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Under the Juniper Tree: Understanding Burnout



If you’ve been homeschooling for any length of time, and associating with other home educators while doing it, you’ve like­ly heard that term. (And if you’ve been home schooling in isolation, it’s quite possible that you’ve experienced it and simply not known what to call it.)

The concept of exhausting yourself, physically and/or mentally, is an occupational hazard of any pursuit that asks a lot of someone. People with high-powered, time-consuming jobs (executives, politicians) and those involved in causes or callings that take heart and soul, as well as physical commitment (missionaries, pastors, teachers) are historically prone to suffering from overload if they don’t find ways to balance living with livelihood. Not that we should equate homeschooling with a regular “job” – it isn’t – but we should recognize and respect that, in today’s society, it is an additional responsibility that goes beyond what we’ve come to consider standard parenting.

Education for most families, in the last hundred years or so, has been something to delegate to a pri­vate or public institution. Parents have an involvement, of course, but it’s limited to what they’re expected to do by the school, or what they take upon themselves.

Taking out the middle man, so to speak, means shouldering responsibilities that have generally been spread out over a fairly large group. Researching curricula, decid­ing on methods, doing the day-to-day teaching…when you home school, you become, in essence, a one or two member school board. If you add the emotional strain that can sometimes accompany homeschooling amidst disapproval from family and friends, then the potential for stress grows exponentially. As does the risk of becoming overwhelmed.

Combating Burnout

So, what can you do if you reach a point of “burnout”?

Well, one of the best ways to find a so­lution is to understand the problem. By isolating the reason (or reasons) for your burnout, you’ll gain an understanding of what you need to change. Or what you’ll need to accept if you continue homeschooling.

Remembering Self Care

Many times, a mom who has taken on the responsibility of her children’s educa­tion falls behind in the area of self-care. Getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and exercise are all easy to drop off of the list when other things are pressing. If you find yourself in a funk and feel­ing overwhelmed, an evaluation of your level of rest, nutrition, and activity should be the first thing you check. (An appointment with your physician isn’t a bad idea, either, if your burn­out seems to have a physical component.)

Reevaluating Methods

Despite the wisdom that many veteran home­schoolers share about finding programs that work and sticking with them, an examina­tion of the curricula and methods you’ve cho­sen can’t hurt if you’re struggling. It could be that the philosophy you love just doesn’t fit with your lifestyle or other parenting choices. Curricula-jumping is something to be wary of, but so is sticking with a format that hurts more than it helps. Experimenting with a radically or moderately different routine, approach, or program(s) might provide just the bit of breathing room you need.

Finding Refreshment

Sometimes, burnout in newer homeschoolers occurs when the “honeymoon” phase ends and the routine becomes, well, routine. Some home educators keep things lively, continuous­ly, and while that works for many, some of us have spates of time where we simply have to go through the list and finish the book. Almost all meaningful commitments (marriage, careers) come to a place where excitement alone doesn’t carry you anymore; and while “spicing things up” occasionally helps to preserve a little of the initial thrill, there’s still the matter of accept­ing that those same important undertakings require work.

During times of difficulty, whether those times are caused by factors not related to home schooling or the homeschooling itself, it’s a good idea to revisit the reasons why you chose this path in the first place. Viewing homeschooling as a marathon – a long term commit­ment – lends weight to the feeling that slowing down is okay, and that breaks are okay, because you’re going to pick back up and regain ground once your strength returns. Many families choose to evaluate their educational choices year by year, and might deal with a period of difficulty by enrolling the children in school. Only the people involved in a decision can know the benefits and drawbacks of the vari­ous choices, but they should be weighed, with the ultimate goal always being the discovery of what will be most beneficial to the children.

Spiritual Health

Whether or not your reasons for homeschool­ing are spiritual, as Christians our relationship with the Lord should be the primary source of comfort in difficult times, not to mention the compass we consult when things seem to be spiraling out of control.

In I Kings 19:1-8, the prophet Elijah became so distressed by the threats of Queen Jeze­bel that he fled, took shelter under a juniper tree, and asked to die. The same Elijah who was there at the defeat of the prophets of Baal, who saw the drought ended, and who ate from the widow’s barrel of meal and cruse of oil, became desolate unto the point of death.

The Bible doesn’t say that the Lord chastised Elijah. It tells of how angels came and minis­tered to his needs until he was strong enough to hear from the Lord and be encouraged that he wasn’t alone.

The story of how Harriet Homeschooler was able to keep homeschooling through the af­termath of a hurricane and the birth of triplets may or may not motivate you out of the slump you’re in. It may just make you feel worse. But comfort from your heavenly Father will be ex­actly what you need, personalized and perfect.

Practical counsel like what’s been outlined above will sometimes carry you through tough spots. But if all the advice in the world doesn’t seem to be enough, don’t hesitate to find your own personal juniper tree, sit down, and tell the Lord how you really feel.

Better yet…do that first.

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