophecies, God’s promises to man, to provide a Savior from ourselves, our condition, and this broken world.  He walked our paths, suffered our griefs, experienced our fragile joys, and purchased for us a joy that can never die.
Because of this gift, every trial, grief, injustice, betrayal, loss and inadequacy will one day be completely overwhelmed and overcome.  No matter what we face, even the most horrible and trying things, they only have temporary power and effect.  As we wait for that day, we enjoy Christ’s presence and help.  He is all to us that the verses above promise: our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
Every lesser joy can be extinguished. Life’s burdens can smother them all.  But, the joy of Christ, God’s guarantee to man, has never failed me or anyone who has trusted in Him.
Whatever your circumstances this year, I pray you will find and know joy.  If this season is painful for you, know that you are not alone in your struggle or in waiting for better days.  May the joy of this season overwhelm your struggles and bring you hope.  

 

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 


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This article

was reprinted with permission from Dyana Robbin’s personal blog,

Ambling Grace.
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Are you homeschooling children that have been gifted with extraordinary energy like mine?  If so, you will relate to their behaviors:
  • Little patience for anything not involving movement
  • Constant climbing, running, wrestling, fidgeting and talking.
  • Energy levels that push them to engage in risky behavior
  • They have two speeds:  whirling dervish and sleeping

While these characteristics are slight exaggerations to make a point, if you are raising children with high energy, you will already be picturing how this plays out in your home. This type of child demands more than typical parenting strategies.   Here are some strategies I have learned that help embrace my children for who they are and have helped ensure we all survive their journey to adulthood.


Tips for Raising and Homeschooling Very Energetic Children:

 

Tip 1 – When possible, start every day with physical activity  
Our two young men need to run every morning before school.  This began when they were three years old.  We used to live near a park and it became the venue for our morning running circuit.  Working out my boys’ energy before school, prevented many tears, lots of frustration, and saved time in getting them to focus.

 

Tip 2 – Find safe places for them to take risks and let them go  
This recommendation runs against the grain of current parenting trends.  As our culture over-shelters and protects children in many areas, they become stunted in their initiative, tolerance for risk, and problem-solving skills.  

 

Our sons have been risk-takers from toddlerhood.  For us, state and national parks provided a refuge where our children could be wild and not bother other people.  When younger, our sons ran miles of trails and climbed many of rocks.  Now, at 12 and 14, they climb 14,000 ft. mountains for fun.  My sons have tackled challenges usually reserved for older children.   At times, their daring feats have caused onlookers concern, but they have always operated within their abilities.

 

Tip 3 – Encourage exploration and experimentation
Overly active children’s abundant energy, often comes with inquisitiveness and ingenuity. These are wonderful traits that will serve our children well as they mature.  Encouraging these traits means you will have a messy house at times, often leave workbook learning behind, and won’t be in control of this aspect of their learning.  What you gain is worth every bit of the cost.

 

Tip 4 – Set strong boundaries around personal property and people
High-energy children can literally crash through life.  To help avoid the social problems caused by this propensity, we must teach our children firm boundaries.  This takes direct teaching, lots of repetition, and opportunities to practice.  Teaching our children to respect others’ property (not touching or grabbing things without permission), not rough-housing unexpectedly with other children, and to confine wild play to the outdoors can help prevent behaviors that overwhelm or repel others.

 

Tip 5 – Limit or avoid times they are required to be still
In our family, we expect our children to sit quietly during worship, funerals, weddings and in time-out.  These times teach them self-control and self-regulation which are essential skills. However, their ability to do this successfully was much less-developed than their peers.  We have had to closely assess what they could tolerate and not push them past their limits. When they do not have to be still, I try to let them move, fidget and chatter as much as possible.  As they have grown, maturity has tempered much of this overactive behavior.

 

Dyana with her very energetic boys
Tip 6 – Participate in shared activities with them
My husband has helped immensely in this area.  He started taking our sons running from a very young age and cultivated a deep bond with them in doing so.  It has been more challenging for me as the boys have grown into young men.  I cannot keep up with them on trails anymore and time constraints also make it difficult.  So, a couple of years ago, I did something absurd and wonderful:  I signed the three of us up for martial arts classes.
  
I am over forty, struggle with weight and health issues, and was frankly terrified of getting out on the mat.  However, two years in, we have grown closer to one another, discovered another great outlet for their energy, and gained a supportive and loving community.  This experience has also helped us stay connected as they are becoming young men.

