Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dealing With Homeschool BURNOUT!

(This is post #2 of 2 on the subject of burnout!)

As this past year came to a close, I realized with dismay that I was feeling something both unexpected and unpleasant - homeschool burnout. That feeling of dragging oneself across the finish line with very little energy to spare, very much ready to quit - certainly not to gear up for planning another year with any level of enthusiasm.

How did this happen? Burnout - after one year? True, it was our third year of homeschooling, but it was really our first year of doing "serious" school. I had only one student. And we had hardly any extracurriculars apart from field trips and park days. If I'm getting burned out on that light of a load, then Heaven help us all from here on out.

I've tried to spend a bit of time analyzing why I came to feel so spent and exhausted, and I've come up with a couple of reasons:

Trying to keep up

I don't know how it's done, but some homeschool moms out there truly seem to do everything. And I do mean everything. All food made from scratch, fun crafts every day, non-stop field trips, running a small farm on the side, crafting projects for fun, keeping a pristine house, teaching every subject under the sun, etc. I really don't know how it's done, but I think I've letting the pressure to keep up overwhelm me. Must keep going. Must do another craft. Must do another project. Must live up to the level of insane awesomeness that other mamas are creating for their families!

But there are some small problems with that. Primarily, regardless of how hard I try, I cannot keep up. I'm just not made like that, and I can't do it all. I don't do well with an on-the-go schedule, I'm not naturally into crafts, and I also need the time to keep the house clean (for my own sanity).

My main problem is finding how to turn down the guilt-trip voices in my head that are preaching the "You're just not good enough unless you keep up" gospel. And I need to spend more time praying that the Lord would lead us in His will for our home education program, rather than letting myself burn out trying to keep up with super-moms.


As Agatha Christie once said of one's stomach, so say I of one's blog: "It's a good servant but a bad master." This past year, I really over-blogged. I simply felt a strong compulsion that every single recipe, craft, field trip, or activity had to be photographed and blogged. In going back through this blog for the past year, I don't think I missed blogging about any of our activities.

It's got to stop.

Home education is enough of a job without adding the extra burden of blogging through each activity. But again, the main problem is not acknowledging that, but turning down the nagging voices in my head: "You're not done unless you've blogged about it!"

I love blogging. I hope to blog for a very long time. And I love blogging about home education. But it's going to be my undoing if I continue to force myself to chronicle each and every step of the journey on this site.

The Food Wars

Food is a huge subject for all of us, isn't it? It's a place of major investment in which finances, time, and health all meet together - and finding the right balance of those three factors for one's family can be a huge headache.

Again, I've succumbed to keeping up with the Joneses - "If other homeschoolers make everything from scratch, I must as well!" And I truly enjoy cooking - it's a real pleasure. But adding in family, cleaning, laundry, lessons, etc. - something has to give. And when I have a ten-page-long "make it from scratch" to-do list, it's enough to make one start banging one's head against the wall. Repeatedly. I need to pick my battles and let the others go.

(Ditto for buying in bulk, lacto-fermentation projects, searching for bargains, canning my own food, growing my own food, cooking complicated dinners, etc.)

Overdoing Curriculum

I think most beginning home educators do this - that is, trying to cram in every subject under the sun (plus a couple). Nature study! Latin! Hymn study! Composer study!

Most of it comes from... (wait for it)... trying to keep up with other homeschooling families. (Are we sensing a theme yet?)

This year I have drastically cut back the extras, and school is a lot more fun. I probably have still more trimming yet to do. But those extras really pack on the guilt (especially when they're "supposed" to happen and don't), and it's been very freeing to let them go.

Keeping it basic this year and loving it. 

Unit Studies Overdone

This year we did two unit studies, and they were simply too long (which you may have sensed from the fact that we worked in only two over the course of an entire year!). We studied England and China, with an average of four months for each - and by the time we finished with each, I was exhausted.

Okay, I wasn't actually that sick of England, because I could never get sick of England (or too sick, anyway!). But I definitely experienced academic exhaustion with China. I realized that we simply need to move a bit more quickly through our unit studies. This year I have cut the length of our unit studies down to six weeks, and we may be cutting some of those down to three weeks. Hopefully that will help.

Another area of "really overdoing it" in the area of unit studies was the number of projects and crafts I was trying to shove into each study. We were averaging ten or more recipes per country, ditto with crafts, etc. Not being a person who deals well with that much crafting, it was just too much. This year I've cut it down to one or two per country - much better.

Crafts are great - as long as there aren't too many of them! 

What's Next?

One thing is for sure - I can't afford burnout. We have a minimum of twenty, maximum of thirty-five, years of home educating before us, and I have to be able to keep my sanity and my enthusiasm. Staying on the brink of exhaustion for a couple of decades is just not a great option.

Thoughts that come to mind:

I need to accept who I am. I cannot handle a frantic schedule. Period. I need to accept that, and create a life and a schedule that will keep our home a peaceful and happy place. That means utter ruthlessness in weeding out extracurriculars, subjects, and activities which are taken on out of guilt rather than for actual value.

I need a clean house. I cannot function when my house is dirty and cluttered. It's just a basic fundamental of my nature. Thus, whatever needs to go to make that happen needs to happen. Simplifying food choices, buying bread rather than making it, cutting out internet time to make time for housework - whatever it takes.

