Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Homeschool burnout... a not-so-short treatise

Well we survived our first day back at actual lessons. Now, I could paint the rosy picture... the schedule worked, everyone did their work with a minimum of fussing, everyone was ready to learn and anxious to start the new school year. And that would all be true. Or, I could share the less than ideal moments... the boy, stressed by school work momentarily who swears, blames it on his brother and stomps out of the room, the little girl who decides she isn't entirely happy about the chapter book we are reading at lunch, the complete disinterest of everyone (except D. who likes to please his mother) in learning to tie a diamond hitch knot, or the need to constantly remind H. and K. that they are supposed to be listening to what I am reading. And that would be all true as well.

The reality is that the truth lies somewhere between. My children are not perfect little robots who sit uncomplainingly before a stack of school books, but neither are they completely oppositional. They want to learn and are interested in many things. When the mood strikes, any one of them has been known to do a huge chunk of work at a time. The are also human and just as in adults, there is always so much more going on inside and outside of them. The trick is to know what each child's personal difficulties are and try to mitigate these difficulties the best you can. For instance, the momentarily over-stressed child? I knew that the little outburst was in response to having school work again. While it may have seemed pretty bad in the moment, I knew that he is quite good at regulating himself if he can be alone for a few moments. And he did... plus, he had taken his schoolwork with him and completed it as well. Correctly. The children who have trouble listening? Well, it was a good reminder for me. They both need to fidget while they listen, I had failed to provide something appropriate (and quiet!) for them do occupy their hands with. The blocks really did not work. I actually knew this, but had forgotten. I'm not perfect. My children aren't perfect. Tomorrow will be better. Or it might not be, but if it isn't, we'll figure out why and move on.

There's a point to all of this. I have seen over and over again recently a sort of backlash against homeschooling from within the homeschooling community. It seems to be mainly coming from parents who are just burned out... tired... unenthused... feeling like failures. It takes a couple of different forms. One is for the long time homeschooling family to ditch homeschooling all together and enroll everyone in a brick-and-mortar school. (Which, is fine with me. Each family is different. What works for each family is different. That's great. I personally think all school should be like a library... use it when you want and to the degree you want and don't when you don't want to. But I digress.) My beef is only when these families then go on to tell everyone what is wrong with homeschooling. The other form is for a homeschooling mother to tell everyone that the secret truth about homeschooling is that it is hard. And because you think it is the best choice, then you must lace up your boots and slog through it anyway because it is the "right thing to do."

This is my 18th year of homeschooling a variety of children with different strengths and weaknesses and learning styles. While there have been hard moments (as with anything), this feeling of slogging through something that I feel it is my duty to do come hell or high water is not my experience. Sure there are moments where I wonder what the heck I'm doing or send me to the bathroom for some quiet time. Sure there are moments where I despair over getting everything I need to get done, done. Sure there are moments where I wonder if a child will ever learn the thing I'm trying to teach them. But this is not unique to homeschooling. These are experiences that all parents get to experience regardless of where their child goes to school.

So how, in my humble opinion, does one avoid the despair these parents have experienced and bring some joy back to their homeschooling (or bring joy in for the first time)? Here's my short list.


