Homeschool Burnout: In Our Weakness, He Is Strong
- 2003 13 May
At some point in your homeschooling journey, you'll likely have a bad day, a disappointing week, or maybe even a frustrating month - or two.
Thankfully, we can turn to the One who will help order our days and transform our homeschool. There are few who know this better than the Bushnell family.
Not only are Tom and Sherry Bushnell homeschooling parents of 10 children (and one in heaven), but they are also the lead caretakers of the NATional cHallenged Homeschoolers Associated Network (NATHHAN), an entire support network for families with special needs kids.
Their vision for helping others has recently led them to expand their ministry in an effort to place pre-born special needs children in loving homes through Christian Homes Adopting Special Kids (CHASK).
The Bushnells reside in Porthill, Idaho, one mile from the Canadian border, where they live in a log home that they built on 46 acres. They farm garlic, alfalfa and have Alpine dairy goats, while homeschooling their children of various ages and abilities.
Their oldest is Jacob, 19, who attends Bible school in Pennsylvania. Their second oldest, Josh, is age 17. He has learning differences and learned to read at age 13. Tally, their daughter in heaven, is 15 and has Down syndrome. Jordan, their adopted son, is 14 and also has Down syndrome. Sheela is 13 and was born without eyes. They adopted her from India when she was 21 months old. Zack, their fourth son is 11. Lynny, their daughter with cerebral palsy and autism, is 10. She was adopted from India at 15 months. Zeph, their fifth son, is 9. Then they have Sheraya, who is 7, Mercy Grace, who is 5, and Jayben, their sixth son, who is 1.
We have the great pleasure of asking Sherry about how she deals with those overwhelming days.
Q: What about the parent who has been homeschooling for a while and is facing discouragement or burnout?
A: In my house, burnout is a state of mind. The Lord can order a day for me that is crammed full of visitors, overtired messy children - a three-ring circus of a school day, a busy office, freezing weather outside, and church in the evening. But, if my priorities are aligned with God's in my heart and mind, this disastrous looking day can be handled with ease. God's way for me is always best. When He is clearing my path, I do not stumble. I ask myself this question, "What does God want me to do right now?"
I have found some secrets that make for a more peaceful day. I will confess. I do not get to enjoy a consistent blissful early morning devotion time, although this has happened occasionally. I set my mind on a meaty Bible verse and apply it to my day. I do see fruit. In regular prayer throughout the day, waiting on Him for advice gives me a trusting relationship. I would not trade a daily, two-hour Bible reading opportunity for the all-day-long, one-on-one relationship with Jesus that I have. I stress the worst when I am not trusting that He has ordered my day.
Second, planning my day, including the meals for several days ahead, helps me cook with less stress. We are not a frozen casserole, once-a-month cooking type of family. We have a big meal at breakfast, lunch and dinner. All these teens call for mega cooking, lest my kitchen be ransacked. We eat a lot of stews, soup and bread, and BBQ venison or elk. This mother of lists has also genetically passed this down to her offspring. My children appreciate a to-do list in the morning. This eliminates my nagging them and their forgetful, sidetracked stares. If we share the chore load and work together we are ready for school by 9 a.m.
When we start teaching, the first week I start with one - maybe two - children. That's it. We start on half the subjects the first couple days. When this is going well and they are consistently doing well, we'll add another subject. After those two children are working well (or is it that my brain is functioning well?), I will add another child. When those three are working well and the schedule is smooth, I will add another child and so on until we are schooling all seven at once.
Another way I can bring burnout upon myself is to set my standards for my children too high. My expectations can be all wrapped up in my pride. If my children fail, I take it personally. This is a never-fail recipe for anger and burnout for me. Readjustment of what I can expect of my children in schoolwork takes some objective input from Tom. I am usually so blind by my failing standards that I cannot see past what is going wrong. I think I struggle the most with this "too high of expectations" with my daughter Sheela, who is blind. Somehow she seems so capable. Yet academically she struggles. Without her strong determination to hang in there, I think we would not have made nearly the progress. I have hardly had a month go by that I have not had to re-think my attitude towards schooling.
There have been times in the past that I have needed to secure outside help with housework or even schooling. An energetic teen or someone to share at least a little of the busy time of the day can make the difference of how I feel things are going. After a new baby, I do not attempt school. When we have lots of visitors, I do not attempt school (unless it works out that we school together for fun). When some of us are sick, we do not have school, especially if the one who is sick is me! If there ever is a time that school cannot be done with dedicated time and attention for some reason, we are reasonable. Our goal is two hours a day of sit-down, seatwork.
If homeschooling becomes a tension in the home, wait on the Lord. There is a reason that things are not going well. If it is not apparent, or the solution you thought would clear up the stress isn't working, talk with your husband. If you are a single mom, get input from someone who is pro-homeschooling and from whom you can take advice. Perhaps they might know of something that will help.
Motivated learners are what make teaching fun. Motivated (not perfect) teachers are successful. There are no perfect homeschoolers. In 15 years of looking, we have searched and searched and have not seen even one! This means that we cannot truly think that others always have it together.
Have you ever looked at another homeschooling mom and said to yourself, "I might as well give up; I cannot compare with her." The Lord has graciously given us children to teach and a land where teaching at home is legal. I am not so sure that God has a totally peaceful existence in mind for me. The Bible tells me that when I am weak, He is strong. If I have got it all together all of the time, perhaps I do not need to rely on God. From personal experience, there is something sweet about a desperate heart. Leaning on Him when I am totally burned out leaves room for Him to replace my goofed-up mental state with a better plan. So, boycott burnout. Replace it with sweet gratefulness.
Q: What a testimony! Thank you for teaching us that we can rejoice in all the challenges with which the Lord blesses us. Bless your family for helping to equip so many others.
You may contact the Bushnells at: NATHHAN/ CHASK, P.O. Box 39, Porthill, Idaho, 83853, 208-267-6246, www.nathhan.com.
Christine M. Field practiced law for eight years before becoming a full-time mommy. She and her husband live and homeschool their four children in Wheaton, Ill., where her husband serves as chief of police. Three of their four children are adopted: one through private adoption and two from Korea. As special needs expert columnist of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine's Resource Room, Christine welcomes readers' comments, personal stories and questions. Please contact Christine at RR@TOSMag.com. As the author of books, Help For the Harried Homeschooler, A Field Guide to Home Schooling, Coming Home to Raise Your Children, Should You Adopt? and Life Skills for Kids, Christine is a ready and willing help to the homeschooling community. Crosswalk.com has featured her a number of times, as have other publications. For more information on Christine and her resources please visit her website: www.homefieldadvantage.org.
Copyright 2003. Used with permission by The Old Schoohouse Magazine, www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com.