Thursday, May 22, 2014

feeling burnout

Typical homeschooling day:

Baby up at night, then sleeps in till 8 am, messing up all naps (as in he will not fall asleep during his regular nap time). Husband left for work before the kids got up, so breakfast, getting dressed, davening, cleaning up is on me. Kids happily playing with a set of K'nex that a friend passed on. It is great, really, that they have no problem improvising and figuring out which motors do what and how to build anything. They do not need instructions. However, I have to call them time and again for breakfast. Then I have to tell them to clean up. Then they finally show up upstairs, in pajamas, each with a set of K'nex arrows tucked into waistbands made of rainbow loom bracelets.

It is all fine, really, except that 10yo has a mishna teacher coming at 10:30, and I would like to do chumash and the rest of the schoolwork with him before. Then the question of going to swim arises. I do not feel confident in their swimming ability, or in my ability to supervise four kids at a pool without a lifeguard. More, I have to call a friend to arrange this swimming session. They whine, and I lose it and tell them that for sure no swimming today, and not with me as the only adult present, ever.

8 yo goes down to the basement to daven with 4 yo, but they are not davening, they are playing with K'nex. I tell them to come upstairs and daven within my earshot. 1 yo is happily destroying the living room, after wrecking two kitchen drawers. I am trying to make challah for Shabbos, so the bread machine is in the laundry room, away from the baby.

8 yo throws a fit about davening. 4 yo wants to do projects, but not before she davens. She is waiting for me to daven with her, but I had to go wipe her tush in the middle of putting up dough, and then at out-of-town friend called to make shabbos plans and then I had to vacuum cut-up feathers from her yesterday's project. Bottom line, I am standing next to a bowl of dough trying to figure out how many cups of flour I already added while she is asking and asking to daven with her.

I try to nap 1yo and go outside to do Chumash with 10 yo. The baby will not nap, and 10 yo keeps insisting that Yehudah wants to get married to Tamar. He does not like the word "prostitute"; he insists that she is a hippie. He mentioned before that Tamar was the daughter of Shem, so I showed him that Rashi. He remembered from Sanhedrin that the penalty for a daughter of Kohen who has an affair while being married is burning, while for a regular person it is strangulation. Then he asks, but she is not married (I related this story later on to his mishna teacher and he said that Ramban asks the same question). I just answered that she is married to the family. He was wondering whether Yehudah was also going to get burned.

Meanwhile, 8 yo supposedly davened on his own. While I was outside with 10 yo, he even came up with ideas for his daily writing. In the morning, he mentioned that he's interested in learning script, something I was planning on skipping with him. His printing is still atrocious, and he hates writing. Now he wants to do chumash, but that was at the same time as I was learning with 10 yo. Now that I am available, he comes up with all interesting things: the chair has bird poop, it is too hot outside, he does not know what to write about for his writing, and he does not know the first word in the pasuk (that he read and translated yesterday). He changes the chair, I offer to go inside with him, I tell him to focus on Chumash now and not on writing, and I will help him with the word. Never mind, he just throws a fit and stomps off. I am not calm, I am as far away from calm as possible.

Did I mention that the baby is not sleeping?

I am up to my elbows in dough. I am trying to do Shabbos cooking. 10 yo offered to start on 5th grade math instead of Lashon HaTorah (we have not done either in weeks/months), but he is stumped by mental math calculations. I should be helping him, but I need to finish with this dough. I am much more worried about 8 yo's outburst over nothing, than about a math lesson a grade ahead.

I speak to the mishna teacher about his chicken keeping and whether 8 yo can help out in some way. When we went to the nature center, he was all over the chickens, picking them up, petting, and even finding an egg. I need to find an outlet for this child, something that he is naturally inclined to do. The rabbi's chickens do not like to be held, but he agrees to let my son come and feed them and collect the eggs.

For the first time ever, I just send out my assistant with the three older kids to the park. 1 yo finally fell asleep and I am cracking on that shabbos cooking.

Is this what burnout looks like? When you do not want to take out that baby who woke up from a nap way too early? When you do not want to pick up kitchen utensils for the fiftieth time today? When you do not want 4 yo making any more projects because there is always a mess accompanying them, and no end in sight? When you do not want to accommodate and strategize on how to teach a difficult anxious child? I do not want to hear about another cute/creative/breakthrough strategy. When you do not want to check math because it involves uninterrupted period of time to be effective, and you need to stay positive about careless mistakes?

baby rescue fox
When I look at my homeschooling friends, I see a lot of outsourcing, preferably with kids being dropped off somewhere and parent having time to themselves. It tends to get more intensive the larger the amount of kids involved, and the wider the age gap between them. When I look at my homeschooling, when I think about which days work, there is a pattern: very little schoolwork, kids got out of bed on the right foot, an outing without hidden educational agenda, lots of time out of the house. This past Tuesday I ran a whole bunch of errands with all the kids and then we drove to an animal sanctuary almost an hour away from home. It was a great day. No, I am not kidding; on those terms it was great to spend so much time with them. We did Chumash very quickly in the morning, but that was it for formal schoolwork. Then we stopped by OfficeMax to print 5th grade Math Mammoth, picked up mail, stopped by the bank (8 yo helped me figure out how much I need to withdraw and 10 yo studied the safe and the bulletproof glass), stopped by the grocery store to get a few things for dinner, then picked up copied math pages and got paninis-to-go for lunch. Yes, all these errands with all the kids: no problem! The rest of the day in the animal sanctuary was also quite fine. We saw a ton of free-range peacocks, talked to a keeper about a baby rescue fox, looked at all the animals. We came to a secluded spot at the edge of the forest. I sat on the bench and nursed while the kids played some advanced game of hide-and-seek. It was so idyllic, so calm, so perfect. No walls, no workbooks, no expectations.

Maybe these early years, when the baby is not sleeping, when the house is a total mess no matter what I do, when I cannot have a completed thought to myself are not the time for rigorous academics and high expectations. Maybe these years are meant to be spent as far away from the confines of the house as possible. I have no problem coming up with what to do with the kids all summer long.

But I do not want to check another page. I do not want to call another therapist. I do not want to answer another question. I do not want to commit to another field trip, no matter how amazing and educational. I want to have a break. Maybe I can start with having a cup of coffee all by myself, still hot, without anyone yelling at me or tugging at my skirt.

So, fellow homeschoolers, are you feeling burnout? What do you do about it?


  1. I think what spoke to me most about this was those years of basic childcare and cleaning and feeding and parenting taking up every single spare second and just not having the time to focus on academics. It was just so frustrating when one of my kids (and this still happens) is sitting there, wanting to learn, needing my help, and i'm being pulled in 3 other different directions--to finish food prep, to handle the little one/s, and what about that giant mess/es that are so down on the priority list but are affecting my sanity?
    And I love what you wrote about not wanting to hear about strategies. It's true that thinking about each thing and strategizing would help. It was very helpful for me to set up boundaries to the messes got less out of control, or set up meals systems, etc. But I totally relate to just not having the energy to even think about it and figure it out and try to implement it.
    When this happens to me I usually do drop the academics for a day or a week or pretend to give myself a month (I don't think I've ever did it for a whole month but it was nice to have that mental vacation).

    If you figure out how to have a cup of coffee while it's still hot without anyone tugging on your skirt or yelling at you, let me know. I've hidden in the bathroom to have mine, but they bang on the door and it's not very peaceful.

    A day of k'nex and coffee...

  2. I would suggest not making your own challah, for starters, until the baby is bigger at least. Buying challah is outsourcing too, and it's probably affordable.