Self-Care for the Homeschooling Mom

I’ve had three separate conversations recently with people I really love and admire, who have expressed their concern about my family’s choice to homeschool. And, interestingly, not one of them was worried about the impact that homeschooling would have on my children. These three people were worried about ME.

How will I get time to myself? How can I take care of my health? Essentially, how can I get my own needs met when I am taking on the full-time responsibility for my children’s wellbeing, including their education?

These conversations have led me to a lot of introspection, a lot of self-doubt and maybe a little bit of online perusal of the Web sites of Portland’s schools. This self-doubt was surely amplified by the fact that this fall was the fall my daughter would officially start kindergarten. Before now, we were just playing homeschool, now it feels a bit more like we’ve really taken a step down the “path less traveled.”

Maybe they’re right, I thought. Maybe I do need to put myself first. Maybe I could pursue a second career. I thought on it and thought on it and thought on it some more. The thing that I kept coming back to is that homeschooling feels right for my family. For about 101 reasons, it’s the right choice for us.

A friend of mine once told me that she had never considered homeschooling, but when she was faced with a situation where she thought it was the best choice for her child, and started thoroughly researching it, “my mind was blown. And then I couldn’t get it unblown.” That’s how I feel about homeschooling. Once I realized that children don’t have to go to school, that there is a whole world of freedom out there, I had a hard time imagining any other life for us.

So, having re-committed to homeschooling, I have been taking a cold, hard look at what was working and what wasn’t working. I’ve been looking at what my very real needs are, and how I can get them met. Here’s what I came up with:

Know thyself

I am an introvert. A hard core introvert. I love spending time with family and friends but that time is ultimately draining for me, and I need alone time to recharge. Now, I live with a 5-year-old extrovert. Who talks all day. We also have a 16-month-old and I’m discovering that settling sibling conflict is another energy drain for me.

I have found that I absolutely need to choose a homeschooling approach and an approach to socializing that matches my personality. This is just as important as using approaches that meet my daughter’s needs. We have landed on the homeschooling spectrum somewhere between Waldorf and unschooling (which is by no means a static place where we’ll stay forever). There are elements of Waldorf that are a great fit for both of us, including doing a morning circle time, and the concept of having a rhythm to our days. The predictability of rhythm calms my energetic little extrovert. It gives us both the sense that our needs will be met – her needs perhaps best met during our morning walk with the inevitable playtime at the playground, and my needs most definitely best met during our afternoon quiet time. I know myself well enough to know that me taking the role of teacher, and presenting material from a curriculum, and requiring my daughter to perform some form of work would be a recipe for disaster in this particular mama-daughter dynamic.

Knowing myself is also key to choosing activities that restore me during my down time. I love this post about self care for highly sensitive moms (http://www.abundantmama.com/self-care-for-highly-sensitive-moms/). It’s so reassuring to hear that a girl’s night out at a bar is not the right fit for every mom. Some of us need to read, or take a bath, or write in a journal to feel replenished. That being said, I did meet a group of old college friends at a bar recently and it was tremendously restorative. It’s all about balance.

Any other introverted moms homeschooling extroverted kids out there? This post has some great advice. http://simplehomeschool.net/extroverted-children/

Season of life

I think it’s so important to be real with ourselves about what season of life we’re in. Over the past three years I was pregnant with our second child, then we had a baby in the house and now we have a toddler in the house. All three of those years we have had completely different needs and I have had completely different abilities and energy. We are enjoying more family outings during this stage, as we move away from having a baby, and yet we never, ever commit to something in the early afternoon because we are home for the toddler’s naptime. A regular get-together that worked well for us last year, doesn’t work at all for us this year because the toddler would be too much to handle in that particular environment. In this season of life, simple get togethers, almost always outdoors, are what’s working best for us. And that’s ok. A few years from now I’m sure it will look completely different.

The thing about seasons of life is that they change so fast. I will not be homeschooling my children forever. My daughter will be gone in just 13 years.

Getting help

I am one of those types who tends to resist asking for help. I expect myself to do it all, but the reality is that that attitude is a guaranteed one-way ticket to burnout. I have really struggled with finding the right kind of help, and really the help that I need varies with the season of life I’m in. Last year, my number one need was to get out of the house without the kids. So I invested in a regular 3-hour-a-week babysitter. Just knowing that that little slot of time was earmarked just for me was tremendously helpful for me. This season of life, with a toddler, my biggest need is help with cleaning. So we no longer have the babysitter and have hired a twice-a-month housecleaner instead.

This year we are also doing our first regular drop-off program with my five-year-old. After she had a wonderful experience at a Waldorf-inspired outdoor camp this summer, I asked the director about creating a program for a one-day-a-week nature immersion for homeschooled kids. So the Forest Fridays program was born and it’s been a great experience so far. Outdoor time with peers for my daughter and quiet time at home for me is a win-win.

For more ideas about how hiring help can support a homeschooling mom, I love this post: http://simplehomeschool.net/hiring-help/

Something just for me

When I had my second child a good friend gave me a great piece of advice. “Just find little ways to do something for you. If you have a second to grab a latte, do it.” And there really are so many ways we can weave self-care into a day with our children. I can start the morning with a warm mug of hot chocolate or tea. I can take the kids to Cup & Saucer when we’ve had a late night the night before. I can turn on a video (we strive to be media-free in our home, but some days just call for a 4 pm viewing of The Gruffalo). I can make sure I take my supplements. I can drink enough water and do a little exercise right here on the living room rug. I can grab a green smoothie while my daughter takes a ballet class. I can take the kids to story time at the library, and let the librarian hold the reins for a little while.

