Homeschooling can be an invigorating experience full of exciting challenges, or it can be a stressful endeavor that, like parenting in general, drums up overwhelming degrees of doubt and anxiety. Just ask Simcha Fisher, a mother of eight who homeschooled her children for six years before changing paths.
Fisher remembers one day when she finished up a math lesson with her older children, only to discover that her toddler had taken off all of her clothes and dumped the contents of the pantry (flour, popcorn, teabags, toothpicks, etc.) onto the floor. That was the last straw. “The anxiety of it got the better of me,” Fisher says. She decided to enroll her four oldest children in a local charter school. Eisley Jacobs, a homeschooling mother of three, says that Fisher is not alone in her frustration. “Burnout is very common. A lot of people don’t want to admit it, [but] everybody burns out once in a while,” she says.
Burnout can take a variety of forms: depression, exasperation, and exhaustion. One of the signs is that homeschooling stops being enjoyable and instead becomes a chore. Here are four tips for avoiding—or working through—homeschool burnout.
- Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. This is good advice for parents in general, but Fisher thinks the impulse to compare is even stronger among homeschooling parents: “[As a homeschooler], you do feel like you have to prove yourself, that your kids need to be better than the public school kids academically. If you happen to go out during the day, you have to make sure everyone is spick and span and their shoes are matching,” Fisher explains.
Comparing your children to others, or yourself to other parents, inevitably becomes a question of apples and oranges—and of trying to do everything at once. “We wonder, ‘Are we doing enough?’ And then we overburden ourselves by thinking, ‘Surely we can do more,’” says Jacobs. But the comparison game is not fair to the kid, nor is it fair to the parent. Your energy will be much better used if you focus on what you’re doing, rather than what everyone else is doing.
- Get support. Being a parent is hard enough, but when that role is combined with that of teacher, life can become extra tricky. “We get the attitudes that the teachers get as well as the attitudes that moms get,” explains Laura Clark, a homeschooling mom of three. Clark recommends looking for outside support for subjects that create tension between you and your children. In her case, she had a hard time critiquing her sons’ writing, so she decided to hire an online writing coach who would do that for her.
But it’s not always a question of finding help for a particular subject; sometimes it’s just a matter of plugging into a community of like-minded people. “A lot of homeschoolers don’t realize how important it is to find someone who knows what you’re going through,” says Jacobs.
Fisher agrees: “If you don’t have support, every last little thing that goes wrong, you have no one to blame but yourself.”
- Take a breather. If you’re stressed out, chances are your child is too. So Jacobs recommends taking a break if you need one. “Forget about school for a few days,” she says. “Go to the pool or the park.” After all, one of the advantages of being your child’s teacher is that you control the curriculum—including deciding when a “mental health” day is called for. For her part, Clark says burnout usually hits in May or June, just as the public schools are wrapping up. And while some homeschoolers opt for a year-round schedule, she always breaks for summer. “I am ready to be done at the end of the school year,” she says. “But then we take a break and I start to get excited about what we’re going to do in the fall.”
- Accept your limitations. At some point, if the burnout doesn’t lift, it may be time to consider enrolling your child in a more traditional school setting [link to "school transition" article]. But that’s not a decision that comes easily to many homeschool parents. Fisher says she felt “terrible” about sending her older children to school after six years of homeschooling, partly because she felt she was letting down the homeschooling movement. “If you do anything that’s counterculture and you really do believe in it, it is hard to admit that it is any kind of struggle,” she explains.
Fisher says that though she agonized over the decision, she believes it was the right one for her family. “Homeschooling is sold as the perfect education, [but] there is no such thing,” she says. Still, she adds, it’s possible she may go back to homeschooling her children again the future. “Sometimes you just need a year or two off,” she says.