The hardest part of homeschooling for me was at the beginning, when all I could see in front of me were endless days of kids, no breaks because they won't be at school, and me slowly turning into a crazy person.
I remember in high school French class, I read No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre. It's a play about how hell is not what we think it is. Hell is actually just being stuck in a room with people you can't ever get away from. It strikes me now as a homeschool primer. Because there's a saying that you can't talk about a problem until someone gives you the language to talk about it.
My first months of homeschooling were a Sartre play. Now I have better coping skills. Here's what has worked for me – so far – to avoid parent burnout.
1. Lean on my husband for non-school stuff.
If my kids wanted to sit and read books all day, that would be great. Because I love finding books and buying books and I love cuddling on the sofa reading. But Zehavi wants to run around and play all day.
He judges each day by how many games there were and how many people he got to talk to. I judge each day by how many minutes I had curled up on the sofa reading with the kids. My husband bridges this gap. If I had to actually play with my son all day, I would die. I am blown away by how my husband can somehow get it in him that he cares about who wins in kickball and he can run a little faster. I give away my disdain for fun too early on in the game.
I have more energy every day to provide the scaffolding for fun because I don't actually have to do it. My husband does.
2. Don't try to focus on anything important.
I used to read difficult books by authors I admired. Jose Saramongo. Blindness. Have you read that? Read it now, fast, before you start homeschooling. Because I don't think I could concentrate long enough to read it now. Now I read the print version of the National Enquirer. And you know what? I kind of like it. Quiz me. I know everything about the A-listers that you could possibly ask.
Also, I'm writing this post at 10pm when the kids are asleep because if they were awake, they would talk to me right now and I wouldn't remember what I wanted to say about focus. This post will have a lot of links in it. Like, I've been saving this link to a rap video about how dumb school is. I love the video. You will, too.
But I'm going to put all the links in tomorrow morning because that requires very little thinking. So it's a good thing to do with kids around. Did you know that moms get asked a question by their kids an average of one time every two minutes? That really shed light on a lot for me. And guess where I read it. This week's National Enquirer. See? It's not so bad to read it.
3. Leave. Just for a little while.
Well, first I try to get my kids to leave. I tell them to go outside as if I'm promoting the great outdoors or something. But really I'm promoting my sanity, it's just that I'm trying to be appropriate. It doesn't always work, which is why I really appreciate this mom's tweet:
Just pretended to eat a booger to gross my kids out so they'd leave me alone for a few minutes because I'm classy.
— Not your dream girl (@nettie0918) April 26, 2013
I have gone to a hotel a few times. It's positively luxurious to have no one bugging me when I wake up in the morning. And I always feel better when I get home. So sometimes I think I should just go to a hotel once a month and stop pretending it's not a necessity.
4. Reframe time.
Jessica Smock has a really interesting interview with a researcher who focuses on homeschoolers. And it turns out that while there are several strategies that homeschool mothers use to attempt to carve out personal time, most fail. And the research concludes that homeschool mothers resort to managing their feelings about time instead.
This rings true to me, so I wrote a post the other day about new ways that I've been thinking about time. But the truth is, that I end up having to tell myself that I will only be with my boys for another ten years. I remind myself of how much I have loved each age they have been.
It's sappy. But parenthood is messy and not really satisfying. I did not invent this idea. This research comes from Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert . Parenthood on a daily basis makes us crazy. Not just homeschoolers – everyone. But on a long-term basis, parenting is hugely rewarding. So parents get their happiness from parenting by thinking about the big picture.
That's what the research says. And, largely, it works. Yefet uses a punching bag until Zehavi walks in and hits Yefet with a pillow so he can have a turn with the punching bag. And I remind myself that there will come a day when no one even cares about the punching bag. And I will miss that.