"Mum I just cant do it anymore, I wish I could sleep and not wake up".
How could an 8yr old boy wish for this?
How could a happy, confident, social child walk into a new school and 9 months later be ridden with fear, anxiety, and low self esteem?
It was these very words that put us on the path of homeschooling.
You see for us homeschooling was not a choice but a necessity. Something we had to do in order to prevent our sons mental health from deteriorating any further.
Bullying can have a detrimental and sometimes catastrophic impact on a child's physical and psychological wellbeing. I know this now...
What began as a few small incidents at school eventually began to intensify and become more frequent.
"Mum no one wanted to play with me today. They said I was too dumb to be their friend"
"Mum they said I was a #### idiot"
"Today they were all laughing at me and calling me swear words"
"No one picked me for their sports team and x said no one liked me"
"x said he was going to punch me in the face and that he hated me"
I would tell him that these words were not true, that he was kind and smart and worthy but eventually he stopped believing in himself and those words like weeds, had planted themselves into his mind and heart.
The ongoing physical threats, teasing and social isolation changed him.
His self esteem plummeted and he began to believe what they were saying.
"Mum I'm stupid, I'm not smart"
"Nobody likes me because I'm annoying"
"I dont blame them for not being my friends"
Then, eventually it started to impact on him physically.
"Mum I'm so tired"
"I just want to sleep"
He was having nightmares, constantly complaining of a sore stomache...and he would sleep, sometimes for hours and hours before his bedtime.
The truth was he was exhausted, drained, and unable to cope with the constant flow of negative emotions associated with being told you arent worthy of kindness and belonging.
He began isolating himself, refusing to talk in class and in the playground.
"Why are you sitting alone in that corner?" a teacher doing her rounds at lunchtime would ask.
"Because I dont want to be teased. It's better if I dont speak to anyone".
He had built a barrier between them and himself. It was the only way he felt safe at the time.
After months of trying to resolve it with the school, with the Department of Education, with counselors and psychologists, and everyone else the experts had recommended, nothing was helping. Eventually I was no longer willing to put my sons safety and mental health in the firing line. I was no longer going to believe school was the best place for him to be.
You see I had been conditioned to think that there was no other alternative, that moving schools or homeschooling would make it worse. That was until I set myself free from this conditioning and allowed myself to think beyond societal norms. It was then when our homeschooling journey really began...
There was once a time where I wasnt even willing to entertain the idea of pulling my children out of school and educating them myself. Gosh how could I? I wasnt a teacher, I didnt have the patience for it, nor the time... I could barely make it through the day with all the cooking and cleaning and washing and running around and working...adding homeschooling to my already long list of responsibilities was a recipe for disaster! No homeschooling was not for me.
But Allah in His infinite wisdom put me in a position where I felt like I had no other choice but to homeschool J and our trials soon became a blessing.
Once registered our first priority was to focus on his healing and this was incorporated as an integral part of our homeschooling. I researched online, I spoke to professionals, and I developed a plan. Most importantly I included him in the narrative because there was a time where he once felt voiceless and powerless.
My primary focus became helping him develop his self confidence and alleviating his anxiety.
Friendships and socialisation was never forced until he was ready.
I wanted him to have his power back so I listened to him when he told me he wanted to leave social gatherings, I listened when he told me he needed time on his own, and I listened when he talked about how he felt. We did things our way and I was finally listening to my instincts.
As time went by his confidence grew stronger and his anxiety had eased. He regained that spark, something that I hadnt seen for months and he was laughing again.
Amidst this journey something completely unexpected happened and he began to develop a passion for literature and learning and exploring. He was motivated and inspired to read more than he ever had.
The monotonous routine of school, then home, then sleep began to change and learning became fun and exciting. His curiosity for how the world worked and Islam was once a dim light and it soon began to shimmer until it illuminated his mind and his heart and became evident in his actions.
Islam was incorporated into history, science and PHD lessons. He changed and grew beyond the scope of what a standard education was able to give him and he was having fun doing it!
There are still times when anxiety peaks its ugly head into his thoughts. Sometimes he doubts himself, sometimes he questions whether people like him but he is open and we are able to navigate through those feelings. That crippling fear he once felt, is now gone.
He had no friends, now he does. He once dreaded the mere mention of an outing, he now looks forward to attending all events particularly homeschool ones.
There was a time where the sheer thought of being around other kids would scare him. He now has the confidence to put himself out there and meet new people. That wall he had put up to protect himself was slowly breaking away brick by brick. His resilience and strength astounded me.
This journey hasn't just healed him but it has also helped me see motherhood through a new lense. One where I am able to look beyond my preconceived notions, to trust my gut, to think outside of the box, to march to the beat of our own drum and do what I know is instinctively right.
Mainstream school can be a beautiful place but it wasnt the right environment for J. I know that now. Maybe this might change, maybe not but I will walk with him and be his strongest advocate and cheerleader through his learning journey.
I was once a reluctant homeschooler because I thought I was too busy, unskilled and too impatient. The hustle and bustle of life is now just background noise and my priorities are changing and evolving.
There are times where I want to give up, times where I think this is too hard I cant do this anymore but then I remember where we were and what we have become and it reinvigorates my drive to continue.
I too learnt to push aside self doubt, after all motherhood has the ability to give you strength and patience in places you never thought existed.
Looking back I now realise that maybe J's trials had a greater purpose. Maybe it was to shift my perspective on what it means to be a present and engaged parent. Maybe it was to put him on a different path so that he could grow from it and learn from it and become his own unique person.
3 years later I now look back at those words he had once told me. The words that changed our path and took us somewhere completely unexpected and I marvel at how your trials can indeed become your blessings.