Home School Burnout
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by Ellyn Davis
HomeSchool Burnout and How to Avoid It
(Each winter I get requests for information about home school burnout, so here is an article I wrote awhile ago. Part I will be in this issue of the e-journal. Part II will be in the next issue.)
This time of year seems to be the hardest time of all for home schoolers. Winter weather has kept us inside, the drudgery of routine has set in; work has piled up; and we've had a chance to fail miserably at reaching goals that seemed so easy to achieve when we started schooling in the fall. Add to that level of stress a series of small crises, and you have a recipe for homeschool burnout.
Gail Felker, in Homeschooling Today magazine, says homeschool burnout is a condition in which "the teaching parent is anxious, depressed, discouraged, overwhelmed, and ready to quit. Burnout is not uncommon. For the home-schooler, it often results in sending the children back to public school."
Burnout and the 80/20 Principle
One of the most cherished tenets of business is the “80/20 Principle.” This scientifically proven principle says there is always an imbalance between causes and results, inputs and outputs, and effort and reward, and that imbalance generally assumes the proportions of 20% to 80%. In other words, 80 percent of the results you want to see will come from 20 percent of your effort. In business, this means that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your products; 80% of the important work will be done by 20% of your employees; 80% of the actual benefits of a project will be developed in only 20% of the time spent on the project, and so on.
The 80/20 Principle applies to other areas of life as well. For example, good students innately know that 80% of an exam usually covers only 20% of the topics from the course, and they have discovered how to find out which 20% of the material to study to make an 80 or higher on the exam. The 80/20 Principle even works relationally. 80% of the value of your relationships usually comes from only 20% of the people you know.
OK, so what does this have to do with “Homeschool Burnout?” First, we need to understand that a major cause of burnout is the feeling of being overwhelmed and under-supported. Here are some common ways this feeling is verbalized:
This isn’t fun anymore (in fact, it’s a real drag).
I feel like things are spinning out of control.
There’s not enough me to go around.
My life is fragmented (pulled in too many directions, torn into too many pieces).
I feel like I’m trying to keep too many balls up in the air (or spin too many plates).
There’s too much to do and not enough time to do it.
There’s too much to do and I’m expected to do it all myself.
Here are some common ways this feeling expresses itself physically: (1) a tightness in the throat, chest or between the shoulder blades, (2) pain in the lower back, (3) headaches or dizziness, (4) chronic fatigue, (5) numbness of certain parts of the body, (6) anxiety and tenseness, (7) difficulty swallowing, (8) nausea, (9) upset stomach or irritable bowel, (10) ringing in the ears.
Any and all of the above verbalizations and physical symptoms are a good indication that we are bogged down in the 80% of our lives that is non-productive and that undermine our sense of well-being. The good news about the 80/20 Principle is that there are a very few, key activities that will dramatically improve our happiness and sense of productivity.
What do I mean by "key activities?" Well, do you know that simple, key activities distinguish financially stable people from people with chronic financial troubles? Financially stable people resist going into debt, they save, and they don't fill their lives with expensive doodads. So what does this mean? This means that becoming financially stable doesn't necessarily require keeping track of every expenditure to the penny, becoming a Scrooge, and denying yourself your dreams. The average person can become financially stable by following a few, key principles of money management.
Now, back to the 80/20 Principle. The book, 80/20 Principle says,
"There are always a few key inputs to what happens and they are often not the obvious ones. If the key causes can be identified and isolated, we can very often exert more influence on them than we think possible."
What this means is that there are a few key things that cause us to feel overwhelmed and under-supported, that contribute to that feeling of always being on edge and the tenseness in our bodies, and that make us want to throw up our hands and quit.
Simple measures to avoid burn-out
OK, what are some simple measures we can take? First of all, we can identify our "energy vampires." These are the people, activities, and beliefs that literally "suck" the energy and enthusiasm out of us.
People as Energy Vampires. Not only can groups be draining, but certain individuals can cost us a lot of energy. In our former church, there was a woman who was like a huge emotional vacuum. Her neediness and negativity would suck all of the optimism and energy out of me. I had to learn to let someone else try to help her.
When I first started homeschooling three boys, I tried to keep up with women's Bible studies, homeschooling field trips and other get-togethers, but it didn't take long to realize these social outings didn't provide me with enthusiasm, they only wore me down.
