I read an article recently regarding burnout, its symptoms and possible steps to prevention. Though the article’s particular “spin” was light-hearted, anyone who has ever struggled with homeschool burnout knows that there is nothing lightweight about the emotions that accompany it. In fact, when burned out, your mental state can feel far more like an episode of depression. There was a time when I found myself right there around this time each year. Looking back, I fully realize now that, while in that state, one of the worst things I could have done is to accept that this was a “normal” thing, and I also gave myself a rite of passage to feel that way. I fell right into the pit of lies that I hate to hear from other moms:
“You know, they are in that stage…”(said when dealing with disrespectful children/teens)
“Wait until you get a little older…”(said when speaking of physical health declines, long-lasting marriages, etc.)
“This happens every year about this time…” (which is right where I was)
Our tongues need serious taming, but that is a post for another time. For now, know this: burnout may come, but it does not have to stay, and we certainly should not plan for it. There are some strategies where we must be deliberate in repositioning what we say, think, and do during this time:
Pray. Enough said. Find scriptures that speak to your heart about weariness, fatigue, and leaning and trusting in God. Speak them to yourself, inserting your name and personalizing God’s Word over your life.
Roll with the ebb and flow of your home and school, not against it. I am increasingly convinced that fatigue and even illness are signals. I was having this conversation with the oldest not too long ago. On yet another night when she was up all too late completing assignments and Facebooking/ texting with friends at the last minute, I was telling her that rest can be just as much of a key factor in being effective as studying and nutrition. I am not sure that she got much out of our conversation, but as I age, I am learning to listen to my body.
I believe this concept is especially important during this time, when many are busy with all the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. Activities and events in your life might require that you to be active every weekend in December; consider a four-day school week. As an aside, let me pose a general question, during the holidays or at any time: do you really need to school on 5 days? Most states require a certain number of days that a homeschool student must be “in school;” yet many home educating parents are trained well from their public school upbringing to have school on 5 days. Work around that co-op play day, the Scout troop campout on every other Friday, or that competition that sucks up a week per quarter and get on with your life. Within your state’s boundaries, when those school days happen is up to you.
Call those things that are not into existence…(Romans 4:17) I notice that my children never concern themselves with whether I am going to cook breakfast, or lay out books, or awaken them if they oversleep (that last task pertains to the younger two). They have great faith in me that some things will just happen. A hot breakfast on most days, plenty of pencils and paper, and a schedule—check. I, however, do not always have this faith in myself. On a cold day, the bed starts to feel really, REALLY good. There are nights when I go to bed late, and other nights when I simply don’t sleep–period. On the next morning, I could easily call off school. But I know other people depend upon me, so I rise and get moving. I’m still working on consistently being up before the kids, but I get moving.
Keep it simple. When we began homeschooling, I was a huge advocate of a plan. I had 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year plans. I can remember the 1st year of homeschooling, in which I completed a year’s calendar of what the kids (I only schooled two back then) would do each day. You can imagine the frustration when a day didn’t go as I planned. I did that for exactly one year before I backed up 20 yards and punted (football fans, anyone?). Don’t misunderstand me; I still am a fan of a plan. I still look back on those 3- and 5-year plans, and some of my earliest ideas are still in place. But I also understand better that life happens, and I have to adjust myself and all the events/ activities in my life to “happen” along with it. Otherwise, I spend my time in total frustration. Two years ago, out of necessity, I began to intentionally schedule what I call “reading days.” These are days when the only “schoolwork” that is required is for the kids to spend time with books. The part of me that still appreciates a plan needs to schedule this—that meets my need. But, the part of me that needs to wash after a vacation because there are no clean clothes, or the part of me that does not deal with too many wrinkles in our day or is in some other way behind needs the reading day. Moreover, I think it gives the kids a necessary refresher; they get excited about a day with little on the schedule, and I find increasingly that they will actually add on tasks that they consider fun and meaningful. In Charlotte Mason vernacular, inactivity does not get more masterly than a student developing his own tasks.
Do something for yourself. Being a home educator is, like being a parent, often a thankless job. Once the burnout starts to build, it is not a far trip to feeling unappreciated, unloved, unworthy, etc. We are not failures at what we do; we have just grown weary and need a reminder of our value. So, physician, heal thyself. This little “something,” done with you in mind, does not have to drain the household of monies or time. Your treat can be as simple as working out with your spouse or older children to lie in bed and read. You might negotiate a mini-spa or yoga session. You might buy a cup of coffee or a slushie or French fries (and eat them while you are in the car alone–LOL!!), but do something that says in your own way, “I’m special to God, and I’m special to me.” Less you think that these acts or selfish, consider this: Jesus was the ultimate example of a servant-leader, and walking in flesh, He spread Himself thin in ministering to the masses. Almost consistently, after He ministered, He found time to Himself, and He rested. He prayed. He ate with friends. If He as our Messiah felt this need, we are not in any way in error to retreat for a brief moment.
What do you think? Any other strategies for conquering burnout? Any favorite scriptures that revitalize you?