(I thought I would post some of the articles I have written for Home School Enrichment magazine. My column is entitled, “The Underwhelmed Homeschooler.” I will archive these posts on the blog but thought I may as well post them one by one in the hopes of encouraging perhaps someone.Here is the first column on the subject of becoming underwhelmed.)
The Underwhelmed Homeschooler
Defragging Your Hard Drive
What makes any mom feel overwhelmed? Time crunches, disorganization, mercilessly repetitive chores, children’s needs, confusion, doubt, and lack of focus all contribute to that awfully overwhelmed, agitated, short-tempered state we moms know all too well.
It’s time to reverse the trend. Welcome to the wonderful world of the underwhelmed! Step on into the warm sunshine; sit yourself down on the overstuffed patio chair, smell the sweet lavender leftovers from the summer garden, and just breathe. Help yourself to a cup of hot mocha java and make yourself comfortable.
This is our first column together. Going forward, we’ll be looking at various ways to embrace and enjoy our homeschooling freedom, looking at strategies that take the pressure off so that we can experience more and more of those delicious moments of feeling underwhelmed. If you have never had moments where you’ve said to yourself, “Wow, this homeschooling stuff is easy!” and you have been homeschooling for more than six months, there is a better way. Let’s start at the beginning.
If we surveyed homeschooling moms across the country and asked what their #1 peace-stealer is, the answer most likely would be busyness: too much to do, too many places to be, and too much time spent in the family vehicle going somewhere, doing something outside of the home.
I have a sneaking suspicion that you are busy. Busy isn’t a bad thing by any means. However, if the pace of your life seems to strangle the life right out of you, first aid may be required. Some homeschooling moms find it difficult to even fit homeschooling into their schedule. You may not be at that end of the spectrum, but I encourage you to take a look at why you are busy if you consider yourself to be “crazy-busy.”
I highly recommend the three-step approach to defragmenting your life: stop, look, and listen. Stop the craziness long enough to look at what you have going on, while listening to your heart. Go ahead and stop reading right here; grab a scrap of paper and a writing utensil. Write down each day of the week and the corresponding activities that require you to leave your nest that day.
Okay. Take a look at your list and circle all of the items that are absolutely necessary, those things that must be done for survival’s sake. Did you circle anything besides grocery shopping? Come on now. Be honest; the only thing you really have to do is eat, right? (And clean, and do laundry.) Everything else is bonus busyness. I am assuming here that your spouse does the working so that you can do the shopping. Hey, if your spouse did the shopping as well, you wouldn’t have to go out at all! Remember, we are just talking in terms of essential trips outside of your house for the purpose of sustaining life. If you are talking about sneaking out the door solo because you think this is essential to sustaining life, I agree with you, but we’ll get to that necessity shortly. [Wink]
Getting back to your list, what’s left? Piano lessons, soccer practice, swim meets, library visits, church activities, etcetera? Who says you are going to do piano or soccer or fill-in-the-blank? You and your husband do. Who can say you aren’t doing an activity? Yep, you and your spouse. You are the parents; you don’t have to do anything that you think is detrimental to your family life, your sanity, or your family’s sanity. In fact, it is our responsibility as parents to set a pace for our children that emphasizes our priorities.
When our older children were young, I really didn’t go out of the house very often. It was much more peaceful that way. We would hang at the park from time to time or visit with friends, but I limited outings because basically I was tired with a capital “T.” I occasionally went out on my own or with my husband for little sanity breaks. I was a much happier mom when I was just able to be home and do mom stuff with my family.
Your level of activity tolerance is unique to you and probably fluctuates in accordance with your season of life. Hopefully you feel energized by your outside-the-home activities. As long as you are able to peacefully homeschool at the same time, then great! If you find that you are squeezing in lessons around activities, then you may be setting yourself up for a conflict in your children’s priorities when they are older.
Activities can be wonderful opportunities for enrichment, but if you are feeling overwhelmed by them, it is time to listen to your heart and reevaluate. I urge you, for sanity’s sake, to only add in those things that you enjoy doing, that don’t weigh you down as the mom, and that you – most importantly – know the Lord wants you to be doing. If you are doing something merely from a sense of duty, you may need to examine it more closely. Don’t be “guilted” into anything. Lots of times others assume that homeschool moms have an awful lot of free time on their hands. You may need to enlighten them.
If you wake up in the morning, dreading the day because it is all chopped up with having to go here and there, you are not alone. Many moms feel this way regularly. The good news is that changes can be made! What can you do now since you are already committed to things? Plan now to make a change. Finishing what we start is a great rule to live by, but there are always exceptions. Evaluate with your family and choose your best exit strategy.
When our three boys were middle school aged, we did soccer. It was fun…for a while. After about three years of it, we called it quits. I needed a break. My heart screamed, “I can’t do this anymore!” We discussed the situation as a family, and we decided in tandem to cut out formal soccer. Did I feel guilty for taking away the pleasure of the game for my kids? At the time, yes I did. Looking back, no, I do not. I can see how the Lord used our time away from the field for good. My older children became referees and were still involved in pick-up games. Life did not end because we halted the regimented soccer lifestyle. The Lord used my overwhelmed feeling to guide the rest of my family to what He wanted us to be doing with our time rather than spend it in that activity at that particular time in that particular way.
We have had a soccer break for about two years, and this fall we plan to do soccer with our three youngest girls. This time around I will have a son to drive the young athletes to and from practices, making it a manageable situation for mom. Sometimes we need to be reminded that there is a season for everything. Do not be afraid to gently or not so gently express to your spouse that a certain activity is stealing you peace or your joy. Perhaps he is feeling the same way about it. It bears discussion no matter what.
Sometimes cutting out activities can be a learning experience for kids. There was a time not too long ago when I called a moratorium on going to the library because we were paying hard-earned cash for the privilege of visiting there. It is great to support the local library, but this was getting ridiculous. If we couldn’t manage to get our books back on time, then we needed to take a break from going until we got our act together. I am happy to report that we are back in sync and have not had any fines to pay since adding library visits back into our schedule.
“If mom ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” goes the old-time saying. It is a fact that we influence the tone of the day for our family. If you are cheerful, chances are good that those around you will be as well. “A cheerful heart does good like medicine” goes the Proverb. An underwhelmed mom is a mom with a balanced, comfortable activity schedule. Bathe each of your outside-the-home activity selections in prayer. Be absolutely certain that you and your family need to be engaged in that thing which will require your time and attention, your energy and sanity. Your children need a mom who is peaceful more than they need any activity out there.
One more visual for you. Every orchard owner knows that in order to produce more fruit on a fruit tree, the tree has to be pruned, trimmed back. Branches that don’t produce fruit are removed completely. Pruning is necessary in order for the tree to bear more fruit which is why it exists in the first place. Cutting off unfruitful areas of our lives is a productive action that yields additional fruit. Remember, you are a branch on the Vine, and good fruit production for the Kingdom is essential.
Activities, when managed properly, can be beneficial, adding flavor and dimension to our families’ lives. However, activities have a tendency to wear us out if not carefully balanced with the rest of our lives. The underwhelmed mom controls her schedule and not vice versa. Next time we meet, we’ll look at how an underwhelmed mom avoids “the Routine Rut.” Thanks for coming by, and don’t worry about your coffee cup. I’ll get it for you.