One of the aspects of home schooling that concerns many parents is 'burnout'. What ideas does this term convey to you? Probably someone who has been intensely busy and has exhausted their resources. They are used up, spent, depleted of energy.
This can happen to anyone in any situation, but the responsibility to educate one's child can be particularly stressful and intimidating to both new and veteran homeschooling parents. Home education requires dedication and discipline, whether you use a boxed curriculum, cyber school, or are delight-directed. Even relaxed and unschooling families can get find themselves feeling weary and defeated.
- How does burnout happen?
- How do we recover from it?
- How do we prevent it?
To understand how to recover and prevent burnout, we need to discover the source. We tend to blame our circumstances for fatigue and discouragement, but burnout often begins in our minds. We allow our anxieties to push and shove to the front of the line in our thought processes, distracting us from focusing on the tasks at hand. We begin to make clumsy mistakes, which feeds our sense of inadequacy. Our expectations become unrealistic, and our perspective skewed. We start thinking in terms of 'always' and 'never', such as
- "My kids never clean their rooms."
- "I always have to do everything around here."
- "My husband never understands what I need, what I'm going through."
- "This house is always a mess."
The more we stress about our situation, the more we feel helpless to change it. Our doubts and distresses, manufactured in the furnace of our minds, are often the fuel of our burnout fire. And I just keep piling on that metaphor.
Preventing and recovering from burnout involves the same taming of our thoughts and actions.
1) Establish realistic priorities based on your family's needs and abilities.
As obvious as it is, we often need to be reminded to eat, sleep, drink water, and exercise. Adequate rest, hydration, nutritious meals, and physical activity keep your body, and thus your mind, in the best condition possible.
It is important to divide tasks by necessity; dishes and laundry need to be done regularly, flower arranging and scrapbooking can wait. I can never truly relax with a hobby or a book when I am allowing basic chores to pile up unattended.
Keep the kids' chores age appropriate, but expect them to be a contributing member of the family, and at least take care of the belongings that have been given to them.
When someone pressures you to pattern your homeschool after a traditional classroom, complete with flags, school desks, blackboards, and report cards, beat them over the head with a skillet. JUST KIDDING! I believe Deschooling is an important part of the homeschool planning process, and is key to preventing burnout.
Budgeting properly is a part of establishing priorities as well. It's difficult to pass up a good buy- but if your finances are strained, a bargain is not always a bargain. If you have six pairs of jeans and eight purses, then finding jeans for $3 and a genuine leather Liz Claiborne handbag at Goodwill for $5 is NOT a good buy. Know what you genuinely need to guide your home, feed your family, and school your kids, then stay within those guidelines, no matter how tempting the sale price.
2) Create a schedule, but use it as a framework, not as a cage.
I admit it- I never met a planning calendar I didn't like. I could spend so much time planning and organizing that I never actually accomplish anything! But calendars and planners are helpful for drawing up and maintaining a routine that offers both structure and flexibility.
Think of the human body - our skeletons are made of strong, unbendy bones, but they are connected by flexible joints that give us the ability to move in a variety of ways.
A good schedule will accomplish the same thing for your household and your homeschool. Re-evaluate how your time is spent, and be honest with yourself about where you need to invest more time, and where you need to stop wasting it.
Use your schedule to answer any and all "Can you attend?", "Would you help?", "Could you just?" questions. If it is a worthy activity, and it doesn't push a priority task off the grid, then you may accept the invitation or volunteer to help. But if it conflicts with your thoughtfully crafted schedule, you can quickly say "No" to both the activity and the sick, guilty feeling in your gut. Your plans help you know when and why it is appropriate and necessary to say "No".
Give your schedule a pace. Don't hit the ground running at 6am and plan to go 50 mph for the entire day. Set aside time to read, meditate, or snuggle. Take five minutes to drink some hot tea and look at the birds in the bird feeder. Sit on the back porch and watch the kids play, because they need to blow off excess energy and sometimes even work out their own set of frustrations with physical activity.
Be practical and creative. Set a timer and give yourself a five minute break. Get the kids together, put on some fun and upbeat music, and for fifteen minutes pick up and put away things that are out of place, sweep and spiff up floors and surfaces, and put away one load of laundry.
3) Keep the lines of communication open.
Talk to your husband about how you can work together as a family to make sure everyone's needs are met. Ask friends and family for advice or help when you are faced with an unfamiliar situation or overwhelming burden. Make connections and nurture friendships that are encouraging and energizing, and leave behind relationships that are unhealthy and dysfunctional. Join a support group that will offer you helpful information about homeschooling, as well as access to mentors.
4) A little realism goes a long way.
Life happens- the dog chewed the corner of the couch, the kids have the flu, a friend is suffering from a serious illness, there are conflicts amongst your relatives, and you found out that someone at church said your red dress makes you look like a giant strawberry. Not only do some of these issues take time to deal with, but emotional and mental energy is tapped in order to cope.
These things will not go away, no matter how tempting it is to get in the car and drive to the mall for shopping therapy, or eat an entire half gallon of mint chocolate chip, or go around yelling and slamming doors, or just slouch in bed and not get up until noon the next day. And how would you feel about yourself if you did give in to some self-destructive or self-pitying behavior?
The best way out is through - deal with each situation as it comes. Focus on what needs to be done right now, and do that one thing to the best of your ability. I don't care if it is washing your hair or watering the plants. All you can do is what you are doing right now, so do it well and then go on to the next thing.
5) Don't forget to enjoy your life.
Psalm 16:11 Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
There is nothing wrong with finding pleasure in living our lives. We can experience awe when looking at creation, we can savor the meals we have prepared, we can be entertained by our children's imaginations and antics. "Many hands make light work", and many conversations can happen when everyone is laboring together.
Homeschooling has its up-and-downs as any other facet of family life, but there is much we can do to prevent it from scuttling our mission to provide a nurturing, creative, educational environment for our kids.