What This Homeschool Mom Does When I Get Burned Out

What This Homeschool Mom Does When I Get Burned Out // jessconnell.com

Last week it hit at once, unexpectedly.

The wearying combination of both physical and emotional tiredness. We’ve had a busy couple months with life and ministry. I’d been schooling faithfully since our daughter was in the hospital, and that probably contributed, too.

DJEBMSMTLBut the thing that had given the biggest gut-punch was that one of those discouraging parenting moments hit, and we were all again front-and-center reminded that we are sinner parents raising sinner children. I’m not giving specifying details, because it’s not about the incident, but about my feeling of burnout and what I did next.

I’m just sharing so you know– that’s the context of the moment when I felt the feeling, “I can’t. I don’t want to. I’m too weary. NO MORE. Someone else do this. This is TOO HARD.” I wanted to scream, bolt, and hide.

What would we do without grace? We are all so weak.

WHAT I DID:

#1- TOOK AN EVENING ALONE

I suggested a few options for dinner to my amazing husband, grabbed my Bible and journal, a million of my favorite books, my laptop, snuggled the kids, said “goodnight,” and hit the door. I headed in the vague direction of restaurants, unsure if I could even muster up an appetite. Driving down the highway, I still didn’t know where I was headed, or what would soothe my heart (coffee? reading time? writing time? online? offline?).

As an at-home mom of 7, I try to make the most of moments alone, and there are moments where (despite knowing mom-of-17 Susanna Wesley’s advice about throwing an apron over your head) I feel a greater need for silence and solitude. When I’m feeling that familiar burn-out feeling (which maybe comes every couple/few years for me), the apron over the head trick isn’t enough. We have found that at times like these, it helps me a great deal to have a block of solid time to use purposefully. (And… full disclosure, sometimes “purposefully” means– for a nap. Or to veg out. Or to head to a coffee shop.)

#2- SORTED IT OUT IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD

Four miles down the highway, it hit me, and I could form it into words: I needed to reconnect and process it all with the Lord. For big stuff, I need to do that alone, first, to even sort out what I really think and feel, and discern what it is I need to do as His follower.

Doing so was miraculous. I poured out my heart in stumbly words as I drove. Once I sat down to dinner, He encouraged me through Scripture. He reminded me of my failures and missteps as a child/teen. He reminded me of all the things I love about this particular kid of ours. He reminded me of principles from the Bible and wisdom gleaned from godly people along the way.

I no longer felt that it was personal, that it was TheWorstThingAnyoneCouldEverDo (why do we feel that way about all sorts of parenting issues the first time we hit them?), and I had a much clearer head about suggestions to make to Doug about which sort of consequences and outcomes needed to process, going forward.

#3- ATE RED MEAT & READ.

Aa a born-and-raised Texan, nothing quite hits the spot like a good steak, are you with me? I headed for a local roadhouse. I’m probably borderline-anemic (as that often happens for me in these alternating seasons of motherhood– pregnant, postpartum, pregnant, postpartum), but let’s not kid ourselves. The reason I went for steak is because it’s just stinking good.

As I waited for my medium-rare ribeye, I copied down Scripture. I read and paused and pored over Scripture. I asked the Lord what I needed most, and let His Spirit guide me to the portions of His Word that would meet me in those most-needed places.

Elizabeth Elliot was my dinner partner. She reminded me that the lonely path is a good path… that even the worst things don’t mean life is over… that the places of desolation are places where God is at work… that He is good when it’s hard.

#4- BOUGHT A FEW NEW-TO-US BOARDGAMES.

Somehow I ended up at Goodwill in the toy section. I bought a couple that were still factory-sealed, and I found a few more that were unsealed but still (miraculously) had all their pieces and instructions.

My plan was beginning to formulate…

Connell 2015-22#5- TOOK A BREAK FROM SCHOOLING

I didn’t know it was coming, but suddenly, there in the aisle at Goodwill, like Michael Scott declaring bankruptcy, I declared Spring Break. Except he didn’t have the sole authority to make his declaration, and I do. 😉

The realization came, that we’d made it 75% of the way through our academic year and had virtually no breaks at all except for a brief couple weeks at Christmas and MeiMei’s time in the hospital. Suddenly it seemed obvious that we all needed a school breather… Last month, I even (ironically) wrote about homeschool burnout.

#6- TURN TOWARD THE PEOPLE I WANTED TO TURN AWAY FROM

That first morning, we did an intensive house clean up, then whipped out stacks of games. Beyond the natural consequences, what the child in question and I both needed were some smiles together. We needed to keep connecting and laughing and enjoying this world together… I actually even bought him a treat (chocolate Scrabble, to play and then savor).Connell 2015-28

But without having that time before the Lord, I would not have thought of this.

