Recognizing when you get stuck in a negative mindset may be the first step toward changing your thought patterns for the happier.
One of my favorite things about homeschooling is the way that learning becomes a core family value—not just for the kids but for the parents, too. Curiosity becomes a way of life—and if you’re not nurturing your own curiosity, you’re missing out on one of the great pleasures of homeschool life.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to understand opera, or learn Spanish, or write that novel. Maybe you’d like to learn how to knit socks or improve your mathematical thinking. Maybe you wish you could take better photos or just indulge your interest in the history of video games. Whatever piques your interest, there’s never been a better time to be curious: Self-paced online classes make it easy to pursue what interests you, even if you’re still dreaming of getting 10 minutes of actual peace and privacy to use the bathroom. If you can cobble together a couple of hours a week, you can be happily on your way to learning something that interests you. And yes, that does make you a lovely life learning model for your kids, but more than that, it makes you a person who knows how to make her own interests a priority.
Your challenge this week: Choose your own learning adventure for this year, and commit to making the time to pursue your personal life learning goal each week.
This morning I met some long-time, female friends for breakfast at a quaint bakery-café in town. This was a luxury for me — both meeting friends and getting to eat at a quaint bakery-café.
I have been meeting with these women off and on for fifteen years. I met them when I was single, in my late twenties, and I taught a journal writing class for the adult community education programs at the university. Basically, for the four of us, the class never ended, but over the years, the group morphed from a writing group to a book discussion group to a woman's group. We just talk about anything! But the glorious thing is that it's an intelligent conversation, and it's not always about children's needs or the ups and downs of homeschooling. If the conversation does go in that direction, then it's me talking because all three of these beautiful women are older than me, and none of them have children.
For several years, we met every month, but then I had my boys. For a while, I tried to bring my eldest to the meetings, but that didn’t last long, and it was impossible after I had two boys. For a few years, we didn't meet at all, and I feared I had lost touch with these creative, insightful women. Then, when my eldest son was old enough to go to summer camp by himself, I asked my husband if he'd keep our youngest for the day so that I could arrange a meeting with my friends. He did. So for the last three years, we have met once a year during summer camp. Yes, only once a year, but that was better than not meeting at all!
This year I realized meeting during the week was a burden to one of the women who works full-time, so I decided to schedule a meeting on Saturday. And then it occurred to me…Saturdays would be good for me too since my husband is off and the boys are more self-sufficient. Hey, maybe I can do this more often.
I always tell parents of very young children that it'll get easier as they get older. I say that even when some things are still hard for me. Although my husband helps a lot, I'm still the major caregiver for the children, and for a long time, I was the only parent my youngest son wanted anything to do with. He is still a mama's boy, but finally he is okay with daddy taking over for part of the day. And my nine-year-old... well, he prefers his dad now. Mama is starting to get boring.
Before I get all choked up and sad and oh — pooh! *sniff sniff* — I have to remind myself that I actually kind of enjoy having a little more freedom.
But it comes very slowly, and it takes some getting used to. On the rare days I find myself leaving the house alone, I have that heavy feeling of having forgotten something. But it’s really that part of me that wants to stay right here next to my boys. Will they need something that only I can give them? What am I missing if I’m not here?
Then I start driving away from the house, listening to one of my favorite podcasts, and I sigh with relief that no one will interrupt it! It's then that I realize I can and will get used to doing things alone again.
I will start slowly because I am in no hurry for my boys to become completely independent of me. For now, I will begin to get my women’s group together more often. None of our schedules will allow us to meet once a month anymore, but I'm going to try to get us together once every season.
And maybe, with these intelligent, kind, inspiring women’s help, I will start to find my way again in the world...sans children.
A decade ago, I began homeschooling my children for selfish reasons. Sure, I thought homeschooling would be good for them too, and I read a stack of books about childhood development, learning styles, and homeschooling methods to back up that belief, but ultimately my reasons to homeschool were selfish. I wanted my children to learn free of negative social influences, gold star grading systems, and hours of pointless homework, but mostly I didn’t want to wake up early every day to rouse my sleeping children, pack brown bag lunches, and hurry them out the door. Waking up naturally and snuggling on the couch to read books before we began our day of curiosity driven learning was my romanticized fantasy of homeschool life.
There were many days that we lived out my fantasy, but many more days that I lost myself in the service of parenting and homeschooling. When mothers with more experience than I had counseled me to take some “me time”, I didn’t even know what they meant. All the hours not devoted to the enrichment of my children were spent cleaning up from said enrichment, planning for the next day’s enrichment, and recovering from all the enrichment, plus the usual business of running a household. When exactly was this “me time” supposed to happen, and what was I supposed to be doing for myself?
