In last week’s post, I offered some suggestions about running the school part of homeschooling to avoid homeschool burnout. This week, I want to talk about managing the home part of homeschooling. For many of us, it is not the schooling part that’s throwing us over the edge, it’s the household work and the outside activities that we have to do in addition to educating our children at home.
“Oh-oh! Mommy’s getting burned out!”
Burnout is usually the result of two problems: not enough energy and not enough time. So, how can we reserve and restore our energy? And how can we lighten our work load to reduce our stress?
1. Get enough sleep. Such common sense, isn’t it? But even moms who don’t have babies any more tend to stay up too late, because we all love that down time when the kids are asleep. But then we suffer for it the next morning. A lack of energy makes every task a drudgery, and we tend to become easily irritated and annoyed. On the other hand, when we feel energized, our mood lifts and we feel as if we can take on almost anything, even homeschooling. So don’t stay up too late. Get enough sleep.
I’m not saying eliminate your evening down time. Instead, get your kids to bed early and on time. Insist on it and enforce it. Be consistent and firm. Even kids who seem to have boundless amounts of energy need 10-14 hours of sleep per night. And most of us mamas need 7.5-9 hours of sleep per night; more if you have a baby and your sleep is often interrupted. So get your kids to bed on time so you can get to bed on time.
Have you ever heard of the term “heroic minute”?
The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and… up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body. – St. Josemaria Escriva
It means getting up the minute your alarm goes off instead of lolly-gagging in bed or pressing the snooze button. For a tired mom of many children, the heroic minute is … wow! Really heroic! For those who wake up feeling so tired that the heroic minute is unthinkable, I’d like to suggest a twist on the heroic minute. What if we tried to be heroic about getting to bed on time? And not a minute late? With the iPhone or iPad turned off, of course. Even that can be hard and makes a sacrifice worthy of offering up to Our Lord. It’s actually an act of charity, because when we don’t exhaust ourselves, when we actually get enough sleep, we’re kinder and more pleasant. And that makes for a happier family.
2. Manage your expectations of yourself and get outside help. Don’t think that you have to do everything on your own. Otherwise, you will be overwhelmed by the time-pressure problem: feeling as if you have too many things to do in too little time. This usually leads to stress and a lack of patience.
My dad used to say that education was his number one investment. We have to be willing to invest time and money into our children’s education. For us homeschoolers, the time factor is a no-brainer. We’re with our kids all day long. But what about the money? Granted, homeschooling is usually cheaper than private school tuition, but should it be cheap? Not necessarily.
Growing up in a frugal family, I find that paying people to do things I can do is a hard pill to swallow. But I have learned that I simply can’t do everything it takes to homeschool and manage a household. Sometimes we need to pay for outside help so we can reserve our time and energy and better focus on our children. So if you’re really pressed for time, consider some of the following if your budget can remotely support it: hiring a house cleaner to come once or twice a month to do some heavy or deep cleaning, having groceries delivered to your home, or paying a teacher/tutor to give lessons in your home. Also, online classes or classes taught on video can also ease your teaching load.
Many of us belong to single income families. Many of us need to save our pennies and stretch our dollars. Be frugal on toys, clothes, entertainment, and stuff. But let’s not skimp on our children’s education. Get the outside help you need to homeschool well, and the money you spend on it will yield a high interest rate in years to come.
3. Enlist the help of family members. A homeschool is similar to a family farm. Everyone needs to pitch in according to their ability. Remember this post on Summer Chore Boot Camp? Teach you kids to cook, clean, do the laundry, and take care of the yard work. Teach them to help their younger siblings. There needs to be a fair division of labor in the home. Of course we want to serve our families whole-heartedly and generously. But that does not mean Moms are not supposed to be domestic slaves. In fact, we should be domestic managers. Having a bunch of kids doesn’t always have to be such an energy drain. Once your kids are old enough, make use of their abundant energy to help keep the household running.
Keep in mind that dads and other family members can be extremely helpful, too. Many fathers can be humorous, engaging teachers. Whenever grandparents are visiting, I like to recruit their help. Even more, technology allows me to take advantage of the fact that my mother-in-law was a highschool math teacher for twenty years. It’s Grandma who writes the lesson plans and assignments for Big Sis’ math courses and sends them by e-mail. Whenever Big Sis is stumped in math, she Facetimes her grandmother. Just knowing that I don’t have to think about quadratic equations and geometry proofs is such a great relief.
When you enlist the help of family members, you’ve got to let go of certain things. Your kids will not clean as perfectly as you would like them to. Your husband or other family members may have a very different teaching style. Don’t expect people to do things the way you do. Rather, have faith in their abilities, trust in God’s providence, and relax!
4. Make time for relationships that matter. Meeting with other homeschooling parents on a regular basis will help you realize that your hopes and dreams, and your problems are not just your own. And that’s a big deal. It’s consoling to know that your kids are not the only ones who complain about their school work. It’s encouraging to learn how other home schoolers overcome their difficulties.
Many men and women became saints while in the company of other saints. For example, St. Clare was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Francis Xavier by Ignatius of Loyola. Sts. Francis de Sales counseled Jane Chantal, and St. Benedict and St. Scholastica were twins who remained very close in spirit throughout their lives. These saints inspired and spurred each other to greater holiness. Imitate them by surrounding yourself with holy people who share your mission, for they are an invaluable source of strength and inspiration.
And don’t neglect your husband. As needy and demanding as our children are, let’s not forget that our hubbies need our love and support as well. And we need theirs! The love between husband and wife is the bond that keeps the family strong and together. So carve out some quality time with your husband to deepen your friendship and love.
5. Finally, prayer. If I keep harping about our need for prayer, it’s because I need to hear it myself.
Prayer gives us strength for great ideals, for keeping up our faith, charity, purity, generosity; prayer gives us strength to rise up from indifference and guilt, if we have had the misfortune to give in to temptation and weakness. Prayer gives us light by which to see and to judge from God’s perspective and from eternity. That is why you must not give up on praying! – St. Pope John Paul II
Christ remains primary in your life only when he enjoys the first place in your mind and heart. Thus you must continuously unite yourself to him in prayer…. Without prayer there can be no joy, no hope, no peace. For prayer is what keeps us in touch with Christ. – St. Pope John Paul II
If you do anything to purposely avoid burnout, let it be that you persevere in prayer. As dry, distracted, or pointless your prayers may feel, they are nonetheless your source of strength, wisdom, and grace. Often, it is not until we have persevered to the end of our prayers do we receive any inspirations or consolations. Sometimes the fruits of our prayers are not made manifest until later in the day or week. So hang in there and be faithful to your time spent with God.
After all this, it’s very possible, even likely that you’ll burn out sometime during the school year. If or when that happens, it’s an opportunity to grow in humility and trust, acknowledging our absolute need for Our Lord. Don’t beat yourself up. Just take a few days off. Call it “Snow days”, “Professional development days”, or “Mama’s mental health days.” Most schools have such things… well maybe not the latter. But take some time off to relax, take care of your health, and pray. And remember:
But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. -Philippians 4:13