Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hitting the Wall

"Careful, Chet."

Careful digging? What did that mean? Go slow, maybe? I didn't know how to do that, had only one speed for digging -- pedal to the metal. Bernie worked with a steady rhythm, driving in the spade, tossing the dirt over his shoulder, chunk-a-thunk, chunk-a-thunk. Not bad at all. But with four paws going for me, it wasn't really a contest. Did I send that dirt flying or what? Fountains of earth, baby, fountains of earth. We dug underneath the light of the moon, dug and dug until --


- Spencer Quinn, Thereby Hangs a Tail (from the dog's perspective)

Every homeschooling friend I have spoken with in the last two weeks has crashed into the iron wall of deep winter.

Yep. They knew it could happen. They've been doing this for years. They knew it was coming, as usual, this mid-year collision following frustrations, disappointments, stress, and surprises, one after another, piled high, rolling over them in an avalanche that wiped out the landmarks they use to gain their bearings.

They knew it was coming, but still they hit the wall. Under the avalanche, they could no longer see out the windshield. It happened in the usual spot at a nasty curve in the road on the route through February.

Yep. They should have taken better care of themselves. They should have paced themselves. They should have been wearing a helmet. And a fire suit, for heaven's sake.

Yep. They should have geared up incrementally after the holidays. They should have shifted gears in a gradual succession of increasing effort. But instead, they dived onto the road at top speed, every man for himself, in a rapid race which could not possibly be maintained without a proper warm-up. The pressure rubbed the tread off their tires. They lost traction. They burned their brakes, overheated their engines, and drove too fast for conditions. Then, at the end, there was an avalanche covering the windshield.

Maybe it's Happened to You, Too

Maybe you've crashed, too. If you have, don't despair. It happens to most of us, and we do survive it. Our homeschools survive it.

So now, what to do? Time to dig out. Time to dig a path through the debris of the crash and pick up the pieces. Repair what can be repaired. Make fountains of earth. And get on with the mission.

But first, take stock. Why did it happen? How did it happen? Where was the first sign that it might? Write this down and keep it in a place where you'll read it next fall before you need it.

Why We Crash

Here are my top seven reasons why moms hit the wall in deep winter. Do you recognize any of these?

  • Mom's doing too much. She has been doing things that the kids should be doing for themselves. She's worn out. Ideally, she should be doing only those things that she alone can do or that she does best. But instead, she has been doing it all, doing way too much, and she's been reluctant to ask for help. She needs to look for creative and consistent ways to delegate the tasks someone else can do, and remember that it's not easier to just do everything yourself.
  • Mom's not doing enough. She is not giving her kids guidance or listening time or discipline or accountability where it's needed. The kids are drifting, bored, and frustrated from the lack of accountability, boundaries, and clear expectations. This is one of the irreplaceable things that only she can do.
  • Mom's not shifting gears to go with the flow of life. She hasn't been able to warm up to the idea of taking a break or slowing her pace. Instead, she's rigidly holding to an artificial standard that does not fit her current situation. She needs more flexibility so she can adjust her speed or break larger tasks into smaller mini-steps or stop for a breather once in a while.
  • Mom needs new management skills. She needs to learn how to work more efficiently, how to delegate, how to keep a calendar, and how to plan a week. Her typical work habits are fine for low-stress times, but when life presents more challenges, she needs better skills to maneuver through them. She needs more order in her home, too, and she'll feel better if she clears the clutter.
  • Mom needs more help. She's only one person and she just can't do everything. She needs to hire some help with the housework or hire some tutors or use some online courses or send her bored teenager to community college classes. She doesn't want to do this, doesn't want to be needy or spend more money, so she hasn't fully admitted it to herself. But she should get some help. It'll cost less in the long run if she does it soon.
  • Mom needs a whole new system, a whole new paradigm for her school days. Her kids have outgrown her routine -- as kids periodically do. They're beginning to chafe under the pressure of a system that doesn't fit them quite. The old ways just don't work well now. Mom needs fresh ways to run the household and run the schoolroom. As our kids grow, moms have to grow and adapt, too. It's time for her to read a book for ideas or talk to an experienced friend and brainstorm for solutions.
  • Mom needs a break. Because hard things have happened. We all have years like that. I had several myself. Just know it will get better. Yes, it will.

These aren't all of the causes of winter burnout. These are just the ones I've noticed most often in myself and my friends. What's one thing that can push you into the wall?

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