My Monday Stunk Big Time! How was Yours?

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Earlier today, I was a spineless clot of grievances. (I believe that was a quote from a Beth Moore Bible study… I just love it and it has stuck.)

I woke up grouchy. I dunno why, but I just was. Perhaps the chocolate bar my daughter gave me yesterday… Or I’m just a sinful human being who wakes up grouchy sometimes. And then stays that way much of the day.

I’ll spare you the ugly details, but there was whining, arguing, and bad attitudes on the part of my children, and yelling, snapping, and poor responses on my part.

I was just on edge for most of the day. My kids had a rough time and I did not respond well to their issues.

The point? On the outside, when we went to swimming lessons and later to the gym, we all looked fine. Smiling faces, a patient, self-controlled Mom… What a nice homeschooling family! Many times it’s a show, people. There are definitely some days that I’m more patient than others. Sometimes what I eat or what I ate the day before (a REALLY intensely yummy chocolate bar) contributes physiologically to my short fuse. I’m not always a psycho, irritated monster. But some days I am.

When you have a bad day or are tempted to compare yourself to that homeschooling mom who looks like she REALLY has it all together, remember that even SHE has bad days. I’m not saying that everyone is a hypocrite, but we all naturally try to behave ourselves in public.

I heard a story somewhere about a family that was on the cover of a parenting or homeschooling magazine. In the picture they’re all smiling and loving each other, but minutes before, during the photo shoot, the kids were bickering, parents were barking at the the kids… But all we see is the pretty picture.

So don’t beat yourself up when things go badly and you don’t respond well to your hormonal student or when it takes every ounce of self control not to throw the 6th grade English book out the window (literally). Confess your sin to God, accept His forgiveness, perhaps apologize to your kids or hubby if needed, and move on.

You’re not alone. You’re a great Mom. God loves you more than you can imagine, even when you mess up. His mercies are new every morning.

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7 Tips for Staying Sane This Winter

7 Tips

It’s cold outside. REALLY cold. So cold that I feel like if I let my kids outside I may incur a visit from Child Protective Services. So, the kids are cooped up inside. We had a nice Christmas break, but now the cold, dark expanse of January, February, and March loom ahead. There isn’t much in the way of a break during that time. In addition to school, the house needs to be kept reasonably clean in order to stay off the next episode of “Hoarders”, meals must be cooked and cleaned up, and the kids kept busy and “socialized” enough that they don’t turn out too weird. It’s hard to find the balance between boredom and too much busyness.

It’s a good recipe for Mom stress and insanity.

Here’s a few things I’ve found helpful in attempting to maintain my own sanity. I’m certainly not always successful, but at least it helps! The first four help if you’re feeling overwhelmed and the last three can combat feeling down or bored.

1. Put your kids to work. Unless they’re under the age of three, they should be able to contribute somehow to the basic upkeep of the house. If the housework is overwhelming, have them help out. It’s good for them and good for you. Here is a list of age appropriate chores if you’re looking for ideas.

2. Don’t over-schedule your evenings. One of the beautiful things about homeschooling is that we can do all sorts of activities during the day, rather than clog up our evenings with them. Swimming lessons, music lessons, doctor appointments, field trips, play dates with friends, even some sports activities can be done as part of our school day. Many local YMCA’s and park and rec’s have noticed that homeschoolers are a good market to tap into so they offer things during the day for us. That way, evenings and weekends can be used as relaxing family fun time, rather than run-around-like-a-headless-chicken time.

Also, don’t cave in to the cultural pressure to involve the kids in 20 million different activities. We’ve purposefully restricted the number of scheduled activities our kids do. They enjoy not running around all over and I think our family is all the better for it.

3. Put whatever you can on auto pilot. I don’t particularly enjoy menu planning. It stresses me out to have to think about what to make. Not menu planning makes me even more stressed – I have to plan the week out ahead of time, but I just don’t like it. One thing I’m trying is to make up a list of the typical meals that my family likes and put them on a rotation. That way it’s on auto pilot. I just look at my list and fill out the week’s meals accordingly. No stress. The same thing goes for grocery shopping. It stresses me to not know when my shopping will get done, so I try to plan on doing it the same time every week so I don’t have to think about it. Chores, house cleaning, school prep, it all gets a specific time assigned to it so I know it will be taken care of.

4. Just say no. Don’t feel bad in saying no to activities, parties, whatever, in an effort to keep yourself sane. I’m more of an introvert, so lots of social activity drain me. I need time alone to recharge. Even if you’re an extrovert, too many activities leave less time to get other things done, so pace your time carefully. Pray and seek God on how to use your time.

