Let me tell you about Kassiah Jones {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today, sharing a spiritual lesson she learned this month.

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This month my husband and I took our kids to the local home school co-op’s spring performance. Some of our friends were in the play. It was called “The Race” and was an original play based loosely on the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

Every character in this play was modeled after an animal. There was a bear and a sparrow and a fennec fox (among others), but the character that most captured my attention was the character modeled after the ant. Her name was Kassiah Jones, and she never knew when to quit.

When it was time for the village inhabitants to prepare for the annual race, Kassiah trained harder than all the rest. She worked hard and never knew when to stop.

On race day Kassiah was in the lead, far ahead of the others, for the first three laps. But on the fourth lap she didn’t come back around the curtain with the rest of the runners. At the end of the race, after somebody else had won, the villagers went in search of her. They found her, collapsed from exhaustion, and had to carry her out on a stretcher.

Finish reading this post here.

To the ones who think they’ve failed {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan’s over at A Life Overseas today…

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So, you failed to save the world.
You failed to complete the task of global evangelism.
You failed to see massive geopolitical change in your region.
You failed. Or at least you feel like it.

Good-hearted people in your organization (maybe) and your churches (hopefully) tell you you’re not a failure. But you still feel like one. You came home before you planned. Maybe for health reasons. Maybe for burnout reasons. Maybe you don’t need reasons. You were done, so you finished. You came “home.”

But now you’re finding home’s not home anymore. You knew for sure you didn’t fit in there, but now you’re very much afraid you don’t fit in here anymore. You failed there, and now you feel like you’re failing here. You want to believe that some good came of it. Or will come of it. Or something.

Read the rest of the post here. 

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Home School Burnout Part 4: Resources for the New & the Weary

by Elizabeth

Here are the links for the previous posts in my Home School Burnout series, in case you missed any of them:

Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

Part 2: “Mom Fail”

Part 3: The Mean Mommy

And now, on to my 4th and final installment! For me, recovering from home school burnout was about addressing spiritual and emotional issues, as well as practical issues. Here are some resources that helped:

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This spring I listened to a lecture from Susan Wise Bauer, my absolute favorite home school writer and speaker. It was called Burning Out: Why It Happens and What to Do About It.  Bauer went through two separate home school burnouts and shares the  lessons she learned. She’s probably the reason I didn’t feel guilty about my summer “mom fails.” Well worth the $5.

Another good one from Susan Wise Bauer is Homeschooling the Real Child, which I also listened to this spring. Again, you have to pay for it, but again, really valuable information.

The personally-convicting webinar I discussed in Part 3 isn’t available online anymore, but the author put her presentation slides up as a Google document. Might be useful to some, and feel free to ask me questions about specific slides. I can probably remember what the speaker was referring to.

If you related to the tension I felt in Part 2 between work/ministry inside the home and outside the home, you might appreciate this conversation between Rebekah Lyons and Jennie Allen. (I’m now obsessed with Jennie Allen, after discovering IF:Gathering and IF:Equip this year). We can trust God to call us back home, even when He’s called us outside the home, too.

For anyone new to homeschooling, I always recommend reading Susan Wise Bauer’s chaotic days with littles. Guaranteed to make you feel normal and non-failure-y. As Bauer’s children grew older, she stopped sharing details of daily life, a decision I really respect. I’m glad she shared the early years though:

A Day of First Grade and K-4 (with three boys under seven)

A Day with a First and Third grader and a Three-Year-Old

A Day with a Fourth and Second Grader, a Four-Year-Old and a Newborn

For anyone brand new to homeschooling, I always recommend Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum (an update of the original 100 Top Picks and subsequent 101 Top Picks). Don’t buy it just for the curriculum reviews; buy it because she walks you through the various homeschooling approaches and differing learning styles. She helps you identify your home education goals and then find an approach that matches your family’s learning styles. Really valuable resource.

For anyone who needs help with making schedules, the following posts helped me get started several years ago. I still have to make a new one each year as the workloads and number of students increase, and I have to make adjustments in the first couple weeks of school.

Routines, Schedules, and Hooks: Getting It All Done

The Schedule

Build a Better Schedule

Lastly, I’ve found that the main key to making the home school schedule work is monitoring my schedule. I have to keep tabs on my own time. I have to go to bed on time and get up early enough. I have to discipline myself to go straight from one kid’s lesson to another to another, etc., no breaks or wasting time. I have to stay off the computer till my scheduled writing time and close it when that time ends.

My schedule is working really well right now, but I have to be pretty strict about keeping it, or I don’t end up getting everything done that needs to get done. I still have to be careful about over-socializing, which uses me up until there’s nothing left for husband and children. In short, I can’t just make a schedule. I have to stay alert and stick to it.

Home School Burnout Part 3: The Mean Mommy

by Elizabeth

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There’s more to the story than Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations and Part 2: “Mom Fail.” Much more went on in my heart the last couple weeks of summer break, and I really wrestled with whether to share what I’m about to share. I’m fiercely protective of my children’s privacy, and I don’t share much about them online (more on why I’ve chosen to do that in a couple weeks at Velvet Ashes).

I was afraid that talking about my homeschooling struggles might reveal that gasp! I’ve ever had parenting issues at all (as though both my children and I are perfect). While I never want to share my children’s stories or betray their confidences, this story wasn’t actually about them. It was about me and my own sin, and that’s something I do feel (timidly) comfortable sharing. I also felt it would be disingenuous to leave the story at “God turned my heart towards my children that week and POOF! Everything was fixed.” It wasn’t that simple or straightforward.

God softened my heart that third week of summer, it’s true. But something else happened after that: I listened to a free, one-time webinar called “Teaching Ramona Quimby: Homeschooling Your Intense Child.” I signed up for this webinar because, um, FREE. (I also listened to a free one about teaching math conceptually, but that doesn’t have much to do with this part of the story.)

The speaker listed some of the characteristics of what she calls the “intense child.” As I listened I recognized myself in her description. I was an intense child, all grown up. I have big internal reactions to stuff, I’m sensitive to external stimuli, I don’t like my routine altered, I want to blame other people for my upsets, and I don’t always know what to do with my emotions.

I began to see that I was aggravating the homeschool stress through my reactions and attitudes. Busted! God was convicting me big time. You mean this all came back to me? You mean I’m the problem here? I didn’t want to admit that. I would rather blame my issues on something outside me. I really couldn’t though.

I started having some conversations with my husband about this stuff, and we talked more in-depth about “boundaries.” He’d been telling me for a while that I didn’t have good boundaries, though at the time I’d been so overwhelmed I didn’t really know what he meant or how to implement his advice. As I became convicted that my own behavior was causing my frustrations, I could now look inside and see he was right.

Here is what I found inside myself: a deep fear of being a Mean Mommy. There’s a voice in my head that tells me I have to be available to my children at all hours. I can never tell them no. So I would let little people climb on me all the time. I couldn’t give myself permission to take a break or to tell them no. In my mind that would be withholding love, and I wasn’t supposed to do that.

I didn’t want to be mean. I didn’t want to reject anybody. But when my patience had worn thin and I was tired of being climbed on, I did reject. I snapped and spoke unkindly, or I went away and hid. Or both. Result: I was becoming the Mean Mommy I was trying so hard to avoid. Ouch! That realization hurt.

So I started seeing myself as culpable. I needed to take responsibility for my behavior and my reactions. I needed to institute some better boundaries, and I needed to do it calmly. I found that when I did, peace returned to my home. I fell in love with my children again. I was able to see and care for their little hearts again. I even delighted in them again.

The Mommy I was meant to be was coming back from the grave.

Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

Part 2: “Mom Fail”

Part 4: Resources for the New & the Weary

Home School Burnout Part 2: “Mom Fail”

by Elizabeth

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Our January discussion helped a lot, but then I just charged ahead into spring and overcommitted myself to the blogging world. It feels awkward to admit that, but it’s true. I severely underestimated my time and energy commitments — though in my defense, I didn’t realize I was overcommitting myself at the time.

I had wanted to write about the Parsonage Heresies for about a year, and in January I finally decided to do it on A Life Overseas. I didn’t realize that series was going to be such an emotional, intellectual, and time drain. Committing myself to a specific subject and needing to write an in-depth post about it every month really wore me out. Don’t get me wrong, I am so glad I wrote this series! It was just draining.

I also committed to write two Velvet Ashes posts for the spring. These weren’t ordinary posts though. They were related to the heavy themes in the book Expectations and Burnout and were also an emotional and time drain. Again, I’m so glad I wrote these! Especially Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know — that story simply burned in my heart to be told.

By the time I got to early May, however, I was exhausted. I had spent myself in writing. In order to meet all the deadlines, I had directed attention away from my children. Somewhere in the process of writing and reaching out to the women who connected with my stories, I had inadvertently turned my heart away from my children, and now I didn’t particularly feel like turning back. Noise was still a stressor during school days, and I had a hard time fitting everyone’s lessons around my grueling blogging schedule, so I felt really behind again. I know six articles in four months doesn’t seem like it warrants the description “grueling,” but these posts took a lot from me.

I was poured out and empty. I took time off from blogging at other sites and condensed a couple weeks of school into one week in order to finish the school year a bit earlier. I thought I was going to lose my mind, and I needed a break. I was so tired. I told my husband I wanted to go away for a year; he told me that was an unreasonable solution. I knew he was right. I also knew I needed some way to refresh and refuel, and I didn’t know how long would be enough.

So when the first Monday of summer break came around, I took a break from parenting — almost literally. I let myself be a “bad” mom: I locked myself in my bedroom and let my children watch movies. All.day.long. I didn’t talk to them, I didn’t read to them, I didn’t play with them. It was a total “mom fail.”

I knew I only had four weeks of summer break because of our upcoming stateside service, and I wanted squeeze every last second out of it. I watched movies. I played Freecell. I read books. I wasted time on Facebook. I didn’t blog. I wasn’t productive. I was in a very fragile state and needed to be alone.

By the end of that first week I discovered, to my surprise, that perhaps I didn’t need an entire year away. Perhaps these few weeks would be enough of a break. Already I felt like coming out of my bedroom and interacting with my family again. Not all the time, mind you, just some of the time. I still hung out in my bedroom a lot.

During the third week God did something in my heart. It began with a prayer session at church where I started asking the question, “Why don’t I want to give my children my time?” That week as I started seeking answers to that question, another home school mom asked how she could pray for me. I didn’t share all the details, but I confided that I needed help balancing teaching and writing. (This was true, but rather general.)

It felt good to know someone was praying about this issue for me, because up to that point I hadn’t done much of that. Her prayers must have been working because the very next day I tuned in to a Sonlight webinar, and it reminded me why I love teaching my children and why I decided to do it in the first place. Those three events were pivotal in renewing my desire to home school.

So as summer drew to a close, I started recovering my heart for homeschooling. I started recovering my heart for my children. I started reorienting my heart toward my children, turning toward them instead of away. And by the time school started four weeks ago, I was ready to teach again. I was ready to spend time together again. I was ready to love again.

I still had to figure out the practicalities of fitting four students’ lessons into each day. (Eek! My long-time fears actually started materializing this school year!) I still had to figure out how to get all my writing and editing jobs done on time. But God had addressed my heart problem. He had given me the rest and recuperation I needed. He had supernaturally given me the ability to look at my summer “mom fails” not as a failure but as a necessity. In short, He had allowed my non-productive summer to be really productive.

Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

Part 3: The Mean Mommy

Part 4: Resources for the New & the Weary

Home School Burnout Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

by Elizabeth

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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