What do you do when you find yourself exhausted?
When homeschooling feels like a burden you no longer wish to bear?
What do you do when you’ve lost your joy?
I love this, I’m called to it, but I’m oh, so weary.
I remember reading once, decades ago, that marriage often cycles in series of sevens. While the third year marks the most divorces, it is the seventh year that really seems to make or break a marriage. If a couple makes it through the seventh year, chances are, they’re going to make it the whole way. They’ve beaten the odds.
That seventh year can be a doozy.
Natural Rhythms and Homeschooling Slumps
I may be making this up, but when I look at my homeschooling career and the homeschooling careers of my peers, I see a similar rhythm playing out. It is not a rhythm of marriage and divorce, but a rhythm of real homeschool struggle coming at us in cycles of days: I’m notorious for crashing after the third homeschool day every single week; cycles of weeks: many of you find great peace in taking a sabbath week every seventh week of school; and even cycles of years: how many of us change course by the middle and high school years? (There’s no shame in that, by the way. I think it just proves the natural cycle.)
I call these Cycles of 3 and Cycles of 7.
The reason for this pattern is found in the very nature of who we are created to be. I believe that when God created man, he imprinted within us the same rhythms and cycles inherent to all of creation. Nature itself runs in cycles of 3, 7, 12, (and multiples of those); and the same numbers are found sacred in Holy Writ. Our weeks have seven days; our seasons are (just about) seven weeks doubled. Our lunar year has 13 cycles, and the 14th cycle (double 7) is the beginning the next lunar year – signifying a brand new start.
Scripture itself is full of these cycles: after six solid days of work, the seventh (Sabbath) is needed for rest. After six years of production, in the seventh production must cease (a field is to lie fallow its seventh year). And after seven cycles of seven (49 years), the following fiftieth year has the greatest claim of all – it is a Year of Jubilee (a “Hurrah! We’ve made it!”) in which debts are canceled, land is returned to original owners, and freedom is granted to captives, servants, and slaves. If the weekly Sabbath is the balancer of the spirit and body, the Year of Jubilee is the great equalizer of society: a year of rest and celebration in which everything is shaken out and all the pieces fall back into place.
I’m telling you, that’s the kind of homeschooling year I’m looking for: Jubilee.
Without the change of pace offered in these cycles of seven, the people of Israel would falter in strength, forget who they were, and lose sight of (or connection with) God. The seventh day (or year, or decade) both proved the peoples’ worship and destroyed the idols named Vocation and Productivity; it also displayed the worth of all the labor that had come before. What the people had sowed, they now reaped. The cycle of the seventh allowed time for reevaluation.
It also allowed a chance for celebration.
Are you in a place of homeschool exhaustion?
Perhaps an extended Sabbath is just what you need.
Maybe it’s time for honest reevaluation and adjustment. Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, cease striving, and rest. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop chasing ideals and throw yourself a party instead.
A season of celebration (“look how far we’ve come!”) might just rock your world.
My Own Cycle Of Seven
I am in my 7th year of homeschooling. And I’ll tell you what – something has to give. I am not the person I was when I started out seven years ago. My family is not the same, our home is not the same. Needs have changed, realities have changed, stamina has changed, and yes, I have changed, too.
And change, for all of its loss, is good. We grow, we do not stay the same. You know this, I know this: we cannot keep new wine in old wineskins, nor should we try. The very nature of life is to grow, and so if we outgrow a way we were once happily doing, or being, or thinking, or seeing, ( or homeschooling!) what does it mean? Maybe it means it’s time to hunker down and hold on – but it could also mean that it’s time for a shaking, time for a season of reevaluation, time for a change of pace, even time for complete break and rest.
This year, I’ve crashed right into my Burn Out. Consequently, I’ve had to hone into the quieter places of my heart and ask questions whose answers run the risk of changing my life.
