Thoughts for the Overwhelmed Homeschool Parent

This space has been so quiet lately, allowing some much needed room to sort out bits of my heart and home. Time feels so tenuous, doesn’t it––the practical substance of our days, yet impossible to grasp. Yet I have been grasping still.

It seems our home is always moving these day, balls bouncing, doors swinging, water boiling. Our home rhythms have shifted drastically in the last few months, and honestly, I have felt generally overwhelmed accommodating it all. Perhaps it’s the weight of all Mark and I are trying to accomplish raising and educating children. Maybe it’s the context of building our own businesses from home or the lingering home projects waiting to be finished. Maybe it’s more simply that delicate crossroad of self-preservation and self-sacrifice. Most likely, it’s a bit of everything, but the fight for a peaceful spirit in the midst of it is real.

I recently woke up in the middle of the night, crying, my chest heavy and cheeks wet. I don’t consider myself an overly emotional person, so when tears come, I know they are a little note delivered from deep within me whispering, pay attention. For all I understand about our human need to pause and listen to those around us, I find it sometimes hardest to prioritize this sort of nurturing for my own person. My heart is prone to hiding beneath accomplishment and TO DOs, so when I wake up in the night, heavy with emotion, I know my heart is searching for connection, searching to be heard.

Bluntly put, I haven’t felt happy with this school year from the start. In spite of much prayer and thought on the front end, I didn’t really have clear vision for the year ahead. So many factors have changed for our home, leaving our routine hurried and task-oriented this fall, a constant shifting of roles, expectations, and places to be. I love lists, but I don’t love when life feels reduced to one. Sometimes when I am unhappy with life circumstances, I need to intentionally iterate gratitudes to shift my heart/thought focus. Other times, I need to shift the circumstance altogether. This moment required the latter.

That night, I left my warm bed and headed for the sofa, a pen and paper in hand. I flipped on a lamp, folded the paper in half, and titled two single columns: What I Love in our Homeschool Day and What is Needed in our Homeschool Day. I needed to see our day in simpler terms, written more concretely on paper. I reserved the first column for activities, moments, and studies that connect me with our children and our experience at home together. It’s vital for me to preserve those things. The second list are needs I’ve noticed in our home or in my children, activities necessary to our day regardless of my affection for them. This list acknowledges the parts of this journey that are less fun for me (or them); it doesn’t mean they’re not important.

Looking at the two lists side-by-side, I began to see more clearly ways to simplify our days again, even if just temporarily. I noticed there were tasks or studies or activities occupying our time that weren’t on either list at all. I immediately made notes to eliminate those things. I also realized there were too many things from our days on the need to do list consuming the things I love list. So I began to reevaluate the opportunity-cost, adjusting or removing again. My heart began lifting.

The next morning, the boys went to their weekly class, and the girls and I made tea together. We read aloud and sketched maps and looked at books of art. The girls spoke in their best British accents as we discussed our day and what we read. I was gaining simple vision for our home, and likewise, connection to it.

I know most circumstances will vary home to home or that the lifestyle or academic path that overwhelms me will be different for someone else. You may be feeling overwhelmed for different reasons altogether––with little ones or a new baby in the mix. You may be in your first year of homeschooling or dealing with children crying over math problems or reading lessons every day. You may be a single parent or feel like you’re in this journey alone. I hope you will find comfort here somehow in the very least knowing you’re not alone.

I hope you will also find solace that there’s no perfect way or timetable for accomplishment in homeschooling. There’s no magic moment when you arrive and it suddenly becomes easy or without effort. There will be moments of grace, where lessons––of books or the the heart––are delightful and light in spite of difficult circumstances. I am always humbled by how much my children learn even with my own shortcomings. These parts are a gift. But there are also the accompanying days that require effort, fortitude, and so much prayer. They require me to remember promises and speak light into darkness, and even at times to write lists in the middle of the night. Wink. I’m learning, even a decade on this path, to receive all of it as a part of our journey, our story. The sweet parts are savored because of the bitter ones, not in spite of them.

Still I don’t always have that perspective in the moment, and when I find myself weighted by emotion or heaviness in this journey, there are a few practices I return to again and again, practices good for healing broken rhythms and spirits alike, practices that lift an overwhelmed heart.


light a candle and make tea / There’s something about the warmth of a flickering candle and a drink in hand that massages the soul. When our days become frayed or fruitless, making tea (or hot chocolate) is a balm. I pull out art supplies and a book to read aloud. Sometimes we read something silly just to laugh. Either way, it is connecting and healing for broken rhythms and spirits.

head to the outdoors / Sometimes it’s as simple as sitting in the backyard or on the porch. Sometimes we need to move and head toward a local trail, park, or field. Either way, the divine order and beauty of nature always soothes heaviness and helps create perspective.

plan in 6 week increments / Sometimes an entire school year or even a semester can be too much to forecast. Even if you purchase a full-year curriculum, commit to working through just six weeks, and see how it fits within your home. Some homes that school year round, find it helpful to operate in six week blocks of time and take a week off.