I also had to learn to say no. It's amazing that people will assume since you're home all day, you're available. They wouldn't dream of calling a career woman at her office and asking her to take the afternoon off to listen to their problems, but they will call you and assume you're free to help them. I learned to think of myself as a "career woman," only my career was managing a home and educating my children. I didn't just work a 40 hour week, I was on the job 24/7, so didn't have to apologize or lie when I said, "I'm committed this afternoon."
Before you know it, you can spend 80% of your time on social activities that have a pay-back of less than 20% in terms of what is really important to you. There are two key solutions to the "People as Energy Vampires" problem. (1) Pare down your involvement to only those 20% of social activities that have real meaning to you, and (2) Get an answerphone and let it take all calls for certain hours each day. If your household is like mine, just leaving an answerphone on most of the day saves me about 45 minutes in answering telemarketing calls.
Activities as Energy Vampires. One of the best pieces of stress-reducing advice I ever got was from a time management book. It said to mentally visualize myself going through a typical day. This meant visualizing getting out of bed, getting dressed, fixing breakfast, brushing my teeth, and so on...every little activity I typically did in a day. As I screened through my day, the book said to notice any time I felt irritation, tension, or resistance, and jot down that activity.
What an eye-opener! By the time I finished visually screening a typical day, I realized that there were dozens of little annoyances sprinkled throughout every day. None of them was significant enough by itself to ruin my day, but a day filled with 40 or 50 unconsciously irritating moments might have something to do with my being frazzled by suppertime.
Certain routine activities are always accompanied by some amount of emotional or physical pressure. What are your stressful activities? The laundry? Cooking? Shopping? I've never particularly liked to cook. Plus, taking a carload of small boys to the grocery store has got to be on my list of "Top 10 Ways to Torture a Tired Mother." So I had to experiment with getting the grocery shopping done without wearing me out (or freaking me out when I saw the receipt), and with developing some simple menu plans that didn't exhaust me after a long day. Plus, I had to be realistic about my limitations.
As much as I might want to provide my family with three, lovingly created, nutritious, home-cooked meals a day, it would be psychotic of me to think I could pull it off and still do everything else I needed to get done. So in my household, we have meals where everyone is on their own to fix something for themselves, meals that another family member prepares, and meals that I prepare, depending on everyone's schedule and what will give us the most family time around the table.
Another thing that can be done is to go through each room of the house and note anything that is irritating. Rooms have a powerful effect on our sense of well‑being. They can make us feel like prisoners in our own homes or make us feel gracious and relaxed. Are there certain colors that make you feel tense? That make you feel relaxed? Could the room be re-arranged so that the pattern of traffic flow is better? Could simple changes be made that contribute to a sense of peace and order?
Do the tools you have enhance your productivity? For example, I started out writing our catalogs on an old IBM electric typewriter ($25, second-hand), made photocopied reductions of the book covers, and had to cut and paste everything together. It was a massive, time-consuming, mess-producing job. So, guess how I began to feel about the catalog? I dreaded the thought of starting each new one, and the whole time I worked on one I was a witch. It was like trying to build a modern house with stone tools.
Then one day I heard Mary Pride say she always tried to invest in things that increased her productivity. I began to look around at all of the equipment I relied on. Everything from my vacuum cleaner to my typewriter was out-dated and difficult to use. So I began systematically replacing my "tools," starting with the equipment I used most and that caused me the most aggravation. I also began investing in skills that made me more productive. I learned how to use word processing programs and scanners and Adobe Photoshop. I read every household and time management book I could get my hands on. I tried to increase my knowledge and skill in every area that drained energy.
Another stressful area for home schooling parents is the "schooling" itself. In our desire to make sure we don't leave any educational gaps, we tend to overdo. We need to evaluate our home schools by the 80/20 Principle. What are the key areas we need to be concentrating on? How can we eliminate the unnecessary and ineffectual? What simple changes can we make to decrease stress and enhance enthusiasm?
Part II is coming next week! You'll learn about "Lifestyle Vampires," "Belief Vampires," "Reaching Ground Zero with God" and much more. Stay tuned....
Next week....Home School Burnout, part 2.
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