Recognizing when you get stuck in a negative mindset may be the first step toward changing your thought patterns for the happier.
Who knew that putting happiness on your priority list could increase your homeschool's joy level so significantly?
It’s not that homeschool parents don’t want to be happy—it’s that we trick ourselves into believing that we should only get to be happy when we’re doing it all just right.
There are volumes of scientific research on how to increase your happiness, but one little thing can have a surprisingly positive impact on your life’s everyday joy factor: going out to eat. And—bonus!—that little joy booster also makes a great homeschool project.
Here’s one way it might work: Spend a little time researching international cuisine options in your part of the world. (You may be surprised to discover there are more of them than you thought!) Sit down with your kids and start a list of places you’d like to check out, then hit the library to find books set in the countries whose food you’ll be exploring. (For instance, you might read Anila’s Journey in the weeks leading up to a meal at an Indian restaurant, or check out What Elephants Know to get ready for a Nepalese feast.) At the restaurant, be brave and order a variety of dishes—ask your waiter for recommendations, and encourage everyone to try a little of everything. Follow up your dinner out with another trip to the library—this time to the cookbooks section, where you can check out a book to help you recreate some of your favorite flavors from your dinner out back at home. This combo gives you maximum joy: You get the fun of going out to dinner, plus the pleasure of anticipation and the opportunity to savor it when it’s over.
Your challenge this week: Do a little recon to find a restaurant near you that will allow you to sample an unfamiliar cuisine, and start getting everyone excited about planning a lunch or dinner excursion by finding a great readaloud set in the cuisine’s country.
You know how your children can get totally absorbed in what they’re doing so that the hours pass like minutes? Whether it’s making complex Lego creations or writing fan fiction or putting together cosplay ensembles or drawing pictures, they’re purely—and happily absorbed—in their work. You can borrow a little of that happiness-boosting power for yourself by remembering the obsessive activities of your own childhood.
Did you spend hours writing stories? Or exploring the woods? Or taking photographs? It’s probably not hard to think of the things that fueled your passions during childhood—you know, the things that you put aside for a sensible, career-focused college major or the more practical work of adulthood? So often, we lose track of the things we really love because the rest of life gets in the way, but going back to those joyful basics can be a key to opening up a happier now.
Take some time this week to think about what you really loved as a kid, whether it was designing fabulous fashion doll outfits, or reading every mythology book on your library’s shelves, or stargazing at night—focus on the thing that you could do for hours without even noticing the time passing, and start looking for ways to get that back in your life. My friend Liz loved photography and reignited her passion by committing to posting one photo on Instagram every day for a year. If you loved writing, start a blog or write down the bedtime stories your kids are always asking you to make up. If you loved fashion, take a sewing class or learn how to knit. If you loved building, buy your own set of Legos. Don’t worry about how these things will translate into anything else—avoid worrying about what’s useful or practical or a priority in your homeschool life, and just concentrate on how to do what you really love a couple of times a week. Chances are, your newfound passion will inspire your homeschool in ways you couldn’t have imagined, but whether it affects your homeschool or not, it will boost your personal happiness to make something you love part of your life. And trust me, a happier you means a happier homeschool for all.
Your challenge this week: Revisit your childhood to explore the things you loved to do as a kid. You may know instantly, or you may need to spend some time thumbing through old pictures and journals to remember what inspired your childhood. Once you’ve identified a childhood passion, look for ways to add it to your weekly routine—ideally, you’ll find an hour once or twice a week to focus entirely on your passion project as well as small ways to add it to your daily routine.
One of the biggest indicators of professional happiness may be how important your position really is, according to the Harvard Business Review. Lynchpin employees—employees whose work is essential to their organization’s success—felt their work was more meaningful, felt more committed to their work, and were less likely to experience burnout than their peers in less essential jobs. Even with the downsides that come with being essential—a heavy workload and tough decision making—lynchpin employees are just plain happier.
So what does this have to do with homeschooling? Well, homeschool parents are lynchpins, though we often fail to recognize that fact. Not convinced? Here are three criteria for determining whether your work is “lynchpin work:”
- The work produced by lynchpin workers is essential to the organizational mission. (Whatever your reasons for homeschooling, you became a lynchpin worker the minute you opted into homeschooling.)
- Lynchpin workers cannot be replaced or substituted easily. (Any homeschool mom who’s ever tried to take a day off can attest to how hard it can be to find someone else to cover your homeschool to-do list.)
- The work of an organization would pretty much cease immediately if a lynchpin worker stops working. (Even classes that you outsource might slow down or stop if you weren’t around to run car service and homework support.)
I think most of us would have a hard time trying to argue that we don’t fit that criteria—so why is it so hard for homeschool parents to recognize how important we really are? It’s so much easier to hone in on the things we’re not doing well, the places where we miss the mark, our weaknesses, than to accept our basic essential-ness. And the more we fail to acknowledge how important we really are, the more we miss out on a major opportunity to be really happy in our homeschool lives.
Your challenge this week: Don’t be modest! Grab a journal, and jot down a list of all the things you do for your homeschool that no one else could do. Read through it slowly, pausing to remind yourself “yes, I do this, and it matters” for every item on your list.
