home schooling paths
E-journal March 23, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Homeschool Mom

by Ellyn Davis

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Over the past several months, I have written about decluttering our lives. You can read part 1 HERE, part 2 HERE, and part 3 HERE. This post is kind of a continuation of that theme.

Years ago I read an article from Focus on the Family that used the phrase “overwhelmed and undersupported” to describe many stay-at-home Moms trying to juggle the myriad demands of managing family life, a household, homeschooling, and their own personal needs. I thought that was a very good description of how I felt most of the time when my children were young—overwhelmed and undersupported.

When the kids were little, from the time I woke up to the time I dropped into bed at night my life seemed to be on a multi-tasking treadmill. Here’s what the first four hours of a typical day were like when I started homeschooling. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent because there were no innocent.

A Day in the Life of a Homeschool Mom

There used to be a column in one of the popular home schooling magazines about a day in the life of a homeschooling family. Each month a different family would journal about what a day in their life was like. Never, ever did any of these families describe anything remotely similar to what a day in my life was like. Their days seemed to be neat and tidy, full of meaningful bonding times and finished schoolwork and projects. Mine were more a combination of comedy and total chaos—like something out of a Pinky and the Brain cartoon.

Here’s what a typical schoolday morning was like for me when I started homeschooling.

It is Monday morning. I get up, take my shower and get dressed because Clarissa, the woman who works in our home business upstairs, will arrive between 8:30 and 9. And to get upstairs she has to come through my kitchen door and usually stops to put her lunch in my refrigerator. Chris is already upstairs in his office, getting things ready for the day. The boys and I are very tired because church ran late last night and, since Chris is the pastor and we only have one car, we are always the last ones to leave. Also, because two of my children have cystic fibrosis, that meant we did an hour of respiratory therapy after we got home. So none of us got to bed until close to midnight.

And did I mention that the house is a mess?

I walk a continuous circuit from one boy’s bed to another, making sure they are up and dressed. At the same time, I am darting back and forth to the kitchen, finishing their breakfast.

Just as we are sitting down to eat, Clarissa shows up sobbing. Her ex-husband Eddie is behind on his child-support and she is afraid her power will be shut off because she doesn’t have enough money to pay the bill. I listen to Clarissa while the boys wander in for breakfast. Clarissa eventually finishes telling me her sad story and goes upstairs to work. While she was talking to me the boys finished breakfast and scattered in every direction.

Everything is already running half an hour late, so I gather the boys and start two of them on their respiratory therapy. When therapy is done, I send them all off to do their morning chores while I put the dishes in the sink and look for the morning's schoolwork which, of course, is not where it should have been put away on Friday.

The boys are supposed to feed the horses, dogs, and cats and come right back and start on their math. But they’ve gotten sidetracked at the barn by a copperhead they find coiled up in the hay. After much poking and prodding and general excitement, someone gets the idea to take a shovel and whack off the copperhead’s head. When the boys burst back into the kitchen, I am greeted with a very boisterous recounting of the copperhead adventure and a Ziploc baggy containing the hacked remains of a headless snake they want to freeze for later dissection. (I will find this frozen snake a year later when I am cleaning out my freezer.)

For some reason, all of my children could have been ADHD poster kids, so there is never any such thing as just sitting them down at a table, opening the day’s lesson in their math books and starting them on a task at which they sit quietly for an hour doing their work. In fact, there is never any such thing as finding the math books, pencils and paper much less finding the boys without spending 10 minutes searching for them.

I have a friend who homeschools two girls. She has a completely different experience. Her school room is orderly, her home is immaculate, and everything runs like clockwork. The girls get up when their alarms go off, get themselves dressed, help with breakfast preparation and cleanup, do their chores, and dive into their schoolwork by 8:30 AM with no prompting or prodding. They spend endless hours watching ABeka videos without ever wiggling or whining or getting into spitball fights. And when school is done for the day they put all their school supplies neatly away. I can’t even imagine such a scenario in my home. It is so alien to my experience that they might as well be Martians.

Sometimes I console myself by believing that my kids must have the Edison trait, or the DaVinci factor, or whatever it is that makes quirky kids who make huge messes and don’t fit normal guidelines grow up to become genius millionaires like Walt Disney or Bill Gates or Steven Jobs or what’s-his-face who started Virgin Atlantic Airlines.

By now it’s nearly 10 AM—way past time for school to start. FINALLY, everyone is up and dressed, breakfast has been eaten, therapy and the morning chores have been done, the dead snake is in my freezer, and the boys are seated around the table with paper, pencils, and math books. It should be smooth sailing from here on out, right?

Not so fast.

James suddenly has to go to the bathroom. For all of the boys, going to the bathroom is usually a theatrical production in six acts—Act I, head for the bathroom but become distracted by something and change course; Act II, spend 15 or 20 minutes off-course before realizing you really, really have to go to the bathroom; Act III, go to the bathroom; Act IV, head back to the schoolroom but become distracted by something and change course; Act V, spend 15 or 20 minutes off-course before Mom finds you and sends you back to the school room; Act VI, resume your schoolwork.

