Home School Burnout Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

by Elizabeth

hsb part 1c

I wanted to quit homeschooling this year. I had two separate crises in fact. I got to a place where I didn’t know what was wrong; I only knew something wasn’t working. I felt overwhelmed all the time. I couldn’t figure out how to fit the responsibilities of motherhood, homeschooling, and writing into my life. I kept thinking that one of those three things had to go. It obviously couldn’t be motherhood (duh!), so which of the other two was it going to be?

I got to the end of most school days and didn’t want any more kid-interaction. I just wanted to quit and go hide somewhere. I wasn’t playing games with my kids anymore, I wasn’t reading aloud to them, I wasn’t enjoying them. I felt guilty about my lack of interaction. I complained to my husband that homeschooling was stealing my motherhood. This wasn’t what all the home school speakers and writers promised would happen if I chose to home school. Everything was supposed to be peaches and cream! Rainbows and butterflies! Pony rides in May sunshine!

A friend (and fellow home school mom) said I sounded like I was in burnout. My husband kept asking me if I wanted to put the kids in school. I kept hesitating. We were finally able to sit down to talk about homeschooling in January. I’m the kind of person who feels overwhelmed and doesn’t even know where to begin problem-solving. I need someone to talk it out with me and guide me through it.

So we talked. We talked about what homeschooling gives our family. Things like:

  1. We can take our vacations and home assignments whenever, and sick days are easy to make up.
  2. We have long leisurely family breakfasts where we sit and talk together.
  3. We don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to have said family breakfast.
  4. As long as the environment is quiet and peaceful, I do actually enjoy teaching, especially subjects like math and science.

We also talked about what made homeschooling so stressful for me. I had to think for a while to come up with answers that didn’t include the word “everything”:

  1. I was extremely far behind on read-alouds, and it was majorly stressing me out. Our Sonlight curriculum chooses historical fiction novels that correspond to our history lessons, and Mom is supposed to read them aloud during the school day. I was really uptight about these read-alouds. I feared my children would not receive a thorough education if they did not hear me read all this historical fiction to them. But I couldn’t find consistent time to read the books. The daily readings were rather long. That meant I would get really behind if I missed even one day, and by that time I had missed a lot of days. I felt perpetually behind and would not allow myself to read something for fun if I hadn’t finished the “assigned” book. This meant we never read anything for fun. The Sonlight read alouds are supposed to be fun, but to me they still felt like school, and I wasn’t having any fun. On top of that, I missed reading to my kids. When they were younger and had less schoolwork to do, I was able to read to them for hours each day. All the Sonlight books, plus extras from the library. With the loss of read-alouds, I felt like my bonding time with my kids had been snatched away.
  2. I worried over what I would do if I ever had trouble teaching a particular subject to a particular child.
  3. There was also the fact that four children in one house can get rather loud rather quickly. Chaos due to age gaps is what home school moms have to deal with if they happen to have more than one child. How to keep your young ones quietly entertained while older ones work? That is the age-old question for home school moms, and its answer had been eluding me.
  4. Additionally, I had been freaking out for years about how to teach four different levels at the same time. Even when I was only teaching 2 levels, I worried about adding the 3rd and 4th. I dragged this fear around with me each year. I carried it through each day I didn’t quite finish everything I intended to finish. I was so afraid of what the future would hold. (Worry is a common theme with me, have you noticed?)

At this point my husband noted something important: Sending the kids to school wouldn’t cure all my parenting woes. School wasn’t some magic elixir. I might not have the burden of teaching them, true, but I’d have to get up early each morning to get them ready to leave. I’d have to pack lunches each day and check homework and organize transportation to and from school. We wouldn’t have our peaceful, unrushed mornings, and I knew I would miss that family time. Sending my kids to school, just like schooling them at home, was going to have both pros and cons.

