The Pauses That Refresh

Originally Published: July 2000

Burn out is a common complaint among homeschooling parents, even among those just starting out. Here are a few tips to help prevent—or at least bounce back from—feeling tired and overwhelmed.

First, pause 30-60 minutes every day: schedule personal time for reading the Bible and praying. (This is in addition to family devotions.) During this time, include prayer about priorities. Ask for insights about what can be managed differently, if anything. When my children were young, they spent that time in their rooms listening to Bible stories or songs on tape while quietly looking at books. Now that they are grown, they schedule an hour per day for their own prayer time, despite very busy lives.

Next, pause for an exercise break—doing housework doesn’t count. Schedule at least 20 minutes of exercise each day, even if it’s only a slow walk because you are too tired to do more. This, I discovered, is necessary for maintaining much needed physical stamina.

And, finally, pause to reflect. What are the reasons for feeling stressed or overwhelmed? There may be adjustments that can be made. Here are a few categories to consider:

  • Have you taken on outside responsibilities that can be eliminated?I had to learn to say “no” and stick to it. Peer pressure should never push us into roles that detract from our responsibilities to our children. I prayed over each decision—which also made it easier to stand firm.
  • Can more chores be delegated?At times, instead of the usual routine, I read aloud and we moved from room to room with the children cleaning as they listened. Eventually, they would request that I read aloud while they cleaned their bedrooms.
  • Are you making unreasonable demands on your spouse or children that are based on your own compulsions?At times my demands were reasonable, but the timing wasn’t. At other times, I realized that my expectations were unrealistic and needed to change.
  • Can some of your teaching responsibilities be taken over by someone else?I frequently signed my kids up for classes in art, gym, and music. I looked for summer camp programs that would be enjoyable for them, but that would also cover required objectives.
  • Are you expecting too much to be completed in a given time period?Since my tendency was to plan too much, I had to continually review my actual objectives. Keeping my priorities in mind, some activities were eliminated while others were just postponed.
  • Are your demands on yourself and your children based on realistic objectives you consider important for their lives, or are you just giving in to fear?When I first started homeschooling I wanted to be certain that my children would accomplish required standards so that they would be able to go on to college. I knew how to do that with enjoyable activities. However, when I suddenly found myself in physical therapy from a car accident, I began to panic and tried to teach from a packaged curriculum for part of the day, saving the fun things for later. Fearing something important would be left out was my motivation. The kids protested, but endured simply to get to the fun stuff. The following fall they remembered only what they had learned from the enjoyable activities. All their complaining had added to my stress, and it had all been for nothing.I’ve counseled parents who battle another kind of fear—the notion that they won’t be able to carry out plans consistently. This is especially important when a child is weak in some area. Short, frequent intervals of practice are the surest way to overcoming that weakness. In these cases, I find that it is thinking too far ahead that causes the fear. I recommend planning these mini-lessons for two weeks followed by a break from that specific goal. Mentally, this becomes manageable.

As a final note, I do believe that I was able to avoid a great deal of stress simply by teaching with the methods described in my books. This allowed me to feel the assurance of accomplishing required standards without piles of paper work or meeting someone else’s deadlines. I was able to have my children work together more frequently, and maintain a love of learning that resulted in a pleasant, rather than strained, atmosphere. Raising and training our children is hard work, certainly, but we were meant to enjoy the process.