Whenever you are out and about with a gaggle of homeschooled kids, someone is bound to ask if they are sick or on holiday. And whenever the children answer “No we are homeschooled!” someone is bound to reply one of two things:
Oh, I could never do that, I don’t have the patience!
Oh, I could never do that, my kids wouldn’t listen to me!
Ask my kids, they’ll tell you I don’t have the patience either. Really, who in their right mind would choose to lock themselves-up in a house all day with a bunch of school-aged kids? Honestly, I don’t know. But if you think that homeschooling moms have a special gift (or illness) that gives them supernatural powers of patience and understanding, you are sorely mistaken. I have yet to meet a homeschooling mom who never had a day (week, month) where she thought of calling the school’s registration desk right ‘freakin’ now. Or just put her kids at the bus stop and hope that the driver wouldn’t notice and take them away.
Three people have asked me (separately) how to stay sane while homeschooling. According to some of my closest family members, my sanity is (A) questionable, and (B) in danger. But if you come closer, I will tell you that the question of staying sane while spending my every waking hour with my own children kept me from homeschooling for the last 8 years. Yes, you read that right. My husband and I started talking about homeschooling 12 years ago and we kept our now-18-year-old daughter at home for grade 1. Within 6 months, I was struggling so badly we decided to stop homeschooling. That’s not quite the whole story but it is all you need to understand that I GET IT. I know what you mean. This failure has been weighing heavily on me ever since, not the least because I believe so fervently that homeschooling can bring the best out of children. Before we re-launched this year, I had to spend some time in deep thoughts (and prayer) on why we had failed the first time and what we would do differently this time.
First, this blog post will not be a grocery list of concrete things to do. I think that emotional balance is mostly in your head, meaning that if your head and heart are not healthy, no amount of shopping sprees, traveling and weekends away will restore it. I also think that concrete things – like hiring a cleaning lady or going to the gym – are very circumstantial. In other words, it might not work for everyone in their current circumstances. Whenever someone suggests that I do x,y,z “while the babies nap” it reminds me that my babies no longer nap and it makes me feel even more discouraged and overwhelmed. I want to encourage you! As a result, I will stay away from suggestions that hinge on having more time or more money (usually both) because if my life is any indication, they are both in short supply.
Before we dig-in, I would like to specify that the sentiments and dispositions of the mind expressed in that blog post are my own. I am not saying that you should feel the same way. I strongly believe that happiness has to come from within and that’s why my approach to homeschooling sanity is to work on my own heart and soul as opposed to trying to control my circumstances. In today’s world, we are more likely to blame others and the limitations they impose on our choices than turn our gaze inward. If you are looking for a “Top 10 tips that will save your sanity for sure,” you may have knocked on the wrong door.
1. Accept the pace. Homeschooling is hard. The first step in remaining sane is to accept that what you are doing is hard work. It’s physically and emotionally demanding. It’s a counter-cultural decision for which you will face opposition and criticism. Sometimes from your own children. You will feel pressure to perform and turn out prodigies. Your children’s character flaws and temperaments will be in your face, hour after hour, day after day. Homeschooling is hard but it is worth it. Find examples in your life of situations that were difficult but ultimately worth it… Having children, getting married, maybe conceiving or adopting your children was an uphill battle filled with heartache. Accept that homeschooling is the path less traveled and there is a reason for that. As my husband often says about having 9 children – but it applies to homeschooling: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
2. Mind your head. If you are struggling with mental illness, even if it is a mild case of depression or anxiety, you will need to deal with it first. When we tried to homeschool for the first time 12 years ago, I was struggling with undiagnosed post-partum depression. Homeschooling chewed me up and spat me out. It takes solid footings to lock yourself up in a house with a bunch of young children day after day.
3. Remember why you are doing this. There are as many reasons to homeschool as there are homeschooling families. Homeschooling is a deliberate decision but it’s easy to forget when the children are swinging from the chandeliers and the school bus drives by your house. Whether you knew you would homeschool since your child’s birth or fell into homeschooling accidentally when the system failed your child, you are homeschooling for a reason. Write it down, stick it to your fridge or set regular reminders on your smartphone, but remember why you are doing this or your child will be back in school within 6 weeks.
4. Mind your marriage. Unless you are parenting solo, you will need the support of your spouse to homeschool. It goes beyond the decision to homeschool. You will need support and encouragement and your spouse is equally invested in the success of the endeavour. A dysfunctional or unloving marriage will completely crumble under the pressures of homeschooling. As your house becomes your base of operation, you will need love and harmony in the home like never before. Your marriage relationship sets the tone for all the other relationships in your home. If you face a lot of opposition outside the home from your friends and family, you will need the support and encouragement of your spouse all the more. My husband is my unquestioning cheerleader. Good day, bad day, I’m always doing great. Poor curriculum purchase? It’s ok, we’ll sell it on Kijiji. When I think I’m failing the children, he reminds me that a slow day is not a fail. He keeps me grounded and centered and I could not homeschool without him. If your marriage is strained or failing, deal with that first. Your children will benefit more from an intact and happy marriage than from homeschooling. This is the truth.
5. Put your oxygen mask on first. Don’t wait until you are struggling. When my daughter underwent surgery at 4 months and again at 4 years, her medical caregivers explained to me that if I dealt with the pain before it became unbearable, I was likely able to control it with Tylenol. This meant giving her pain medicine before she was in pain. If I waited too long to medicate her and the pain became acute, she would need much stronger medicine to be comfortable. In the context of homeschooling and being stuck at home with a bunch of young children, it means that small self-care practices can go a long way if you start them before you need to. Prayer, meditation, physical exercise and a coffee date with yourself will help if done regularly. Don’t wait until you need therapy and a month away at a resort.
6. Find your support system. Finding supportive friends in the homeschooling community is key to maintaining your perspective. You will need people who can listen to your good days but especially your bad days without judgement. Your circle of support will help you remember why you are homeschooling and help you get back up when you stumble. You may not live in a vibrant homeschooling community as I do and you may have to turn to social media and the Internet for support. That’s ok as long as your circle of support builds you up. The Internet can be a nasty space. Don’t waste time in online communities that leave you discouraged and defeated.
7. Work on character before curriculum. If you can’t get any compliance from your children, if you must yell to get your kids moving 10 times out of 10, if your relationship with your teenagers is strained on a good day and downright hostile the rest of the time, you need to deal with that first. It doesn’t mean that homeschooling is not for you. In fact, homeschooling might be the best decision you made in years. But you won’t make any headway in math and grammar until you have a better relationship with your children. Trying to teach curriculum to children who do not respect you will sap your will to live, I can promise you that. Deal with character issues first, even if it means that you don’t get to curriculum for a few months. You will make-up for lost time once you have a solid working and loving relationship with your children.
8. Don’t fight the change. Homeschooling is a lifestyle as well as an education decision. Whereas the choice between public and private school is an education decision, the decision to homeschool will affect your entire life. It will completely turn your daily routines and expectations on their heads. If you try to live as if you had simply made an education decision, you will burn out in no time flat. Your children are now with you all day. Your house will get messier, your spare times will get fewer and your school-based pressure valves – like art, outdoor play and physical activity – will disappear. You will learn to be happy where you are and with what you have but you will need to give yourself the chance to learn. I used to be the mom waltzing down the Staples aisle in September singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”. Homeschooling is a journey of learning for the parents too! Approach the growing pains with acceptance and let the challenges grow on you. Fighting change will not work.
You can follow our journey in pictures on Instagram where I post as @happy_chaos_