The ancient Babylonians — who started the whole New Year’s resolutions trend with annual self-improvement promises to their gods — had the right idea: Their resolutions were simple, concrete acts that they could accomplish easily — returning borrowed farm equipment or planting a tree. Today, New Year’s resolutions seem silly if they are not big, sweeping goals: be happier, make more money, keep a cleaner house. The nebulous nature of these pursuits (what does one do to be happier?) make them almost doomed to fail, but if we can hone in on specific, small, actionable pieces of these goals — making time for ourselves each day, say, or stopping the out-the-door chaos on co-op mornings — we can actually see our New Year’s resolutions, well, resolve themselves. We can make it a better year—realistically and meaningfully. So read on for steps you can take to tackle some of the more common homeschool life road bumps, and resolve to make 2016 a better year for your family, one step at a time.
RESOLUTION: Stop being late for everything.
If your clan is chronically late, changing into people who show up on time can be a big task—but it’s doable if you—and your kids—are willing to commit to making a series of small changes every day, says Pauline Wallin, clinical psychologist and author of Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-Defeating Behavior.
Start small. Set one manageable goal per day: I will not hit the snooze button this morning. I will put the library books by the door tonight instead of trying to find them in the morning. If you can’t commit to these small inconveniences, being on time may not be as important to you as you think it is.
Retrain your sense of time. Track your activities for a week — jot down daily tasks, how long you think each will take, and how long each actually takes, from morning readaloud to the breakfast dishes. Often, people are late because they have a fixed but incorrect idea of how long an activity takes.
Resist the urge to do one more thing. The need to feel productive is why you suddenly start opening mail or wiping counters when you should be walking out the door. Train yourself to stop what you’re doing — even if you’re in mid-wipe — at your designated go-time and walk right out the door.
Aim to be early. Plan to be exactly on time, and any unexpected event—your 6-year-old’s missing shoes or forgetting to charge your phone—will make you late. Instead, plan to be 15 minutes early, and bring along an activity you enjoy to fill those 15 minutes. (Family Uno game, anyone?)
What if it’s your kids who are always late? You can’t force someone to be on time— and tricks, like pretending events start earlier than they do, only work once or twice before kids figure you out. If being on time is important for an activity, talk to your kids about whether they’re willing to make it a priority. If not, this may not be the right year for that activity.
RESOLUTION: Clean up your homeschool clutter.
Let’s face facts: for a lot of us, some clutter is part of homeschool life. Even if you’re fairly vigilant about pruning papers and organizing supplies, stuff can get out of hand — and if you don’t stay on top of things, you can watch your dining room table disappear underneath your piles. You may never be a super-organized homeschooler, but you can make your space feel less chaotic with these tips and tricks.
Aim higher. Add shelves to make your bookcases stretch all the way to the ceiling, and you’ll be amazed by how much extra space you get. Store very specific (5th grade math manipulatives or extra printer cartridges) or seldom-used items on the higher shelves.
Color code. Assign each kid a color, and use that color consistently: Buy notebooks, folders, and pencils, cover schoolbooks, and flag important pages in your own books or binders with your chosen color, and you’ll instantly know whose stuff is where. If your kids have lots of writing assignments, you may want to edit their papers using a pen in their designated color, too.
Back up. Invest in an off-site Internet service or external hard drive to keep your computer data safe, and you can scan and toss (or just plain toss) papers when they start to pile up.
Get into the habit. The key to staying organized is to spend about 10 minutes at the end of your school day tidying up your learning spaces and prepping for the next day. There’s no dramatic before- and-after with this habit, but the long-term difference is huge.
RESOLUTION: Get comfortable with imperfection.
Perfectionism gets a bad rap, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing: Heathy perfectionists know how to set ambitious-but-attainable goals and work to achieve them, which gives you a strong sense of purpose and accomplishment and a healthy perspective on the times when things don’t go right. (“This will make a great story someday!”) The problem is that it’s easy to veer into unhealthy perfectionism, where you’re mentally setting expectations that are just plain impossible and ensuring you hang on to that sinking feeling of constant failure. The key is to channel the good parts of your commitment to excellence without dragging in all the negative baggage — and a big piece of that is getting comfortable with the parts of life that may not live up to your high standards. “To be enlightened is to be without anxiety over imperfection,” Buddhists say, so think of these imperfection-accepting strategies as steps along the path to enlightenment.
