Taking Care of Everyone…But you?

As we begin a new homeschool chapter, I have been chewing on what my first blog post of the year should focus on. I have many ideas for the future, but the one thing that keeps coming back to me is this — how is mom holding up?

Some of us are “seasoned” homeschoolers, whatever that means. Some of us are just starting out. I think I am in the “half-baked” stage — not done yet, and so I still need some more seasoning. So much to learn, and at times I feel like I need to unlearn some things so that I can have more flavor in our school. Life would be pretty boring if every family school consisted of the same ingredients. It’s something to chew on.

But, as we begin a new year, I am reminded of mom. Most likely, you are the principal teacher in your homeschool. I realize there are exceptions, and I’m not trying to exclude anyone; if this applies to you as dad, grandma, or whomever, then take it to heart. I know it applies to moms.

As teaching moms, we get excited about new projects, new curriculum, methods of teaching, craft supplies, fun field trips, and the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? We drive our troops to music lessons, practices, clubs, counseling sessions, play dates, Bible studies, birthday parties, service opportunities, jobs, and Grandma’s, not to mention the hours at the table, in the garden, reading on the sofa, or in the woods taking nature walks. And then, there’s often a husband who has needs and expectations too! But, what about you, homeschooling mom? How do you meet your needs? How do you avoid burning the midnight oil to get everything done? How do you avoid burning out because you’re so busy doing good for everyone else that you forget about your own needs?

As I sit here on a Friday afternoon, reminding myself to guzzle more water to battle a nagging UTI, I just want to encourage you — not because I have it all together as a home educator, but because I see a genuine need in all mothers who tend to take on too much. My words to you are these: It is not selfish to take care of your own physical needs. Your family needs you, and you are very much aware of that. But, they need you healthy. They need you cheerful, and that’s very difficult to pull off when you’ve stayed up until midnight again. How do I know this? Well, because I’m living it! We are instructed to teach our children cause-effect relationships. But, we have to be real with ourselves and realize that bedtime is not just for babies; our bodies need water; and a little exercise and fresh air will do wonders for our attitudes as moms, just as much as for our children.

Home educating is no joke! It’s not a tea party, and despite what some will think, we do much more than just sit around and do crafts with our children! We have real stresses. We worry about our children’s attitudes and characters — a LOT! We wonder about their futures, and wonder if we are doing it all right, because we don’t have a second chance. Often as we take on all of those unknowns, we find ourselves running around to grab at any perceived learning opportunity, maybe even to the detriment of our peace of mind.

So, what is the answer?

I can only share with you what I am learning myself on this enjoyable, yet, exhausting road. These tips are not in any particular order, except for the first one.

  1. We as home educators absolutely need our time with God! I find that I can get so edgy and driven with my children if I don’t have the softening influence of the Holy Spirit for myself! And, praying for my family particularly helps me to look at them differently. Sometimes I wake up late, in a rush, and find that mid-morning, or sooner, I have to go close myself in my closet with the Lord to regain my perspective, and to just cry out to Him for help. Satan will capitalize on any chink in our armor, so putting on the full armor is so important! This is truly the best gift we can give to our children and husbands — a heart that has met with Jesus and surrendered, so that when we deal with them, we will treat them with grace.
  2. Sleep. I can’t say how much you need, but I know when I need more of it! That’s when I get irritable about little things, feel like weeping over trifles, and start to feel fuzzy in my head the next day. I have gone through times when literally every time I sit down to read with my kiddos, I knock out. A little more sleep is needed! For me, practically, this means putting school away in the evenings; logging off of Facebook, even when I am reading helpful, school-related information; and heading to the bed around a half an hour before I need to be in bed. This is because, inevitably, there will be distractions along the path, such as clothes that I need to put away, something I needed to write down, or catch-up with my husband that needs to happen. This is a real struggle for me, but little by little I am seeing that I gain much more than I lose when I get to bed on time. Even Jesus as our Creator didn’t keep going — He rested after creating our world, and He took time away, even though all of the work was not done while He was on Earth!
  3. Water—don’t forget it! That’s pretty self-explanatory, but overlooked. When our brains get dehydrated, they don’t think well, and irritation also pops out! Consider this article on dehydration and mood swings, and this one too. This is one good reason for us to drink water ourselves, and to strongly encourage our students to drink theirs regularly! We drink water before breakfast, and I have to stop and remind everyone to take drinks throughout the day! One thing that works for us is to fill up a large jar with the minimum ounces that I want them to drink; then they have until bedtime to drink it. This helps them to see how much they’ve had so far, and how much more they need to drink.
  4. Time for You!  I don’t mean time away all of the time, because who really can do that, but just little snatches of time that serve to refresh your tired mind. I have a little shelf in our bathroom that I keep a small Bible and two encouraging books. My refresher often takes place behind that closed door! Even just a few verses or half a page during the midst of a busy day means a lot to me. I try to keep a book there that is specifically for me, such as another homeschooling mom telling her journey. It’s a reminder to me that I am not alone, and that there is help for every emergency!
  5. A walk out in nature can also be a great way to refresh, and this is a great way to break up the school day!  We often just stop mid-morning to jog/walk out to the mailbox or pond, and we come back more energized. Sometimes I or my Type A son resist this intrusion into our “plan” of getting something done, but we both need it and are never sorry that we choose to take a nature break.
  6. Pick and choose! No one can do it all! There is no way we can attend every church function, field trip, play date, birthday party, hobby, or music opportunity — or even, dare I say it, every service opportunity! If we are pursuing that quiet, simple life which will do so much for our children’s characters, we are told me must be much at home! This, frankly, is overwhelming to me, and yet freeing!  Overwhelming, because I want to provide many good things for my children; freeing, because I see that the best thing that they need is my love, attention, and time! A weakness in our family is believing that we can do too many things for others, and forgetting that we need to say no to even good things so that we may do our first task by our own fireside. So, we need to pray that God will show us our first priorities, and then add other things as they do not take away from those.

