By Sheila Campbell
I waved as they drove off and Jennifer waved back, with the excitement of spending the day at the corn maze bursting through her beaming smile. Through the van window I could see my boys eagerly looking ahead, already absorbed in the adventure of the day. I turned back with mixed emotions to see Justin, who sat quietly in his wheelchair, and I gently kissed his cheek. I loved my handicapped son and was grateful for a day to spend alone with him, and I was also grateful for homeschool friends who had offered to take my other children on a field trip organized by our homeschool support group, but my heart was torn—I wanted to enjoy the adventure of a corn maze with my kids, and I wished that Justin were capable of enjoying such an adventure too.
As the van drove away, I thought back to the day only a few weeks after my husband’s death, when our homeschool support group had changed the plans and location of our “end of school” party to help my family. Families arrived at our house armed with food and prepared to spend the day working. While the men built fence and completed some outside projects, the women provided food not only for their families and the men who were working but also enough to last our family several weeks. My heart warmed at the memory, and I once more thanked the Lord for the bountiful blessing of friends.
As I turned back to Justin and the quiet house, it was with a twinge of loneliness.
Justin was nonverbal, and although he might smile at my conversations and the music and audio books that filled the silent spaces of the house, I still felt the silence. I had several friends with whom I often exchanged childcare—I would keep their children in my home when they needed help, and they would offer to take mine to activities so that I did not have to take Justin, who was easily over-stimulated by crowds and preferred to stay home. However, it was only my mother who ever offered to stay with Justin so that I could attend an event with my other children, which meant she missed out on many of their performances.
As a single parent and the parent of a special needs child, I sometimes felt as if I had a double dose of loneliness. When our support group hosted family events, I went with my children, and I never felt out of place as there were always other women whose husbands were either working or unable to attend for some reason. However, when families gathered in smaller, more informal groups, I often felt left out or like a “fifth wheel.”
There was loneliness in that season of my life that was often overlooked, but it was in that loneliness that the Lord drew me ever closer to Himself, so I have no regrets and look back on that season with special fondness. That season of loneliness also opened my eyes to the needs of others that often go overlooked.
My situation was not unique, and as the number of homeschool families has grown, it has become even more common to encounter single-parent families who homeschool; the number of homeschool families with special needs children is even larger. I would venture to say that almost every homeschool family knows at least one family who homeschools under unique or difficult circumstances. There are a number of ways that families can minister to others who may be struggling.
As a single parent, I wanted my children to be surrounded by whole families, since statistics indicate that children from single-parent homes are far more likely to become single parents. I wanted my children to know how whole families functioned and to experience the fellowship of whole families, and the Lord was gracious to answer my prayer.
Although I often hosted gatherings for the ladies in our group, as my children grew I also began to invite individual families to share a meal and fellowship with us. I would usually invite at least two families so that the men in each family would have fellowship with one another and would feel more comfortable in our home. Later, the Lord provided several families who opened their homes and their hearts to our family and included us in their fellowship. All of those families were dear Christian friends from our homeschool group! Over the years there were even a few special families in which the men embraced the opportunity to fellowship with my boys and were willing to welcome our family into fellowship with theirs without the need for others, which made us feel special indeed!
Today, I listen as my boys talk about the men in their lives, and I am moved to tears with gratitude for men who were willing to be surrogate fathers to my boys. I watch with gladness as these families continue to open their homes and their hearts to other single parents and include them in their fellowship, giving their children living examples of whole, complete families.
I have also witnessed a very special family take extra time to learn how to care for a special needs child belonging to another family. They offer to keep him when the mom needs a break and are available when this family needs someone to care for him for a few hours or even a few days.
Every special needs child is different, and each has different needs. Some enjoy being in large groups and thrive on activity and people, while others are easily over-stimulated and prefer one-on-one attention. I would encourage others—especially families who do not have a child with special needs—to embrace a family with a special needs child and take the time to learn how to care for that child. God was gracious to provide for the needs of our family, and looking back I realize I did not encourage my friends to learn how to care for Justin’s needs because I did not want to burden them. Perhaps my pride prevented some family from reaping the blessings that come with learning how to love unconditionally and giving time and attention to a child who cannot return that love and attention in the same way that other children do.
I do not always agree with the statement that “it takes a village to raise a child.” I believe God placed children in families because He intended parents to raise children, but I also believe He placed families in community to help and minister to one another. I encourage you to look around and reach beyond the boundaries of your family to those families who need the fellowship of the Body of Christ. May you find the blessings boundless!
Sheila Campbell began homeschooling in 1991, and after the death of her husband in 2001, she homeschooled as a single parent. She also was the parent of a special needs child whom she cared for at home until his death in 2004. These difficulties have strengthened her walk with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and it is her prayer that her words will encourage and inspire others. Sheila resides in Hale Center, Texas, and recently left her job with the Texas Home School Coalition to pursue her writing goals. Sheila invites you to visit her blog at pausingtopraise.wordpress.com
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.