Even Unschoolers Can Get Homeschool Burnout

So where has Tammy been? She’s been doing too many things, that’s what.

This is a serious concern for us homeschoolin’ mamas who, in addition to educating our kids, have a life of our own. I suppose, this problem is true for every mama. However, with homeschooling, it’s even easier to spread ourselves too thin without even realizing we’re doing it.

The reason? We are in total control of our time. We have very few outward “have-tos” that we can blame our stress on. And if you’re at all like me, you like to fill your time with fun, interesting and challenging things, so we don’t have any real indication of when we are “free” and when we are “busy”. It all smooshes together and becomes one big mess of “I should do….”s.

There are so many great things to do in life, it can slowly build up, without even seeing it. One great thing here, another great thing there… before I know it, I have so many great things going on, that it’s impossible to do any of those things without having all the other things hanging over me. It’s also hard to spend any significant time any of those one things without feeling like I’m neglecting so many other things. A lot of great things = stress.

Now, it’s far better than having a life full of yucky things, I admit. But it’s still stressful. Perhaps, even more stressful because I’ve put all these things on myself. I can’t say “no” to opportunities because I made a choice to homeschool specifically to be able to do great things that are otherwise not availalbe to me. I also can’t complain that other people are putting pressure on me, and therefore direct my frustration at someone else.

It snuck up on me, this burn-out. I thought for sure, that it wouldn’t happen to me. I’m not following a curriculum, not beating myself up about making sure the kids learn this or that by the time they are 7.4 years old. But, you know, when a week goes by and I haven’t been able to post to my blog, which is on my top three favorite things to do, and I can’t remember the last time that I’ve let go and just had fun (without feeling simultaneously guilty about all the things I’m not doing), it’s a wake up call that it’s time to simplify. I’m burning myself out in a totally unexpected way – by attempting to do everything I want to do.

But how can I simplify when I don’t want to get rid of anything? I like the things that are happening in my life.

So, fellow busy mamas, what do you do to make sure that you don’t have too much going on? How do you keep your life balanced, full of things that you love, yet not too full?


18 Responses to “Even Unschoolers Can Get Homeschool Burnout”

  1. Kari Aist Says:

    Tammy, I can SO relate to this post! I tend to do what you have described, then I crash for a bit, then I start following my interests and before I know it I am over-committed again, even though it’s with tons of things I am very glad to be involved with!

    Jack of All Trades, Master of None is how I’ve heard it described, which I somewhat object to because I try to do everything to meet a pretty high standard (my own)!

    Anyway, I have recently begun to relax about it and affectionately recognize my tendency to overload. This understanding attitude toward myself has actually improved the situation a bit–I am less anxious about getting everything accomplished and I am just doing it and enjoying each thing that I do, therefore getting more done. (Used to be that I would stress over upcoming due dates or other responsibilities and in the stressing mope around and waste time–very inefficient!)

    Anyway, I hope you give yourself a break and recognize that people like us who are interested in so many things are just going to have very full lives. Live would be boring otherwise!

  2. Doc Says:

    I’ve been there, so many times over the years.

    I love volunteering, but when it gets to be too much, I say “no” to at least one thing – this year it was meals on wheels. I hated doing it, but I’m still a senior advocate, 4H leader, and tutor.

    I love farming, but I can’t do anything. Last year I sold off half my goat herd, because I couldn’t keep up with the milking.

    I cut back on the things I love, I don’t cut them out. Limits = balance.

  3. Colleen Says:

    Maybe an occasional vacation would help. You know, just take a week off of activities and hang out at home. I always feel renewed when I’ve had a few days in a row of staying home. I know it’s not a long-term solution but it does make me feel better.

  4. Sandra Foyt Says:

    I am so bad at balancing my life. It all wells up until I find myself yelling more than I should. Every time I cut some volunteer work or time-consuming hobby, something else crops up.

    And trying to let go of the chores that I don’t care about – cooking, cleaning, weeding – just raises my stress level when there’s nothing edible, no clear surfaces, and gargantuan weeds swallow the walkway.

