It was spring and the days were getting longer. The sunshine seemed to bring with it healing energy - streaming in through our windows to wake us, inviting us outdoors and then warming us when we stepped into the light.
It had been two months since we disenrolled Tigger from public school and we were beginning to see him come back to his normal self. Over the course of six months he had completely changed from a happy and curious child to outwardly depressed, stressed, and lethargic. His zest for life and learning had been drained away by well-meaning but uninformed, distrustful, and overworked educators.
Back in the caring and self-directed learning environment of our home, he was slowly but steadily rediscovering his love of learning. And there was no more striking evidence of it than the day he picked up a book again.
The springtime sun was setting and we were moving toward bedtime. As I walked up the stairs to join my husband and our five year old daughter, I gazed over the banister. What I saw made my heart jump into my throat. Sitting below me was my son with a book in his lap.
That moment was big. In that moment I realized that he had not picked up a book of his own volition in five months. At once, I felt overjoyed that he was drawn back to books and furious that his love for reading had been poached.
In the weeks and months that followed that special moment, I made some important decisions that have allowed me to focus more on happiness in homeschooling instead of the anger toward the situation of how we got here.
1. Manage Expectations
How are your expectations formed?
Mine are not formed in a vacuum. Opinions from family, friends, doctors, and other professionals have shaped my expectations for what parenthood and childhood should look like. When and how to breastfeed, potty train, sleep train, discipline, educate, travel with, feed, buy pets for, socialize, et cetera, et cetera.
Social media doesn't help matters. Memes about young children doing chores, mothers taking care of themselves, and amazing fathers sometimes make me feel, well, feelings. Depending on which memes I see on any given day or in any given hour can play tricks with my self-esteem. I have thought "I'm doing too much for them!" as much as "I'm not doing enough!" and sometimes both of those thoughts in the same breath. Never mind seeing how amazing my mom friends are who have paying jobs that take them out of the house, children who don't stim and who aren't overexcitable, and self-confidence to boot. Comparing myself to anyone on social media only skews my sense of reality and what are realistic expectations that are right for my family.
My best ally in knowing what is right for my family is, and always has been, my Intuition. She (yes, I'm referring to Intuition as "she") has never been wrong. She has always paid attention, even when I haven't. She knows what is coming, what is happening, and truth in matters before I acknowledge things concretely.
In order to recognize and enjoy the happy moments in the day I have had to dig deep and re-set my expectations for a lot of things.
- I don't expect my son to sit much. He does jumping jacks when he practices spelling. He paces at our homeschool Minecraft group when the children come together to summarize their work at the end of the event. Together, we go on "Walk-and-Talk"s to flesh out his ideas for composition.
- I don't expect to sneak work in during the day. The day goes smoother when I rest during my down time instead of write. (It minimizes the likelihood that I will be interrupted.)
- I don't expect that we will have a breakthrough with my son's self-care. It will be something we work on together and will require a LOT of scaffolding on my part, like this. (As an added bonus, it will fall under "Home Economics.")
- I do expect to have leisurely days.
- I do expect to be flexible, democratic, and meet our needs on a daily basis.
- I do expect to have a routine that works for us all - my need to plan and check things off my list, my son's need to learn what interests him, and my daughter's need to work at her own drawn out pace.
- I expect academic learning to grow organically from our life experiences.
- I do expect some days to be hard for one of us, or all of us, and on those days we can curl up together and watch movies all day, eat ice cream for lunch and pancakes for dinner.
That entire list is formed entirely from my intuition, my knowledge of my family, and not a lick from what society tells me I should or should not be doing. And the reason I know my expectations are reasonable are because I have slowed down and taken the time to pay attention to myself, my children, my husband, and our life together.
2. Slow Down
When I first got married I always had WAY MORE on my to-do list than was reasonable. That, in and of itself, was not a big deal. What was a big deal was when I got upset that I didn't get it all done. My husband, bless his soul, caught on to my "problem" and helped me learn what a reasonable to-do list might look like. It was the first step on a long journey toward a slow life.