Selfishly, I wanted to curl up in a ball, turn inward, and turn away. I wanted to remove my presence from the one who displeased me. I wanted to punish with excessive consequences, but most of all, I wanted to punish by lack of presence– the EXACT WRONG INSTINCT… but an understandable one… self-protection is a fierce desire when we are hurting.

We started laughing together. Talked about trust and relationship and forgiveness. Learned 2 new games together. And for a few days’ time, we followed this cycle: played games, cleaned up a room intensively, then ate a snack/meal… rinse, wash, and repeat.

I would not have thought of this on my own. God is faithful to lead us not only to consequences (He led us in that too) but to love. Lavish, gracious, one-anothering LOVE.

#7- PERSONAL RESTORATION

I’ve taken hot baths, and done a Dead Sea mud mask a few times. Napped with Theo, wearing my beloved new sleep mask (good for mid-day naps and for migraines). I started exercising every single morning and taking plenty of B-12. I took time, during this school break, to do personally-restorative things that I don’t always get around to doing.

This is the sort of situation where I let the kids break out a season of I Love Lucy, or Liberty’s Kids, or binge-watch a baking competition, and I don’t feel the slightest guilt, because we’re (otherwise) cautious about screen time. The kiddos get a little (still educational/moral) treat, while I take a long bath or get a nap with the littles.

#8- CREATE, RATHER THAN CONSUME

Our culture trains us to be consumers, but because we are people made in the image of God, we are made to create and think and dream and build. So I’ve been going for walks, listening to podcasts (Pat Flynn & Sally Clarkson mostly), and thinking through projects (like a raised garden bed and making a switch of which toys are out and which are put away) that get shoved to the side when I’m in my head-down school mode. We got stones and pavers for a brick walkway we hope to put in this spring.

It’s tempting to just want to veg out and consume, but creating helps me actually look up and look out and make progress and move beyond my disappointment and exhaustion. So I redesigned the blog (I’m kind of in love with the colors; what do you think?), and began recording podcasts and my audiobook.

PLEASE SHARE IN THE COMMENTS: How do YOU get past burn out? What helps YOU, and does any of this look like what you do?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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17 Responses

  1. Tracy says:

    Yes yes yes! I live this…all of it. When are you coming over for coffee? (I know it’s a few hours away… :)
    So glad you got your rest and renewal. I love the clean/shine/play/rest/create rhythm to your break week. Order for the home and order for the soul. Joy for the home and joy for the soul. It so goes hand in hand.
    Thank you for the reminder and encouragement, as always. :)

  2. Dawn says:

    Yes, the blog looks great. I love the new colors! A break is usually way over due when I’ve had burnout seasons and it usually does happen when I’ve had a few home things going on such as new baby, moves or several illnesses in a row.
    I do similar things as you did. Cry out to God, read, I love listening to Sally! She is so encouraging! And extra sleep is a must. We have several educational DVDs and those are the weeks they get used. It’s amazing how long little ones will play with play dough too especially if I give them a few cookie cutters and a rolling pin.
    Thanks for the post. I find it very encouraging when bloggers keep it real. We all have those days, but not everyone shares the behind the scenes activity and thought process of what happens when those days hit.

  3. Laura says:

    I love the colours! Looks great!

  4. jayme says:

    I’m not a homeschooling mom – my oldest is almost 4. But his younger brother is 2.5. And his youngest brother is almost 1. And his next brother will be born in June. (Yes, 4 boys in just a tad over 4 years).

    I hit “Life Burn Out” late last week. My husband had been out of town for a few days. Then his grandmother died. Our eldest is difficult for me (we’re working on obedience, but he’s a tough nut to crack). Anyway, I did something similar – where I turned over dinner to my husband, kissed the boys and took myself off for dinner alone. In my case, it was a steak salad. And then a trip to a used clothing store where I bought a few essentials that our boys needed for spring/summer clothes. And a trip to Target where Easter things were purchased.

    For me, this time, it was a matter of a moment of peace, not being smeared with spaghetti sauce during dinner and getting some items off the To Do list that helped me! That was my Mommy Time Out.

  5. Diana says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words. There are times we all feel like we are failing our children as they evolve. By taking it to the Lord, He helps us find peace, at least for the next trial, to cope. Remember to train up a child in the way they should go. I have a 13 year old son and 4 grown children. The older ones turned out wonderful and I’m sure the 13 yr old will find his time if I keep on trying. You are doing the right things. Keep it up.