Be your own measuring stick. Forget your friends, forget the blogs, forget Pinterest, and measure yourself against only your own abilities, says University of British Columbia, Vancouver clinical psychologist Jennifer Campbell. No one can be good at everything.
Know when okay is okay. Sometimes you want to be the best, but sometimes (Tuesday night dinner? Friday morning math?) just getting the job done counts as success.
Embrace the minimum. It is much better to have a terrific spontaneous 20 minutes of history than to plan out an entire year with a schedule so intense that you’re overwhelmed just reading your lesson plan. Find a balance that works for you, and don’t assume that more always means better.
Acknowledge the failures. Sometimes things go wrong, and it’s okay to say “this reading curriculum just isn’t working,” and let it go. Making failures into “I’m-not-trying-hard-enough” is a sure way to get stuck in a bad situation.
Be present. Live where you are with things as they are rather than getting hung up on the future or the past.
RESOLUTION: Make time for yourself.
We get it—oh, boy, do we ever get it: You’re busy. Like, insanely busy. But if you don’t make yourself a priority, you’re going to get burned out and grumpy. There’s a fine line between generosity — an integral part of being the kind of giving, doing parent we all want to be — and martyrdom, and we cross it when we get hung up on doing everything, including the things that someone else can do just as well — or sometimes better — than we can. It’s tempting to see this perpetual doing-too-much as an expression of love, but always putting yourself last will ultimately make you feel stressed out and resentful. And worse, over time it actually makes our kids appreciate all the things we do less and less because real respect can only come when someone recognizes that another person has hopes, dreams, and goals, too. Make this the year you channel some of your generous spirit into an area that needs it: you.
Consider yourself important. You are going to feel guilty about making me-time as long as you have the idea that your me-time is somehow less important than making-dinner, teaching-science, or cleaning-the-bathroom time. Say no to things that don’t feed your soul. Making yourself a priority means crossing some things off your to-do list. What can you let go of?
Write me-time on your calendar. Treat it just like any other part of your schedule, and write in 15 minutes a day of me-time — in pen.
RESOLUTION: Stay motivated when homeschooling gets hard.
Starting the school year, we have all these great plans and ideas for making this year the Best One Ever. By February, though, many of us hit a slump, where homeschooling feels like a slog and we’re taxing our inner resources just to do our version of the minimum. Sometimes, this is a sign that you need a mid-winter break. But if a break doesn’t boost your motivation, there are other ways to get it back.
If-then your routine. When you’re planning your week, anticipate bumps so that you have a plan in place to handle them: If we don’t get to math in the morning, we’ll do a lesson after dinner. If it’s raining, we’ll watch a documentary for nature study.
Be reasonable. If your homeschool plans are too ambitious, you can lose steam and give up. Set smaller goals, like doing an hour of school every weekday or doing one family project a week, and increase if you want to as you build stamina.
Keep a daily record. Some people opt to be accountable on public platforms, but even jotting down a paragraph in your homeschool journal every night can be commitment enough to keep you motivated. Feeling responsible to someone, even if it’s just yourself, can really help you stick with something when you aren’t feeling motivated.
Find a support network. One of the best tools in your motivation toolbox is a network of people who understand your challenges and will empathize or cheer you on as the situation requires. Every homeschool parent really needs at least one fellow homeschooler in her social circle — if you don’t have a real-life community, find an online group where you feel comfortable. (Just don’t forget to return the support when your friend is the one needing a motivation boost.)
Put your own learning on the lesson plan. One of the best ways to stay motivated in your homeschool life is to enjoy the process, so why limit all the learning fun to the kids? Sign up for a local college or online class that sparks your interest, and share your enthusiasm with your kids.
Remind yourself why this all matters. You’re more likely to stay motivated when a goal has true personal meaning for you, and when you hit a slump, remembering that meaning can pull you through. Multiplication drills may not inspire your heart, but raising kids who don’t stress over every math test they encounter might. Keep an eye on the big picture.
This article is excerpted from the winter 2016 issue of HSL.