Looking After Mum
© Beverley Paine, September 2002
I tend to make grand resolutions at the beginning of the year, and much smaller, but just as significant ones any time throughout the year! This is despite knowing that such resolutions are only so much dust in the wind! All of them generally revolve around the necessity of giving myself enough time to look after me. After all, if I am to model patience, self-motivated learning and enthusiasm, then I can't allow myself to get run down. And it is very easy to do that, what with a house we're still building (well, not quite building, but it isn't finished either!) a massive garden, regular writing commitments to meet and home educating two active boys.
I am used to 'burning out', reaching periods where there is simply too much to do and not enough energy left to do anything at all. This is because I haven't yet mastered the skill of setting priorities and sticking to them. Perhaps the problem lies more with having realistic expectations of what I can reasonably achieve and then giving myself adequate time to achieve my goals! I quickly become resentful of the many tasks facing me, and desperately classify in some kind of order - those that are imperative and those that can be easily sacrificed. I then suffer a large does of the 'guilt's' as I know that in ditching some of my responsibilities I am always letting someone else down. This doesn't do my self esteem much good.
Recently I came across a plan for taking care of myself - these abound everywhere and are easy to find - in books and magazines, on the internet, counsellors and psychologists, best friends.... we all seem to know what to do as the information is out there. Getting around to doing it is the hard part.
The thing I found the most important is to begin to look at my own life very closely, determining some hard 'truths' about myself I could use as foundation stones for change. And change was needed - constantly 'burning out' was not setting the example I wanted my children to follow! In order to cultivate a rich learning environment for my family I needed to start by meeting the needs of the primary care giver - me! This was important if I wanted to stay healthy and maintain my motivation and enthusiasm for home educating my children.
Whenever life begins to get me down I realise I am harbouring a quantity of resentment in my current role and position. At times like this I ask myself "What is missing from my life? What would make it more fulfilling?" Sometimes the answers are quite surprising. I never discount any answer I get from myself, but examine each one of its merits. Once I discovered I was intensely lonely, despite attending a regular gathering each week of like minded homeschooling families. I lacked a close friend. My partner was working more hours and we weren't having our quota of conversation. I talked to a friend about it and we agreed to get together more often.
Another time I realised I was lacking opportunity to be playful and creative - always channelling my energy into promoting creative opportunities for my children but not having a go myself. I decided to only introduce activities that I wanted to do, and had lots of fun experimenting with pastels on paper. The children had a go, happy to work beside me for as long as it interested them. The important thing was that I was expressing my creativity for me.... something I didn't normally allow myself to do. Once I'd opened that door a flood of creative desires tumbled out, and I soon began putting aside time each week to pursue them - without feeling guilty!
Over time I have come to realise that there are many things I long for but never allow myself, for hundreds of reasons. Dinner out with Robin, a night away, a long soaking bath at the end of the day instead of cooking dinner, planting flowers instead of vegetables, learning to play the piano myself instead of paying for lessons for the children, buying a new jumper instead of finding one in the op shop, buying an educational text instead of a novel by my favourite author, watching a movie of my choice instead of finding one to suit the whole family... The list goes on and on. Encouraged by a friend I once wrote down all the things I could think off - wow! What a release. I never knew how much resentment had built up inside me.
Home educating really asks a lot of parents, especially those at home all day. Our lives become focussed around our children and it is easy to loose a sense of one's own identity. We get up early in the day, plan activities and lessons, tend to household chores or busy ourselves delegating them and then making sure they are done or do them ourselves, look after the scraped knees and bruised egos, create and mend, create and mend, pause and reflect, usually only to notice the pile of work yet to be done!
What personal necessities get slighted or neglected altogether in this process? I generally neglect my appearance, preferring to wear comfortable clothes, finding myself suddenly out and about with holey jeans and daggy jumper, feeling very self conscious and insecure. Confidence nose dives. Appearance may not be important to some but I believe it mirrors my inner attitudes to self. I like to look bright, tidy, optimistic, generous. I believe this is who I am, but if my exterior appearance looks drab, in need of urgent mending, poor and neglected then I am telling the world this is how I feel. No wonder I avoid mirrors! Time spent on looking after me, my appearance, isn't a vanity, I've discovered. It is an act of love. If I looked at the issue honestly I can see that I am neglecting a personal area in my life I am continually nagging my children to attend to - and no wonder!
It is hard to spend time 'loving' myself, choosing nice clothes that reflect my personality if I am always tired. Long ago I realised I can't work in my three roles of homeschooling mother, housekeeper and writer all day and then watch television or videos until late at night. Or spend half the week out and about in the car. I need adequate rest, sleep and time off from socialising. But more importantly I need time to get some fresh air, preferably exercising, something gentle like walking or swimming. I am not the kind of person to enjoy twenty minutes of aerobic exercise once a day - but if I was, and it was fun, I'd do it. The only kind of exercise I ever had time for before I realised how much good exercise energised me was bending over and picking stuff up off the floor before I swept it!
