Burnout is a scary word. It can quench our homeschooling fire before it flames or even quench it after months or years of burning bright. It can make a family feel like a troop of reluctant campers in a rainstorm just trying to keep the last match lit amidst the driving wind and downpour of doubt. When the flame of passion sputters, chances are it just might . . . disappear. 

Having homeschooled my five children over the course of eighteen years, I’ve known the weariness that causes frustration, despair, and the overwhelming desire to give up.  But we can keep our passion burning bright by first identifying, and then avoiding (if possible), the reasons that we burn out. 

Burnout usually stems from a lack of confidence, and confidence is driven down by a variety of factors such as these:

  • Too many to-do’s, from household tasks to outside obligations, that have us functioning on overload.
  • Children who are antagonistic toward “doing school” or are otherwise strong-willed, defiant, and wearing us down until we feel like we don’t want to be in the battle any more.
  • Lack of a solid support system within family or community. We feel like Elijah, who, after he’d stood against the prophets of Baal groaned, “I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:14, ESV).
  • No time of personal refreshing. There’s no breather, and we’re at our wits’ end physically and emotionally.
  • Unexpected lifestyle adjustments, such as a new baby or job change, which disrupt our homeschooling for a lengthy period of time.
  • Feelings of inadequacy to instruct. Lack of confidence at its most basic level whispers that we just don’t have what it takes—no degree, no understanding of certain subjects, no patience—to teach our kids. 
  • A combination of the above. When total burnout is at hand, we are likely to feel a combination of all the above situations. At this level, we’re drowning in circumstances, emotion, exhaustion, lack of support—you name it.

Climbing out of discouragement feels like trying to escape a cyclone of doubt that keeps pulling us deeper and further from our original goals. So let’s look at some goals that can help us regain our confidence.

#1 - Focus on the necessary. It’s been said that “busyness is the enemy of fruitfulness.” It’s the old I’m-spinning-my-wheels syndrome of working harder and faster but accomplishing little. Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean achieving results. To be effective without burning out usually starts by figuring out what to take off our schedules rather than what to take on.

We can’t avoid doing the laundry and going to the grocery store occasionally, and our children need our individual attention. But in order to homeschool smarter, we have to set and guard a sustainable pace. This might mean offering simple meals like grilled cheese sandwiches and a can of tomato soup on most school nights. It will almost certainly require saying “no” to other people’s expectations, even if those other people are our relatives or people who want us to be involved in ministry. 

Focusing on the necessary requires daily prayer. God has specific tasks set for each of our days, and He never assigns us more than we can handle. We might find that it’s better to skip the worksheets and the book report in lieu of the action that is going to produce a more important, even character-building, result. For example, we may need to accept the fact that while an ailing grandparent is living with us, this care-giving is an education.