Well, it hit. When the home school blues finally manifested fully this past week, the feeling was so familiar. It has taken me five days to identify it. Ironically enough, the cause, cycle, expression, and realizations are nearly identical to the familiar déjà vu I had come to recognize. The home school blues were the same as my baby blues when I was postpartum with my first born.
Let me explain. When Jonathan and I got married, we knew we wanted a family. I knew that when that wonderful moment came, I would want to stay home and raise them. We did not have an easy time getting pregnant. So of course, when we finally did get pregnant, it was a celebration indeed, with evenings filled with conversation of names, child rearing strategies and expectations, talks of savings accounts for college, and the exciting life that would be now that we would have our own child. Like any other parents, while we knew there would be challenges, we felt fairly prepared and ready for this amazing new adventure.
Then, we had a baby.
I literally felt like I was going crazy. Rather than owning those feelings and getting help, I recoiled into the most natural feeling I had….guilt. I couldn’t wrap my head around why I was struggling and why I felt there were days where I hated my new little family. After all, we so desperately wanted our own family, and he was such an amazingly wonderful baby. What was there to hate? Nothing. So obviously, the problem must have been me. So, it was best to try and deal with it, and “get over it” while clawing to see the positives in the sleepless nights, the crying, the diaper changing, the nap time routines and the dirty house.
To be honest, I rarely remember those days. With my youngest nearly turning five years old, my days in those trenches of early motherhood are nearly behind me. That is why, when my home school blues hit, I didn’t identify it right away. However, when I did…it came flooding back to me.
Before Samuel was born, I had a different life. As mothers, we all had different lives before our children. They’re not better or worse than now; it is just different. Yes, I had my husband in my life, but we could do whatever we wanted with our time. We hosted friends at our house often. We ate whatever we wanted (without care of hitting all the different food groups) and went out for dinner when we were tired after a long day at work. We slept in on Saturdays (remember those, moms? Weren’t they magical??). On the weekends, if we felt like a drive in the mountains we would hop in our car on a whim and just take off. Both my husband and I had professional jobs that we loved. We talked about our work, our days, our colleagues and what we wanted. No one interrupted our conversations. We got to eat all our meals hot. We could use the bathroom without any one barging in or banging at the door asking for a snack. It was a different life.
Again, our children were not “whoopsies”. We prayed and fasted for both of them and were incredibly thankful when we were pregnant with our boys. However, no one is ever really prepared for how drastically your life changes in an INSTANT! Not over months or years, but in an instant, your life completely changes. Why? Because we love our children and our focus is no longer self focused and all about wants and conveniences. Our focus becomes how we can do our best for these little humans that captured our hearts when we peed on a stick and saw the double line.
No matter how much I loved my baby, that first year was hard. Every time I had my “blues” I felt incredibly guilty. I felt selfish. Yet, no matter how hard I tried to pray it away, or talk it out, the honest truth was, I felt I lost so much of myself. I no longer had a career. I no longer had colleagues. I had a baby, an endless amount of baby crap laying all over the house, and trips to the zoo just so I could get some walking in while I prayed they stayed asleep in their strollers. I couldn’t remember the last conversation I had with my husband that didn’t revolve around the baby’s eating, napping, newest discovery, or what family friendly plans we were making for the weekend.
Looking back now, it is true. I did lose myself. I was no longer the same person I was before I had my son, and I will never be that person again. My priorities changed. My values in how I spent my time and the quality of people I surrounded myself with changed, because it all impacted my family. I now had little people that were dependent on me. They counted on me to protect them, to nurture them, to show them right and wrong, and to explore the world around them. I no longer had the luxury of “winging it” and having a passive outlook on how I lived my life. Prayer and wise counsel became crucial in how I lived because I realized early on the ripple effect my choices had on my children, their environment, and the example they were gleaning from.
It took years, but I found that losing myself and growing into the person I am now is, in fact, a good thing. It wasn’t the same as losing something or someone and then needing to grieve it. It was growing pains. The more I embraced the growth, and not the loss, I found myself able to see the fruit of certain sacrifices I made, in my children and my husband. Our family became healthier.
This past week, when the “home school blues” hit, the all too familiar feeling led me to this reflection of when Sam was born. At first, I thought I lost myself. I no longer had time to myself. My days were filled, my patience was taxed without reprieve, my wells of grace seem dried up at times when I needed it the most, the list of things to get done never seem to get checked off, and my world became saturated with my children and my husband all over again. I struggled to see my friends, when just a few short months ago, we would have our routine breakfast dates and coffees. Then, like the baby blues, the guilt came rushing in.
We chose homeschooling for my son because we wanted to invest in his character development more than anything else. We wanted to show him Jesus in a way that was tangible and real. We wanted him to see how that fit into our family and how he fit in our family. We wanted him to grow confident in who God made him to be and to be reckless in his worship of Jesus.
We understood the challenges that would come with homeschooling, but decided to pursue it, knowing that the benefits and the fruit would outweigh anything that would come against us. I was at the mercy of God’s grace and provision to help me thrive and find joy in this new endeavor.
We took to homeschooling like fish to water. Academically, I have never seen Samuel so completely in his element, getting excited and asking questions, while working at a pace that is much more reflective of his abilities. Emotionally, we saw growth in him that was staggering. Most wonderful of all, was watching my son discover Jesus in an authentic way. It was the most humbling and rewarding thing in the world to see how my son was CHOOSING to incorporate the Lord in his life, in his own way, that was real to him. For the first time in his life, I watch him every morning, eagerly read his Bible, ask questions about the stories, and get excited about seeing God in science, history, and language.