Changing wasn't as easy as just recognising all the things I wanted to be doing instead of the things that were happening. It is easy to see what should be while lamenting what is. I needed to recognise the obstacles which were crowding out my opportunities to fulfil my list of 'looking after me' needs. Top on my list was housework! In a rare mood of rationalisation I realised I could delegate many of the daily chores, and even learned to justify it in educational terms. The children began to get their own breakfast and lunches, and to clear away after themselves. This took rearranging the kitchen cupboards to make it as easy as possible, and to have things on hand the children liked to eat. Not so hard, and I won about forty five minutes a day!
Another pet hate was repetitive work, like the dishes and laundry. I thought hard about my need to wash dishes after every meal and began to stack neatly, washing up only once a day. Nagging the children to help diminished overnight, and we all became a little friendlier to one another. Instead of having a washing day, where washing dominated and had to be done, otherwise no one had anything to wear, we began washing every other day. The task no longer overwhelmed. It is amazing that I learned to break the children's work into smaller tasks long before I learned to apply this tiny piece of common sense to myself.
Job sharing become an important aspect of home educating life in our house. I dealt with my initial guilt by convincing myself I was encouraging the development of life skills - which I was! Having children who can cook, clean, mend, mind children, light fires safely, answer the phone - these are wonderful assets, not only to the family but to themselves. And it gives me confidence in their ability to move out into the world on their own as they grow into adults.
There were some jobs I simply had to give away altogether, like editing the local homeschooling journal. Although the task had been taken on with enthusiasm I had learned everything I needed to learn and it had become onerous. I began to resent putting it together each month. Before the newsletter became tainted with my negativity toward it I needed to find a positive, energetic person to breathe new life into it. I began to view many tasks in this same light and instead of battling on, doing an often shabby job, I learned to recognise people who would be happy to help out or take over.
There are times when the unexpected happens and priorities are set without me having much say at all. I realised that what was needed in these cases was time. I had to build in 'spare' time into each day, instead of my constant habit of filling up every moment with dreadfully important tasks! Over the years I have slowly expanded this 'free' time, filling it up with just sitting and talking to my children, or gazing out of the window. This isn't time wasted, though once upon a time I used to think so. Now I have time to cope with mini or major disasters, or to simply enjoy the sunset at the end of the day.
Sometimes I use this quiet time to catch up on the back log of 'not so important' jobs, like cleaning the pantry. Or I write in my journal, a personal dialogue with myself. It tells me so much about who I am and what I want. I can see from my writing that I set myself many goals, and by looking back over many pages written years ago, I slowly achieving many of my goals. Stating them, even to myself privately, seems to be such an important aspect of actually achieving them.
I know I need time each day for solitude and steal it from other important areas if I don't get it. When this happens people around me become resentful and relationships suffer, so it is better is I make time for myself, and let others know that I need to be alone. Sometimes I have a set time, like when I am emailing my friends or writing my novel or in my journal. Other times it is less structured, but I am always careful to let my children know I am busy by myself and don't want to be disturbed (except, of course, if a disaster occurs!)
I find it hard to achieve my goals to exercise regularly and cheat - well, not exactly cheat. I organise group sessions, either with friends or with my family. It seems the only way I'll go for that walk on the beach if is I schedule it in and can't cancel! I need to work more on the importance of exercise in my life!
Another area of my life I still need to work on is actually taking a day off each week! A day to spend in pure recreation, as opposed to gardening, building, educational activities and so on. Each homeschooling day merges into the next, punctuated only by our work schedule. It isn't good enough. We need a day off to play together as a family, and perhaps a camping holiday or two each year. Making goals and working towards making them happen is very important. To this end I write myself large notes in huge letters, posting them where I can't avoid making eye contact with them, reminding me of my goals every day. I've learned to move these around regularly or redo them.
It is easy to get lost in my children's lives, their ambitions and interests. As they have grown I have noticed the passage of many transition stages. I realised as my eldest suddenly metamorphosed into adolescence that there was life after parenting. It was heading my way fast! I knew I had to prepare for it, emotionally, physically and intellectually. I began to make time each week to fulfil a lifetime ambition of becoming a published writer. I knew that I needed a period of training - not in university or college - but on the job training, building a career from the ground up. This I could do and homeschool at the same time, so long as I mastered the discipline of time management. And I am, slowly!
I have several life goals and set a priority on working towards one or two at a time, knowing that I generally get around to working on all of them eventually. As my journal reveals I am slowly reaching many of them, but like most things in life they, too, change and develop, reflecting changing attitudes and needs in me. I am actually beginning to enjoy the process! I can see how important it is to name that which I want in any given moment, and that which I need, in order to work out ways to achieve both. Devising home education learning programs has helped in this planning process.
Home education doesn't have to be an onerous journey, and isn't. But I used to think it was and my life reflected this belief. By finding ways to nurture myself I have turned a corner, making each day more enjoyable for myself. I have learned how to cope with everything that needs to be done each day and more. Life is much more satisfying, organised and peaceful!
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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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