Are you stuck in homeschooling? Do you feel as if you’re running in place? Gasping for breath, feeling the burn but going no where? Time seems to loop like the movie Ground Hog Day; every day is like the one before. The only sign of growth is the mold on your shower curtain. Everyone is sick of book work. Every day is a near occasion of scolding. You set your mouth grimly. Fine. Let’s just finish the books and check off the days.
You’ve got burnout. It happens to all homeschoolers, usually in winter/Lent but it can hit you at any time. This year, I got it in September. Why? I’m a marathon homeschooler. Twenty-five years, seven kids, 364 dog years and starting to look it.
Burnout is not just a mom problem. It affects everyone in the household and threatens the homeschool. That’s the bad news. The good news is there is help – your fellow homeschooling moms.
Getting together with your fellow homeschool moms refreshes your commitment, brings you back to your roots, helps you remember why you homeschooled in the first place – or at least verifies that yup, they look as bad as you do.
Every year I throw a Homeschool Mom’s Night Out, usually in the middle of Lent, when everybody is so desperate for fun they’ll even come to my house and compete for prizes about whatever we survived this year. Who could forget the mom whose whole family got lice on a camping trip in the fall just as the school year began? I forget what the prize was. The real prize was that she laughed about it and we all laughed with her.
Nobody understands us like we do.
Today, I’m bringing my Homeschool Mom’s Night to you here at my virtual home. Your fellow guests are veteran homeschoolers, many of whom are leaders in the movement. Sorry they aren’t able to bring snacks or wine but they do bring perspective.
I asked each of them to tell us just one thing they did that made homeschooling easier, more effective, and more joyful.
But at this point, I’ll take two out of three.
Schedule daily happiness.
You’re together. A lot. You hoped this would make your kids bff’s but sometimes it makes them choke each other to get rightful possession of the good pencil. I asked Margot Davidson of Hillside Education: How did you make the family joyfully close again?
“The best thing hands down was to read out loud to my children every day – big chapter book classics from the earliest ages. Second was I felt free to take days for pilgrimages and field trips. One of my sons wrote in his college entrance essay that all we did was go to museums and read the books we loved. (I did assure the admissions counselor that I had properly tortured him through Saxon math as well).”
Connect with your local homeschooling community.
What? Homeschoolers aren’t supposed to socialize. Actually, it’s just the opposite. Right, Maureen Wittmann of Homeschool Connections?
“Connecting with local Catholic homeschool families has made all the difference in the world. Whether it be little co-ops in our living rooms, back-to-school parties, mom’s night out, book swaps, or just having someone to call on when I need a pick me up, the local community has been there. Most importantly, it is the example of those other Catholic homeschool families that has changed our lives. The beauty of their faith has lifted my family and me up many times. When I was struck with a debilitating sickness many years ago, the local homeschool moms were at my door with a helping hand.”
Fight the green eyed monster.
Those good Catholic ladies with their nineteen well behaved kids, kneeling piously at daily mass in their Sunday clothes. I bet they’re rich too. Mary Ellen Barrett, who blogs at Tales from the Bonny Blue House and writes for Seton Magazine answers: How do I stop myself from feeling like a schlub?
“Don’t compare yourself to others because you have no idea what else goes on in their home; rather, be happy for people who seem to have it all together, and encourage and praise their efforts. This is a much better attitude and one that will filter in to your own homeschool. Happy moms have happy kids.”
In other words: Don’t judge the inside of your life by the outside of someone else’s. I want it on a coffee mug.
Realize everyone else is going through it.
So says Leila Lawler of the popular blog, Like Mother like Daughter. Everyone? Not just homeschoolers? “I offer you this: the sure knowledge that it’s the same in school. Any teacher will tell you: everyone feels the same way: tired, sick– and sick of being sick, quite sure you’re getting nowhere with school subjects.”
Homeschooling Pro Tip!
To get kids interested again, Leila says to “Clean out bookcases and craft shelves, on the principle that what your children won’t pay the slightest bit of attention to when you carefully offer it to them with nods and smiles, they will devour if they ‘discover’ it on their own.”
Thank God every day and be specific.