So we talked about targeted solutions for specific problems. Most of these solutions came in the form of permission. Permission not to read the assigned historical fiction. Permission to read what I want to read to them. Permission to get tutors or outside help if I ever felt the need.

Permission. Was it really that simple?? All I know is that releasing some of those expectations lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. Astonishing how such a simple statement (“I don’t have to read the Sonlight read-alouds”) could so unburden me. Oh I knew in theory that you can’t do every Sonlight assignment. The company says that. Experienced Sonlight moms say that. But I had never internalized it. I had never applied it to my own classroom. Now I had the chance.

Next on the to-do list was searching for a good time to actually read together. As I mentioned, even though I wanted to read, I was having difficulty finding the space in our days. When I stopped pressuring myself to read Sonlight’s books, when the read-aloud timeline was lifted, I found I could squeeze reading into our day.

I started reading aloud during lunchtime. Now, I eat quickly and read while everyone else eats. When we finish eating, I clean up, and we move to the living room where we keep reading. With this approach I’m able to read about 45 minutes each day, and we all love reading together again.

I didn’t find a solution for my fears about teaching four levels at once. I just sort of put the worry off until tomorrow. But hey, that’s Biblical, right? “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Relinquishing the expectation to read every single Sonlight read aloud was enough for now. I could deal with the other stuff later.

Part 2: “Mom Fail”

Part 3: The Mean Mommy

Part 4: Resources for the New & the Weary

9 thoughts on “Home School Burnout Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

  1. i have homeschooled 4 levels at once (K,2,4,&6). It’s tough. One thing someone told me was to start the day with devos (because really that’s the most important and if for some reason ONLY that gets done, you’re still ahead of the game). The second thing was to start the older kids on whatever independent work they could handle. Then, starting with the youngest, teach what you need to until they can finish on their own. I also used my older kids to help teach the younger ones. Not only did this free me up it solidified the students’ learning and we discovered one of them has a gift for teaching and now is looking at pursuing a degree in education. Sonlight is A LOT of reading. That’s what we used in Uganda. It’s got some great books, but we definitely didn’t read them all. With 4 grade levels, I picked 1 read aloud that I wanted to read & read that to all 4; no need to do all 4 levels of read aloud. The main point of reading aloud is for the children to hear something they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) read themselves & to model enjoyment of reading. I’m a certified math teacher & homeschooled my 4 kids off and on from K-7, but we’ll be doing 6,8,10&12 this year in India. Feel free to email me directly if you want to chat more about home schooling. 🙂

    • I smiled as I read this, Shanthi, because these are the exact same things we had just figured out at the beginning of this school year (minus the older teaching the younger)! We started doing morning and evening devotions as a family because I couldn’t fit Bible into the day (which also allows my husband to be a part of it, and to lead it). I went back to younger-age read alouds, too, to simplify. And I was finally able to implement the “teach the youngest first” strategy that people have told me about for years but was difficult to do until the older kids had enough independent work they could do while I taught the younger ones. The strange thing is, I spend the same amount of time teaching now that I did 2-3 years ago, even with the added kids. I think this is because of all the independent work that begins to pile up as they grow older — it frees me up to teach the younger ones. So all those years I was worried about this, yeah, that was silly! Except it didn’t feel silly at the time, it felt really serious.

      And by the way, your name seems really familiar. 🙂 Have we talked before on this blog or somewhere else? ~Elizabeth