I need to spend more time in prayer, seeing God's wisdom for our home education program. I have really fallen into the trap of looking to my fellow homeschoolers to see what I should be doing, rather than seeking God's wisdom and input. In doing so, I've burned out while trying to keep up with the (for me) impossible heights that others have reached. In the coming year, I purpose to seek the Lord's daily guidance and wisdom for a plan for our family that will not include exhaustion and stress from trying to follow other families.

Fellow home educators, have you ever experienced burnout? Tell me about it!

Insisting on doing "school" with his big brother. 


  1. You wrote:
    "I don't know how it's done, but some homeschool moms out there truly seem to do everything. And I do mean everything. All food made from scratch, fun crafts every day, non-stop field trips, running a small farm on the side, crafting projects for fun, keeping a pristine house, teaching every subject under the sun, etc."

    I don't think this is really true. It seems true, but I don't think it is. One of my favorite thoughts from the author of The Encyclopedia of Country Living is that though she's written a book about everything from beekeeping to soapmaking to homebuilding to unassisted childbirth off the grid to what to do with too much squash she didn't actually ever do it all at once. She had seasons when she learned about each thing. And as one season ended a new season began. I think that's true of most of us (like Ecclesiastes 3). I've had crafty seasons, make-everything-from-scratch seasons, gardening seasons, keeping perfect house seasons, teaching homeschool co-op seasons, and others, but they don't overlap very much.

    And I got to hear Melanie Young (co-author of Raising Real Men) speak at a homeschool convention once. She was such a delight. I've never forgotten what she said about priorities. She told the story of an acquaintance who worked so hard at organic gardening and making everything from scratch that she quit homeschooling her children because she didn't have time for both. (Obviously we don't know any other backstory about this mom, so perhaps she had very good reasons for her zealous organic gardening. Perhaps her family has health concerns that we cannot understand. I am in no way standing as judge against this mother, only trying to make Melanie's point as she did). Melanie went on to say that if she has to choose between nourishing her children's bodies with organic food and nourishing their spirits with the word of God taught at home then she'll open up that box of fish sticks with pleasure and no guilt.

    I've held the memory of that story in my heart ever since. It has helped me decide what matters most over and over again. You're a smart lady to be figuring this out now. Your prioritizing will be a blessing to your family!

    1. Melanie Young is my favorite-favorite-favorite homeschool convention speaker, and I have heard her tell the same story! I've kept it in my mind ever since, even though I am a bit weak on remembering it. I didn't remember hearing that fish stick punch line, so I'll have to keep that in mind. "Think fish sticks!!"

      Another thing that I heard her say (which shocked me at the time) was, "Your sanity is worth more than a tree." This was in reference to the fact that it's OKAY to use paper plates in times of stress, strain, etc. Basically the fish stick line restated! Do what it takes to keep your sanity! That's been another mantra of mine. "My sanity is worth more than a tree... or organic whole wheat sprouted bread... or an all-organic garden..." etc.

      I also heard (or read) Todd Wilson say something along the lines of "If you see another mom shining where you are a flop, it's guaranteed that you shine in another area where she is a flop." Sometimes it's easy to tear one's hair out over some other homeschool mom's perfect life (as seen on a blog) when we just don't see the rough edges. We all tend to put our best foot forward, I think!

      Thanks for the good points. I do need to get the quest for perfection mentality out of my head - or else I definitely won't make it out alive (or sane)! :)

  2. Being a second generation home schooler, I can tell you this "keeping up" has been going on from the beginning. From the curriculum, to keeping the home, to "you name it" and yes, it does overwhelm a person. I am thankful to be able recognize it and stay away from it!
    This year I will have a 5th grader, 3rd grader and a preschooler - so my 7th year of homeschooling. To keep things simple, yet cover the needed courses (makes it easier when I submit my end of school year portfolio to the State), I have chosen to use what some call a "box curriculum" Meaning all from one company, a whole grade set. We use Abeka Book and I think it is a really good curriculum.
    For me, seeing the 170 lessons divided up into what needs to be done each day is a blessing. The kids see the work and for the most part are motivated to get done. Most days it's done by noon and that still leaves half a day to get to other household duties. No, I don't get to everything, but that's ok!

    I have found that if I want to try something new (you mentioned canning, cooking from scratch, etc) I only do one thing at a time. Once that has smoothly fit into daily life, then I add new things.

    My mom has said many times "If God would have told me back when I starting home schooling (K, 2nd and 3rd grader in 1983) that I would do it all through high school and then collage courses at home, I would have said NO WAY! But because God only gave small amounts at a time, I was able to take a deep breath and say 'ok, I can do this'"

    1. Oh, such good reminders!! Yes, it's amazing how the "keeping up" mentality persists even as all else changes! The homeschool community now is very different from what it was 30 years ago, but that part is very much the same - possibly more, due to blogs, Facebook, and all other manner of social media!

      Right now I'm trying to work on "one thing at a time" - but goodness, it's hard when I see 50 things that need work!

      (Such as the toddler having a tantrum at my feet while I work. Back to the parenting gig....)



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