“The family circle is the school in which the child receives its first and most enduring lessons. Hence parents should be much at home. By precept and example, they should teach their children the love and the fear of God; teach them to be intelligent, social, affectionate, to cultivate habits of industry, economy, and self-denial. By giving their children love, sympathy, and encouragement at home, parents may provide for them a safe and welcome retreat from many of the world’s temptations,” Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 65.2.

We have a high calling. We yearn for much as we think of our children and their futures! And, we have the promise that God will lead us in every endeavor. With this knowledge, let us as mothers step back a bit and let God do what He has promised He would do!

My favorite Bible text is this one:

“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children,” Isaiah 54:13.

Be kind to yourselves, mothers, so that you can keep doing the great work that you are called to do!

Looking Forward to Change — A Message to Those Heading to Academy or College

It’s that time again! Summer break has already started or is just around the corner, and for some of you going back to school in the fall will mean transitioning out of homeschooling and off into to academy or college. My topic today is geared toward you specifically, although your parents are welcome to read along.

1. Even though you don’t know me, I’m proud of you and your hard work, and your dedication to your studies, family, and friends. Nothing worth having comes easily, and you’ve proved yourself through hours of study, outreach events, and kindnesses to those around you. Heading off to a new school and environment requires continued courage, determination, and the perseverance not to give up when deadlines loom; and, class requirements take more out of you than you ever thought possible. Keep up the good work!

2. All that character you and your parents have focused on building? It’s going to be proven in a big way once you’re out on your own. Decisions to continue to take your education seriously, or to avoid spending time with those friends who have suddenly begun making poor choices regarding drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc., are going to make a huge impact in your future. In the moment it can be hard to see how certain things will affect you positively or negatively five, 10, or 15 years down the line, but take it from someone who has lived a little longer than you: poor decisions can haunt you for years afterward. By that same token, wise ones can benefit you, and be a source of reassurance and strength in the years to come.


3. Know that you’re not alone. You have these intense feelings, emotions, and thoughts (about the big project that is due tomorrow, or significant others, for instance) that you’re absolutely certain no one has felt before. Ever. Especially not your parents? Think again. There are a lot of similarities between you and your parents. You do share 50% of your DNA with each of them after all. They might understand more than you’d think. They also raised you since you were born, and understand you better than anyone alive on this earth (It took me years into adulthood, and having several children of my own to realize the truth of this!) Your parents have wisdom and insight into many situations that you are facing. They’ve probably spent countless days and sleepless nights praying over you that you were unaware of — and you know how important sleep is now, right? They love you, and want your best.

