Thursday, November 6, 2014

7 Ways to Prevent Homeschool, Stay At Home, Natural Mom Burnout

I'm still on the young side, and only have 4 children as a mother. But, I've been MY mom's helper since a child, raising 10 children to adulthood, going through countless experiences in the natural, SAHM, homeschooling worlds. I've grappled with things from ECing while teaching older students to changing math curriculums to help a struggling student, to juggling multiple dietary needs in one large family.

Basically, having been homeschooled in a large family and now raising my own children in a similar community, I've seen more than my fair share of parenting burnouts and wrong turns that lead to moms breaking down and families experiencing chaos. I've watched train wrecks occur in families while growing up, and I see some happening now as an outcome to those childhood experiences, too. And I've made my fair share of oopsies (sorry, little siblings!)

I look around sometimes and see a lot of people in the early stages of burnout. What can you do to prevent it?

1) Stop trying to fit you and your family into a perfect picture on a harsh deadline. It doesn't exist. Start loving you where you are right now. Start loving your children for who they are right now. Stop comparing yourself to other moms. Stop comparing your children to other children. Stop looking at other homeschool set ups merely for the goal of feeling emotionally negative. If you don't feel inspired and positive when looking at others, then it means you're in a damaging loop.

And if you're focusing on constantly comparing yourself to others, chances are you've said some things in front of or to your children which can be very harmful. Such as, "Look at the Smith Family! THEY all entered the science fair!" or "I wish you guys were like the Johnson family. Those kids are always studying." Stop. Just don't do it. It benefits no one and harms everyone.

Photo credit: Chrys Kirby

2) Change your goals from unattainable to realistic. For example, instead of saying you will have the family on hardcore GAPS for a year, try slowly moving each food group to a higher quality over a year, or testing the GAPS intro for 2 weeks.

Instead of wanting all the the kids lined up in homemade school uniforms at your kitchen table, happily studying 3 grades ahead, focus on providing enough time to transition from traditional school to homeschooling. Focus on each child and the individual needs. Focus on one lesson at a time if needed.

Feeling as if you are constantly failing can be a red flag that you need to change your goals. Taking on too much, too quickly, won't make you feel more accomplished. It'll make you feel more incompetent. Make small goals. Map out a large, end goal for inspiration, but ensure you have several small and realistic goals to get there.

3) Stop trying to do it all. Your value as a human being and your parenting are not measured by how much busywork you pound out in a day. Effective parenting and homeschooling is efficient and prioritized. It's not how long your to-do list is, but rather how you organize it and complete it. Start to question where your time is invested.

Several hours trashing the kitchen, yelling at the unsupervised kids in the other room while you cook for a party? Time to let go of your insecurity or pride and buy premade or request a potluck.

Are you spending hours each week organizing schedules, working out assignments, putting together a curriculum? Have you reviewed your state law recently to find out exactly what is required? Have you reviewed your homeschool family plan to see exactly what your goals are and what's required to meet them? Spending hours stressing out on paper pushing means hours not spent on your family.

And for what end? If you counted all the hours spent on making cute invites instead of emailing or pre-mades for a birthday, on all your home ec projects, on sewing instead of buying, on trying to make something instead of looking for something secondhand that will work, would you really feel your time spent in this way is truly beneficial to your family? Do your children really view it as beneficial, or do they feel second to the household projects and homeschool paperwork?

Photo credit: Kirsten Sargent
4) Speaking of focusing, focus. Focus on the task at hand. No more, no less. Don't accept new projects until your current projects are completed. If you find yourself constantly rotating through endless fermented recipes, the latest natural diet fad, the new canning idea you saw on Pinterest, ten different knitting jobs, five potential curriculums, a book report idea you heard from a mom at school, and you feel that familiar sense of whooshing along in the current of chaos, it means you need to stop and go back to steps 1, 2 and 3.

Remember your self worth. Remember that your children are lovable as they are at this moment. Less is more. Less ensures quality, not half completed quantity.

5. Address the anxiety. If you realize you're constantly in a loop of taking on too much, scattering it around in a mess, and then fighting with the kids, it's time to look for the root issue and address it immediately. Is it buried grief over the loss of a loved one? Is it something from childhood? A chain of mother-daughter narcissism or a mother-wound? A chronic physical situation such as thyroid issues or gut health issues?

Stop trying to climb out of a muddy hole with your bare hands. Reach out. Ask for help. Build a firm foundation. 

If you experience symptoms of anxiety or depression, stop pinning the plates faster and faster. You cannot distract these issues away. Life must be slowed down for self-care and restarting on firmer footing. Stop looking at your newsfeed if you constantly feel inferior or anxious. Stop browsing pinterest if it makes you get off the computer angry, ready to bark at the kids. Stop signing up for events and activities if you or the children end up with meltdowns, or even physical illnesses.