    Well, I don’t have any answers. I’m just taking things one day at a time. Trying little things like requiring the kids to help with chores, using Yahoo Groups to reduce my volunteer work, and trying to avoid any more respsonsibilities for now.

    I think that if I can look at things from a long-term perspective, rather than imagining that it all has to be done now, it’s all more manageable.

  5. Michelle Says:

    I know not what you speak of…okay, yes I do.

    When I go into burn out, I just take a brief hiatus. I make no major decisions. I usually post a blog note stating when I’ll return and I change my email groups to digests. I also cheat by posting a link in my blog to someone else’s talent. I give the kids books and let them own it for a while.

    I also have a burning need to visit every pundit and economic news blog. So I remind myself the world will carry on in my absense and I go and veg. with a great book. I rejoin the world when I am ready.
    I bought another Gatto book today..yikes my poor brain. Me thinks I am not far behind you in needing a break.

  6. suburbancorrespondent Says:

    Oh, boy, do I know what you mean! I guess “cut back, not out” is good advice. Still…that awful sense of not being able to focus on one thing at a time and enjoy it, because of all the other things you are not doing? I recognize that. I think what is essential (and this is Flylady talking) is to know what your baseline is – the very basics you need to do to keep your life running smoothly and yourself not stressed – and make sure those are done before anything else. Many times I feel that I am being boring and too tied to certain routines. But if I let go of those routines, I become miserable and totally scattered very quickly. For example, I know that I have to get all necessary household tasks (prepping dinner, basic cleaning, one or two essential phone calls) done before lunch, or they do not get done. So I have to stick to my commitment not to go anywhere in the mornings, which makes me feel very rigid and boring; but in actuality, it makes me more fun because then I can be free and easy in the afternoon rather than stressed or worried.

    The other thing I have to remember is that, as far as homeschooling goes, good enough is good enough. Nothing will be perfect, and my kids will not get the most stimulating, amazing education ever. The best thing I can give them is an unstressed smiling mother and a smooth-running home.

  7. leapingfromthebox Says:

    You have received some nice comments and good suggestions, Tammy. I can only add that when I get overloaded, I just have to back off for a bit. Usually what is stressing me is online stuff, feeling behind on my website, blog, too much email, etc. And as odd as it might seem, taking a break from it, no online/computer stuff for the whole weekend, for example, really does re-energize me. Or maybe it just gives me the renewed perspective that life really will go on even if I don’t get that one more blog post up or edit that one more webpage. Relax, go read a great novel, play a game, and ignore all that other stuff that you love to do but is causing you to stress out!

  8. Rose Says:

    We head for the beach when we’re too stressed out. My great plan for this summer was to make the beach a working vacation so the working would pay for the vacation, but now the vacation feels like work. In general, I find that a few hours of solitude (not easy to come by) with as little noise as possible is my best refresher.

  9. Cindy Says:

    I actually let things go. There are projects that I’d love to do, that would be so exciting, but I have to think about my family and myself first. Generally, I’m okay about not doing everything. I remind myself that I’m busy enough as it is, but it’s taken me awhile to get to this point. It’s a process. I’m surprised by the moments of quietness that come out of this choice. I relish in the five minutes I’m hugging my child or my husband, in the morning where I have no plans, in the weekend that has no obligations. The possibilities. It does take awhile to be okay with not having every minute planned out months in advance. You will get there. 🙂

  10. tomysky Says:

    I think sometimes not having a schedule/plan can lead to the burn out. Too many things on the mind. That’s why people have encouraged me to just “write it down” or “get it done” if it’s a small thing and let it go.

    Not saying that everything needs to adhere to a schedule, but sometimes having one saves on brainpower that, if over-taxed, will wear you out.


  11. Rose Says:

    Hey, Tammy, I had another idea. How about deschooling yourself? There is this great book out there about it 🙂

  12. livinhome Says:

    Can I have a vacation when I have still many jobs to do? 😀

    I want to let them go, but many responsibilities that I hold…

  13. Tammy Takahashi Says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help.

    Kari – Why is it natural to respond to having too much to do by moping around doing nothing? Humans are wired funny.

