A few years back I was at a homeschool conference. In one of the workshops I learned that the average length of time a mother homeschools before she burns out and sends her children back to public school is 3 years. (He then said that all those poor moms could have avoided burn out by just buying his all-in-one homeschool curriculum for a low monthly fee. Woot! Eye roll.)
Well, it may be true that the average is 3 years – however that means absolutely nothing. There are some moms who burn out within 1 year. Their kids are back in public school after Christmas. And there are some moms who don’t burn out for a long time – even getting one or more kids through the entire 13 years before it happens. Additionally, I just heard from a seasoned homeschooling mother who says she just constantly runs on a certain level of burn out.
I don’t know if burn out is something every homeschool mom will experience or not. But I know that burn out doesn’t mean you have to give up. It doesn’t mean you have failed. It doesn’t mean you have done something wrong or that you have messed up your kids’ lives. Many moms still running on full tanks are pretty worried about ruining their kids’ lives, too, so burn out may have less to do with that one.
But what I do know, is what burn out feels like.
And it’s pretty bad.
Burn out feels like emptiness. It feels like sorrow. It feels like hopelessness. It feels like exhaustion. It feels like apathy – but with this strange sense of overwhelming guilt at the same time.
I am slowly creepy through/out of my own burn out right now. At the worst of it, I just felt hollow. I felt like I was an empty shell. The outside was still there trying to keep things going – not because I was trying to con anyone or pretend to be something I wasn’t. In fact, I had absolutely no desire to see or be with anyone at all anyway. There was no keeping up appearances here. But it hurt and I wanted it to stop because I knew what I could do and what I was capable of. I knew I had it in me somewhere. Or at least had had it in me. It just wasn’t there anymore. Nothing was there anymore. No desire. No motivation. No energy. It was just gone, and I didn’t know how to get it back, no matter how much I really wanted to be and do what I had been doing so happily for years. I had the desire to have a desire, but that wasn’t good enough to actually get me up and going.
I came up with a few really cute and (dare I say it!) Pinterest worthy educational ideas for random stuff. But then I would shake my head, roll my eyes at myself, and be like, “Yeah right. That’s not gonna happen.”
The annual Back to School stress was looming, and then it hit. This year, I feel, it hit especially hard. But I anticipated hard and told myself and my children every day that this first week was to figure out where we needed to adapt and change. We were looking for the glitches. And the second week would be the time to fix them. Unsurprisingly, the second week came and we still had glitches, so we adapted some more. And then the third week came and I thought, doesn’t this all work out eventually? I mean, at some point, we are supposed to feel comfortable with this, right? Because I’m not going to last very long like this. Is it to early in the year to have spring fever?
So what did I do? How did I get it to (start to) go away?
At night, when I said my prayers, I would sigh a huge heavy sigh, slump my shoulders, and my head would just fall. I would say, “Heavenly Father, I know my life isn’t that hard. I’m not suffering persecution. I’m not starving or lacking clean water. I don’t live in pest ridden, filthy circumstances. I don’t have to worry about neighborhood violence, gangs, government corruption, (well, maybe…), I don’t worry about food to eat, clothes to wear, a clean, safe, warm place to sleep every night. I am completely comfortable and at peace in all of those regards. (Except maybe that government corruption thing.) Father, I know I have many, many blessings. But still, this is hard! It is hard for me right now. I don’t feel like I can do it. I don’t feel like I have it in me anymore. I don’t know what I am supposed to do. And if I did know, I don’t even know if I could muster up the motivation to do it.”
And He would answer, “It’s ok. I love you. Don’t worry. Just get up and try again tomorrow.”
And because He said “I love you” BEFORE he said “get up and try again,” I knew that it really was ok. Things really would get better eventually. And I really didn’t have to worry. I just had to try, even if my attempts seemed a little pathetic at times. So that is what I did.
I just kept getting up in the morning.
Somedays, I even cleaned my room! Bonus points, right there!
I’m actually serious. When I had the motivation to do something, I decluttered a spot in the house that was causing me mental anguish every time I looked at it. This must have been great for the kids! Our toy jail (a.k.a. that huge pile of uncared for toys on my bedroom floor) was dissolved and all the toys received their pardons and went back home to the play room. Well, all except the toys I chucked out in the trash. (Shhhhh. Don’t tell my kids!) Thirty minutes of my time, but a huge relief to my weary body. And if that was the only extra thing I got done that day, Hurray for me! I did something above the bare minimum for survival. That was a pretty good day.
I didn’t stop, but I slowed down to a crawl. A very slow crawl. Kind of like a crawl with a wobbly limp. But I didn’t quit. Instead, I let go of a lot of my expectations for myself. Just like with trees – when times get tough, trees don’t have growth spurts! They slow down. And you can see this clearly in the tree rings, the journals and diaries of the trees’ lives. And airplanes. When there is turbulence, they don’t speed up and try to get away as fast as they can. They slow down. (I am not smart enough to come up with that on my own. But THIS guy is!)