Is homeschooling still what I should be doing? Why? Am I doing this because I am supposed to or because of stubbornness and pride? Why? Am I trying to keep pace with somebody else’s ideals? Why? Am I idolizing a specific curriculum? Is this schedule right for us? Is this rhythm nurturing my family? What are the ruts I and my children are in, and how do we get out? Do I need to outsource some (or all) academics? What is best for my child? What calls forth the best in me? What have you called me to do, Lord? Who have you called me to be?
Separating Homeschooling From Parenting
In order to really find answers to these questions, I had to mentally and emotionally separate homeschooling from parenting. There was this overwhelming desire to run away from my children, to be 18 again and traipsing across Europe, to be free to finish up my own education, or – most honestly – to live the life of a bohemian writer, doing my favorite thing and being, well, paid for all my pleasure. Someone else could read Paddle To The Sea and wash the dishes.
Parenting Burn Out is real, but it is its own separate beast, so making the distinction between parenting and homeschooling became (and remains) important. To the degree that homeschooling may be negatively affecting my parenting, it has to change.
I came to understand that I can outsource academics, but I can never outsource mothering.
The Calling Of A Mother
As a mother, I am called to nurture my family in body, heart, mind and spirit. Academics may fall into these categories, but is a secondary function, and not a mother’s primary call. The parents are the facilitators of their children’s education, not the slaves. If homeschooling my children causes me to be consistently stretched too thin to nurture my children in the other ways that they need, then something, something has to change.
I think of it like this:
- Nurturing the body includes the tasks that make up domestic life: food, laundry, clean houses, healthy homes. Such things don’t need to be the sum of our existence, but they matter.
- Nurturing the heart encompasses so many things, but to me it means seeing my children, enjoying my children, honoring my children, loving my children, and letting them see and enjoy and honor and love me.
- Nurturing the mind means that in education, discipline and atmosphere there is a focus on life-giving, truth-filling, thought-provoking and idea-rich matter in our life and home.
- And nurturing the Spirit encompasses all of these things, enjoining them to the deep spiritual life of the child. It is discipleship, it is raising children to know Jesus and to know themselves deeply loved by Him.
So if I am called to nurture in these ways, if you are called to nurture in these ways – if we are mothers – then this Nurture is Priority Number One. How we nurture will vary from home to home. Sometimes we nurture in a specific area ourselves, and sometimes we nurture as a facilitator, bringing someone or something else in to do a specific job. The role of the nurturer and the jobs of the nurturer, though overlapping and informing each other, are nonetheless distinct.
So if ever – IF EVER – home education begins to kill your mothering heart, if ever it begins to drain dry your ability to parent rather than enrich it, it is time for a change.
There is NO SHAME in this reality. It’s called being courageous. It’s called being wise, and brave. It’s called parenthood!
In A Place Of Change
Recently I’ve been privileged to be part of many conversations with homeschooling friends, women like myself caught in the tension between their ideals and their reality, caught between “how it used to work,” “how it’s working now,” and even, “how I want it to work!” I have discovered both in my own self and in these friends just how scary it is to admit that we have hit a wall, that we need help, or that we’re simply feeling done with the whole homeschooling thing. These women are showing me bravery – they are taking stock in an honest way, and making changes in accordance with reality. They’re making this a Sabbath Season of their lives – switching up, reconnecting, finding joy, all while fulfilling their duty.
They are teaching me: don’t stick to your guns if your guns are shooting you in the foot.
I am learning: relish this chance for a change.
I don’t know what’s on the other side of this season. But I do know that this encouragement has been life-giving to me, and so I pass it on to you:
Relish your chance for change and new beginnings. Take honest stock of the habits that serve you and your family, discerning between life-giving practices and the other habits: the habits that are symptoms of being in a rut. Allow yourself the changes of pace or practice or mind. Rediscover what is most important. Reconnect with God. Do what you need to do in order to find your joy. Take Sabbath. Have recreation. Be re-created.
Burn Out is a call for reevaluation. It is a command for rest. But I’ll tell you what – Burn Out is also a call for a bit of Jubilee. We’ve come so far! We’ve done so much!
Fresh vision will follow a season of refreshing.
This article first appeared in the The Ambler, Volume One, a CM homeschooling newsletter.
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