Thursday, April 29, 2010

Confessions of an overwhelmed home school mom

    We are finishing up our 5th year of home schooling soon.  I don’t think I have ever looked forward to a summer break more than I am this year, and that includes my own 15+ years of schooling.  It has been a long, difficult year.  Having a baby in August definitely contributed to the challenges but the biggest challenge, for the past 8 months, has really been my own attitude.   I wake up in the mornings and, nearly everyday lately, I just think, I would rather not face that classroom, I would rather not deal with math lessons, I would rather skip the spelling for today, etc…  Because of my own negative attitude, I have little patience for the kids bad attitudes.  They don’t want to do math most days either, they would love to skip their spelling test.  Our classroom, which used to be a spare bedroom, is no longer a place of delightful learning and curious discovery, as it was in the first few years of home schooling.  It has, instead, become a place of frustration and short tempers.
    I think it is a simple, yet persistent, case of burn out.   Last summer we did not take a break.  I kept up our schooling right through most of July knowing that our new baby was coming in August.  At the time it seemed like the responsible thing to do, I wanted to be able to take time off when the baby came without having to worry about missing lessons.   I figured if we made my “maternity leave” our summer vacation I would be able to enjoy the time off without any nagging feelings of guilt.  So, we took off about six weeks in August and September that were spent settling in with a newborn who had her days and nights confused.  In hindsight, it wasn’t much of a vacation.  Yet, I kept to the plan and started up our schoolwork while still in the throes of complete exhaustion.  I was overwhelmed pretty much from the beginning but was not going to be irresponsible.  I had to be dedicated.  My children’s education was too important to give in to my feelings of unrest.   We struggled through.  The baby eventually figured out the difference between night and day but never has been much of a napper, so I did a lot of juggling.   About halfway through the school year, I did give up our Latin lessons.  I just couldn’t do it all and that seemed to be the most dispensable subject so out it went.    If only I could have given up my perfectionism the year may have been different.  I just wanted, as with everything in my life, to do it all and to do it well.  I wanted to be like all those other home school moms I know.  The ones who seem to always be calm, peaceful, and on the ball, juggling it all with ease.
    In February, we went to our home school group’s Valentine party and it had been one of those days.  I drove to the party with sheets of pouring rain drenching our car and my nerves shot from a stressful morning, wondering why I was even bothering.  When we arrived, a friend of mine who I met in my first few months of home schooling, ask how I was doing and I meant to smile and fake it all and say that we were great but I couldn’t pull it off and instead admitted life was hard and begged her to tell me how she did it all.  She is, in my mind, the epitome of the perfect Catholic home school mom.  She is always peaceful and put together, with her smiling baby on her hip and her other five children clean, neat and respectful beside her.   Since we met, 5 years ago, she has had two babies and has kept on home schooling, seemingly unfazed.  I was desperate to hear her answer.  She was wonderful, advising me to relax, just do what I could and not worry about this year at all.  She assured me that her children had survived years with new babies in the house, when they did not do as much as they should, and no one was any worse off because of it.  She said this year just didn’t matter academically and it was more important to be peaceful.  I loved what she had to say.  Hearing it all made so much sense and for the moment I felt better. I wanted so much to take her advice.  I tried so hard to take her advice.  For a few days things were better but my perfectionist tendencies and overwhelming guilt returned and I gave in to it all.
    Now, after months and months of trying to educate my five children while struggling under the strain of my own fatigue and self-reproach, I am really ready for a vacation.  I think I have no choice but to finally admit I really can’t do it all.  I need this summer break more than I can even put into words and I need it to be much more than just a break from school work.  I need it to be a break from feeling like I am responsible for everything and, especially, a break from feeling like I am failing in that responsibility.   I hope after a few months off of school, I will feel renewed.  I hope I can start anew in the Fall.  I hope the lessons we did learn this year will help us to do that.  Because, though, I am ready to be done with this year I know it was not a total disaster. Despite all the difficulties and struggles, we learned a lot this year that, I'm sure, will help us all in years to come.  I have learned, first hand, that the harder I try to do everything perfect the harder life gets.  Only God is perfect and it is Him I should turn to when I am overwhelmed.  The kids have learned to be flexible, to be more independent in their studies and to be more understanding of distractions and unexpected interruptions.  I pray that next year we will all be excited and eager to learn again.  Above all, I pray I will be much more equipped to teach with an attitude of peace and serenity, having learned the hard way that that is the most important thing I can bring to my classroom, to my children, and to myself.

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