I'm in the process of answering some common concerns which face families who are considering home education. You can catch up on the previous posts in this series here. One of the perks of learning at home is that you get to spend a lot of time with your children. A lot of time. Yes, you will be with your children all day. Every day. Now, before I scare you away from a beautiful thing, I just want to address a fear you may have: (Concern #9) "Will I get sick of my kids being around me all the time? How will I get time to do anything alone?"
The answer to whether you will get sick of your children, overwhelmed or burnt-out is yes, sometimes you will. You will occasionally have enough of being constantly together. If you are going straight into home education without ever having put your children into any outside school setting, you will be ahead of the game as you never had the breather of having your children gone for extended periods of time five days a week. It will be less of a shock to your system if you are going straight from the toddler and pre-school years into home education for early elementary as you are already used to the constant sacrifices and you probably have worked in some self-care skills along the way (I hope).
If you are taking your children out of private or public school and bringing them home to educate, you have a transition on your hands. When my son was going to go into second grade, my husband gave the green light for home educating. Now, up until this time, my son had been in kindergarten for one year (which, at the time meant he was gone at school from 7:30am until 11:30am). While he was at school I got to take a run, take a shower and send some emails or run errands. A few days a week I worked in the classroom, and one morning a week I attended Bible Study. Still, I did get to do those few things for myself and then he would be at home. He was an only child at the time so I had gotten used to my freedom. In his first grade year I got pregnant, but he was gone from 7:30am til 1:30pm! I had six whole hours to myself. I can't really tell you what meaningful activities filled those hours in retrospect, but I did have some freedom. The trade-off was that from 1:30pm - 5:30pm he was a bit burnt out and we had some homework to do and it was hard to tell what had gone on with him in the preceding six hours -- I never knew all that was going on in his life and my lack of influence was showing in his personality.
When we pulled him home my second born was already six months old. It was a huge transition anyway, having an infant again, but then I was educating my son at home for the first year as well. I had no time to myself between homeschooling by day and nursing our infant through the night. That season did pass us by and we all survived (even sometimes thrived) through it.
I want to encourage you that the investment you make in your children by bringing them home usually (over time) makes them more settled in themselves and they end up being more likeable people (that happened with my son -- his best traits came out and we saw the change in his character even within the first few months of home educating). Inner contentment makes your child more of a joy to be around. In addition, being around one another constantly makes us more "real" with one another and we truly understand one another. We really know each other well and we see through one another. As a result we are able to be less sensitive and more gracious to one another. I enjoy my boys and I love time with them. I am glad they are home (most days).
Some days, like one this last week, my boys have an abundance of energy and I have a need for a calm environment. This week, when they were super-energetic, I knew that they were just being boys and I had to do something to help them (before I went crazy from them bouncing off the walls). I decided to change our plans so they could get out and burn off some of that wildness. We set-aside the book-learning, I put on running clothes, they got on their bikes and we went for a run through the park. I felt much calmer and they did too. When we are home together non-stop, we need to learn how to get out of the home sometimes to break up the monotony.
Every day that we are home (sometimes we are out for external classes or lessons right after lunch), we have a "quiet room time." I want to help my boys cultivate the habit of rest and to learn to be alone. Both of these habits will bless them as they develop a growing relationship with God. So, each day, after lunch, we retreat to our rooms and spend time quietly alone. My youngest may have a book on tape or some music on in his room. My older son will usually read. If either of them has shown signs of needing a nap, I make it a rest time instead of a quiet play time. Most days during quiet room time I either read something or take my own nap. It is really hard for a person like me to nap. There are always more pressing things to accomplish, but I have learned to force myself to rest so that I can enter the second half of the day with more energy. Even if I only rest 20 minutes, I am the better for it.
I have also learned to leave the situation when I am getting frustrated. Sometimes my spirit feels like a little tea kettle and I can feel a boiling rise up in me -- call it my Irish temper if you will. I have learned to step out of the main room, go to my "Green Chair" (an oversized chair in my bedroom) and collapse into God's presence. It only takes a few minutes, but when I regroup with the Lord, I can return with a calm spirit. I used to resist leaving my boys alone. I feared they would tear the house down or harm one another or take advantage of my absence. I have learned to set clear boundaries and expectations when I go away from them so that I can truly rest and pray peacefully. Sometimes I need a longer breather. I can tell the boys to do something productive in their own rooms -- or I can call "break time" and then I can read my Bible, my devotional or call my prayer partner and get refreshed. It has taken time for me to develop this habit. In our early years of homeschooling I would sometimes blow it and yell before I would even realize I needed to get out of the situation and calm myself down. I have learned to retreat instead of exploding now. My older son even recently mentioned that he notices the difference.
You do need to get away sometimes. I have a deal with my husband that I can take off when needed -- he has graciously offered this to me. Some evenings when he comes home, I have supper ready and I just head out to a local coffee shop, get a cup of tea and sit. I used to resist this too -- not wanting to miss out on "family time" but then family time would go south because I was burnt out. It is good to get away and recharge when needed. Sometimes I call a friend to join me. Every six to eight weeks I host a women's meeting called "Mom's Night of Refreshment" where a bunch of homeschool moms come over and listen to a conference CD, share with one another, encourage one another and then pray together. We all need that time of being together with other women and it never fails to rejuvenate all of us. The group varies each time, but it is always a blessing to host other moms and I get so filled through these evenings too. And, you know, when we set up play dates for our kids, they aren't just for the kids -- us moms thrive on the time we get to hang out together while our little ones are having fun with each other. It never fails to recalibrate my perspective when I hang out with some good friends who also home educate. I have recently revived a few passions of mine. I have been writing (this blog!) and I have been sewing. It is important to be present for our children, but it is important, too, to have refreshing and energizing facets of our lives which have nothing to do with parenting or home educating.
So, as you look into home education, remember to work times of separation or quiet into your regular daily rhythm. Children can learn to enjoy this bit by bit and the amount of time can be increased incrementally as they adapt. Know that sometimes you just have to get out of the house. A break in the monotony and cabin-fever can be a great cure for feelings of being cooped up together. Also remember to take breaks throughout the day when you feel overwhelmed, burnt out or frustrated. Be sure to cultivate opportunities to go out of your home on your own or with friends to recharge your battery. Having hobbies and interests of your own will fill your tank and ensure that your whole life doesn't center around being a mom and a homeschooler. You will be able to enjoy your children more as you balance your own needs into your life each week. In time I am sure you will be able to say you enjoy being with your children all day and you wouldn't have it any other way.