I recently listened to an interview with a 107 year woman and when asked for the secret of her longevity her answer was to eat well, exercise, sleep, and avoid stress - four of my favorite things to do now, but not my priorities during those early years of homeschooling. Hearing it from a woman with a tremendous amount of life experience affirmed that taking care of myself is my definition of “me time”, and hopefully it will buy me even more time.
As the new school year approaches, and you thoughtfully select and prepare curriculum for your children, consider the enrichment of yourself as well. Schedule “me time” in your daily planner, and keep the lesson plan simple: eat well, exercise, sleep, and avoid stress.
Here are a few sample assignments:
- Eat vegetables with your breakfast, because at the end of a long day when the idea of making a salad seems as monumental a task as teaching Latin to a preschooler, and you wonder if the marinara sauce on your pasta counts as a vegetable, at least it won’t be your only vegetable that day.
- Station your kids on the front porch with a timer and have them record how long it takes you to walk (or run!) around the block multiple times. Find the mean, median, and mode of your times and call it a math lesson. Extra credit if they cheer you on.
- Schedule a twenty minute power nap for that particularly stressful time of day when you begin to consider packing a lunch for your children and dropping them off at the nearest public school.
- Replace a “should” with a “want”: I should (insert an activity that stresses you out), but I want to (insert an activity that feeds your sense of self). You can’t avoid all shoulds in life, but if you’re not careful you may successfully avoid all of your wants.
- One of the greatest lessons I learned and passed on to my children is the importance of taking care of oneself. If you don’t make yourself a priority, who will? A bonus to this lesson is that others often benefit from your acts of selfishness. My selfish desire to homeschool was a selfless act of service to my children, and an inspiration for friends to choose alternative educational paths.
Families make great sacrifices of time, energy and resources in order to homeschool, but caring for yourself does not have to be part of that sacrifice. This school year, make “me time” a mandatory subject. What is good for you is also good for your children.
This week I took my daughter to an appointment where we happened to run into a family from her old school. The mother was always someone I could chat to in the playground, but I haven’t seen her in a long time because my kids are no longer there. As she was leaving, she said, “Lisa, I’ve hardly spoken to you! And how aaaaarrrrrreee yoooooouuuu?” She said it in such a pitying sort of way, I realized that she assumed that the everyday life of a homeschooling mother must be a truly terrible and exhausting thing.
Homeschooling is an every day choice. If we wanted to, we could sign our children up for school tomorrow. But we don’t choose that. We actually CHOSE home education because, when you scrape away the arguments and irritations of daily family life, we LOVE it as a way of learning and as a lifestyle.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some drawbacks. Dealing with those takes a little more care and consideration. Prioritizing my own wellness has been one of our greatest challenges. A letter for a routine medical test came in the post and all I needed to do was make one phone call. But who makes phone calls when there’s home education to be done? It took me over a week to deal with that letter and make that appointment.
I’ve had a sore throat this week, and really wished I could have a duvet day, snuggled in bed with a good book. But I can’t do that either. I’ve tried, but eventually find that the needs of the family draw me back and demand attention.
Making time for wellness practices has been integral to maintaining a sense of groundedness and joy in our homeschool day. We homeschooling mothers can be experts at putting our own needs last. I have found that, when I put myself last, I feel last and that eventually turns into resentment. Instead, giving myself small but significant wellness breaks throughout the day makes a bigger overall difference than handing the kids over to my husband for a day and heading out on my own (although I wouldn’t say no to that, now and then).
My tiny wellness practices are simple but meaningful. Every morning I pour myself a big glass of water before the children and I sit down to read together. When they have screen time I make a point of ignoring the chores for a time. Instead I sit on the sofa and read my book for a while. Sometimes I go out to the garage and ride the exercise bike for a quarter of an hour. First thing in the morning I try to get up at least 15-30 minutes before my husband has to leave for work and practice some Yoga and meditation in my room (sometimes alone, sometimes with the other four members of my family milling around looking for socks). I add little inexpensive treats for myself to the shopping list: a chocolate bar, cut-price flowers, a new box of pencils (Yes: geek. Guilty as charged.). I spend three or four extra minutes in the shower when I’m doing nothing but enjoying it.
We all need to feel valued and nurtured. My children don’t necessarily know how to give me that, and to some extent it’s not really their role. As an adult I have to look after my own needs. It doesn’t have to be something time-consuming or expensive, just something for me. What do you do to nurture yourself? How do you prioritize a wellness practice amongst the busyness of homeschool life?
