By Sherry Bushnell
Starting to teach school after a lengthy break in my house is a three ring circus.
Not that I am complaining, but to keep everybody busy the first week on new books and harder work, (with good attitudes) takes a measure of patience that I was not born with. Just getting them to sit still for a couple hours to do the work is an exercise in itself. This year we had 2 preschoolers (one with Down syndrome, 3 first graders (one with autism/cerebral palsy), 1 third grader (who is blind), and one fourth grader. In addition, our second oldest son, now 17, who learns differently, is wanting to review spelling and math after spending a few years not doing school. Then there is 1 year old baby Jayben, who likes to climb. I love teaching my children. I also cherish my sanity. In order to keep stress from being my middle name, we have found some great ways to ease into teaching a number of children all the same time.
First, I'd like to talk about my frame of mind. Last week was a bad week. The children were not obeying me. It seemed my efforts at keeping the house clean (or at least picked-up) were constantly being sabotaged. As fast as I brought baskets of stuff upstairs, they were bringing it down. My collections consisted of coats, boots, toys, books, clothes, papers, blankets for tents, eeeak! Their attitudes were grumpy and my tongue was raw from biting it all day just to keep from loosing it. In fact if you were to ask several of my children, the chomping on my tongue did not help. I was certain the whole lot of them were headed for hell. Rebellion had taken root and there was no recovery.
In addition, my visionary husband had come up with some great fund raising ideas. He is really great at seeing wonderful things happen. I'm the problem considering type. With every idea he cooks up to move forward, I see the finer points and whimper. This, coupled with my time of the month, made for a real looser of a week.
Sleep came blissfully early that night... until the coyotes woke me up at 1:00AM. I lay there thinking how I was really overworked. I was unappreciated, unloved by my children, and ready to call a strike. (The benefits of mothering were not meeting my standards). Sitting up-right in my bed I listed my grievances and mulled them over. Tom rolled over and cracked one eye up at my frowning face. "What's wrong?" he mushed sleepily. "Lot's," I whispered. He opened the other eye and shook his head clearing the cobwebs so he could counter my problems with coherence. After spending an hour pouring my heart out with vengeance, I was spent and ready to sleep. Not so with Tom. A few minutes later found my sincere husband on his knees beside his bed pouring his heart out to the Lord. Kneeling beside him, I prayed repenting of my angry attitude. The Lord spoke gently to my heart and I knew that what had transpired this week was definitely the disease of rebellion...not in my children but me. I was ungrateful.
I resolved to change my heart into a thankful mirror of His love. I started with a thank-you to each one of my children and my husband after breakfast at devotions. At first in the day it was hard to force that smile on my face. My habit of grumbling all week had soured my mind. However, as the pasted smile stuck, my insides became genuinely happier.
The transformation of the attitudes in my children was incredible. That morning Tom chipped in help clean the house, mustering the children to do a general cleaning in their rooms, vigorously encouraging them to pick up after themselves. My thankfulness that day was as catchy as my rebellion had been the day before. The children were going the extra mile and were asking "what's next." The transformation in this home was literally overnight. Whew! I guess they're were not all headed for the hot place after all.
My stressed out heart, overworked mind, and angry attitude has vanished with the morning sun, as the Lord replaced my ungratefulness with thankfulness.
Now, to be honest, as I was sitting up-right in my bed, the temptation was strong to let Tom work it out between him and the Lord. After all, it was his job to make those children obey. But I know the consequences of not sharing with my husband in prayer. It did seem awfully proud to be sitting there while he as contrite in spirit. It was me that had woken him up. It was my choice to repent. It was my choice to express a grateful heart instead of grumbling when the Lord showed me what I needed to do.
What does this have to do with homeschool burnout? Well, in my house burnout is a state of mind. The Lord can order a day for me that is crammed full of visitors, overtired messy children, three-ring-circus of a school day, a busy office, freezing weather outside and church in the evening. But, if my priorities are aligned with God's in my heart and mind, this disastrous looking day can be handled with ease. God's way for me is always best. When He is clearing my path, I do not stumble. I ask myself this question, "What does God want me to do right now."
Now for some practical ideas. I have found some secrets that make for a more peaceful day. I will confess. I do not get to enjoy a consistent blissful early morning devotion time, although this has happened occasionally. I set my mind on a meaty Bible verse and apply it to my day. I do see fruit. In regular prayer throughout the day, waiting on Him for advice gives me a trusting relationship. I would not trade a daily 2 hour Bible reading opportunity for the all day long, one-on-one relationship with Jesus I have. I stress the worst when I am not trusting that He has ordered my day.
Second, planning my day, including the meals for several days ahead, helps me cook with less stress. We are not a frozen casserole, once-a-month cooking, type family. We have a big meal at breakfast, lunch and dinner! All these teens calls for mega cooking lest my kitchen be ransacked. We eat a lot of stews, soup and bread, and BBQ venison or elk. This mother of lists has also genetically passed this down to her offspring. My children appreciate a to-do list in the morning. This eliminates my nagging them and their forgetful, sidetracked stares. If we share the chore load and work together we are ready for school by 9:00AM.
When we start teaching the first week, I start with one maybe two children. That's it. We start on 1/2 the subjects the first couple days. When this is going well and they are consistently doing well, we'll add another subject. After those two children are working well (or is it that my brain is functioning well) I will add another child. When those three are working well and the schedule is smooth, I will add another child and so on until we are schooling all 7 at once.
Another way I can bring burnout upon myself is to set my standards for my children too high. My expectations can be all wrapped up in my pride. If my children fail, I take it personal. This is a never-fail recipe for anger and burnout for me. Readjustment of what I can expect of my children in school work takes some objective input from Tom. I am usually so blind by my failing standards that I cannot see past what is going wrong. I think I struggle the most with this "too high of expectations" with my daughter Sheela, who is blind. Somehow she seems so capable. Yet academically she struggles. Without her strong determination to hang in there, I think we would not have made nearly the progress. I have hardly had a month go by that I have not had to rethink my attitude towards schooling.
There have been times in the past that I have needed to secure outside help with housework or even schooling. A energetic teen or someone to share at least a little of the busy time of the day can make the difference of how I feel things are going. After a new baby I do not attempt school. When we have lots of visitors, I do not attempt school (unless it works out that we school together for fun). When some of us are sick, we do not have school, especially if the one who is sick is me! If there ever is a time that school cannot be done with dedicated time and attention for some reason, we are reasonable. Our goal is 2 hours a day of sit-down-seat work.
If homeschooling becomes a tension in the home, wait on the Lord. There is a reason that things are not going well. If it is not apparent or the solution you thought would clear up the stress isn't working, talk with your husband. If you are a single mom, get input from someone who is pro-homeschooling and you can take advice from. Perhaps they might know of something that will help.
Motivated learners are what makes teaching fun. Motivated (not perfect) teachers are successful. There are no perfect homeschoolers. In fifteen years of looking, we have searched and searched and have not seen even one! This means that we cannot truly think that others always have it together. Have you ever looked at another homeschooling mom and said to yourself, "I might as well give up, I cannot compare with her." The Lord has graciously given us children to teach and a land where teaching at home is legal. I am not so sure that God has a totally peaceful existence in mind for me. The Bible tells me that when I am weak, He is strong. If I have got it all together, all the time, perhaps I do not need to rely on God. From personal experience, there is something sweet about a desperate heart. Leaning on Him when I am totally burned out leaves room for Him to replace my goofed up mental state with a better plan. So, boycott burnout. Replace it with sweet gratefulness.