Other people have a lot of opinions about homeschooling — but that doesn’t mean you have to be influenced by what they say.
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.
My husband asked me to go to the bike shop with him the other day to try out some mountain bikes. This was one week after he asked me to go on a trail ride with him and deemed my twenty year old mountain bike unfit and unsafe.
“You need a new bike so we can ride more trails,” he said.
“But I’d rather buy an unlimited membership at the yoga studio,” I said. For the price of the bikes he is looking at, I could buy several years worth of unlimited yoga classes and a car for our daughter. Today’s bikes cost as much as my first two cars combined. Two wheels for the price of eight.
I must admit that the new bike felt great, and I was tempted to let him plop down our credit card so I could ride the bike home. Ultimately we decided to think about it and shop around a bit more.
Biking is my husband’s thing, yoga is my thing, and when I think about it, each of our preferred activities is suited to our different lifestyles. As the sole financial provider for our family, my husband is get up and go go go. Flying down mountains and climbing back up them is the training he needs for, and the relief he needs from, his physically demanding job.
As the sole care provider for our family, I am get up and stay stay stay. Struggling to stay on my yoga mat, balancing on my hands and feet, and listening is the training I need to be present for my demanding job as mom/counselor/nutritionist/home-economist/emergency-responder. An hour of not talking and just moving in a hot studio keeps me from being a hot mess at home.
You know as well as I do how much work it is to stay in one place and focus on the task at hand. There are days when the idea of getting up and leaving the house to go to work seems like the ideal vacation. More than once I have wished for a performance review and a bonus check as an indicator that I am doing a good job. As homeschooling parents, we don’t even get the little validation from a satisfactory report card and a written comment from the teacher about what a good little student we have. Teaching our own is a way of living, but certainly not a way to make a living, and while our labor is unpaid, it is certainly not without benefits.
Trail riding is fun, and there will be a day when I will say yes to a bike. If do my job well and my kids learn to take care of their future selves, my current job will become obsolete and I will have the time to hit the trails on two wheels. For now I’m going to stick to two hands and two feet, or no hands and one foot, on my yoga mat. It takes a lot of work to stay in one place, but the place I’ve chosen to be is the best place for me, for my family, for now.
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?
Fear is a normal part of life; and can certainly be a part of homeschooling. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Are we out of the house too often? Are my children learning all they need to be learning? Is my teen going to be ready to move out and live on his own? You get the idea.
Most of us have these moments of uncertainty and fear. Right? They’re especially common when you first step onto the homeschooling path, but, to be honest, mine still pop up from time to time, even though I’ve been at this for 18 years. While I’m confident in our decision to homeschool, and love the life we’ve created around our homeschooling journey, I still have to be mindful and notice when fear starts creeping in.
The funny thing about these homeschooling fears, is that most of them aren’t based on the “truth of what is” in this moment, but instead are worries about the future – things that haven’t happened yet; things that might never happen. So why do we put energy towards that?
Now, when I talk about fears here, I don’t mean the very real fears that come from living in a crazy, sometimes dangerous world. I’m talking about fears and anxiety directly related to the homeschooling path. These fears, I believe, come from a space of “not enough.” These fears come from comparison.
When we look at our children and ourselves where we are in each moment, with clear eyes, and open heart, we can accept where we are without fear. But when we start comparing our homeschooling, and our kids, with others—either schooled-kids or other homeschoolers or even to ourselves when we were their age—we open ourselves up to fear.
During my own moments of deep anxiety, I’ve found myself awake at 3 in the morning, heart pounding, mind racing, not really worried about where my boys are right now, but worried about where they’ll be in the future. What if my little one never learns to read? (His brother was reading by this age.) What if he hates learning new things and he goes through life barely able to have an intelligent conversation? What if my teen never becomes a good driver or never wants to cook for himself? What if he never learns to balance his checkbook and pay bills? (When I was his age I was already working and had a car payment, and made most of my own meals.)
I know, in my rational mind, that these particular fears are self-created, and stem from my own insecurities about my role as homeschooling mom, and my own expectations around who I want my children to be. They are based on what-ifs, not what-is. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better over the years at recognizing this and learning how to move past the anxiety. I’ve even started to figure out how to use my worries and fears for good, instead of letting them keep me awake at night.
What I’ve come to realize is that, in certain situations, fear can be useful. It tells us to run or fight when danger is near. It can prompt us to stop what we’re doing and try something new. Unfortunately, most of the time our fears just keep us stuck. Fear keeps us in our head and out of the present moment. And it can be damaging to our relationships with our children, who most definitely pick up on our fears and anxiety, even if we never talk about it with them. In fact, research has shown that parents with high levels of anxiety tend to have children with high levels of fear and anxiety. And none of us want that.
So what can we do, and teach our children to do, to let go of these fears when they arise? Here is what works for me:
- Bring focus to the fear. Don’t fight it or try to distract yourself from it. Instead, take a moment to stop what you’re doing and really look at it.
- Trace the fear back to its source. What is the fear really about? Do you really believe your child will not be reading when he’s an adult? Are you truly worried that you’ve made the wrong choice? Or is it something else? Where does the fear originate?
- Look at it without attachment. Once you stop and examine the fear, and trace it to its source, try to sit with it without attachment. Say to yourself, “I am feeling fear,” not “I am afraid.” Notice the feeling in your body. But don’t judge the feeling or identify with it. See it as a temporary state.