What he didn't know (well, maybe he knew), was that for YEARS I lied to him. He would ask me what was on my list of things to do and I would report a reasonable list - one that fit on a post-it note. My secret list, in fact, was much longer - like a scroll that would unravel for miles.
Fast forward several years. I have begun a dedicated Kundalini yoga practice (daily meditations plus once weekly classes with a teacher). I have two children. I want to slow down. I want to let go of my scroll of things to do and simply be. And I have. I do not allow the scroll to distract me, nor do I let myself become frustrated if I don't accomplish what I thought needed doing. I've slowed down and I like it....a lot.
That is not to say that I don't regress. My natural state is buzzing with ideas of things to do - make dinner, do lesson plans, blog, contact that children's book publisher, write science curriculum, start a completely unrelated hat business, and on and on.
But I have slowed down so much of my life that I notice the buzzing when it comes and I can know how important or urgent the buzzing is, set time aside for it, and manage my expectations for it. After all, denying my natural state of compulsive creativity would not be taking care of myself.
Homeschooling is not just a marathon, it is an ultramarathon. In order to sustain the role of homeschooling mom, I have had to bring a whole new level of commitment to self-care. This is my list of essentials for self-care:
- Set realistic expectations for my children. Part of this was to set a routine and know which part of the routine is flexible and which is not.
- Slow down. Slow down some more.
- Morning meditation.
- Evening walk.
- Daily creative work.
- Weekend recharge time (yoga, grocery shopping, longer walks, dates with hubby).
Those are the things I need to be (and to remain) patient, kind, flexible, and a good leader.
There are several differences between my son's public school experience and the homeschool experience but they can by boiled down to: caring and trust.
I trust that my son will learn. It might not be what schools define as the first grades standards - he might learn third grade math and pre-K social skills. But he will learn and learn in the most authentic way, the only way, learning happens. It will be self-directed and he learns/will learn what he wants to the degree he wants. It is the essence of self-directed education. My biggest job in this sense is to focus on his ability to learn and to express his learning in a way that makes sense for him.
Caring comes quite naturally to people who have the time and inclination to connect and build a relationship with someone else. For some people, nonviolent communication comes naturally (like my sister). For me, I had to learn about nonviolent communication and practice using it.
With Trust and Caring as the basis for how we homeschool, we then can search for and find a rhythm that balances our needs.
5. Recognize Happy Moments
The happy moments are not always overly animated. Here are some things I noticed this week and took the time to enjoy:
- As my daughter walked slowly home from the pool she said, "Rain must take a long time to get down here, flow in the rivers, and get to the ocean."
- After lunch my son cleared his plate without being asked.
- My daughter colored quietly for an hour in her room.
- My son built LEGO alone in his room for an hour.
- After eating without complaining about the meal, my children ran off together to play.
- My kids left me alone for 15 minutes while I took a cat nap.
- My son said, "My new friend..."
- My daughter asked me, "How can I help?"
- My son thanked me for doing the laundry.
- My daughter wrote her name in cursive.
- My son read all the words on a page of his Minecraft book.
- We had LOTS of fun from splashing in puddles.
It has been a long time of learning about parenting and what works for my family that all these things can happen.
Because I have slowed down, I am able to be present in each of those happy moments and enjoy them....
6. Enjoy Happy Moments
It has been a stressful year. In fact, in the fall I confessed to a friend that I really wanted to learn how to enjoy my children again. I could see my children in their best moments but I wasn't enjoying those moments. I was always caught up with what had to happen next...go to dance class, swing by the library, meet someone for a play date, gas up the car, cook dinner, baths and bedtime.
I am happy to say that since we disenrolled my son from public school his mental health and, consequently, his behavior has drastically improved. Our family life has improved along with it.
And since I re-committed to self-care, slowing down our lives, and setting reasonable expectations for our family, we are all better cared-for, happy, and dwelling in happiness.
For me, there is no single happiest, best, or favorite thing that stands towering above the rest. No holy grail of perfection. Only sitting with our lives as they are and accepting the opportunity and responsibility of teaching and learning with my child.
This was written as part of the GHF Blog Hop. Read more here...