I stopped reading my “mom school” books. Sorry, St. Augustine, but I know we’ll meet again in awhile. Instead, I picked up a just-for-fun book called “The Read A-Loud Handbook,” that was interesting. (Who reads books about reading just for fun? Weirdo. ;)) And now *gasp* I’m not reading anything at all. I stopped trying to keep up with the laundry and cleaning. It will still get done, but it will just take longer and that is ok. I stopped going hiking. My relaxing, recreational, soul soothing activity wasn’t actually soothing my soul anymore. It was stressing me out. As the leader/founder of an almost 450 family strong homeschooling hiking group, I felt I had to deliver a couple hikes every week. July was killer. Beautiful! But killer. (I better get that post up here soon!)
(Yes, and I stopped blogging.)
I spent more time doing less. But less time worrying about it.
You often hear that when you’ve hit burnout, you’ve been running too hard, taking on too much, you just obviously bit off more than you could chew.
But what if that wasn’t actually true?
What if, instead of physical doing too much, you were just stressing and worrying about it too much? What if what you needed to change wasn’t necessarily your workload, but how you thought and how you felt about your workload? I think that very often we do take on too much and need to take a step back. It is entirely possible, and increasingly more frequent, that we just wear ourselves way too thin. But in this circumstance, I didn’t feel like I was doing too much. I had been doing this for a long time now. I wasn’t going to give up homeschooling. I wasn’t going to give up my kids’ choir, or their piano lessons, or soccer season (there are only 2 more weeks anyway), or Boy Scouts, or Activity Day Girls. I wasn’t willing to give those things up, because I knew I could handle it. I knew I was capable of doing a lot. I knew it was in me somewhere. But I just didn’t know where it was anymore. What I ended up giving up was my stress. I knew God could not lie. I knew He had said it would be ok. So I stopped worrying about it.
I think this is what a fellow homeschooler meant when asked about how to handle burn out. She said, “embrace it.”
I was like, “what!?”
But I think what she meant was to accept it as your new (temporary) reality. Know that you’ve hit a point where you need some space. You need some time to go slower. You need a little emotional/physical/spiritual recharge because your batteries are a bit (a lot) depleted. And just let it be. I would add to this, to always remember – it will not be like this forever. This is just a season of life. It is a wave to ride over and a darkness to go through. But it is not permanent and it is not the future. It is just right now.
Mentally and emotionally accepting burn out is one thing. Keeping hope that you are ok and things will get better is another. And of course, retraining your brain to stress less is still a third. There is of course more you can do. For myself, I additionally spent half of my birthday money I had been saving up for almost a year and got a massage. My stress was building up in my back muscles and apparently my back couldn’t handle it because it starting moving through all my limbs. That doesn’t feel good either, by the way. I probably still am as hard as a rock, but a massage therapist is a healer. After the massage – from a dear friend, I need to add – the flood gates opened and all that emotional build up just spilled right out. It felt so good to cry. (And my friend may think I am an emotional basket case, but I’m ok with that.) For me, a massage is physical and emotional medicine. I used to think only rich, fancy, spoiled people got massages – you know, lying on the beach at a resort. But I understand now that getting a massage is like going to the doctor – except it’s a lot better. It helps by releasing the pain and pressing the reset button. But even being as wonderful as massage it, it is not a cure. The cure is to change your lifestyle. And sometimes a change of lifestyle is just an adjustment to how you handle your stress.
As in, let it go. Move slower. Stop non essentials (but YOU decide what is essential and what is not.) Before you react, ask yourself, is this worth my limited energy? If you blow up at your child (freak out about being late/rush around to get dinner on the table/frantically run around trying to get EVERYTHING done/do anything at a pace faster than a banana slug) right now, is this going to wipe you out for the rest of the day? Is the offense/event/occasion/requirement even worth a mama temper tantrum or freak out? No, it’s probably not. You have better things to spend your depleted self on. Like breathing. And sitting. And reading books to your kids when they may or may not be actually listening. Things like letting them do all those crazy kitchen “science experiments” they’ve been asking to do while you go sip some tea in the other room and listen to them giggle. You know that one kid who insists on escaping to the backyard – naked – and turning on the forbidden backyard hose, slowly drowning every bug he can find, maybe making rivers and streams, because he just really “needs” to water the apple tree? Just let him do it. That’s why we have bathtubs and washers and dryers.
Don’t give up. Don’t stop. But let go and take a nap. Every day. For as long as you need to.
Because you actually do need a nap.
Homeschool Mom Burn Out. If you don’t want to embrace it. That is fine. But accept it for now. Keep hope for tomorrow. Get your best gimpy slug crawl going. It’s ok. He loves you, too. Don’t worry. Just get up and try again tomorrow. (And He won’t let you ruin your children. They are His children, too.)
Best wishes in this very hard time,
From The Honest Homeschool
(The meme is from Sublime Speech. She is a speech pathologist and educator and you can find her on Facebook.)