Saturday, January 24, 2015

Burnout. Revisited.

If you've been wondering how I've spent the first 3 weeks of January, you aren't alone! I've been wondering the same thing! It has been a whirlwind as we return back to homeschool lessons, outside classes, dance and drama, part-time jobs, exercise schedules, and rehearsals for the upcoming ballet "Cinderella". We even added a new student driver to our family when Riley got her learner's permit! And this morning she took the SAT to attempt to get into dual enrollment at the local college for her Junior and Senior years. And last but not least, since we weren't really all that busy or stressed out, we added a new kitten to our family!

We now have only 4 months until Austin graduates from high school. In 2 weeks, he will take the ACT. We are doing this more to fulfill the homeschooling law in Georgia rather than for college admissions. It is unlikely that he will score high enough on the test to get into any college. And that's OK. He really could not handle college-level material at this time anyway.

This past Tuesday I attended my homeschool group's month support meeting where the topic was, coincidentally enough, Burnout. As you know, I've been experiencing burnout for a number of months now. It waxes and wanes but has been really intense since the first of the year. During the meeting, I decided to listen to the workshop by Susan Wise Bauer that I had previously purchased and listened to. It was too cold to ride my bike outdoors this morning so I took to the trainer and tried listening to the workshop instead of music. It was fantastic and I think I will have to do this for other workshops! I was afraid I wouldn't be able to focus on it, but I didn't have any trouble!

One of the big realizations I had today while revisiting this lecture was that my expectations for what homeschooling would look like are way out of line with the reality. When I first started homeschooling, I guess I assumed I would have 3 little "Niffercoo"s to educate. We obviously didn't know yet that autism was a factor, so the vision in my head was what it was like for me in school. I loved to read and I loved school. I liked workbooks and learning things and everything always came easily to me. When I took standardized tests, I always scored in the 99th percentile and I never really had to study.

Right away, it wasn't like that. And since we didn't know yet about Austin's autism and epilepsy and the accompanying cognitive and memory problems that would accompany those two diagnoses, I had to assume that it was a problem with curricula - or a lazy child - or a problem with the teacher. As you know if you've been reading this blog over the years, I have tried just about every curriculum out there, in every subject. I was searching desperately for "the thing" that would make homeschooling work. I harped on my poor son until he hated learning - because I assumed that, since he wasn't learning, he was simply being lazy. And I blamed myself for the entire situation. If only I were a better teacher. If only I weren't so busy with this crying baby. If only...

If I knew then what I know now, I would have done so many things differently. Obviously. My biggest regret always will be how I sucked the enjoyment of learning out of my son by giving him such a hard time. It was just like with his behavior and the meltdowns that never seemed to go away no matter how strict we were or how hard we focused on discipline. He was dealing with things that were simply beyond his control. I wish I had been more understanding and patient with him and not assumed that he was doing all of this willfully. I could blame the conservative Christian parenting culture we were wrapped up in during his early years - but in the end, the buck stops here. It is a testimony to Austin's character and true willingness to be obedient that he never gave up despite everything being so hard and his mom dragging him down. He is an amazing guy and always has been! Most kids would have given up or turned very defiant in the face of those circumstances.

A second area that has lead to this burnout is external pressure - be it real (negative statements about homeschooling to me directly) or perceived (comments that could be completely innocently but I take them negatively). You see, I had not planned to homeschool. In all honesty, I had not planned to be a Stay-at-Home-Mom. I am the first college graduate of all the women in my family. I know that there were "big things" expected of me. Since I chose not to return to the work place, the "big thing" was going to have to be the perfect raising of my children - and then, their education. I made a career out of raising and educating my children instead of being primarily concerned about relating to them. Not a good thing, but also more common than I realized in women my age and in the area we live. Mommy Wars are mighty and active in Metro Atlanta!

When it came to end of the lecture and the "how to fix this" suggestions, I listened to them intently, looking for a solution. And I slowly started to realize that in my life, there are simply these big factors that are working together to make homeschooling a huge struggle. And most of them I simply cannot change. I have 2 special needs students. That is the biggest factor. Could I put Reece in school? Yes, and I've been considering it for high school so I don't have to go through this whole "School to Life" transition alone (another blog post for sure!!). Would she be OK? Until this year I would have said yes. But this year has been such a struggle for her and we're seeing lots of self-control regression. In Georgia, once the child is in 9th grade, you are pretty much committing to homeschool for all of high school because homeschool credits are not accepted back into the school system. So we have a year or so to decide if we will pursue something like that for her. God has not opened that door for any of the kids, though, despite my literal begging and pleading! LOL I'm not really expecting it to change now.

The other big factor is our "out of the house" time. Riley has taken on a huge commitment to this new ballet company. It involves a huge amount of time for her to be gone and for me to drive her around. But this is important to her! And it's a wonderful opportunity for her! I am fortunate to be able to partner with my mom to allow Riley this special chance to perform several full-length ballets each year and to take classes with some of the best teachers in the Atlanta area. And it's only available to her until she graduates high school, which is less than 2 1/2 years away. It will be over in the blink of an eye. Truly it will.

So the lecture came to an end and I thought to myself, "I get it now." I am burned out. Some of it is my own making and some of it is a result of circumstances that I simply cannot control." Some of it will be ending in 4 months. Some of it will be ending in 2 1/2 years. And all of it will be over in 5 1/2 years when Reece graduates high school! If she goes the dual enrollment route, it could pretty much be over in 3 1/2 years. A drop in the bucket of time!

My biggest challenge to myself will be to attempt to reconcile that vision of the 'perfect homeschool' I had when I started this journey 13 years ago with the real-life children that I have. And try my hardest to remember that I am first their Mom, and then their Teacher. And above all remember that God has a plan for each of us, and I need to Trust that I am not so mighty and powerful that I could screw it up by anything that I do or don't do!

Here is hoping everyone has a blessed weekend! 

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