Blake can’t find his cat and he wants the cat to be in the room with him while he does his math, so, when I’m tracking James down, Blake runs outside to find the cat. Actually, the cat is only half Blake’s because the cat originally belonged to James until the two of them worked out a deal that involved trading Blake’s Snake Eyes G.I. Joe for half of James’ cat. I don’t ask which half of Fluffy each boy owns. I don’t really want to know. But it does raise interesting questions about how they will settle the issue when each of them wants to take their half of the cat with them to college—if the cat makes it that long and if they ever graduate from homeschool..

Seth realizes this is his opportunity to sneak away, so he disappears into the computer room. When James and Blake get back, Seth has to be dragged away from the computer. He’s working on a program he’s designing and has just gotten in the groove and doesn’t want his train of thought to be interrupted by something as mundane as math. As the four of us march back to the dining room table where math is waiting, someone knocks a potted plant over and makes a mess that has to be cleaned up before it stains the rug. And did I mention that some animal has pooed on the porch? I am alerted to that fact by mysterious, brown, stinky footprints across the kitchen floor. So I deploy a cleaning crew to tackle poo containment before a trail of stinky tracks winds its way through the rest of the house.

As I gather everyone together for the umpteenth time and herd them toward their schoolwork, I am reminded of the phrase “herding cats.” That perfectly describes what it is like to round up a houseful of boys and get them all in one place at one time ready to focus on math. I comfort myself with the knowledge that Einstein flunked math as a kid, so maybe there is hope for my boys.

The dog slipped in when Blake came back with the cat and she makes a sudden appearance, starts chasing the cat, and before I can stop them, everyone under 10 (which is everyone but me) is having a great time running through the house trying to catch the cat and dog. Finally at 10:45 the dog and cat are outside, the boys are quiet and seated at the table and everyone at least has their book and pencil and paper in hand and is showing some indication that they might possibly settle down and get to their math. But, after all their exertion, they want something to drink. That takes another 10 minutes.

Finally, we are actually doing “school.” For 30 minutes all runs smoothly. The math books are actually open. Pencils are actually scribbling math problems on paper. I have high hopes that perhaps some knowledge of math is actually seeping into their brains. I savor the moment, knowing it is probably too good to last. Sure enough, soon there is the sound of a truck driving down the driveway. There is immediate pandemonium as everyone starts chanting, "U.P.S.!, U.P.S.!, U.P.S.!" Math is forgotten as a tableful of boys drop their schoolwork and make a mad dash to the door to find out if Danny, the UPS driver, delivered anything for them.

Chris comes downstairs to find out why there is so much commotion. He has fantasies of happy, studious boys sitting around the table in a tidy, well-organized house eagerly polishing off five subjects by 11 in the morning with the help of their awesomely together mother. He doesn’t seem to realize that he is delusional. Either that, or he’s fantasizing about someone else’s wife and kids—not his own. He can’t fathom how easily the day can just run away from me (and neither can I) because as soon as he shows up the boys jump into their seats and start working furiously at their math looking like angelic future Nobel Prize winners.

Chris returns to his office, but comes back downstairs a few minutes later to run an errand in town. As he is headed toward the garage, Blake jumps up and runs out the door after him to remind him to get more milk. Blake has forgotten that he set his breakfast leftovers outside the screen door on the porch and another of the cats, who is in an advanced stage of pregnancy, is eating them. As Blake flings the screen door open screaming, "Dad, wait!!!" the cat is so terrified that right in front of our eyes she rolls over shrieking and literally shoots a kitten into the air. The kitten takes a trajectory that propels it several feet across the porch where it skids to a stop and lies there completely stunned, trying to figure out what just happened. We are all just as stunned. Then we break into hysterical laughter as the mother cat calmly resumes eating Blake's leftovers.

After the mother cat finishes eating, she notices the kitten and realizes that it is hers. (The following evening she will give birth to two more kittens in a more traditional manner.)

When all the oooing and ahhhing over the new kitten winds down, I get the boys settled again and tackling their schoolwork. But I know it won’t be long before they are hungry. And when Clarissa comes downstairs to get her lunch out of the refrigerator and to tell me her unabridged version of what a lowlife Eddie is, they will want to eat too. We will be lucky if, during the whole morning, we put in an hour of school. And by lunch time I will be exhausted from a morning spent “herding cats” in the form of small boys.

But I won’t be able to rest because I still have a whole afternoon of more school, of chauffeuring the boys to soccer or to dance, art, or piano lessons, and of trying to review a few of the hundreds of books lining my hallway and pouring over into my bedroom. …And then there is dinner to prepare, and, after that, therapy. And, hopefully I can get the dishwasher loaded and some cleaning up done before I go to bed. But then again, maybe not.