  • Know why you have chosen this path. The most joy-less homeschoolers I've met over the years are the ones who are homeschooling out of fear. They are afraid of the public schools and so they decide to homeschool even though they have spent no time really thinking about why it's a viable option. Fear will kill joy every time. Without a real basis for choosing alternative education the goal becomes doing everything the public or private schools do except without the staff and external supports. You know what? This way madness lies. One person cannot duplicate everything a public school does. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Homeschooling is different from public school and once again I remind everyone that different is not the same as bad. (I should put that on a t-shirt.) 
  • Understand that homeschooling is not the same as salvation. This is a corollary to #1 and a trap I see many, many, many homeschoolers fall into. Of course, it is somewhat understandable as the monolithic Christian state homeschooling groups and the speakers they hire for their conferences do a fantastic job of implying this is so. The story goes like this. Public schools are evil and if you send your child to public school they will be so corrupted by the world that you will lose them forever. Therefore, you should homeschool them and tightly monitor everything they come in contact with with the end result of a perfect Christian when you hand them their high school diploma. Balderdash. (I don't swear much, but trust me when I say the word I wrote is not the word I thought.) This is a crock on so many levels. I think one reason why some families are becoming critical of homeschooling is that they believed a bill of goods about what homeschooling could and would deliver and there was not pay off in the end. In fact, in some cases, their worst fears were realized. Salvation is personal. It is not something you can foist on someone else, even with every box checked and perfect curriculum bought.
  • Cut yourself some slack. Remember no one is perfect. You will fail to teach your child something. But you know what? So will the public schools... because no one is perfect. We all have gaps in our education and the vast majority of us are functioning human beings. I'm pretty sure that for those who are not functioning, it is not because they missed out on learning about Ancient Rome or never quite understood how to find the percentage of something. So relax and enjoy the learning process. You can't do it all, but you can enjoy what you do. And trust me when I tell you if everyone enjoyed learning about something, they will remember it better.
  • Be willing to adjust your expectations. This is the biggest one and if I really wanted a short list, it would be the only thing on it. As in the rest of life, we becomes frustrated and angry and upset and any other host of emotions when things are not aligning with our expectations. If you start homeschooling with the expectation that one curriculum will do the trick, or your children will happily work for you for six hours a day, or that you will be able to stick with your overly ambitions schedule every single day without a hitch, you will be disappointed. It will be hard. You will but heads with your children. You won't like homeschooling. But if you are willing to play things a little more by ear, to follow your children's lead, to relax more, to take the time to find your own rhythm, homeschooling can be a joyful thing. 

You won't ruin your children if you focus on your relationship with your children first. You won't ruin your children if you take six months off from doing any math at all because all it takes is to pull out the math book for your child to melt down. You won't ruin your children if you take some time for yourself once a day and follow your own interests a bit. You won't ruin your children by chucking a text book halfway through because it didn't meet your child's needs. You won't ruin your children by spending an entire year studying something they are passionate about and never touching history (or science or writing or grammar... ). 

Because here's the real secret to successful homeschooling. The greatest gift you can give your child is to develop in them a deep and abiding interest in the world around them. The tools we use to explore that world... reading, math, science, history... are merely that. Tools. The things we use to make sense of the world around us. God has given us a marvelous gift in that we can explore and learn about the His creation. He meant for us to enjoy it, to relish it, to learn about it. Go be interested in things yourself and share them with your child. Your enthusiasm will be catching. For the burned out mothers out there, the ones who are slogging through the school year, but for whom the joy has left... go find something that interests you. Rekindle your own love of learning (or develop it for the first time). Then ask your children to join you on your adventure and learn together. I even give you permission to take a year off to do this exploring and wondering and learning. Because if you can do this, I guarantee the joy will start seeping back in. You will discover a great many things, not the least of which is that you didn't really take a year off at all. You just charted a new and exciting course.
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And in case you don't think this was quite long enough, I have another article published: My Adoption Story isn't all Rainbows and Unicorns: Why I Still Support Adoption
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Linked to the Hip Homeschool Moms Link-up

2 comments:

necessarygrace said...

I love that you posted this at the beginning of the year - when most people think we haven't had any time to be burned out yet, but some of us (ahem me) are already feeling frustrated at not being able to do all I want/expect to do in a day! It's only my 2nd year of home schooling, and my first year home schooling 2 of my kids - including the one I said I couldn't home school because he and I butt heads so much. And yup, there's a lot of head butting going on! But I know why I decided to do this and there were a LOT of good reasons - so I need to take your advice and find ways to make it more fun for the both of us! Thank you, I'm going to bookmark this one!

Jessica said...

Thank you! Sixth year homeschooling my daughters (8th and 10th) and the worry kills the joy. I am not burned out, but I am worn a bit down. Your words were exactly what I needed to read this morning as I enjoy my coffee while my teens sleep. Thank you.

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