6. Enlist your partner. I'm not talking about a vague, inclusive idea here. I put this one on the list for a common and specific problem: married, stay at home, homeschoooling mothers who are slowly killing themselves and harming their children while the husband is at work all day and then comes home and sits in front of the TV.

He works too hard already? He can still help. He doesn't do it the way you like? He can still help. He complains? He can still help. The kids complain? HE can STILL HELP! (You're afraid to ask? Get marital assistance and domestic abuse help ASAP.)

Parenting, running the home, implementing natural practices, and homeschooling all your children on your own is not a recipe for admiration and success. It's a recipe for complete disaster, burnout, emotionally neglected children, and a trashed mom.

Stay at home moms tell me here, "But, I have a single friend who works and homeschools!" Yes, and she has help, such as someone to watch her child for 8 hours a day. Does your husband watch his children for 8 hours a day? (And if she doesn't have help, she can easily burn out, too, and that is a common concern for single parents.) At any rate, go back to step 1. Stop comparing yourself to others.

7. Evaluate. Just as children have minor regressions or go through stages, our homeschooling and parenting can have dips and go through stages. But, if that stage is lasting too long, impairing the health of family members, or otherwise interfering with your family life, it's time to take a second look. Don't tell yourself to just try harder when you might be beating yourself senseless against a brick wall.

Remember, the goal is to prioritize, to be effective and prudent. Throwing yourself into something for years because you are scared to admit a mistake, a perceived failure, or address financial or other costs wasted, etc, only means that many more years of damage to your family.

Please, stop the exhausting work of being a super mom. Stop the endless job of trying to make yourself feel as if you are enough. Good enough. Smart enough. Mom enough. Parent enough. Cool enough. Accomplished enough.

Stop letting this black hole of inferiority bleed its way into your children's hearts. Don't raise them worried that they aren't enough, that they can't be enough for you or others. Don't let a suspicion linger that somehow what's important is how we look in the eyes of others.

The busywork will always, always be there. The house will always need just a little more cleaning. The second you finish every scrap of laundry, someone will poop in a cloth diaper.

You can bury your nose in school schedules, but in 16 or 18 or however many years, when you're done making schedules, what will stand before you? What will be the sum worth of those papers?

Where are all your hours going during the day? Every strand of your life is woven deliberately, and it flows from you. Sometimes we feel helpless, as if we are blindly stumbling through the chaos, trying to pick up a cup here or put on a sock there. And yet, if we really could pause time and stand outside of it, looking at the entire tapestry for one moment, would we not quickly pick out the strands running towards some end? Would we not instantly see the pattern we're knitting daily, knot by knot, as precisely as the instructions we follow when making a pair of booties for a baby?

Every day is a fresh start. Every day is a new chance to put a knot in the link with our children. Each new morning is our chance to undo the knots chained down with anger, fear, anxiety, and inferiority. Each day that closes is a day we can close by putting one foot in front of the other, pointed towards our family and not away from them.

When you feel as if you aren't enough, when you feel as if you must do something more, rush instead to your children. Hold them, hug them. Play with them. Smile, laugh, and sit in the middle of the chaos. And be enough simply as you are in that moment. That's what your children need from you.

After all is said and done, the kids will learn. They'll potty train, believe it or not. They'll figure out how to read. They'll balance a checkbook. They'll even go out in clean clothes and matching shoes someday. All of that will happen, and it won't happen any sooner or better just because you pour your entire self and soul into those things. Instead, you'll miss the fleeting opportunity to connect with your children and build up your family.

There's a common warning about midlife divorces, that couples spend their lives overly absorbed in raising children and working, choosing to neglect their marriages. They choose to weave a tapestry, knots leading away from their relationship. You've heard the quip: "When your children leave the nest, your marriage still remains. Is there going to be anything left?"

Similarly, when school is over, the family still remains. If you spend your best talents, your brightest peaks of energy, your emotional investment and more by focusing on busywork, when your children graduate, will their family still be there? Their mom?


  1. Can I ask why you write number 6 as if it is the mothers lack of asking for help that causes the problem? It stuck a chord with me because as a homeschooling natural stay at home mum I am completely burnt out due to lack of help from my husband but asking doesnt get me anywhere.

    1. I'm sorry that I focused on one concept. In another discussion, I believe I got so feisty as to say, "The husbands should be nailed to a tree [for their neglect]."

      In many cases, it could definitely be that the partner is not helping out. Or even that the partner is contributing to an issue and making things more difficult.

      This article was more about the situation where some moms end up trying to take on the whole world by themselves. And often when pressed, they do not feel interested in the assistance of their partner as it's not good enough, not what they like, not worth the effort, etc.

      None of this is meant to pass judgment, but rather asses a typical situation.