  2. I never really wanted to homeschool, but knew we would probably end up somewhere that it would be necessary. My kids started in public school in the US/ Canada. That had its ups and downs, but helped me to see that no system is perfect. I had been too much of a perfectionist as a student, and had fear of teaching my kids- that I would mess up. Seeing the imperfections in public school gave me permission to let go of the striving to be perfect. (Although it’s still a process from time to time.)
    We mostly use Sonlight, and I had to learn to let things go. I’m the type to want to check all the boxes and get through every single thing on a schedule. The crazy, unpredictable way we sometimes live has gone a long way to getting rid of that inclination! We’ve skipped certain books and activities. Sometimes, just making it through the day/week/month with sanity intact is enough of a victory. I’ve learned to focus more on the big picture than details.
    One thing that I have learned for read-alouds is to buy the audiobook anytime it’s available. That saves me from hearing my voice all day long, and gives me a bit of a break. We read all the time- individually & things together, so I’m not ever worried that they aren’t getting enough reading throughout the school year.
    I don’t read during lunch time. We take an hour for lunch, and I really need that break most days. Sometimes it’s to get some non-school things done, sometimes just for my own patience level/sanity! But we have done some reading in the evenings or on weekends. A few books, I had my husband read to the kids on evenings & weekends. It was a nice bonding time for them, and a chance for him to be a little involved in the education process.

    • Yes, that perfectionism thing is SO hard to break! It’s gotten a little easier over the years, that when something doesn’t get done, I think, “I can start again tomorrow.” Because you’re right, not even the schools (public or private) are getting everything done perfectly! But yeah, I think perfectionism is the enemy of peace. And I need my “me time” too, it just doesn’t happen during lunch 🙂

      I’m curious, though, how you purchase audio books overseas?

  3. What a great article (I am late to the game though)! We just “gave up” on Sonlight this year, not because we didn’t enjoy the books or curriculum, but my kids were too far ahead in the Cores and read the read-clouds before I could get to them (they have eidetic memories; great for many things but makes homecoming a unique challenge). I hope your solutions bring you peace. I am realizing that my children’s education will not be what I would accomplish if we stayed in the States (we move in a month to Africa!!!!), but the Lord knows that and calls me to faithfulness and not perfection.

    • Wow that IS a unique challenge! Although just this week I tried to teach a science lesson from a book they often pick up to read on their own, and they knew all about it already, and were teaching ME! So I have just one of those experiences, whereas you have many 🙂 Yes after 5 weeks of homeschool this year, things are working MUCH better than before. I also know how to take care of myself and my family better than before, which helps a lot.

      Prayers for you, too, as you make this big transition to Africa! “My children’s education will not be what I would accomplish if we stayed in the States.” This is so very true. Not better, not worse, just very very different, and that’s sometimes hard to wrap our minds around as we like to order and compare and sequence things. What a Western mindset — ack! As you say, faithfulness is what He asks of us, not perfection — thanks for the reminder. 🙂

      Many blessings and thanks for stopping by today 🙂 ~Elizabeth

  4. Just read thru your four homeschool posts. What timely words for me. I have two full years Sonlight Cores sitting in my living room and school starts Monday. Four kids, ages 7,9,11,13 – two cores. We move to another country (Kenya) in November and we will be putting our kids in local school there (the school year begins in January.) I bought the curriculum and then plans changed. Oh no! We can’t *waste* all these lovely books by not reading them, can we???!!!! (gasp!) :-). Also a box-checking perfectionist here.

    We will be picking and choosing our read alouds and readers and the rest goes on a shelf – if they are interested, they can read them on their own. It’s kind of freeing to know there is no way we could finish everything so we can just pick the ones we think are best. Why has it taken me so long to figure this out?

    I know there are things I will miss about homeschool and am trying to enjoy them while I have the kids at home all day. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Oh yes — a box checking perfectionist! I was just talking to someone how I am a box-checker and NOT an out of the box thinker. Gulp! Too bad, because out of the box thinking comes in so handy. 😉

      “Why has it taken me so long to figure this out?” SO RELATE! I look back at lots of solutions and think that! But at the time, it really IS that hard to figure it out, LOL!

      So glad this was encouraging to you and that you’re enjoying your last semester with them at home 🙂 And remember, when you’re overseas, having extra books at home is never bad — an at-home library for fun and for school assignments!

      Blessings on your upcoming move — moves, packing, and transition are always stressful. May you have peace in the chaos. ~Elizabeth

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