5. Try hosting things at your home. My husband and I wanted to participate in a church Bible study but didn’t want to get a babysitter every week. Our solution has been to host one at our house. We don’t have to go anywhere, the kids are with us to participate as much as they’d like to, we get the fellowship, and we’re serving others. It’s a big win for all!

6. Create time for yourself. Last winter, I found myself struggling with some depression. I needed something bright and colorful to do in the evenings, so I taught myself to crochet. (It’s really not that hard.) I enjoy it because I can choose colors that cheer me up, it doesn’t require much concentration, but keeps my hands busy. I can make things that are pretty and useful, which creates a sense of accomplishment.

Writing is also a productive, fun outlet that keeps me from getting sucked into the winter doldrums. I’ve had homeschoolers ask me how I have time to crochet and write. I think I’d go nuts if I didn’t have those things, so I make sure I have time for them. I get up a little earlier, or have the kids do a 30 minute silent reading time after lunch, which creates pockets of time that I can do something I enjoy that has nothing to do with homeschooling. Since the kids help with the chores, I have evenings free to relax and enjoy hobbies.

7. Plan things to look forward to. It could be a day to stay in PJs and watch movies or read books and play games, or a sledding playdate with friends, or a family weekend out. Sometimes it’s just something small that can raise morale all around.

What do you do to stay sane through the winter?

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Are We Afraid to be Real?

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Listening to the Christian radio station yesterday, a woman called in to tell her story of what God had done in her life. She was a homeschooling mother of six, which immediately caught my attention. She explained that she had recently tried to take her own life. She had left the house, checked into a hotel room, turned off the GPS on her phone and taken an entire bottle of pills. Her husband called every hotel in the area until he found her, barely in time.

Her story had a happy ending, since she was the one calling in to the radio station, but it really made me stop and think. When asked why she tried to kill herself, she said that she just felt that she wasn’t enough. She was being spread too thin.

My first reaction to the story was, “What? Homeschoolers don’t do that! We don’t struggle to the point of being suicidal! We’re supposed to be the super moms who have it all together!”

But even in seeing my own first gut response, I realized the core of the problem. Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be an atmosphere in the homeschooling community that we have it all together. I think part of it comes from the fact that we’re doing something that’s against the norm. We’re constantly feeling like we need to justify our decision to not put our kids in school. In order to show that we made the right decision, we need to come across like everything is going fine. “Yes, we have chosen to be different and homeschool our kids and it’s going great! I told you we did the right thing!”

We’ve been homeschooling for seven years now, and I don’t at all regret the decision, but it certainly hasn’t been easy! There have been some wonderful times and so many things that I’m thankful for. There are also plenty of days that I’m pulling my hair out and want to scream! (And do scream…)

In our homeschool co op, I teach the K4/K5 class. When I’m there, of course, I’m on my best behavior. It would be too embarrassing to lose my temper in front of other moms, no matter how much my own 4 year old is the one misbehaving. A couple of the moms helping out commented on how patient I was and how amazed they were. I had to be honest with them. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m really not. It’s just a show. I’m not like this at home.” We all laughed and they said they do the same thing.

How can we be more real with other homeschoolers? Even with other parents and family members who don’t homeschool? Do we feel a need to constantly prove ourselves and justify our decision to others? Does it keep us from being real and genuine and getting the support and understanding we need?

When we’re honest about our struggles with others, especially those within the homeschooling community, it not only helps us, but it gives them the permission to be honest as well. We all benefit when we realize that we’re not the only ones who lose our tempers, holler at our kids, and get so frustrated that we want to scream. We’re not the only ones who feel stretched too thin and that we’re not enough. We’re not supermoms. When we know we’re not alone, we can gain strength from one another and realize that it’s not just us. What we’re doing is really hard. Totally worth it, but hard. We can pray for each other, keep each other accountable, and share ideas that we’ve found to be helpful.

I have three children, but I imagine that those with larger families might struggle with this even more. You might get the “You guys were nuts to have such a big family and now you’re paying the price for it” sort of attitude if you admit to feeling overwhelmed at times. Am I right? Or maybe the fear of encountering that attitude is there?

How about you? Do you feel free to be honest with other homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers when things aren’t going smoothly?

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Living Deliberately

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I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. I do like setting goals and dreaming about what the coming year could look like. But even setting goals has been a bit discouraging lately, mostly because I’m horrible in the area of follow through.

I will still set some goals, but I recently came across this idea of prayerfully choosing a word to focus on for the year. Here’s the blog post I read about it. At first, I couldn’t imagine how I could choose JUST ONE word to encapsulate everything I hoped to accomplish in a year, whether it be writing, homeschooling, personal, or spiritual. But I followed the advice in the blog and began praying and brainstorming about what word might fit some of the things I had been thinking about.