Who knew that blue skies could actually make you happier? People who spent time exposed to the color blue reported higher confidence, reduced stress, and greater overall happiness than those who didn’t soak up the blues in a University of Sussex study. It’s not clear why blue hues are such a mood booster for people—some researchers have theorized that it harks back to humanity’s early days when evening meant food, rest, and a little peace—but it’s clear that the literal blues can be a good way to shake off the figurative blues.
A sky-gazing project is the perfect way to incorporate a little everyday blue time into your homeschool routine this summer: Keep a cloud chart to record the different kinds of clouds or sky colors you see each day, do sky square paintings, knit a sky scarf, make a point of tracking the cycles of the moon, or just look for interesting cloud shapes while you’re nature journaling. Choose a simple activity that will be easy to do whatever else you have going on this summer, and embrace the happiness-boosting power of the color blue.
Your challenge this week: Choose a way to incorporate some sky-gazing into your daily routine.
I love Facebook as much as the next mom—my friend Stephanie’s feed makes me smile pretty much every time I look at it—but if you’re feeling burned out, incompetent, or unhappy in your homeschool life, logging off social media may be just what you need.
The sunny selfies and highlights reels of other people’s lives can make us feel worse about own lives, especially when we’re in a bumpy patch. According to a study in the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, spending just one hour on social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter correlates to lower life satisfaction. It’s not hard to see why: When your kitchen’s a mess, your kid has spent a whole year studying multiplication without managing to learn a single fact, and you’re just plain exhausted, those beautifully staged pictures of clean and happy children reading in clean and sun-drenched rooms can make you feel like a complete failure.
The solution: Take a social media break. Sure, it’s hard to cut the connection when you’ve gotten into the habit of logging on every day, so start by checking in once a day and giving yourself a time limit—say, 20 minutes. Spend that 20 minutes catching up with people you care about, leaving a quick comment instead of just clicking “like,” and speed scrolling through your feed. Gradually reduce the time you’re spending on social media until you’re on a full social media break—ideally, one that lasts at least three weeks. As you detox from social media, focus on finding joy in the moments of your everyday life without the pressure to capture them on camera or with the perfect quippy caption. Be in the moment with yourself and with your kids.
After your social media break, ease back into online life with the knowledge that you’ve gained. Most of us aren’t going to want to cut the cord completely, and that’s fine—but maybe there are people whose posts we probably shouldn’t follow so closely or limits it makes sense to make on how much we’re consuming other people’s lives. The idea is to make social media something that boosts your happiness—that connects you meaningfully to the people and things you care about—and not something that makes you feel less than.
Your mission this week: Pay attention to how much time you spend on social media and how it makes you feel to be on different sites—and how you feel afterward. (It may help to keep a log—most of us spend more time on social media than we realize.) Set a specific goal to spend less time on social media in the next week—you might want to limit the number of visits or give yourself a time limit. Be sure to set a goal you can live with—there’s no “right amount” of social media consumption, just an amount that’s right for you.
What's not working for you?
By this time of year, most of us have found a rhythm. Sure, there are bumps and bad days and the occasional routine shake-up, but mostly, we know what our typical homeschool day is going to look like—which is why now is the perfect time to pay attention to what’s not working in your homeschool.
Maybe it’s that Tuesday afternoon park day that you’re always stressed trying to make it to on time and where that braggy mom is always making you feel like you’re homeschooling wrong. Maybe it’s the history curriculum that everybody grumbles through, so much so that you never seem to actually get to history anymore. Maybe it’s starting the day with math, which seemed like such a good idea when your friend suggested it but which has gotten pretty much every day this month off to a grumpy start. Maybe it’s your pottery classes, or your current readaloud, or the co-op that just doesn’t feel like a good fit anymore. Whatever it is, it’s time to bid it farewell.
We tend to think of quitting as a negative—it’s like giving up, right? We want to be people who follow through on what we start, especially if we’ve committed money, or time, or energy to a project. Shouldn’t we see it through to the end? But sometimes quitting can be a great thing. Quitting something that isn’t working frees you up to find something that is working better, something that you really love instead of something thatyou’re just trudging through.
Your mission this week: Pinpoint something that isn’t working in your homeschool—it can be as big or small as you want—and quit it, guilt-free.
I don’t know about you, but when we started homeschooling, I actually thought the housework part of life would get a little easier. After all, we would all be home all day—surely that would making keeping up with the dishes/laundry/bathroom cleaning a little easier, right?
Nope. At least not for us. Homeschooling didn’t give me more housework time—it just meant we were home to make bigger and more exciting messes. I’ve accepted the fact that homeschooling and a shiny clean house don’t go together for everyone, but if we want to have a happy homeschool, it’s also important to recognize that the burden of housework should not fall on one person’s shoulders.
