Burnout. The sound of the word itself reminds me of spent canons, smoking guns, or smoldering embers where once there was a passion and a fire. In the words of Sam Keen, “Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions. Your soul has departed; you’re a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker.” No wonder homeschool mothers dread it. Many a homeschool mom has succumbed to burnout and sadly mistaken it for a sign that she is incapable of teaching her children or that her kids would be better off in public school. That’s why it is so important for us to take a spiritual and physical inventory on a regular basis as the providers of our children’s education. You can’t give anything that you yourself don’t have. We must first take care of the mama so mama can nurture and bless her babies.
Are You Burned Out?
How do you know if you are nearing a period of burnout or if you are already in one? Do any of these symptoms describe how you feel:
- Inability to cope
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Lack of patience
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Lack of motivation
- Fatigue – mental or physical
- Zoning out
- “I don’t care” attitude
- Under or overeating
- No sense of priority
- Crying easily
- Inability to manage time well
- Wanting to hide or get away without your family
Those types of feelings are typical to all of us at one time or another, and having a little of some may be healthy from time to time – because life is not always easy. However, if you find yourself struggling with these on a weekly or daily basis and become increasingly aware that they are not going away, maybe it is time to seek out some godly counsel. Talking with someone who is not biased towards the situation may bring new light on the roots of your problem – so you can see clearly to untangle yourself. Maybe you have a loving parent who has your best interest in mind and is not afraid to tell you when you need a change. Maybe you have a long-time homeschooling friend who has been a mentor to you in the past. In a time when you are depressed and overwhelmed, two heads are definitely better than one clouded mind.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
I’m sure you have heard that the first step to healing is admitting there’s a problem. The same rings true with homeschool burnout. We are creatures of habit. We are also prone to continue in those habits even if they are unproductive and damaging – leading us further and further away from our goals. It is amazing how one can be frustrated by what they do, and yet continue to do it. This is the human way. Creatures of flesh often need to be reminded that their way is NOT the best way. Sometimes God allows our ‘brick walls’ to bring us back to reality – that He is the Way and He requires our willingness to be teachable, to change, and to seek Him above all else.
Recognizing the cause of your burnout is the first step in breaking free and setting yourself back on a path of success. The obvious causes of burnout are the same as the known causes of depression: pregnancy, birth of a new child, illness, moving, job changes or loss, marital strife, financial strain, or death of a loved one. These are life changes that you can not escape. And then there are other hidden causes that are as individual as we all are – you know your own situation best.
More often, however, what is bringing us woe are the habits we neglect to change and the negative attitudes we allow to settle in. Fears, unrealistic expectations (it isn’t realistic to expect success when we take on so many outside activities that our academics suffer), comparing ourselves to other homeschoolers, or not maintaining consistent discipline will all undermine your attempt to maintain order in the home. Prayerlessness can also be a cause of burnout. If we neglect to abide in the Giver of our strength, it is likely we won’t have any to stay the course. Homeschooling is not easy. But if you understand WHY you homeschool and have a firm resolve to finish the race, there is hope that you won’t be disappointed even when the road gets difficult.
First Step to Healing the Home-teacher’s Heart
Christian homeschoolers have a decided advantage when it comes to burnout. We have access to supernatural strength reserves. Even though burnout is inevitable, it will pass after it comes. Our job is to help it pass quickly and not allow it to settle in and stick around. Refuse to have a pity party or sulk by yourself. Refuse the temptation to take out your frustration on the ones you love the most (don’t justify your “angry mommy syndrome”). Instead, seek the Lord’s wisdom and refreshing – He gives generously to all who ask.
Proverbs 2:6 – For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Prayer is the homeschool mom’s best defense against the onslaught of burnout. Prayer is an act of dedication. It is admitting your need for God. The bible says that we can do nothing without Him. Why, then, do we think we can homeschool effectively if we don’t abide in Him daily? You can know what burnout is, have all the how-to books on the market about beating it, understand ways to overcome it, and still be living in a state of defeat if you aren’t abiding in the Lord. With God’s indispensable help, you CAN get your joy back. Joy is absolutely essential in learning. Try teaching a child in tears and you will know exactly how important a cheerful disposition truly is. Learning is a natural drive that sparks the heart to find purpose. Homeschooling in a rut is no way to inspire the children to learn.