  6. Rachel says:

    I feel like this whole school year has been a bust due to my low energy this pregnancy (super low iron). I pray that the vast amounts of library books we’ve gotten out will make up for the lacks in math and writing somehow. Sigh. And baby is coming next month, so I don’t expect things to get any less crazy for quite some time. Thanks for the enouraging words.

  7. Kondwani says:

    I cannot imagine going for dinner or a coffee alone – but my husband encourages me to go for a run, and that is often what I need most. It’s when I can pour out my heart and just really relax and think/ pray things over. Before children, we would go hiking together whenever possible; we still do that, but with the children, it is less a time for us to talk, and maybe just a time to enjoy being together and being outside, and reflecting on God’s goodness (and yes, like you said, reconnecting with one another and trying to put whatever ‘incident’ behind you).

    It almost encourages me, in a way, that you feel this way too – because I think one thing the devil uses is isolation. ‘You’re the worst parent ever’, ‘You aren’t raising your children properly’, all those negative voices. Sometimes just to know that every parent hits these walls from time to time, and that there are conscious decisions we can make in how to deal with them is important. It’s not so much about what happened, but about what we do next.

    And I think with homeschooling, its remembering that flexibility – that we can decide to head for the rainforest for the day, or go for a long walk, or take a pile of books and sit somewhere peaceful and read some of them. Remembering why we homeschool in the first place, rather than letting the curriculum dominate us. I was talking to another mum today, and she said to me, ‘You see, I take homeschooling very seriously so we cannot take a morning off’. I thought it was interesting – was she implying we don’t take it seriously? But also, it kind of misses the point – the curricula and schedules are there to aid us, not to enslave us. When the children are young, they learn so much through imaginative play, through nature, through baking and cooking, through art and music – that even during ‘days off’, they are continually exposed to the richness of life. I think we all need reminded of that!

    I hope and pray you continue to feel refreshed, and can keep sharing the lessons you learn with us!

    • Jess Connell says:

      I love what you said about flexibility. Moments of burnout are when the freedom of homeschooling really SHINES.

      We’re free to go to a park, or enjoy the sun together in the morning and school in the afternoon when it’s rainy… or do double schooling on one day so we can have a completely free day another day. Or pitch it all and pick it up in a few days when we aren’t burned out.

      And I’m glad to be able to encourage you– it’s hard to live (like you do) outside of one’s own culture AND, in addition to that, feel like a lone weakling. You’re certainly not alone in being weak, having bad parenting moments, and rough days. I’m glad we get to encourage each other.

      • Kondwani says:

        Thanks Jess – actually, something you might be able to relate to is that some people back home can think you are a superhero of some kind because you live in a different culture, and don’t realise that we actually are just as human, just as weak, just as broken as they are. Similarly, some people think homeschooling families are also a bit superhuman. I think it means people don’t really think we need encouragement too, and that can be quite tough and isolating at times.

        • Jess Connell says:

          Definitely true!

          People sometimes look on in awe, like, “Wow, I was overwhelmed with my two; how does she do it with (3, 5, 7, 12)?” What they don’t realize is that God gives enough grace for each individual, and we all have access to the same grace… and pair that knowledge with the truth that we are all frail and weak. So the mom of 2 feels frail and weak with her 2, and the mom of 9 feels frail and weak with her 9.

          Neither feels adequate, because we aren’t meant to be adequate and complete on our own. No matter the family size, we all need Jesus so desperately.

          I completely identify with what you wrote:
          “I think it means people don’t really think we need encouragement too, and that can be quite tough and isolating at times.”

          Yes! It can. Sally Clarkson has a recent podcast called “Am I Ever Going to Fit In? Probably Not, But You’re In Good Company!” that gets at one angle of this… feeling alone in your ideals.

          • Kondwani says:

            Thanks Jess – I’ll take a look at that one! The other thing that can be funny is people don’t think adoptive children are as tiring as biological ones, or at least you don’t deserve much support because ‘having them was your choice’ – that can also be quite tough (but we get used to it). The challenge sometimes is ‘getting used to it’ without becoming hardened and cynical.

  8. Diana says:

    This paragraph especially resonated with me, because this is SO ME:

    “Selfishly, I wanted to curl up in a ball, turn inward, and turn away. I wanted to remove my presence from the one who displeased me. I wanted to punish with excessive consequences, but most of all, I wanted to punish by lack of presence– the EXACT WRONG INSTINCT… but an understandable one… self-protection is a fierce desire when we are hurting.”

    Thank you for putting this into words and reminding me – this is one instinct that MUST NOT be followed, regardless of how overwhelmingly strong it is in a moment of hurt.

    Great post. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who goes through these times!!

    Diana

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