Before I was married, I loved to take long walks. It wasn’t just for exercise. I could relax my mind while walking. I enjoyed looking at the houses, people, trees, and anything I would pass. After we got married, my husband and I walked our dogs most evenings, and it became a daily ritual where we reconnected and talked about our day.
We continued with our baby in a stroller, yet as my son got older and could walk on his own, it was hard to go for a walk because he wanted to stop and look at every stick and rock along the way. That can be fun too, but eventually, he didn’t want to walk at all, and my younger son followed in his footsteps. I’ve gone many years without having daily walks.
It’s necessary for me to spend most of my limited free time writing, or I wouldn’t get anything done. But writing is very sedentary, and as I get older, it’s pretty clear that I could use the exercise too. But I’ve put off trying to make walking a habit again. When? I thought. And how do I do it so that it doesn’t disrupt everyone else’s routine? Because no one in this house makes extra time for Mama, except Mama.
Recently it occurred to me that now that my boys are almost nine- and almost six-years-old, they are both much more independent and able to occupy themselves for a while. So I should be able to figure out a way to make walking part of my daily routine, right? Well, it wasn’t easy, and it’s still not easy. But I found a time that I try to walk on most days, and I found a way to get the boys to join me sometimes too.
One night after dinner, I left the dishes in the sink, and I said I was going for a walk. I asked the boys if they wanted to go with me. They said no, but that was okay because daddy was home, and they could play awhile before bath time.
The next night, I invited them again. Wanting to spend time with me, my five-year-old decided to come with me. Another night, the eight-year-old came with me. The night after that, they both came. Finally, I said, I’m going to try to walk every night after dinner. You’re always invited, but you don’t have to go, if you don’t want to. However, if daddy is not at home, you have to go because I can’t leave you at the house by yourself.
Giving them a choice has made all the difference. That little caveat about having to go, if daddy isn’t here, doesn’t seem to bother them too much since they understand the reason behind it. (They are still young enough to not want to be left at home alone.)
I also give them choices when we’re out walking. Which way do you want to go? If you’re tired, we’ll head back home. I don’t try to get a power walk when I’m walking with the boys, and I don’t care about distance. I let them meander, and I enjoy spending time with them and being outside, moving my body. In my mind, I’m establishing a habit. As the boys get older, as they leave the house, I’ll have a routine. I’ll have my exercise time.... At least, I can hope!
A surprising byproduct occurred by establishing this walking routine: I have given the boys an opportunity to act like a grown-up and decide how they are going to spend their time. Not that they didn’t do what they wanted to before, but now it’s an intentional act because we all stop to think about it each evening. They know they have the option for some Mommy-time. Only now, I don’t feel so dragged down about it. I am usually tired by this time of day, and I’m not in the mood to play or look up answers to questions on the Internet. Now I’m able to do something for myself while also offering something to them.
“Hmmm. I want to take a bath,” the five-year-old might decide.
“I want to water the garden,” the eight-year-old might say.
“I’ll walk with you, Mommy,” one or both of them might say.
My five-year-old likes walking with me, and I think the biggest motivating factor is looking for feathers. (Tip: If you make your walk sound more like a mission to search for something interesting, it appeals to little kids.) He collects feathers, and he’s discovered that if he goes walking, he sometimes finds one. Sometimes we find two! You’d be surprised at how many feathers you can find, if you just start looking.
My eight-year-old is also opting to walk with us frequently. He likes looking for snakes, rocks and feathers. But sometimes he decides to stay home and practice his piano, water the garden, or just play.
It’s exciting to me to see the boys make their own decisions. It feels good when they decide they want to walk with me – an activity that has been so important in my life. I’m not only creating a new ritual, I’m creating memories.
How do you work exercise or self-care in to your busy schedule?
On Tuesday I mentioned to a friend that I’d gone back to a new-to-me writers group on the previous night. She smiled broadly and said, “Congratulations!”
The word, “congratulations,” normally reserved for engagements, wedding anniversaries, promotions and the arrival of a new baby, might seem inappropriate in this situation. But you and I both know that I deserved that congratulations from my friend. She, a seasoned mother of five children and a fellow home educator, knows that it can take a military-style operation to get out of the house alone. She would also know that it takes a huge amount of bravery and derring-do to step outside one’s comfort zone and go into a new situation, especially when you half expect that there are toddler-snot trails on your shoulder and your most recent conversations center around the prize in a Kinder egg, rather than the latest literary prize.
The first time I went to the group, I changed into my pajamas, lay down with my youngest child (as usual) and waited for him to go to sleep. Then I got up, re-dressed into my jeans and fleece pullover, and drove across town to the group. If my son had known I was going, I doubt he would have gone to sleep. There would have been too many questions, tears about unmet expectations, and his need, ever-present need, for me.