4. Know that you’re not alone (part 2). As much as a parent loves their child, nothing can compare to the love that God has for us. He knows you on a molecular level! He knows your family history farther back than even your grandparents can remember. He knows your strengths and weaknesses. He knows and understands the very essence of who you are, and He wants to fight for you. Your heart is precious to Him. So, why not spend time talking to him about the next big test, a failed relationship, or future job plans? (You wouldn’t be the first person to change their major in the middle of the year).

5. And finally, work hard on your studies, but don’t forget to make time for fun events with friends who will uplift and encourage you. The friendships and memories you make here will most likely last for years to come. Sometimes former homeschoolers can seem like the “odd man out” to uninformed persons. Use the social opportunities to reach out to others and show them you’re anything but “awkward” and “unsocialized.” 😉

I pray the coming year brings growth and wisdom, and helps you discover more about who you were created to be. While this journey into independence may be a little scary at first, I have confidence that you will soon adjust, and even thrive! And, if you do make mistakes or fall flat on your face, know that God is always there to help lift you up. So are your parents, teachers, and school counselors. They love you and are in your corner.

Here’s to new adventures in the coming year!

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

See also Psalm 27:1, Psalm 56:3-4, Proverbs 3:5-6, and 2 Timothy 1:7.

Homeschooling as a Single Parent, Pt 6

Practicing Self-Care

Teaching, working, housework, church, community activities… Just how in the world is a single parent supposed to manage any “me” time or to practice the important self-care?

It’s impossible, many say. I tell the parents I work with that it is not an elective to have me-time, but an essential part of life. It boils down to boundaries. (Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend, is an excellent book for those who have trouble setting boundaries.)

A well-known example of the concept of self-care is the spiel the stewardess gives before a plane takes off regarding oxygen application in an emergency. If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of others. If your children do not see you setting healthy boundaries as they are growing up, they will not learn how to set healthy boundaries themselves.

I realize that time and money may limit how a single homeschooling parent can practice me-time. One thing I want to convey in this post is the importance of self-care, and to hopefully remove any guilt that may creep up if you take time to implement this practice.

Some parents will wake early or stay up late to find private time. It’s important to schedule me-time that does not necessarily end up being the time you simply do devotions. Private devotional time is important, but it is also important to have time where you do something that is fun (not that devotionals cannot be fun). Some things I have done for self-care time: bubble-bath time, joining Toastmasters, scheduling a weekend at a state park for just me, movie time with girlfriends, library time without the kids, and window shopping sans children.

Ideally, self-care would happen daily. This is not always possible, especially if the children are young. Once a week would be minimum. This can be scheduled when the other parent has the children, or maybe during a parent-swap time. If the children are older and involved in community activities, then me-time can occur during this time.

It may take some creative thinking and scheduling, but it is possible to schedule regular self-care time. Learning to set boundaries with yourself, the kids, the church, and other family members/friends is very important. There is only so much of yourself to spread around. It is important to manage your resources. Remember how often Jesus would have the disciples withdraw into a quiet area. When we do not set healthy boundaries, we end up suffering burn-out, yelling at our children, and even developing chronic health issues.

Please, toss the guilt and “can’t do it” feelings, and begin today by scheduling some self-care time. It will improve your own well-being and that of your children.

Trusting God When You Can’t See Ahead

When things are going the way I planned, it’s much easier to trust in God. Of course he is leading and guiding our family. Everything is falling into place. But, what about when things go in all different directions and there seems to be no clear path? What then?

I’m writing in the middle of the confusion, so while it would be nice to say how it all worked out in the end, there is no end of the story yet.

Have you experienced conflicting signs in your life? Lord, what are you trying to tell me? Is this from you or another spirit? Am I supposed to work and homeschool? Am I really supposed to do that for the next ten years? How will you sustain me? Are we supposed to move or not move? Are we supposed to do online school, enrichment classes, or everything at home? What if I can’t handle it Lord, and yet I believe you want me to be the primary educator of my children?

I’d like to say that the first place I go in these unsettled times is to a place of trust and gratitude, remembering how God has led in the past and resting assured that he still knows the end from the beginning. But instead, this time I become angry, then confused, then irritated, then frustrated. I feel like Peter, sinking in the waves of the sea after having walked on water.

What to do? Finally, with much resistance, I go to the only place I know it is safe to go when things are churning around me. “Help me Lord! Help me to trust you, even when I can’t see the path ahead.”