make a list / I’m obviously a list maker; it’s how my brain begins to synthesize information. When I feel clouded by too many swirling thoughts or emotions, it helps bring clarity. Perhaps creating a list like the one I mentioned above may help. For those of you who aren’t list-makers, perhaps jotting down 2-3 small goals you have for the day may be enough to help keep you focused, and to let the rest of it go.

create mental space / Sometimes the root of overwhelming emotion for me is simply the way my brain toggles between diverse thoughts so spastically. We are managing so many things right now, between our own businesses and growing children, and at times it causes my brain to function a bit like the puppy in UP–– squirrel! When I recognize this, taking a moment to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and reminding myself to focus on the task at hand is so helpful.

meditate on simple, uplifting thoughts / Having good and noble words accessible is SO helpful. When my mind feels swirly, sometimes it can be hard to remember or change my thinking to uplifting and positive truths. Keeping a few favorite quotes and Scriptures on hand in my journal, on my phone, or around my computer is a helpful tool to read aloud and train my thinking toward good and true things again.

prioritize personal time / When I become overwhelmed, it helps to create so space for myself, specifically to connect with my thoughts. Although this step seems obvious, getting up early in the morning, while the world around me sleeps in quiet, always helps clarify noisy thinking. If you have younger children in bed early, maybe making space at the end of the day works better. Either way, make some time for yourself, to nurture and listen to your thinking patterns, to your emotion. Always remember to speak aloud something simple you know you always need to hear: you’re enough.

13 replies
  1. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Your posts are always so heartfelt and encouraging. My week was feeling so similar, and I finally had a little breakthrough, praying your homeschool life continues to be characterized by peace.
    Love you!

    Reply
  2. Tamar Dunbar
    Tamar Dunbar says:

    What a heartfelt and beautiful post. I homeschooled our 5 children for a period of 24 years, and sadly it is over now. Yes, there were periods I felt exactly what you expressed. But it was a sacrifice I’d gladly make again in a heartbeat! Your perspective and approach contain much wisdom. Persevere!!! I was always concerned that we were too busy- or not busy enough; too structured-or not structured enough. But in retrospect, I did my prayerful best. And now that my children are grown, I see how well-rounded, intelligent, independent, grounded they have become. We, too, struggled with the schooling, a cottage business, home repairs, volunteering, extracurriculars, and the tedium of everyday life. There were times when we were all frayed at the ends. My children now are very close, living productive lives, well-mannered, well-traveled, cultured and following their passions. Keep going. It’s all so worth it…especially in today’s world. And then one day, it’s all over. My thoughts and prayers are with you – & take a break to do some fun things by yourself, as a couple, and with friends over the holiday season.

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Tamar, your encouragement and experience is such an encouragement––and I’m sure to more than just me. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

      Reply
  3. Danielle Jones
    Danielle Jones says:

    I have felt this way too. My boys were diagnosed with dyslexia over last spring/summer which has caused grief and anxiety. It also holds them back as far as my expectations for how independent they would be by now in 5th grade. And then there’s the fact we are still working so hard, hands on, on phonics.

    We also joined a co-op which has many things I love about it, but sometimes I feel rushed along when I’d like to pause, say, history and look at the some aspect in more depth yet I feel pushed along to read the next chapters for the next week.

    I’m trying to find a balance of respecting other’s timelines yet pausing to dig deep on our own timeline too. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Thank you, Danielle. I have several friends parenting/homeschooling children with dyslexia, and I’d be happy to pass on their resources and encouragement if it would be a balm for you. We have wrestled with similar things with our group learning this year and resonate with the push-pull of this journey. Sending much love and fortitude. xx

      Reply
  4. Alle McCloskey
    Alle McCloskey says:

    Bethany, thank you. Thank you so much for sharing your heart in this way.

    This is exactly what I needed to hear — in this season we have been stretched incredibly thin. Some of it has been because of saying “yes” to many good things that have pushed out all our margin. And some of it has been because of unforeseen circumstances that have pressed in on what little white space we have in our days.

    I’m going to set aside some time to make a couple lists of my own and re-center my heart with some of those beautiful rituals.

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Alle, I’m so grateful to hear this. Margin is always worth protecting, and I’m still learning how to preserve it. Grace to us all in this, yes? xx

      Reply
  5. Jami
    Jami says:

    Thanks for your sharing your wisdom. You said you sometimes read something silly just to laugh…anything you can recommend? (My children are 6 & 8.)

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Now that you’re asking, I’m drawing a blank. Haha! With the kids: Shell Silverstein, Beverly Clearly books, Calvin and Hobbes, Winnie the Pooh to name a few off the top of my head. I’ll add some more if they come. x

      Reply
  6. Monica
    Monica says:

    I can definitely relate to this! Thank you so much for the beauty and grace shared here. I’m printing this out to work through in the coming days.

    Reply

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