God speaks through our prayers to bring about a changed in attitude that is desperately needed. Prayer is our means of supplication (asking for what we need) – in fact, James 4:2 says “You have not because you ask not.” Not only can He provide the power we need, but He can right our mindset. Praying shows that we admit we are powerless and He is able. It gets us back on God’s program when we need divine intervention in our programming; and thus begin the praises, the thankfulness… which in turn softens our hearts and brings us back to our senses. Often times when we feel the least like praying is when we need to be doing it the most!
Acts 3:19 – Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
S.O.S. (Scheduling, Organization, Support)
Take proactive measures to help prevent burnout. Schedule your time realistically. If you are not an early riser by nature, don’t set your school day to begin at 6:30 a.m. It might work for a few days, but it probably won’t last and then you’ll end up feeling like you’ve failed. Outside activities are great, but you’ll quickly burnout if you’re constantly running from one place to another. Schedule your outside time wisely. It’s called homeschooling for a reason.
Organizing your homeschool is a both a time-saver and a stress buster. If you live in a state that requires you to submit monthly attendance, layout your yearly calendar and then fill out and print your monthly reports at the beginning of the school year. File them in stamped and addressed envelopes so they’re ready to mail at the beginning of each month. Extra desk-work in the beginning of the school year can keep you smooth sailing when the busy autumn and winter months are beating down your door.
Lost books can be a huge source of frustration. Inexpensive plastic baskets can be used to hold each child’s books, and these can be lined up on a bookshelf. Simplify your school space. Remove distractions and put things you need in the right areas so you don’t have to go find them. Create a daily lunch schedule and keep the necessary items on hand. If they’re old enough, train your kids to prepare their own lunch. Often homeschool moms forget to employ the free labor of a willing teacher’s pet! Your children will learn valuable organizational and life skills if you allow them to have some responsibilities.
Create a spreadsheet with subjects and curriculum for each child. Break down your lesson plan into segments: by year, semester, quarter, and week. Delegate authority – give your children responsibility for chores and school assignments. Create a school planner, even if it’s a simple store-bought weekly/monthly calendar. If you are able, use a digital system to keep your school records and cut your paper trail. Search features in software will save you a ton of searching time if you grade your children’s papers. You can also enlist your kids in helping to create their own portfolios – having them sort through each week’s papers to purge and keep their best work.
Join a support group or co-op to connect with other homeschooling moms. You and your children can both benefit from the support and socialization. Just be sure you don’t sign up for every activity available or you’ll eventually become overwhelmed. It can’t be said enough: sometimes it’s best to “just say NO” to outside activities, even if they’re good ones.
Other ways to prevent or deal with burnout include:
- Find a “kids eat free” special at a local restaurant and give yourself a cooking-free night each week (or let your older kids cook a meal without your supervision one night a week).
- Plan a mom’s night out with other homeschooling moms to discuss burnout and how to deal with it. You are not alone!
- Take a trip by yourself to a book store, library, or favorite spot for quiet planning or “mama time.”
- Break the routine and go on a field trip.
- Join a co-op or find an outside class or tutor for subjects that you find difficult to teach.
Ask for your husband’s help and share your feelings with him – you need moral support! Having a prayer partner that is in your ring will keep the bruises of failure away. Sign him up for the Familyman Ministries newsletter by Todd Wilson (http://www.familymanweb.com), and buy him a copy of Todd’s book: Help! I’m Married to a Homeschooling Mom. For yourself, get a copy of Todd’s Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe, which addresses such fallacies as “everyone else’s kids are better than yours” and “every other mom loves homeschooling her kids.”
1 Corinthians 3:10 – By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.
Above all, show grace. Your kids are fallible and so are you; don’t demand perfection of either. Cover your family and your homeschool in prayer, and ask others to do the same. Burnout may not be avoidable, but understanding its symptoms, causes, and methods to prevent and deal with it can help you find peace while schooling at home. Of course it goes without saying; it didn’t get this way overnight, so give yourself some time to bounce back.
Credits: Photo at bottom – Anthony Thomas (wabberjocky) on Flickr