Even very young kids can help with things like sorting laundry or tearing up lettuce for a salad, and older kids can take ownership of tasks from start to finish. It makes sense to collaborate on this. Sit down with your kids and make a list of all the housework that has to get done every day, then figure out together a fair way to divide it up. Be clear about expectations—what, specifically, does picking up the family room entail?—and deadlines—should work be finished before lunch or before bedtime? Be open to changing things as you go along. Treat it like any homeschool project—a work in progress that you’ll figure out together. Don’t think of it assigning chores: Instead, treat housework as a shared responsibility that everyone participates in. Between reminders and overseeing and that never-ending to-do list, you might only squeeze out 30 minutes of free time a day from letting your kids take on some of the daily duty—but hey, that’s 30 minutes, and as you settle into your new routine, that time may grow.
And don’t think divvying up the housework list is just for you: Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that helping with household tasks is the number-one predictor for future success—more than IQ, more than extracurricular activities, more than social status.
Your challenge this week: Sit down with your kids to plot a new daily schedule that lets everyone share in the everyday household duties. Try to take at least one task completely off your to-do list.
For the new school year, we’ve decided to kick off each week with a little idea you can implement to make your homeschool a happier place.
“You should start a joy journal for your homeschool,” a woman whose name I can’t remember told me at our first homeschool Girl Scouts meeting.
This is seriously the best advice anyone gave me as a brand-new homeschooler: Keep a daily record of everything that’s going right in your homeschool. Every night, sit down and make a note of at least three things that went really well that day, three reasons you’re glad you’ve taken on this whole homeschool project. (I keep mine in a little Moleskine because I use little Moleskines for pretty much everything in my life. We’re on Joy Journal, volume three!)
Sometimes I write a whole paragraph with dialogue and descriptions, sometimes just a couple of words. Sometimes my list goes way beyond three items, sometimes finding three good parts of our homeschool day is pretty challenging. Every time I sit down with my joy journal, though, I feel more confident in our decision to homeschool. On the good days, I relish the experience of writing down our happy moments, awesome accomplishments, and family fun. On the hard days, I find myself flipping back through the pages, reminding myself that there are plenty of times when we get it just right. If you’re like me and you tend to forget to break out your camera for photo-worthy moments, a joy journal is also a lovely chronicle of your homeschool life, a way to remember that incredibly messy baking soda volcano or the play about the Sisters Grimm that your children put on with homemade sock puppets. I write in mine before bed, as my brain is unwinding from the day, but you could write in yours first thing in the morning, after lunch, or any time that you have the space to sit down, take a deep breath, and think about your day for a few minutes.
Your challenge this week: Start a joy journal, and commit to writing in it at least three times a week for the first two weeks. (Don’t give yourself any guff if you miss a day here or there!)
A friend recently joked, “I’m living the dream! It’s not my dream, but it’s somebody’s dream!”
Years ago, when my children were still in elementary school, I dreamed about moving my family to Central America for a year. Complete and total immersion. We’d all become fluent in Spanish. We’d see flora and fauna we’d never before seen. We’d eventually make friends with the suspicious locals. I would wear embroidered tunics and learn to cook in a whole new way. Never mind that our family has never traveled outside of the United States, or even east of the Rocky Mountains, we could become, at least temporarily, expatriates!
“But what about my job?” asked my husband.
“But what about our friends?” asked my children.
“But what about my dream?” I responded.
My dream never made it further than a stack of books from the library and a mini lesson on the geography and culture of Central America. I only have one embroidered tunic, which I found at a thrift store and never wear. It’s not really my style. Travel isn’t really my style either. I’m a homebody. Vacations longer than three or four days make me a bit panicky. My solution to seeing more of the world without vacationing was to make a home somewhere else.
When I ran into an old acquaintance at yoga, my dream to live abroad came rushing back as she told me about her family’s adventure. They had lived in South America for six months, during which time they homeschooled their three children, and exchanged work for a place to live. Her eyes lit up as she told me about the incredible places they visited, the experiences they had, and the people they met. “You lived my dream!” I told her.
I have a saying that helps me to live a more minimal lifestyle: Be happy that it exists without needing to possess it. “It” being whatever that thing is I find myself wanting - usually a material item - but squatting on the floor of the yoga studio, hearing about living and learning in South America, I realized “it” can also be an experience. In my sweat drenched, post yoga euphoria, I truly felt happy for the family who experienced what sounded a lot like my dream. If I didn’t have the experience, at least somebody else did.
As homeschoolers, it doesn’t always feel like we’re living the dream - our children may balk at our carefully crafted lesson plans; the dining room table is always a cluttered mess; we wake up in the middle of the night worrying that we’re doing it all wrong. Chances are, however, that we’re living someone else’s dream. There is a mom at work right now who wishes she was home with her children. There’s a dad teaching a room full of students who dreams of staying home to teach his own kids. There might even be a family in Central America wishing they could live and learn in California for a year. If you know them, I’d love their contact information. Maybe they’re interested in a house swap. Some dreams don’t disappear, they just take longer to become reality.
MOLLY DUNHAM lives on the edge of a wild river canyon in the foothills of Northern California with her family. She enjoys hiking with friends, lifting heavy weights, and paddle boarding in the dark. But mostly she's a home-loving word nerd, happiest among works of creative non-fiction, spiral bound notebooks, and sharpened yellow pencils.