And, amazingly and faithfully, the Lord answers as he always does.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths,” Proverbs 3:5-6.

It doesn’t say he might direct your paths. It doesn’t say sometimes he will, sometimes he won’t. God’s word promises he SHALL direct my path if I trust in Him. Trusting is the hard part, but with God all things are possible. I make a decision everyday to put my trust in the Lord and not in my own feeble understanding. It’s not always an easy choice to make, but it is always the wisest choice.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own,” Matthew 6:34.

There are no certain answers at this point, but I can sleep at night. There are many uncertainties and stressors, but we take one day at a time. I don’t know what the next year will bring, but the Lord does. That is enough for today.

Homeschooling as a Single Parent, Pt 5

Teaching, Cleaning, and Working: Balancing it All

I think, with all the challenges of being a single homeschooling parent, managing the house was the most challenging of all. I have to confess, sometimes I failed dismally. In my early years of homeschooling, I would often compare myself to other homeschool moms who appeared to have it all together, and feel even more of a failure. Never mind that these moms were not single parents. Never mind that they didn’t have a child with challenges or health issues of their own.

Housekeeping would fall way down on the list of priorities many times. I remember one time I had an unexpected visit from a relative. This person started in on criticizing me that my dishes were not washed. I told this person that they were washed each night before I went to bed, but I had more important things to do with my time than worrying about dishes three times a day. I had the habit of doing the dishes after I put the kids to bed (they were young then). I would do the picking up and all the house chores after bedtime.

We often run into well-intentioned family and friends who think our homes need to be magazine-ready since we are home with the kids all day, right? I have to warn you that having children at home all day, living life as a life-long learner, doing experiments, creating art, etc., will often leave the home in a state of minor chaos.

I will share some ideas that helped me through the years as I slowly gained my “sea legs” on the homeschool journey.

First step is always to downsize as much as possible. An excellent resource is Flylady. She has a lot of free information on setting up cleaning schedules, etc. I must warn you that she does send out a lot of email/reminders. You can fix your settings so you do not get these and only access the information online. Flylady is very well known and has helped many families.

Second step is to set up a cleaning schedule. Again, Flylady can help here. After the schedule is set up, I would assign chores to the little ones. If they can walk, they can help clean in some way. It is a huge disservice how many parents refuse to give chores to their children today. They want them to be “kids” as long as possible. The problem is that they are not teaching them responsibility or life skills that are very important. There are easily found sites online that have age-appropriate chores. There are also sites online that give lists of life skills teens need to have before they move out on their own.

An example of a site: http://www.momjunction.com/articles/everyday-life-skills-your-teen-should-learn_0081859/. Kindling Dreams, my organization, does offer a Life Skills 101 class for junior and seniors. We cover a variety of basic skills to equip teens as they move out on their own.

In order to develop these skills, children need to begin learning them from a young age. Everyone in the home contributes to the general well-being of the home.

When the children were young, chores were mainly picking up after themselves and keeping their room clean. As they got older, they began helping with dishes, and even helped in preparing meals. I would let my children experiment with meals in the kitchen with the one rule that they had to eat whatever they created. All of my children can cook, males and females.

As they became older, I divided work into zones. They would be assigned a zone for a month. There was a kitchen zone, outside zone, living area zone, etc. They would also have responsibility of shopping and preparing menus/meals. Once they hit their teen years, they had to do their own laundry. They were assigned days. If they missed, then they had to work with their sibling to fit into another day.

As children age, they also assumed more responsibility for their own learning. I would give assignments for the week, and they would be responsible for making sure they were done by Friday.

These suggestions may need to be adapted if a child has challenges. It is important for the child with challenges to learn as many life skills as possible. It may take longer to learn. They may also need notebooks with lists created so they have reminders.

The main thing I had to remember was that housework, while important, is not the top priority over work, learning, and life. If a parent begins early to teach general pick-up, then the chaos remains on a low level. If the limits are set — chores before play — then there is no question of the answer if Susie wants to go play with Lori next door, but has not finished her chores. Setting simple limits and being consistent is very important in achieving balance in the household chores just as in other areas also.

One thing my father would say to me was “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” It’s all small stuff at times when it comes to maintaining the home. We want to remain ahead of the “house condemn” stage, but also remember the importance of allowing children the freedom to “experiment and get messy,” as Ms. Frizzle (The Magic School Bus) says.