Yes, there are probably a dozen ways I could change this scenario to make things run more smoothly and efficiently, but I’m just too dad-gum tired to exert the energy to undertake the changes I need to make.

Overwhelmed and Undersupported

Thankfully, those days didn’t last forever. Eventually the children got older and more settled into a routine and I learned how to better manage things.

How did I feel on days like that? Overwhelmed and under-supported. I would catch myself thinking thoughts like:

- This isn't fun anymore (in fact, it's a real drag).

- My life is spinning out of control.

- There's not enough me to go around.

- I'm trying to keep too many balls up in the air (or spin too many plates).

- I'm drowning.

-There’s always military school.

- Can I run away from home?

I would also have weird feelings in my body...a tightness in my throat, chest or between the shoulder blades, pain in my lower back, headaches or dizziness, chronic fatigue, numbness of certain parts of my body, anxiety and tenseness, difficulty swallowing, nausea, upset stomach or irritable bowel, and ringing in my ears.

Next newsletter I will share the things that helped me the most to declutter my life and handle my overwhelm.

Until then, have a great week!


Helpful resources for the cluttered and overwhelmed:

What is a Family? What is a Family and Hidden Art by Edith Schaeffer. These two books are on my "must read" list and are probably the books you want to start with because they present such an inspiring vision of what family is and can be. Sometimes life seems overwhelming simply because we've lost touch with the importance of what we are doing. Homeschooling our kids is no small feat. It is a choice that can have eternal implications. In these two books, Edith Schaeffer paints a picture of what we are really creating when we take the time and care to create a home.

Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson. Picture living a life where you didn’t feel overextended. You had the time you needed to spend on things that were important to you; the emotional reserves to develop deep, meaningful relationships; the financial reserves to spend on what would enhance your life and your relationships; and the physical health to be able to do what you love to do. Defining margin as the space that exists between people and their personal limits, Swenson tells us how we’ve squeezed that space out of our lives so that most of us live chronically overextended lives wishing for more time, more energy, more money, and deeper relationships. This book is one of the best books we’ve ever read and it clearly explains how we let margin slip out of our lives, what it does to us as people to live without it, and how we can regain it.

The Overload Syndrome by Dr. Richard Swenson. This book is written like a “prescription” for overloaded lives. Through humor and a great deal of common sense, Swenson shows how you can carve out margin in four key areas of your life: emotional, physical, time and financial. By becoming Goal-Focused and God-Focused, you can unplug and eliminate a large portion of the stress in your life. This book can truly change your life if you follow its “prescriptions” for moving from a life of overload to a life like God intended it to be.

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Helpful resources for the cluttered and overwhelmed:

The three books below take an organizational approach to clutter-overwhelm and are packed with tips and hints for tackling clutter and disorganization. Each takes a slightly different approach but each has provided me with indispensible help in curing my packratness and disorganization:

Product DetailsGetting Things Done by David Allen.

Getting Organized by Stephanie Winston

Simply Organized by Emilie Barnes

I don't care what your budget, buy these two books from Jeff Campbell: Clutter Control and Speed Cleaning. Why buy them? Because if you're like me, you probably already thought you know how to clean but couldn't stand to. Campbell explains that the main reason you can't stand to clean is because you're using all the wrong methods and the wrong products. Quite frankly, my mother never showed me how to clean a house and I can safely say -- since my mother won't be reading this -- that my mother knew zip about the right way to clean a house. First, get rid of your clutter using Clutter Control. But once it's gone, you'll want to clean. And Speed Cleaning gives you the quick, easy system to use to do it.

If you are a hard-core clutterer and have tried the more traditional approaches, the two books below are for you:

Sidetracked Home Executives: From Pigpen to Paradise by Pam Young and Peggy Jones. These two sisters share the system of organizing household chores that they created to make managing a home less time consuming and more efficient. This recently updated handbook explains how to reduce chaos and clutter and achieve organisation in the home.

The New Messies Manual: The Procrastinator's Guide to Good Housekeeping The New Messies' Manual: The Procrastinator's Guide to Good Housekeeping by Sandra Felton. This is for the person with a serious case of messiness and disorganization. Many people are not messy, but just disorganized, so books like Getting Things Done or Getting Organized are just what they need. But if you find yourself facing "chronic messiness" and battling depression and shame over it, this is the book for you.

And finally, two books about creating the life you really want:

The Path of Least Resistance and Your Life as Art by Robert Fritz. Robert's work is about recognizing what really matters to you, and then creating your life based on that. So in a way, he teaches you to nourish and equip your deepest desires and highest aspirations so that you live a life centered around those. You are a creator, whether you acknowledge it or not. You create your relationships, your attitudes, your surroundings, your career, and yes, music and paintings and inventions and sculptures and books. So why not create the life you really care about? These books are about looking at your own life as a work of art that you create based on what really matters to you.

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