Homeschool burnout can be hard to talk about, but it happens to almost every homeschooling parent at one time or another. It often strikes in midwinter, when post-holiday blahs and cabin fever collide with the January blues to make homeschooling a chore rather than a pleasure, but homeschool burnout can happen any time. These are the days when you feel like homeschooling was a massive mistake, you are a terrible teacher, and your children are going to grow up to be unhappy, uneducated adults because you have failed them utterly—which would bother you more if they weren’t grating on your last nerve.
Homeschooling is hard work — and smart homeschoolers pause occasionally to make sure that home-based education is still a good fit for their families. If you’re questioning whether your homeschool funk is a temporary setback or a sign that it’s time to make a change, ask yourself these questions:
What would make homeschooling happy again?
If the answer is something straightforward — like trimming your schedule so you do less running around, making more time for field trips, or saying goodbye to a not-a-great-fit curriculum — just making the change might be enough to put things back on the right track. More complicated answers may also have easy solutions: If chaotic mornings make you feel like a nag, consider pushing back your daily start time, or if you’re butting heads with your child over a difficult subject, outsourcing that class to a tutor or co-op could put the fun back in your homeschool. Still not sure? Pretend you have an infinite budget and infinite time for homeschooling. What would you do with those resources? If time and money aren’t the problem, you may have deeper issues.
How is your homeschooling making a difference for your child?
Homeschooling without a strong sense of purpose is like cleaning the bathroom: you know you have to do it every day, but it’s never going to be something you get excited about. Working hard without feeling like you’re making an impact is demoralizing, but a little perspective can help you give yourself the credit you deserve. Not convinced? Think about the other benefits of homeschool life — stronger family ties, a more relaxed schedule, lifetime learning — and try to see your homeschooling as a means of achieving those goals. If you genuinely feel that your homeschool efforts aren’t making the least bit of difference for your kids or your family, it may be time to make a change.
What are you learning?
Of all the problems you can run into as a homeschooling parent, feeling like you’re mentally stagnating can be one of the most insidious. Lots of homeschooling parents appreciate the heady thrill of learning new stuff right along with their kids, but what happens when you’re not learning anything new? Being bored is, well, boring. It could be that all you need is a perspective shift — if you view learning as a mutual endeavor rather than as a project that you have to facilitate, you may be surprised by how much you can learn. But if you’re genuinely at a mental impasse, you definitely need a homeschooling break.
How would life be different if you stopped homeschooling?
Think about the prospect of letting go of your homeschool days for a while. Does the prospect inspire you with possibility — maybe there’s a project of your own you’ve been yearning to pursue or you can see your daughter blooming in an environment where she gets to spend time with her friends every day. If the thought of letting go of homeschool for a while lights you up inside, you may want to seriously consider taking a break. If, on the other hand, the idea of not homeschooling feels like a mistake or a great loss, it’s worth seriously considering ways to improve your everyday homeschool experience.
If these questions don’t point you in a clear direction, take two weeks off. Your feeling when those two weeks are up — quiet dread? or recharged enthusiasm? — will reveal your attitude toward homeschooling. The truth is, there is no absolute right answer to the question of whether you should stop homeschooling your child. Only you can find the answer, and it may be an answer that changes from year to year. If you do decide quitting homeschooling is the right step for your family right now, don’t let that decision make you feel like a failure. Homeschool works so well because you can tailor it to your child’s specific needs — and sometimes those specific needs may warrant being educated outside the home.
This was originally published in the winter 2015 issue of HSL.