The next morning we talked about it, and it turns out he’s okay with my going out to the group. The next Monday I gave him a kiss goodbye and walked out the door, and his dad lay down with him instead. That was the day I got caught in construction traffic, then drove round and round the patchwork of streets near the group’s venue, couldn’t find parking and after 45 minutes drove home. On the downside, I didn’t get to go to the group. On the upside, 45 minutes alone was rather a novelty.
(As an aside, did you know there are programs on the radio that are specifically aimed at adults? Yeah, crazy. Oddly, none of them feature “The Wheels on the Bus.”)
This week, I made it to the group, struck up a conversation with the person sitting beside me, and even shared something I wrote without running panic-stricken from the room. On reflection, I realize that I struggled to make eye contact with my fellow writers because for me, writing can be like a dirty little secret—something I do alone and rarely discuss with others. Talking about it somehow feels like uttering a profanity. It’s just not the done thing. Certainly not in mixed company.
I suspect that going to the group is going to be good for me, even if it does take a lot of organization and effort to get there. It’s stretching my skills and taking me out of my comfort zone. It helped me realize that maybe my son is ready to be left with his dad and have a change of routine now and again. It’s reminded me that I am an adult with many gifts and roles: mother and home educator being only two. And it’s reminded me what it’s like to be a learner again.
So when you congratulate me, I’ll say just smile and say, “thanks.” Because we both know there’s a lot more to it than just going to writers group.
“How will they ever learn to listen to their boss if they don’t have to listen to teachers?”
“They’ll never make it in the workforce, you have to do things you don’t like to do and deal with jerks.”
“In the real world you don’t get to do what you want.”
There are a lot of ways that many people seem convinced unschoolers will fail, and most of those reasons lead back to the belief that unschoolers just have it too good. They get to be too happy, too playful, too independent, too creative. If they’re used to living such full and interesting lives, how will they ever manage to knuckle down, obey their superiors, and resign themselves to a job that’s unfulfilling at best, and nearly intolerable at worst?
I think this attitude is an indictment of the current education system (as well as the typical workplace environment and maybe even the current economic system). Unknowingly, people who express concern that unschoolers won’t be able to function in such unpleasant situations are saying just what they think schools are good at: namely, teaching people to function in unpleasant situations.
I should hope that school free learners aren’t holding up, as their greatest vision of success, that their children become good at resigning themselves to unhappiness. I’d hope, instead, that life learners are raising children who will seek to build lives that make them happy.
Is it important to be able to deal with unpleasant people and situations at times? Of course. Sometimes you’re going to have to take a job you don’t like so that you can put food on the table. Sometimes you’ll have to deal with a bully to get something you need.
However, I believe that people are best prepared for challenges such as these when they have a core of self confidence and self respect instead of just being accustomed to putting up with discouraging situations on a daily basis. I’ve always thought unschooling was a good way to help individuals develop a strong sense of what is and isn’t right for them, and to make choices that support the type of life they want to be leading.
There are certain qualities in myself that I try to cultivate and encourage.
A lifelong fascination and excitement about whatever catches my interest at any given time. In other words, a passion for learning that never ends.
A strong ethic of self care and firm boundaries, skills and practices that help me to stay healthy and grounded in a world that can often feel overwhelming.
Caring and empathy for other people, and a focus on educating myself about important issues, seeking with my words and actions to make the world at least a little bit better.
Trust in my own instincts.
Confidence and a feeling of self worth, no matter how much I’m struggling at any given time.
Striving always to keep my passions, dreams, and plans at the forefront, working to build my life based on what I truly want and think is right for me.
I share this because, when I think about my own future children and what I’d want for them, I don’t think about college acceptance or an ability to conform to the values and pressures of the dominant culture. Instead, I think about what I want for myself, and I hope that my someday children will have those qualities in even greater abundance than I’ve managed so far for myself.
Figuring out how to live a life in line with your ideals and values is hard no matter what your educational background. But I like to think that unschooling helps. It’s certainly helped me to trust myself because as I child I was never taught that I was untrustworthy. It’s taught me to value the perfection of flow in learning because having experienced it, I know I need to always seek that out in my adult life as well. It’s taught me to question the supposed “common sense” of the dominant culture, and to develop my own thoughts on various issues for myself. And it’s taught me to always follow my passions because doing so will almost always lead me in the direction of the greatest happiness in my life and the greatest contribution to the world.
Let’s cultivate in our life learning journey a version of success based on what makes you come alive.
From yoga stretches to fresh air, these quick tricks will help you turn around a homeschool day that's taken a turn for the not-so-great.