Back to School: Take 2 “I Have The Power!”

Last week was the hardest homeschool week of my life. Too busy. Too much crying. Too much resistance. I have never felt so frustrated, so overwhelmed, and like all the cards were stacked up against me. It felt almost impossible.

It made me want to try harder. Or in other words, it made me want to try smarter.

So let me try this again.

Because of the struggles we had last week, I have done a little research, a little soul searching, and a little restructuring. I’ll try not to be too boring and get too much into the details, but there is a valuable message to all of this that I think can benefit others. (Update: this is kind of a boring blog post – but the links are awesome!!)

It is hard, sometimes really hard, but you can do this because you are smart and you can learn and grow and take control. When something is THIS important to you, you will do what it takes to make it happen, even if that requires humility and change.

So to break it down, what I wanted was my oldest to stop resisting with his math. I wanted my preschooler to stop whining and crying and being so needy. I wanted to give everybody everything they wanted and deserved without giving away everything I had… because I would like to keep some of that for me, too. In other words, I wanted to stop feeling like I was running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off.

This is what I have learned.

I watched a couple of webinars put on by a local homeschool mom and mentor. The first webinar was about getting your kids motivated to learn. The second was on finding balance between your homeschool and your home. I will plug the link in here so you can watch them for yourself (a third is supposed to come out soon, also this link takes a while to load, just fyi), but I would like to quickly highlight the things that were most applicable to me at this time. (Also, these webinars are fairly short, I think 45 minutes and 35 minutes or so. Very reasonable time commitment with valuable information.)

  1. My son isn’t intrinsically motivated to do his math. He is capable of it, and wants me to be happy so he does try. But he whines and cries and resists the entire time. (So when I say he tries I guess what I mean is… ok, maybe he doesn’t try. But he doesn’t flat out refuse either. I think at this point that is all he can manage.)
  2. My preschooler’s love language (though I’ve never read the book) is obviously touch. And while I am not overly fond of snuggles and kisses and being in physical contact with anyone all day long, he just needs that from me. It is extremely hard for him to not be able to have my attention and love when he asks for it. It makes him cry more (I didn’t even know anyone could cry more than he does… bless his heart) and demand more love and affection which just leads to more sobbing and whining. Quite honestly, there are moments when I cannot devote all my attention to him.
  3. There is so much to do with three kids in school. On paper I can schedule it all out with the appropriate time allotted to each child in each subject, but when my plans get fouled up or someone is resisting his assignment or another someone is constantly sobbing and begging in my ear things tend to fall apart. I feel like I am rushing from one child to the next with no room to breathe in between. It all feels like a big race or like a huge check list and the timer is constantly ticking in my ear.

So, now the question is, what am I going to do about it?

  1. My oldest is a year ahead in math. I have him in Saxon math because I love it. Now I realize that even though I think it is incredible, it doesn’t necessarily work for him. Comprehension is not the issue, but his feelings of competence are. It is too much work for him. Internally he shuts down feeling like he will never complete the entire assignment (even though we do every single day.) I am heavily dragging my feet on whether or not to find a new math program for him. (I really, seriously LOVE Saxon math!!!) But now that I understand the problem, I have talked with him and together we have come up with a plan. Instead of doing ALL 30 problems in his homework, he is now only required to do either the odd or even numbered questions. (This helps him feel more competent- that the task is actually doable.) Also, he suggested he do his fact sheet (timed test) first thing in the morning and then after language arts he do the rest of his math – instead of doing all the math first thing in the morning. (This helps him feel like he is in more control of his work – the autonomy part of intrinsic motivation.) My goal was to be able to get him started with his lesson and then let him do the assignment by himself. Today we had complete success!! No tears or pushback and his assignment was done in record time.
  2. For my lovey dovey preschooler. Well, I still just can’t hold and snuggle him all day long. But because he is feeling rejected during certain hours of the day, I feel like I need to make up for it during the times when I can snuggle with him. So that is what I am doing. When he passes by, I give him a kiss or squeeze his hand. When I am not helping another kid and he is not otherwise engaged in something, I set him on my lap and just hold him and talk with him for a minute or two. When he does come to me and I really can’t sufficiently address his needs at the moment, I calmly let him know that I love him and I want to help him, but right now he will either have to wait 10 minutes or ask his siblings to help him out. He still whines and cries at this point – it’s only been one day people! I’ve got a whole 3 1/2 years of retraining to do here! – but I am hopeful that with the added affection and the repeated reminders of acceptable behavior he will feel more secure.  (Also I send him to his room when he has a complete freak out… after a hug.)
  3. For this problem, the first step is to know my limitations and my strengths. Also, I’m seriously going to buy the book “Teaching from Rest,” by Sarah Mackenzie and possibly something from Nicholeen Peck about the concept of teaching from calm. I’ve heard her speak more than once and she is incredible. Calm and Rest. Those two things are very much needed. In the meantime, as hokey as it sounds, I’m just going to take deep breathes and listen to the Spirit (or inner voice or whatever you like to call it) when it says, “Wait a minute. Check your blood pressure. Take some more deep breathes. Pay attention to how you are reacting to this task/situation and if you don’t actually want that result, choose a different path. You have the power!” (In the last post I was Wonder Woman, but in this post I am He-Man!) I will tell you what, this thought process in invaluable for me. Even though sometimes I still choose the path to nuclear freak out, I can recognize how I got there and how I could have avoided it. That is a great learning experience. And the nuclear freak outs happen less and less. (I promise I am not really a horribly out of control person but I do have my moments.)

There are some other minor changes we made with the execution of chores and what not that aren’t very much worth noting except for the fact that, with the kid’s help and input, we made some. There ya go.

So last week, although horrible in so many ways, is leading to many, many good things. I have learned a lot. It will take a while to fully implement all the changes and adjustments needed to help things run more smoothly. And it will take a while for all of us to get back into a rhythm that we feel comfortable with. And there will probably be other changes we need to make along the way. But all those changes will just make us a stronger family and stronger individuals. In our quest for learning and development, I guess you could say last week was really quite successful!

But the take home message is this: It is hard, sometimes really hard, but you can do this because you are smart and you can learn and grow and take control. When something is THIS important to you, you will do what it takes to make it happen, even if that requires humility and change. You have the power!!