Dr. Amy Fahey of Thomas More College and Crisis Magazine) says, “Ideally, we begin our homeschooling day praying Lauds together and reciting: Come ring out our joy to the Lord! Hail the rock who saves us. Let us come before him giving thanks! Sometimes it seems rather forced when actually all I really want is to be left alone with another cup of coffee. The words of the psalmist serve to remind me of the all-important disposition of gratitude in my homeschooling day. Without gratitude, we can quickly lose sight of the great privilege we have been given to be the central figure in the nurturing and training of our own precious children.”
What is the best way to do that, Amy? “Our Faith is Incarnational. It is centered on the Word Who became flesh and dwelt among us, and so instead of, ‘I am grateful for my child’s positive attitude,’ I say, ‘I am grateful that John actually completed Facts Practice I in under ten minutes without complaining.’ Try to articulate one expression of gratitude each day for each child, for yourself, and for your husband.”
Change if you need to.
Homeschoolers are always saying they want to tailor the education to the needs of the child. Martina Kreitzer of the Catholic Sistas blog points out that sometimes that means change. Yet we’re often reluctant. Change feels like failure. But change is not failure.
Failure in homeschooling is doing what does not work, day after day.
What does that change look like? We polled homeschoolers on the Catholic Sistas blog. Here are their answers.
Christi: “As a mother of thirteen with twenty-seven years of homeschooling experience, being open to different learning styles and needs is very important and I have several shelves of different curriculum materials as proof of that.” Maurisa: “Change what we are doing if a child is struggling in a subject, even if that means completely discarding something and starting over with something different in the middle of the school year. With seven kids and twenty years of homeschooling under our belts, we’ve had to do this several times.” Hollee: “Be willing to switch curriculum mid year, don’t buy in to the idea of competing with/duplicating public schooling.” Hollee also echoes Margot when she says, “Every once in a while cancel school plans for the day and make it an all day reading for fun day.” Sarah: Evaluate each quarter and change where needed.” Laura: “Let go of expectations!”
Knock and it shall be opened to you.
Several recent popes have reassured us that God made all parents to be their children’s primary educators. I asked Allison Gingras, who blogs at Reconciled to You and Catholicmom.com what that looks like in her family.
“I started homeschooling Faith when we brought her home from China at age three, but eventually had to send her to an all deaf school when I realized, teaching the deaf was way harder than I had anticipated. It is a small private school, and the first person I met walking in the door was a sweet woman from what we call ‘deaf church’ aka Mass for the Deaf, celebrated by a priest who is deaf. That was a good sign that we made the right choice. Bring those tough days, those doubts, the plans that go awry; all of it to the Lord in prayer. Believe and trust that you have been called to give this gift to your family. God will equip you and sustain you in it.”
Get help as you limp across the homeschooling finish line.
A fellow marathon mom of nine named Julie recently wrote to me, “I feel like I’m dragging myself to the finish line with the last two.”
Me too. Only I’m not dragging myself. I’m leaning on the arms of two friends, as many a marathon runner does.
Those two friends are my Catholic co-op and the online classes at Homeschool Connections. I need help teaching. I am not an expert in every subject and even if I were, I am only one person. An old one.
Seeking help with the teaching is not just for me. It’s for the kids. There sometimes comes a point where the kids outgrow mom as their sole teacher. It’s not a bad thing; it’s actually a very good sign.
You’ve challenged them and they’ve grown. Now they need the next challenge.
That’s what I would tell you if you were sitting in my living room with all the other homeschool moms troubleshooting how to make homeschooling easier, more effective, and more joyful. Get help. Relieve some of the burden of teaching. Save up for it. (I do.) It’s worth it. Your kids’ education is worth it; your sanity is worth it; your home life is worth it. Homeschooling is a race worth running.
I hope this this time together with your fellow homeschoolers helped you realize at least this much: you are not the only one who is tired. We’re all running the same marathon. Being tired does not mean you have failed; it means you have run a good race. (Timothy 4:7-8)
This article was originally published on the National Catholic Register blog and has been altered slightly.
For more help with burnout, read: Twenty Minutes of Joy.