 

It is easier to schedule things for our active children and watch from the sidelines to get a much-needed break.  I am not discouraging that altogether.  However, I want to encourage you to find shared activities as well. Close bonds develop from shared hobbies and wonderful, lifelong memories are made.

 

 

 


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By Dyana Robbins

If you are married and parenting a special-needs child or children, you are likely well-acquainted with the marital prognosis bandied about in our circles. It’s not a kind one. Widely shared statistics tell us that the divorce rate for our families lies around eighty percent. Others decry that statistic, but no matter the number, special-needs parenting places great demands on a marriage.

However, there are wonderful things that special-needs parenting creates or deepens in an enduring marriage. I’m writing a series of articles on those things; highlighting strengths developed in the fires of parenting special-needs children and strategies for developing them. I’ll start by sharing a little of our experience and how our marriage has benefited through it.

Our Story
My husband and I married in 1995 and did not have children until 2002. These seven years provided ample time to know one another and plan for children. We both met career, financial and personal goals before conceiving and felt secure that we had laid the best foundation we could to bring children into the family.

Our marriage was well-prepared to support children, but the arrival of our first child threatened everything we had built. Our son was born without the ability to nurse or take a bottle. We spent many long weeks pumping breast milk around the clock, trying to rouse our son to eat, and then spooning the liquid gold into his mouth. Exhaustion and fear over his condition accelerated a fall into postpartum depression.

We beat back the darkness, our son improved. Then we welcomed our second son into the family two years later. Before long, I was battling fears that whatever was affecting my oldest son had also affected his younger brother. By the time our oldest was three-and-a-half, we had identified both our sons were impacted by autism spectrum disorders, among other challenges. Our family was struggling to get through each day and our marriage took some tough blows for the next five years as we came to terms with handling a reality that differed from our expectations and preparations.

As our sons are entering high school, we enjoy an enduring marriage and a host of benefits from weathering the early years of parenting. Here are some marital benefits of special-needs parenting we have discovered along the way.


Still smiling after all these years and lots of tears…. 


What We’ve Gained


Enhanced Sensitivity

Some of us are naturally attuned to the needs of others, while some people struggle to appreciate them. I won’t disclose who is who in our marriage, but we have both grown exponentially in this area. Parenting our children has required us to closely attend to the children’s needs and one another. Thriving together requires recognizing everyone’s needs and balancing them in ways not demanded by typical parenting.

Deep, Honest Communication
When our marriage was suffering, we learned to communicate more deeply, honestly, and quickly when problems arose. Beating around the bush is a luxury confined to times of normalcy and peace. Fighting for our family required honest, forthcoming communication. I developed courage to address unmet needs in myself and children and to express them well to my husband. This was a process, but we hashed out better communication skills and committed to using them.

Deeper Commitment
Our vows were expressed with a commitment to part only in death, yet I questioned them in our darkest times. As my husband struggled with our new realities, my understanding, compassion and forgiveness were lacking. I entertained ideas that it might be easier on my own and had to quickly combat them with truth. I chose to love him better and renewed my commitment to our marriage. He stuck with me through disillusionment, anger and depression. We look back on those times and marvel at how we’ve grown spiritually, emotionally and relationally.


Laughing More

There are many challenging and painful things we encounter, but almost all of them can be viewed with a sense of humor if we are willing to laugh at ourselves and our circumstances. Shared laughter helps us cope with stress and builds unity. Some of our biggest laughs have come from mining humor out of acutely stressful or painful situations. Given the number of those situations inherent to parenting special-needs children, we laugh a lot more.

Coordination and Delegation Skills
Nothing can mold a couple into a tip-top team like managing the schedules, needs and appointments of our families. Balancing work, therapy, school and life demands requires skillful coordination, a team mentality and the ability to delegate. I’m thankful for how we’ve honed these skills over our years of parenting; we can flat get things done.

New Ministry
In the early years of parenting, we had to divide and conquer to meet the challenges that kept coming. One of the few things we could do together in those years was encourage other struggling parents. It helped us stay connected to one another.

We have met many wonderful people through our family’s challenges: doctors, therapists, other parents and those with special needs themselves. These relationships give us a richer life and opportunities to share hope, comfort and encouragement even as we receive them.

These are a handful of the benefits we have enjoyed. I hope they encourage you to recognize your own. I’d love for you to share yours with me! My next article will address strategies for cultivating these benefits.


This article has been copied with permission from Ambling Grace. 

 


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