Because of the great change in him, he changed the dynamic of our family. He became more patient with his brother, playing for hours a day without fighting or conflict. My husband came home from work to a more peaceful atmosphere. While I still feel there is an endless amount of things to do, and no downtime to be had during the day, I feel that I am mostly at rest. There has been a harmony in our home that just hasn’t been there before.
Yet, in the midst of all these significant positive things, I felt lost again. I missed the adult interaction that I had now traded for play dates, library visits, zoo trips, and errand running with both children in tow. I missed the occasional morning where I would come home after dropping the kids off, where I could just take a bath or read for an hour before starting the day. Even when my husband comes home and takes the boys for an activity, my “free” time is spent planning lessons for the next week, or meal planning, or writing out the grocery list. All the things I could get done while the children were at school, were things that didn’t disappear once I chose to home school. They were still there ON TOP of losing half the day to homeschooling. So even the precious time I got when Jonathan was with the boys were still filled with household things, tasks, and running the extracurricular events of our lives.
Being an extrovert, I tend to recharge my batteries by spending time with people. However, in the exhaustion of teaching in the mornings, then having character conversations all the time when something arises (which is the most emotionally taxing aspect of parenting), still running the house, taking care of my husband, and staying on top of ministry, by the time evening came where I could make plans to meet up with girlfriends, I opted not to. For me, that’s saying a lot! But, I was exhausted! I just want crawl in my jammies, shut the door and watch Netflix or go to sleep! Yet, that meant that I was going to bed with empty emotional batteries too that weren’t getting recharged by sleep. I missed my people. People that weren’t my little people.
The desire to keep it together and push forward trumped the good sense to share my feelings and seek help. After all, all my other home school moms seem to be doing just fine! They are plugging away without any crack in the armor where it might seem like they were experiencing anything I was feeling. So, I retreated back into the “just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…” mindset, while really, I was drowning.
Finally, when I shared with other home school moms, I really did find that I’m not alone. A great friend told me on a much needed joint family play date last week, “Homeschooling is a thankless job…but it’s worth it.” She was right. It was incredibly thankless. Not only is the task of home school itself daunting and consuming, you also become a little bit of a leper in your community of friends. There is this odd look you get and raised eyebrow question every time… “You’re homeschooling? Why?! What about socialization? What if they get dumber?” So in a sense, there’s a loneliness that starts right when you decide because it’s likely that most of your friends and your “Village” didn’t home school their kids, or aren’t home schooling them. If you’re anything like me, it’s almost a challenge when people give me an impression that they think I shouldn’t do something. Because of this, when the going gets REALLY tough, I tend not to want to share about my struggles because of pride. However, that’s when I start to feel the drowning sensation.
The second half of what my friend said was the exact reminder I needed. Yes, home education is a thankless job, but it is totally worth it. In the middle of the “blues”, that’s why we DO need to reach out. We DO need to find our friends and spill our guts. They may not seem to be cracking like I was…but they reminded me that they DID have their moments too. They validated my blues, but then encouraged me with the “worth it” reminders.
When I snapped at the end of last week, my mother in law, who raised three fantastic boys and a mother that I respect immensely, said that if she home schooled, she would not have grandchildren. She would have killed her kids. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised when she said that. To me, she was nearly as perfect as they came when it comes to parenting wisdom and raising young kids. She always seems so laid back, yet organized to a tee. She was firm, consistent and wise in discipline, but still had fun with the kids and created amazing memories for them. If we were Buddhists, I would have sworn she was a monk.
She encouraged me that this is no small task that we have taken on. Homeschooling is hard. It IS a sacrifice. So, she told me that I needed to make sure that I took breaks, to give myself grace. She encouraged me to take a day, a full day where I don’t make any meals or interact with my family and leave the children with the hubby, and just take off. I can nap in my car, go shopping, go to a movie, make dates with friends, whatever…but a full day from the time I get up, to the time kids are all in bed, perhaps even an overnighter in a hotel…to just disconnect and regroup. She said that this should happen at LEAST every six weeks.
While that sounded like heaven (and you can be sure my husband will be hearing about this suggestion from his mother), I was surprised that this guru of a mother was not only acknowledging the demands of homeschooling, but she absolutely validated my “blues” and insisted on a very practical solution of making sure that I was taking care of my own mental and physical health.
I started to see the value in reaching out, of being more reasonable with myself, and started to extend more grace towards myself that I have been extending towards my son. As one of my wise home school mom friend keeps trying to tell me (but for whatever reason, I have a hard time absorbing) is that this is not a sprint. It is a marathon. And like the apostle Paul, I want to run the race well, eyes fixed on the prize. And well, that’s just not going to happen if I end up in the looney bin (although, the thought of a people serving me my meals on a tray, a comfy padded room with fresh sheets and a call button next to the bed, is definitely tempting).
So for any of your home school moms out there who have had or are struggling with the “Home School Blues”…I hear you! Share, breathe, take some time to yourself, and make sure you remember the worth of why you’re doing what you’re doing. I need constant reminders myself, but at the end of the day, it’s ALWAYS true. This choice is WORTH it!
Isn’t it obvious that all runners on the racetrack keep on running to win, but only one receives the victor’s prize? Yet each one of you must run the race to be victorious. A true athlete will be disciplined in every respect, practicing constant self-control in order to win a laurel wreath that quickly withers. But we run our race to win a victor’s crown that will last forever. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
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