- Turn to the breath. Following the breath can calm the nervous system. First, notice the breath flowing in, and notice the breath flowing out. If you’d like to take it further, you can do a four-count breath: breath in, deeply, for a count of four; hold the breath in for a count of four; exhale, deeply, for a count of four; and hold the breath out for a count of four. Repeat as needed.
- Write it out. Once you have examined the fear and calmed your mind, you may find it useful to create a list of possible actions, scenarios, and outcomes, related to your fear. For example, if you’re worried that your teen will never learn to drive well, make a list of ways he can get more practice. What can he do on his own? And what are ways you can help? And then make a list of options related to the idea that he may never be a good driver or even want to drive. Uber. Taxis. Public transportation. Walking. Biking. These are all viable options that can be included. Whatever your parenting or homeschooling fear is at the moment, coming up with an action plan and also seeing alternate outcomes to your expectations can be tremendously helpful.
- Finally, focus on the great things about your homeschooling and your children. What are the things you are doing right? What are the things your children love? Find the joy in your relationships. Find the joy in your homeschooling. This could make a wonderful list too. Maybe you can add to it every day to help keep the fears at bay.
A teacher once told me that the opposite of fear is love. I like to think of it as joy. While fear keeps us stuck in our comfort zones, limiting our views of the world, joy opens us up to new possibilities. Joy helps us see the awesomeness in our every day activities and relationships. It creates flow in our lives and homes.
Becoming fearless doesn’t mean never being afraid. It just means being able to move beyond our fears into a space of openness. It means showing our children that it’s ok to risk, and fail, and try again. That it’s OK to change course. Learning to navigate our own fears and anxieties in our homeschooling, and in our lives, helps us build connections with our children and the world around us. And that’s why we homeschool, isn’t it?
So what are you afraid of? And how do you work through those fears?
We have had a lazy summer. Not lazy in the sleeping all day, not getting anything done sort of way (though there were days like that, I admit), but lazy in the most generous sense of the word – relaxed, unstressed, the following of our bliss.
I knew going into the break that a lazy summer was what my family needed. After wrapping up a busy, hugely transitional year—classes and activities four days a week outside the home; ACT, college applications, and acceptance for our teen; a layoff and two job changes for my husband; lots of volunteer hours for me with our local homeschool group; a big move to a small house in a new neighborhood (which required a tremendous amount of downsizing); and an urgent need for me to go back to work part-time; all while continuing with our regular family and home responsibilities and making sure the 6-year-old got enough of our time and attention—we were desperately in need of down time. A bit of undisturbed quiet so that we could take a breath, get back to center and just BE together.
When June rolled around, it was like being given a fresh start. I purposely left our days unscheduled. No camps, no appointments, no need to fill in the calendar with field trips, play dates, and other planned activities. It reminded me of our early days of homeschooling, back when we did most of our homeschooling at home instead of out taking classes every day.
Our lazy summer days started gently. We slept until we woke naturally. We had breakfast together. We checked the weather forecast. And, most importantly, we checked in with each other. “What do you feel like doing today?” I’d ask. And the answer would vary depending on our moods. Some days we’d stay home and watch movies, snack, water the garden, read books, play games. Some days we’d walk to the pool. Some days we’d meet up with friends and play for hours. Some days we took day trips—what the Germans call Ausflug—to nearby places that we had always put off visiting. It was blissful and lazy because none of it was forced.
The teen, who has decided not to go off to college this fall after all, spent a lot of time sleeping, writing, and figuring out what he wants to do next. But he also spent hours and hours with us—as a family—in a way that he hadn’t for years. Relaxed, eased into the space we’d created by letting go of the “you should and we should” pressure, he was able to shake off the teen angst of the last few years and really re-connect. To a mom, that is bliss on an indescribable scale.
The summer wasn’t all lazy, of course. My husband still had to work, though now he’s working from home. I still had freelance work to do, though it wasn’t every day, and I was fortunate to have flexibility in when I sat down to focus on it. There was still laundry to wash (and fold and put away), bills to pay, and dinner to cook. But by shifting our focus, and clearing out all of the non-essential obligations, we were able to meet our family responsibilities without feeling rushed or resentful.
Now summer is winding down (tick-tock, tick-tock), and I’m wondering how to hold on to some of that under-scheduled bliss as our homeschool classes start back and our calendar starts to fill up. I’ve already seen my workload increase. I’m writing lesson plans for the classes I’m teaching. The teen is starting work. The 6-year-old has a list of all the things he wants to participate in. How do we hold on to some of the space we’ve created to let the days unfold according to our whims? How do we continue to make space for ourselves and for having down time together as a family?
For a start, I’m saying no. I’m saying no to filling every single day with classes and activities out of fear that we’ll miss out on something. I’m saying no to volunteering too much of my time simply because I like to be useful and want to be liked. I’m saying no to all of the things that no longer align with our homeschooling philosophy and who we are as a family.
I’m downsizing our busyness the same way we’ve downsized our possessions.
And by doing so, I’m saying yes to sometimes being bored. I’m saying yes to more pajama days at home. I’m saying yes to days spent sleeping in, watching movies, watering the garden. I’m saying yes to holding onto empty spaces between busy days; to being under-scheduled instead of over-scheduled. I’m taking a little of our lazy summer bliss into the rest of the year.
I know I will be better for it. My family will be better for it. And our homeschooling will be better for it. After all, a lot of learning and connecting happens in those empty spaces.
Are you feeling over-scheduled? How do you slow down and let go of the things that no longer serve you? How do you create space in your homeschooling?