The word I’ve come up with is DELIBERATE. I want to do things on purpose, whether it’s how I parent my kids, how I spend my time, what I eat, how I treat my husband, how I treat a stranger in Target, what I think about and pray about, what I write, and how I spend time with God. For starters.

I multitask all the time. I don’t see how a mom, much less a homeschooling mom, could function otherwise. I have to always have an ear to what the crazy 4 year old is doing while I’m cooking dinner or teaching the older ones. I give spelling tests while switching over the laundry. I “listen” to my kids while I’m surfing facebook. Some of that is OK, I think, but some of it isn’t. I’m finding that all my multitasking, made even easier with the arrival of the smartphone that provides me with instant everything, is making me feel scattered and irritable. It’s as if I’m not actually anywhere. I’m everywhere all at once but really nowhere completely. I exist in this weird mental fog half the time.

Instead, I want to multitask less (while still keeping the youngest from burning down the house) and be present fully. Make more eye contact with my kids. Smile more just because. Put away the phone, close the computer, and BE where I am. Deliberately.

I want to walk with God deliberately, moment by moment. Not stressing about future moments, but being with Him in this moment. Each and every “this moment” that He chooses to give me.

I want to use my time deliberately. So many times I find myself drifting into activities (like  surfing facebook, reading the horrifying news stories online, etc) instead of consciously deciding what I should be doing. I’m not planning on becoming a workaholic. That time might be best spent reading a book, crocheting, or working on a jigsaw puzzle. Whatever it is, I want it to be on purpose. Deliberate.

Food can fall into the same category. I’m bored. I want to eat. How about something yummy and sweet? For me, being deliberate means stopping and asking myself if I’m actually hungry. If not, what real hunger am I feeling and how can I feed it in a more appropriate and ultimately fulfilling manner?

One other area of personal struggle that this word addresses for me is that I tend to put things in front of people. Tasks before relationships. I want to be more people-centered and be willing to set aside my tasks to focus on relationships. I want to be deliberate in my relationships.

How about you? Do you make New Year’s resolutions? What do you think about picking one word for the year?

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The Day We Reproduced School at Home and the Surprising Things We Learned

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Just before Christmas, my older two kids (ages 10 and 12) had particularly challenging attitudes about school. I know they were tired, excited about Christmas, etc, but the attitudes, especially from the 12 year old, were just not cool. The day he started complaining that he still had another page of math left to do at 3pm (even when he had started school at 10am) I decided that I had had it. The local public school kids had stared at 8am and wouldn’t be done until 3:20, and then would have homework on top of that.

I knew that the kids intellectually realized the benefits they had from being homeschooled, but never having really experienced public school, I knew that they didn’t REALLY get it. Homeschooling had become a huge challenge for me the past month or so, and I was at the end of my rope. The bickering, fooling around, complaining… I was ready to be done.

Instead of throwing in the towel, I decided to do an experiment to help them (and me) appreciate what we have in homeschooling. My husband LOVED the idea when I told him about it and he helped me fine tune it.

We announced to our children that evening that the next day they would be going to school. Without leaving the house. Instead of sleeping in until 9am, they would be setting their alarms for 6:45am and would have to be ready to leave the house by 7:30. At that time, the 12 year old, who in theory would be catching the bus to middle school, would put on his coat and sit on the deck for 10 minutes “waiting for the bus”. He could then come inside and sit on the couch doing nothing for 20 minutes or so while he “rode to school”. School would begin promptly at 8:00, just like the local middle school.

I then followed the middle school schedule as it was posted online, with academics for an hour and a half, followed by 2 45 minute sessions of “specials” (which I assumed meant gym, art, music, library, etc), followed by more academics, lunch, and more academics.

I told my older two that once they were “at school”, they would not be allowed to interact with each other at all. No reading on couches, only at desks. No playing with their own toys on lunch break. I found the perfect school bell alarm on my phone and set it to go off when it was time to change classes.

I was nervous about pulling it off, but it went far better than I ever could have imagined. Here’s some very surprising things I learned:

1. I am much more relaxed when I can get the kids up at a decent hour and get some of the academics done first thing in the morning. We used the “specials” time mid morning to do chores, devotion, read aloud, clean rooms, etc. We had already finished 2-3 subjects by that point, without rushing them at all, so I felt much better taking the time to do other things.

2. Having the older two not interact with each other during academic time was GLORIOUS!!!!! I didn’t realize how much their bickering and fooling around with each other had been disrupting everything and driving me nuts. My daughter especially said she had a much easier time focusing without her older brother being silly and goofy with her.

3. I did let them interact during our mid morning “specials” time and they were actually nice to each other. I also let them play together at lunch. The non interaction during academics is definitely something we’ll keep!