Big breaks

Sometimes a green smoothie and a half hour break just doesn’t cut it. There are times when a big, meaningful break is really what’s needed. Sometimes I need to ask my husband to take the kids for a weekend day, so I can go to Powells and be alone out in the world. Big breaks are hard to come by during this season of life, and to be sure I definitely fantasize about the day when my husband and I can leave the kids with the grandparents and run away for a weekend. Or a week 😉

It’s helpful for me to think about self-care as something that can happen any time during the week, any day of the week. I am definitely very focused on my children during the hours they would normally be in school or daycare, that’s true. But on evenings and weekends I regularly get time to myself thanks to a wonderful husband, friends who host playdates and nearby grandparents. When I get a big, long break on a Sunday I am always so glad to sink back into a week at home with my children.

Eat right

For me, eating right is the foundation of self care. If I am eating right, I feel great and I do not feel burdened at all by the responsibilities I’ve taken on. If I’m not eating right, I have low energy and it is so easy to fantasize about dropping the kids off at school and taking a big, long nap. I do not take shortcuts in the food department and feed myself and my family whole foods because it’s just how we all feel best. One thing I absolutely love about homeschooling is that it gives us time to prepare and eat three healthy meals a day.

I think it’s important to keep things in perspective and realize that many, many parents in this day and age are struggling to find a balance between taking care of their kids and taking care of themselves. This is not a problem with homeschooling, this is a problem with modern parenting. I love this comment in Pamela Druckerman’s New York Times article called “A Cure for Hyper-Parenting:”

“Seize windows of freedom joyfully, without guilt. Remember that the problem with hyper-parenting isn’t that it’s bad for children; it’s that it’s bad for parents. Between the mid-1990s and 2008, college-educated American moms began spending more than nine additional hours per week on child care; this came directly out of their leisure time.”

My kids are young and I do not pretend to have this all figured out. I am grateful to have people in my life who can be honest enough to raise concerns about my wellbeing. The invitation to look closer at what is working and what isn’t has caused me to step up my self-care. And if this homeschooling this is going to last, it’s going to be because I took good care of myself.

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10 comments

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it Alison! Self-care can often get put on the back burner (ask me how I know) so it’s good to bring our attention there regularly.

    • Annie, this is a wonderfully clear reminder of the little (and occasionally, big) things we can do as homeschooling parents to recharge ourselves in our daily lives. Sometimes giving ourselves just a little bit of attention makes it possible to give our kids the quality attention that we all strive for. Thanks for sharing!

  1. I’m on board with doing the little things…I also practice yoga which does wonders to reset me and detoxify and reach deep inside myself and say “hello” so that I may do it all over again the very next day, with a smile on my face. Yoga meets late at 7:30, so I can often help get the kids all settled and relaxed for book time by then and I can leave without issue while my husband does all the tucking in, getting glasses of water, helping with last minute pee breaks, etc etc…haha. Did I forget to mention we have 7 kids? But doing little (and big!) things for yourself is so much more than self care. It’s setting an example…case in point, our 6 year old does a weekly yoga lesson and at first it was because mommy did it, but now, it’s because she has found that place of calm within herself. I’m rambling here, but if I make my coffee a certain way as a treat, I use extra steamed milk for the tops of their hot chocolate, its special for them too. Sometimes I’ll buy myself a new nail polish and spend time alone at night after a hot shower painting my toe nails…the next day, they want theirs done too…it doesn’t always happen, but you’re essentially showing them (and of course I’ve talked about it too) that taking care of yourself is important–nothing too over the top, but just a little treat so you can remember what it’s all for. A last sentiment and maybe you’ll think I’m crazy, but I just finished reading a fun book called “Lessons From Madame Chic” (yay! Library time!). It is a fantastic read and what I drew from it are ways you can live your life more richly (and slow down, actually) by simplifying life and finding joy in household chores (again, call me crazy, but so far it’s changed my perspective a lot). Check it out and see what you can pull from it…OK that’s it for me! Cheers! 😉

    And **Great article by the way!**

    • I’m so happy this resonated with you Kristen. I loved your examples. And, yes, self-care is such an important lesson to be passing along to our kids.

  2. This perfectly expressed my whole last week! I have a very extroverted almost 5 year old and an extroverted almost 2 year old. They love to go out in the world…but they both want to win the endless competition for mama’s lap, leading to shoves and body checks worthy of the WWF. I love being the hub for happy activity, but sometimes I really, really need to have no kids hanging on me for 20 minutes. Or even an hour at a coffee shop with an unlicked pastry.

  3. Just stumbled upon this blog and this post in particular resonated with me. We only have one child so far (an almost 2-year-old little girl), and I’ve been home with her for almost a year now after leaving my career as a college professor. We’re still discussing whether we want to home school or not, but what I keep coming back to is that I feel almost certain that it would be the best choice for our child(ren?), but I’m not certain whether it’s the best choice for *me.* But having realized how superior it seems for her compared to our other option (public school), I will probably end up doing it. I think the self-care you discuss is the key to making it work for me. Thank you!

    • Thanks for your comment Andrea! I can’t believe I wrote this piece six months ago and it feels as true today as it did then. I agree completely that homeschooling absolutely feels like the best choice for my children, but I got back and forth about whether it’s the best choice for me. Thankfully we get to take it one year at a time. Or one day at a time. 🙂

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