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Homeschooling Blues

by Beverley Paine, April 2004

The other day, my good friend Debbie said that most mums feel like shaking their baby during the early days of motherhood when the frustration and impotence we feel as our tiny babies keep screaming and we're unable to placate them after hours of trying. I felt comfortable talking to Debbie; it was good to confess to feeling this deeply disturbing rage. We were talking about depression triggers: anger is one of mine.

Until that conversion I hadn't considered my anger and depression as something 'normal'. No one in my circle of friends talked about their inability to handle their emotions when my children were toddlers: it was expected that we were all SuperMums, always seen to be coping with a smile. Motherhood is painted in cherished pastel tones: we are the nurturers of society. Rage, incompetence and mind-numbing depression don't fit into that rosy picture.

Looking back it is with considerable surprise that I found the idea of home educating my children attractive at all, or possible. But I'm glad I did. The rewards have been much greater than the challenges and the challenges, for me, were huge.

Homeschooling mums are overworked and expect too much from themselves.

Back then I regularly endured bouts of chronic depression and kept busy chasing down as many psychological triggers as I could find, but when I'm honest with myself I can see it was the enormous and unrealistic burden I placed upon myself that pushed me over the edge into the abyss each time.

I long to be the kind of mum that is satisfied with working for someone else, rather than creating a full-time job at home teaching my own children, maintaining a stimulating learning environment, finding and writing learning resources, as well as organising my own 'professional development'. Most of my teacher friends enjoy overseas holidays and can afford to eat lunch at nice cafés. Our holidays are educational excursions and lunch out is fish and chips at the playground!

I'm envious of the concept of 'stress leave' too. The best I can manage is to drastically cut back on our planned activities, shoving the exciting projects on our 'to do' list into the far future. I can't think about then; I have to focus on 'now'. So I screw up the list, put aside the checklists and the carefully planned learning program and concentrate on just getting one thing done each day. One thing means a dozen, of course!

First there's family matters: food, dishes, hygiene, laundry.

Second, there's household matters: cleaning and tidying - the quickest way I've found to keeping my cool when my mood descends is to clear as many horizontal surfaces as possible, and sweep the floor. I usually leave the cleaning part unless I'm really down. Scrubbing the bathroom can be very therapeutic; the tears can freely tumble and I can blame the cleaning fumes for my red eyes later.

Third: picking up the post, shopping and paying the bills. This is the hardest part of the day. Being a homeschooling mum I can't leave the kids - they're not old enough yet to take care of themselves and there's always the worry that someone will 'dob' me in. Paranoia is one of my more annoying symptoms. Coaxing the kids into the car and away from their games takes skill and tolerance, both in short supply on days like this. So I bribe. I can always sort out any long term problems arising from this tactic when I'm feeling 'up'. After paying out the bribes and bills I feel even worse - now we have no money, the house is a mess, the kids aren't getting a decent education, I'm gaining weight, my clothes don't fit and the bakery didn't have the right cream bun.

I'm exhausted. I sit and stare at the telly, which I've put on to keep the kids, hyper from the bakery treat, quiet. I should read to them, I suppose. The books are on the coffee table. They stay there. I sip my coffee, feeling wretched.

If I sit long enough something happens. The children slowly organise themselves, unleashed as they are from my continuous nagging direction. They tussle and I moan and groan, or if I've any energy left at all, shout, which usually propels them into another room where I can't interfere. I sink into the dreary repetitive plot of the soapie on the box and zone out.

Sometime during the day I would have attempted to help the kids with their 'school' work, but they've sensed my mood and reflect it. One's 'tired', the other 'testy', and one can't seem to get anything right. 'Pick an easy page' I say, which doesn't satisfy them, but at least it gets the book work out of the way today. I glance around the room at the posters and pictures on the wall - fantastic projects from another time - and feel even worse. That's what we SHOULD be doing today.

After a decade of muddling through homeschooling life I came to realise that my greatest enemy is the word 'should'. Driven by this word I tried to live up to unreasonable expectations. 'Unreasonable' and 'insanity' go hand-in-hand! I did my best to be SuperMum and spent half the time amazing family and friends and the other half burned out, exhausted, and depressed.

It's not in my nature to be consistent, or to have set routines. I lack the confidence in my parenting to not try different ways of doing things, just in case they're better. It doesn't matter what I do, I can always improve. The grass is always greener over the fence. And every time I turn on the computer more effective, brighter and better learning resources leap at me. Keeping to realistic expectations - simply knowing what realistic expectations are - is hard work. I crave constant feedback, but my neighbours, family and friends send their kids to school. I don't know if I'm screwing my kids lives up forever. I won't know until it's too late. All I can do is take it one day at a time.

At the end of a hard, blue day my kids rally around me and hug me. They don't care if I didn't clean the house. They're happy to wear the same clothes forever. They'll eat peanut butter sandwiches over meat and three vegies any day. They accept me as I am. They love SuperMum (though she nags a lot) and they love SadMum (though she moans a lot). They hug me when I need it, unconditionally, unbidden. That's precious. Love sees me through the blue days.


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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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