Saving the Shrinking Flame: How to Reignite Your Passion for Homeschooling
- Friday, November 30, 2012
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.
Psalms 139:16 reminds us, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (NIV). God not only knows our days, but He also has ordained specific things for each one of them. Burnout happens when we try to scribble extra notes in the margins and between the lines on the pages He’s already written.
#2 - Focus on areas of strength. Sometimes we forget that we are gifted differently. God doesn’t expect us to be good at everything, but He does expect us to use the gifts He gave us, for His glory. When doubts assail us, it serves our needs better—and glorifies God—to concentrate our efforts in areas where He has gifted us. That might mean completely setting aside schoolwork today in order to serve a neighbor. Jesus Himself was called to certain tasks by the Father and sometimes said “no” to assignments He wasn’t called to do.
As a homeschooling parent, one of the most freeing things I’ve done was to loosen my grip on my lesson plans and schedules, especially when my kids got to be juniors and seniors in high school. That is almost directly opposed to common thinking, because those junior/senior years are typically when we pile on more, study harder, test, and prepare!
Nonetheless, I turned a big dose of control over to my kids, allowing them to pursue (with guidance) their unique gifts. This meant they focused primarily on their personal areas of interest: writing music and recording a CD, starting a photography business, concentrating on an Electronics course, studying ornithology, and holding part-time jobs that gave them valuable, real-world experience. As for “school” work, they kept up with just enough math and writing to remain well rounded as they applied life principles to projects that were dear to them. It’s worked out very nicely.
#3 - Focus on a new direction. At any time during the school year, we should prayerfully discern the direction that will bring our family the most satisfaction. What is it that really makes your family tick? Camping? History? Participating in a club like 4-H? Whatever you find to be most rewarding, simply pray first and head that way. Gear your schooling around those pursuits instead of limiting it to a box of curricula.
Some ministries burn out because the person ministering is using his or her own strengths and not going in a direction that brings personal satisfaction. He may try to follow somebody else’s plan (or curriculum) for success. What is homeschooling to us if it is not ministry to our families? Pray your own plan, and be listening when God says, “ . . . Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16, ESV).
#4 - Focus on friendship. If you don’t have a support system, either through your family or church, you are on a special playing field. You must seek it out. Get on a social network, find online forums, and read magazines like The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, but foremost, remember that God is your companion. Dwell in Him. Put yourself in a (prayerful) position that will find you smothered in His strength and guidance. He will support you, and He will bring others who are like-minded into your path at the right time.
You might have noticed that overcoming burnout involves letting go. Like it or not, plans fall apart. Exhaustion sweeps in. Life happens. “Rising above” means we sometimes have to relinquish control, but don’t equate that with failure. As we take time to rest and free ourselves and our children to live as God leads, we let go of anxiety and are then free to grasp the opportunities that are lying before us today—opportunities waiting to grow us in faith, character, and knowledge.
So let go, walk in God’s strength each day, and remember that “little is much when God is in it.”
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free TOS apps to read the magazine on your Kindle Fire or Apple or Android devices.
Naomi and husband Jeff enjoy epic adventures in northern Wisconsin with their five adult children, at home or nearby. Naomi is the author of several inspirational novels, including the Empire in Pine series from Desert Breeze Publishing, and she mentors young writers through tutorials at A NOVEL Writing Site. Visit her at www.naomimusch.com.
Publication date: December 3, 2012
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