    Doc – Volunteering. That’s what’s killing me too. And it doesn’t help that every volunteering thing I’m doing, conveniently, nobody else can do – or wants to do.

    Colleen – Not a bad idea. Even a “Hubby takes the kids out for the day” vacation would be awesome.

    Sandra – Your suggestion for long term thinking makes sense. I’ll try to remember that.

    Michelle – Those daily-update sites can really suck you in. I’ve already given all of those up, and I feel so out of touch! I rely on my hubby to keep me up to date on the world outside of homeschooling.

    Suburban – You’re right. I heard this one expression somewhere before, it goes, “Just enough… and nothing more…” you familiar with it? I should pay more attention to it. 🙂

    leaping – Life will go on without me… comforting yet somewhat disappointing. Time to get over myself, eh?

    Rose – Solitude? Quiet? I’m seriously not understanding these words. Gotta find my dictionary….

    Cindy – Life is on big balancing act that never ends, isn’t it? You’re right, I’ll get there. Especially since I have so many awesome people helping me out. 🙂

    Luke – I flip-flop between having a plan, and not having one. There’s a certain point where there’s just too much, with or without a plan. I think I’ve reached that point. I should scan my to-do list sometime, and post it. BTW, do you have a blog?

    Rose again – HA!! I need to de-life myself.

    livin – Bingo! That’s what I keep thinking.

    Thanks again everyone.

  14. Melissa Z. Says:

    First, you need to plan a retreat with a good friend. Secondly, you need to turn this into an article for one of the homeschooling groups in Cali. PEOPLE NEED TO HEAR THIS MESSAGE! Thanks for it, friend. XO

  15. DesertRat Says:

    Ohhhh, do I hear you. I just hit The Wall myself. TooMuchTooMuchTOOMUCHstuffgoingon -agggghhhhh! I feel like a moth in a bottle.

    My summer solstice resolutions: no more hobbies, no matter how interesting they may look. No more volunteering for anything, no matter how much fun it would be (and I’m surrounded by champion wheedlers; these resolutions aren’t for sissies!) I have enough — all of my dreams came true. Now I have to learn that being content and happy and still are Good Things.

    Oh yeah. And I’m gutting the house. Not the HOUSE house, just all of the Stuff that’s in it. Gone, baby, gone. One of the reasons I’m feeling suffocated is…well, that I’m *being suffocated*. I’m doing a crash course in declutter. Man, does it feel good! I can master content and happy now; still will have to wait another week or two ;).

    Good grief, how did I manage to acquire 60 pounds of knitting books?!?

  16. The Daily Planet » Carnival of Homeschooling #132: Let’s Go To The Ice Cream Parlor! Says:

    […] with Just Enough, and Nothing More says “Even Unschoolers Can Get Homeschool Burnout”. Burnout can happen to anyone. It snuck up on me, and I thought I was having fun. How do you beat […]

  17. Cristina Says:

    Great post. My best defense against busy is to never say yes right away. Even if it is something I really want to do, I try to step back and think about whether I really have the time for it.

    Of course, that doesn’t always help with avoiding to many activities, so I have a de-stress defense. My preference is taking a yoga class, but if I don’t have time for that I at least make time to read or watch a favorite funny movie. We need to remember to take time for ourselves. My father uses the saying “In an airplane, you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can help your children.”

    Peace and Laughter!

  18. Barbara Frank Says:

    Great post! I think you’ve already hit on the right first step….you’re acknowledging your situation and looking for solutions. Sometimes people forge on and end up wiped out! You have to stop, take time to reassess, weed out what isn’t absolutely essential, and then take a little break before you jump back in.

    I’ve had burnout many times since I became an adult, much less since the kids arrived and we started homeschooling. I sometimes feel like I have to reinvent myself when the burnout starts to return.

    This past year, we learned a new way to make life easier. The death of my husband’s business in 2007 (thank you, China) led to us downsizing: selling the big house and paring down 20 years of possessions as we moved to a smaller one. We are now renters, and I can’t believe how much more time I have because there’s no yardwork, no home decorating, etc. What fun! We’ll buy a house again at some point, but until then I’m really enjoying this freedom.

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