4. In spite of the challenges, homeschooling still rocks! Being able to read on the couch, not having to run to catch the bus, my not needing to drive kids to and from school, and of course avoiding all the negative peer pressure and bullying are totally worth any extra work on my part at home.

The kids and I had a nice debrief time at the end of the day and we decided together that we will be keeping several of the components that we liked about the experiment, but happily chucking the other things out the window.

What other takeaways did I find? If things aren’t going well, don’t be afraid to really shake up the routine. Even if you try something new and it fails miserably, you’ve still learned something about what works and what doesn’t. In what ways have you really shaken up your school schedule for better or worse?

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Has Homeschooling Been a Bumpy Spiritual Road?

I am so thankful for the freedom to homeschool my kids. I’m thrilled that I can keep them out of the public school mess and teach them at their own speed, cater to their interests and abilities, and eliminate the wasted time schools have to spend on crowd control. (Well, maybe I still have some crowd control to do…)

But if I’m honest, homeschooling can also be incredibly challenging. It forces me to confront my own feelings of insecurity and gives me countless opportunities to practice patience. I also have to deal with my anger issues (which I never had before having children) and struggles with anxiety and frustration.

Those things all sound like character traits that God would want me to work on with Him in my journey to be more like Christ… And He’s using homeschooling as one of the main teaching tools!

My new book, “The Bumpy Road: Growing in Christ While Homeschooling Your Kids“, is an honest and many times funny look at some of the spiritual lessons that God is teaching me through homeschooling my three kids.

Available now on Amazon!

Available now on Amazon!

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I pray that you’ll be encouraged and maybe get some practical ideas out of the things I’ve learned. Or, maybe you know someone else who would benefit from looking at the challenges of homeschooling as ways for us to grow in Christ.

If you benefit from it, please share with others and leave a review on Amazon!

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Dealing with Tween Emotion Rollercoasters

Angry, Frustrated Woman

My 11 year old had been asking for a couple of weeks for me to set up a play date with his friend. Since we were taking the week of Thanksgiving off of school, I set it up for Monday morning.

Sunday night, he and his sister were having trouble behaving at bedtime after promising they would be good. I told them there would be consequences, maybe including shortening the play date the next day.

11 year old: “OK, let’s just skip the play date then.”

Me: “Skip it? Why do you say that? Don’t you want to go?”

11 yo: “No, I don’t want to go.”

Me: “What do you mean you don’t want to go? You’ve been bugging me for weeks to set this up!”

11 yo: “Well, I need a break.”

Me: “A break? You’ve been off school since Thursday afternoon. You need a break from what? A play date is a break!”

I was furious. Really? After all that bugging to set this up, he don’t want to go?

We ended up going in order not to punish everyone else in the family who also wanted to go (myself included). He had a great time and said that it was too short. OK… The day before he didn’t want to go. I can’t keep up!

Then there was the complaining. My friend got a dog and why aren’t we getting a dog, and why do you say they’re so much work? What work is involved with a dog? And this weather isn’t bad (freezing rain turning to snow and rapidly dropping temps). You call this bad weather, Mom? If the play date is only going to be five minutes (try 3 hours) then why bother doing it at all…

He’s normally a very sweet, compliant, congenial kid. Really, he is. These days, his moods are pretty near impossible to keep up with, and I find myself riding the roller coaster with him. It bothers me when he’s so illogical, so I get angry and the whole thing escalates into a shouting match.

So, after being ashamed at my own loss of emotional control, I came to a conclusion. It is neither within my ability nor my job description to control or manage his emotions. Couldn’t do it if I tried. He’s entering hormone-ville, anyway. It’s going to happen. He’s going to be illogical and his moods are going to shift faster than the weather in Wisconsin. I’m a natural people pleaser and I want him to be happy, but it just isn’t going to work.

The emotions I do have some control over and am responsible for are my own. I can choose, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to react calmly and patiently even when he’s illogical and moody. Trust me, I can’t do it by myself. I’ve tried. Then if he decides to be, well, a poop-head for lack of a better term, it doesn’t have to ruin my day. I certainly don’t need to relive adolescence by trying to keep up with his moods.

There are still consequences for acting disrespectful or rude, but my yelling and losing my temper don’t need to be included in those consequences.

How about you? If you have moody tweens or teens, do you have trouble keeping your cool when their emotions go haywire? How do you keep it under control?

If you have liked my posts, sign up for my email list where I will announce when my new books become available. The first one, “The Bumpy Road: Growing in Christ While Homeschooling Your Kids” will be available on Kindle soon. It’s a transparent and frequently humorous look at the spiritual lessons that homeschooling moms and dads can learn while trying to teach their kids.

I also have some middle grade and young adult historical fiction on the back burner that your kids might enjoy. I’ll announce to my email list when those come out as well.

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