balancing act

Mindful Homeschool: It’s Not Balance, It’s a Cycle

Mindful Homeschool: It’s Not Balance, It’s a Cycle

The reason I wanted to take charge of this magazine’s “Balancing Act” is because I, like you, am seeking balance. If you have to write about something, you truly learn it, and I thought maybe this would be a good exercise for me. But to tell the truth, I don’t always feel up to the task. My life doesn’t feel very balanced at the moment.

For example, today. It's a few days after our summer issue came out, but I still have a long list of things I would like to accomplish for the magazine and myself. Those things take up room in my head, but I tell myself I deserve a break, and I try not to think about them much. So then plans for our homeschool start to bubble up, and I try to stifle those too.

The truth is I feel a little zombie-like today. My mind can't focus well. I'm grateful my husband suggested we go hiking, and it's the perfect weather for that. We go to a beautiful state park, and after that we take the long way home, driving through some historic towns and making some stops, includ- ing a meal at a restaurant. It's a great day.

When we get home at4 P.M., I am so sleepy all I can do is fall into bed for a nap while my boys play games on their tablets. I can't sleep well because my four-year-old cries out in frustration several times at his game.

When I finally get up, I ask the boys if they are hungry. All my seven-year-old wants to do is play on that tablet, and while we usually only let him play for about an hour, I decide we had a full morning, and I didn't care if he played longer. My four-year-old got bored of the tablet and started to do other things.

I'm still in a fog. I do a little straightening up in the kitchen, but I don't think about the time. I don't think about much. It’s actually just what I need, but later my husband comes home from a jog, and he questions why my son is still on the tablet. He’s been playing for four hours. Oops.

Believe me, I prefer that my boys do other things besides screen time. I used to imagine that our whole day would be about books and creating things. A little screen time is okay, but then my husband loves watching T.V. He introduced the boys to different shows and those games. I decided I needed to trust his judgment. I even did some research about screen time, and I realized that it's not so bad, especially in reasonable doses. Especially when I'm tired.

The thing is, there are days like this. I feel like a zombie. I don't want to think. And then when I finally give myself permission to not think, I get in trouble for it.

There's a lot I don't do in order to get it all done —cooking, for example, though I’m trying to get better at that. My house doesn't get a good cleaning very often either. My memory is the pits. I can’t remember anything anymore unless I write it down.

My personality type is someone who likes to organize and plan. But while homeschooling little boys, freelance writing and editing, and with a work-at-home husband, my life is beyond planning. I get jealous of families who have extended family who help out. Once I heard my neighbor's mother came by every week to do their laundry. Really? There are people who do that?

I am doing too much. Plain and simple. Even when my husband helps me, and with the shortcuts I take, I can't seem to catch up or feel like I have a handle on everything. The truth is, there are days I feel full of energy, and I get a lot done, and then later I crash and become zombie-like. There are things I can do to "relax," but none of it feels sufficient. I keep plowing through my to do list, though maybe a little slower. Then, at some point, I get my second wind.

  • This is what I’ve realized. It’s not so much about balance as it is about going through the cycle. The cycle is something like this:
  • Busy Mama has too much to do, deadlines, homeschool projects, events to attend, you-name-it. She’s getting overwhelmed. 
  • Mama starts to feel like a zombie.
  • Suddenly, there’s an unexpected day when Daddy takes the boys to the park and Mama catches up. Mama feels better.
  • It’s manageable for awhile. Mama tries to keep it here, but things start to pile up a little. More dates on the calendar. Usually last minute stuff she can’t control, and then it snowballs, and she’s back to feeling overwhelmed.

You can change the Mama to almost any person, and you can change the work to any work, and what you’ve got is a thing called Life. I remind myself that I’m actually lucky because I’m not stuck in a dead-end job I hate. I love the things I have to do. I have a creative life. I love writing and editing. I love being a mom and a homemaker. I love the family culture we’ve fostered of making time to spend in nature, read, create, and have long conversations even if all of it together can make me too busy sometimes.

Living a life worth living isn’t always easy. It’s downright exhausting and overwhelming sometimes. I’m learning that when I start to feel a little zombie-like, I just have to let it all go for a while. Watch a movie, read a book, take a walk, get a good night’s sleep. I know I’ll get it all done somehow. I know I’ll get my second wind. 

This essay was originally published in the fall 2014 issue of HSL.

Making Peace with Homeschool Messes

Sometimes, the perfect life looks a little messier than you might have expected. Shelli explores the surprising beauty of a messy house.

There are four baskets of unfolded laundry at the foot of your bed. The afternoon light streaming through the window is shining a spotlight on dusty floors. It’s almost time for dinner, and you haven’t even thought about it yet.

Other mothers are so much better at all this stuff. They plan meals, keep their houses clean, play with their children and watch prime time T.V. while snuggling with their husbands after the children go to bed. Maybe that is an unrealistic image, but other moms seem so much better at this.

You were never a neat freak by any means, but before the children came along, the house was at least tidy. Now the clutter, oh, the clutter that comes with children and—especially— homeschooling.

A new neighbor stops by with her son, and you look over your dining room before you answer the door. Only, it’s a not a dining room anymore. It’s been converted into the “school room,” and it is cluttered with all your homeschooling books, games, projects, and more. The mess is not pretty like the messes you see in parenting magazines. It is cardboard-dust, glue-stains, puzzle-boxes-dangerously-stacked, broken-crafts-crammed-onto-the- shelves messy,

You wish you didn’t always feel the need to apologize for the mess, but you can’t help it. You do it anyway, and you expect your neighbor to give the routine reply. “Oh, don’t worry about it! I completely understand.” (That’s what you always say.)

Instead, she stands there quietly, look- ing around, and she says slowly, “Do you know what this says to me?”

You shake your head. Messes can speak?

She says, “This tells me that you spend a lot of time doing activities with your children. I would like to do more of that.”

You feel something akin to light shining around your head. It’s more than a light bulb. It’s a new perspective. You would like to kiss your new neighbor, but you control yourself.

No mother is perfect, and every mother has her own talents. Some are good at cooking. Some are good at organizing. Others are good at being spontaneous. Some are good at creating structure. Some encourage messes because they know their kids are creating and using their imaginations.

Some mothers and fathers work full-time or part-time, and some of them do that while also homeschooling their children. Some spouses help out more than other spouses. Every household has its own way of splitting up the duties of making a living, keeping the house clean, and giving the children an education.

But listen to this: No matter how you slice it up, something has to give. You are either giving up time with the children, or you are giving up time to take care of yourself. Absolutely nobody can do it all.

Make a list of your priorities. What do you want to accomplish? What are the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy quality of life for yourself and family? Put those at the top. (You better put self-care up there. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of your family?) Now, what’s the least important stuff?

Think about this. What’s the least important thing that you can let go of? One of these things is surely keeping a clean house. If you are always worrying about the clutter in your house, then you have too much clutter in your brain. Let it go.

Make your goal more reasonable. Think “sanitary and livable” but not perfect. Dust bunnies, clutter, and glitter in the carpet can wait. You have more important things to do.

On the crazy days when you feel most overwhelmed, go back to your list of priorities. Have you maintained that top one? If yes, pat yourself on the back. When life gets the most harried, that’s what is most important.


This article was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine.