Challenges of the home educating mother, part 1
Life is full of challenges, and part of home educating our children is to teach them how to deal with what life dishes out to them. But this home educating journey is not just about our children – it’s also about you. When I find myself talking to younger mothers, tiredness, illness, isolation and the feeling of inadequacy (closely related to apparent disorganization) are the most commonly brought up challenges, bringing back familiar memories! I will cover the first two of these challenges in this article, but before you start thinking that you’re gonna get “me time” advice, please read on.
One of the common complaints of young mothers is that they are ‘tired’, and that most of the time. What makes them so tired? Tending to small children who wake during the night is a major cause of this tiredness as well as improper eating and not enough exercise. If your body is not being kept strong through regular exercise, then you will feel the drain of everyday activities all the more. Iron deficiency and other medical disorders can also cause tiredness, so get these checked regularly by your doctor. Perhaps the major reason that natural tiredness can become constant and overwhelming is that mothers do not get enough rest. Ok, so you know that – you’ve had broken sleep for several years now – but how do you get to rest, and when?
Many mothers in homeschool circles often talk about “homeschool burnout”, but I can honestly say that I have never experienced burnout in all the 21-and-still-going years of homeschooling my children. I believe the main reason is that our family has always observed the Sabbath. The Sabbath was instituted as part of God’s creation and was made for man – it is God’s gift to us. Rest is good for man, so good that God not only gave us sleep, but also a whole extra day in every week to recuperate. He knows we need it.
Keeping the Sabbath is something that is surrounded by controversy in the modern Christian church, with many thinking that it is a restricting and legalistic practice. The justification is that it is not required in the New Testament era. We will not go into this controversy in this article, nor the debate on which day it should be, but suffice to say that if you observe the other nine of the Ten Commandments, then you should be observing this one as well. Christ himself said that he is the Lord of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is for man and God has woven many short term as well as long term benefits for those who keep it including: worship, fellowship, no work, no thought of work, feasting, thanksgiving, and evangelism. There are also long term benefits to resting regularly, just like there are health issues connected to long term lack of sleep. Habitual rest every week will stand you in good stead. Your brain needs to rest so you can be fit to think through issues, your body needs to rest so you can help others, and your family needs to rest so you can all work together for each others’ benefit, but more than anything, you need to recharge so that you can serve the Lord to your God-given capacity.
“The Sabbath is the joyful rest of men who labour faithfully six days in seven, and can rest on the seventh, knowing that God is Lord over time and all things, and a day in rest together in the Lord is more productive than a millenium of work and rest apart from Him.”
Rousas John Rushdoony Law and Society, Vol. II of the Institutes of Biblical Law
How can we make sure we are going to actually get rest on the Sabbath? Here are some tips that may help you prepare for your day of rest. Include your children in these, and teach them that it is the highlight of your week:
Prepare meals before-hand or plan for no fuss meals. In winter this may be soup, or frozen meals, sausage sizzle.
Clean your house during the week – or leave it until Monday. If you have guests coming and your bathroom has been forgotten, just use some White King disinfectant wipes to give the surfaces a quick wipe – your children can do this easily.
Put children to bed early on Saturday night: If you go out, try and be back in time to put children down to bed on time, or make plans so you can give them a nap at the place you are visiting or before you go out.
Turn off the computer.
Put the answering machine on, or your mobile on silent, especially if you run a business from home.
Turn off the TV.
Make a list of books you want to read: Make them of spiritual benefit.
If you have older children, read through a book that will engender hearty discussion.
Go for a nice walk as a family: Enjoy God’s creation, but don’t worship it, i.e. if you’re at the beach, don’t “worship the sun” and stay out in it all day. Remember that the Sabbath is The Lord’s Day, not ours.
Visit friends or family: Get out of the house if you find you might be tempted to just put those dishes away or fold that little pile of washing.
Over the years I have been home educating, the thing that has helped me most to get through times of illness and tiredness is firstly to look at them as learning experiences; that is what YOU are learning. Character training for mum will take a huge leap, and IT IS GOOD FOR YOU! This is your learning for now. Not books, not field trips, not messy art and craft, but rest, learning to help each other, learning to cook, learning to do things differently, and a host of other character building situations. The thing that makes illness worse is worrying about your children and the anxiety of not being able to keep up with everything you normally do. Sometimes God just wants us to stop. Focus on what you and your children are learning through the illness.
The next best thing I found helped was to take on the attitude that this is a role of service to my children and family. God has ordained parents to instruct their children but we cannot do it in our own strength. God WILL strengthen and enable us – lean on Him, he delights to help us. There is comfort in knowing that you do not have to stress or be burdened, He will enable and strengthen you. He wants to use you to do an awesome work in your children’s lives and you are privileged above all others to be able to do this, however it is also humbling and we need to esteem the job and knuckle down and get on with it.
Homeschooling is a long term commitment into which will come all the painful and annoying situations which we must live through. We are a family, not a school and so we must approach these situations like a family. We can be flexible, we can rethink what ‘teaching’ means. During times of sickness I read to the children, taught them chores, watched DVD’s, got them to help with cooking, etc. By the age of six, your child can learn many things that need not be book-based. Even if you need to take time off ‘school’ work, just do it. A few weeks will not have a huge impact.
One strategy that will make a huge difference to you and take the pressure off is to record or make a list of the things your child is actually learning while you are ill: character traits, life skills, responsibility, learning to prefer others before self, etc. Are the children fighting more because they can get away with it? Then draw them to you and point out that they have been given an opportunity by God to improve their character and relationships with each other, and that it is not helpful to you to have to worry about their bad behaviour at this time; it’s an opportunity to look outside of themselves and think of others.
If you just can’t do anything during your illness, then don’t stress, you will be building character into your child at the very least. Older children can help take care of younger ones – move cots and beds around to make it easier if you have to.
Send your younger children outside to collect bugs, flowers, leaves, etc for you and draw them in a little book. Naming them will give you something to teach them when they come back inside, or they can ask dad when he gets home. Maths can be done by counting the socks or pegs on the washing line or when you are folding washing and other similar situations. You get the idea. Ordinary, must-do things are turned into learning opportunities. It’s all just a matter of how you look at things. If you are worried about writing, just have your young child copy or trace letters/words into an exercise book.
Try and get her to do things that are not going to take a lot of time from you; supervise instead of teach and let her learn for herself. I would not advocate this for the long term of course, but I’ve noticed that it is also beneficial for a child to have a rest from formal learning every now and then. One of the best things you can do to take the pressure off yourself is to record what your child is actually learning.
Homeschooling may mean that your standards for housework may have to drop a little. But as you train your children to help you when you are well, then things will be easier when you are unwell, and as your eldest gets to about 7-8 they will become much more capable. Teach your 8yo to make a simple cooked snack such as muffins (they don’t require much mixing and cook quicker than a cake), so that when the children complain of hunger (again!), you will be prepared!
Rethinking your schedule is also a good idea. For a long time we worked to a 5 day/5 week on, one week off instead of 10 weeks on, two weeks off. This will give you a chance to keep up with housework more easily, and one week off helps avoid boredom. Another alternative is a 4-day week.
Find a mature friend who has homeschooled her children (or is an encouragement in your journey) and can empathise with you. This may be an impossible find for many homeschool mothers, but it’s worth a mention in case you can. She will understand your challenges on a larger plain than anyone else and is likely to have more time and willingness than career women to offer you help.
Homeschooling need not become a bug-bear during times of illness or a burden that makes you constantly tired. You can form strategies that will give you regular rest, and that will make you more aware of the broad scope of learning beyond academics that home education provides, taking the pressure off.
To read more about meeting the challenges you face as a homeschooling mum, read part 2.