A Charlotte Mason Education
Catherine Levison
"I found these books extremely practical and thoughtful."
A Charlotte Mason Education
Catherine Levison

Coping Strategies

I have met thousands of home schooling parents and I find that many of their concerns zero in on a couple of areas. Quite frequently families seem to need some coping strategies in order to continue to home educate. Hopefully, the following ideas will cover many situations such as, burnout, physical illness or caring for a sick loved one.

In a Charlotte Mason education, and other methods, parents include so much more than just basic academics that it may not seem “okay” to revert back to workbooks, packets or textbooks in a time of need. Let me reassure you, it is okay. The key to using workbooks as a coping mechanism is to train each child how to maneuver in his book without any assistance. This is very important; it may be necessary to choose books that are a grade level behind your child’s capabilities in order to ensure you will not be needed to interpret the directions. Your child may not advance as quickly as when you work with him on grade level, but he is not going to lose ground.

Many workbook or packet systems are self-contained — the child must master it on his own before moving on. Some parents rely on these systems perpetually. I’m not suggesting that, I’m only advising it as a temporary coping strategy. You’ll find that combining the power of habit with some independent materials will result in home school going on without you.

It really helps to stop and rethink your priorities fairly often. I have a rather large family and at times I’ll find that one of the children is in special need of my time whether it’s because she is slipping behind academically or she simply “needs” my individual attention as a mother. When that happens every one other than the targeted child can be placed in workbooks, as described above, which gives me the time I need to work intensely with the one child. Again, this would be a temporary situation — the usual goal is to enjoy the full Charlotte Mason method with all of its benefits.Illness is not the only reason for the need to cope. People with determined personalities, like myself, can become overly reliant on their own abilities. Sheer will power can enable you to continue through home schooling but eventually a crisis can exceed the power of our human determination.

Burnout is definitely a crisis for people who educate children. It is a conflict of huge proportions when those who love children and feel called to work with them grow weary of the task. I have often felt the need to speak plainly about the severity of burnout and the general difficulty of home educating itself. When a parent struggles with any aspect of educating their children the first thing they need is for someone to acknowledge the hardship rather than dismiss it as nonexistent. After the emotions have been acknowledged then solutions can be sought.

There is another condition that can bring on the need for coping. Now and then we all get a case of “bad Mom.” This condition can strike without warning. Only a “bad Mom” would complain about her children, or find herself day dreaming of first winning the lottery and then applying her winnings to boarding school. This self-condemnation can creep up on us after several days of being behind in laundry, grocery shopping, bathing, etc. It’s behind that less-than-lovely thought, “what if I’m not covering enough math, history, phonics.”

Anybody can catch a case of this whether we deserve it or not — and when it occurs during burnout I contend that we do not deserve it. A prerequisite of burnout is that you have to be burning. We who have dedicated our lives to bearing, raising, rearing, training, cleaning, feeding, comforting and yes, educating our young, are, at the least, glowing if not burning.

Bad Mom often starts with comparison, either with another home schooling mother or the with the accomplishments of another home schooling student. My advice is to avoid comparisons, and if you can’t avoid them then at least be realistic. If you were able to be the “fly on the wall” in any home schooling household only heaven knows what you’d be likely to see.

Another cure for “bad mom” is don’t try to be “super mom.” When motherhood or home schooling is getting you down, stop and simplify. So often when we have a problem we try to attack it with a huge, monumental overhaul of the situation. Just like Charlotte Mason’s teaching on the formation of good habits, try to implement one habit or idea at a time. Don’t write a big list of things you want changed and post it on the living room wall. Success depends on setting one small goal at a time for ourselves and our children and achieving it. It’s also a mistake to have “super-make-up-for-a-bad-week” home school day. No one will benefit from this kind of penance. When coping strategies are called for, try doing a little tiny bit of school every day. You’ll feel better about a little progress made every day when the end of the week comes, than some panicky, hysterical, make-up day.It is absolutely crucial to take time for yourself. This is a serious necessity for home schooling mothers, and we need the support of our families to accomplish it. Don’t wait until you’re on the brink of collapse to establish the habit of taking time for yourself. Children can be trained to honor your attempts, and your husband must be kept informed of your needs so he can be of help to you.

In Charlotte Mason’s era it was common to have domestic help, something present-day housewives, for the most part, do without. If you can afford any help at all, then I advise you to get it. I think of it as a home school janitorial service. Your family might consider foregoing a luxury, such as your weekly delivered pizza, and instead substitute two hours a week cleaning assistance.You need to know when to take a break. If you think you’re too busy and don’t have any spare time, you need to make some — no excuses. There is a good chance that my life is every bit as busy as yours, and like you, I’ve had to strike the balance between my duties and my personal sanity. Has your husband ever come to you with that desperate-for-clean-shirts look in his eyes and asked you for suggestions? Instead of pointing out that your next-door neighbor is about his size, it would probably be more appropriate to keep your laundry current or start using a laundry service that includes pressing those shirts. I know you carry a lot of responsibilities and you need to be just that, responsible, but after you’ve finished meeting everyone else’s needs you have a responsibility to look after yourself as well.

Kill two birds with one stone by enjoying some quiet time reading books that restore you and at the same time inspire you with constructive ideas. There are many books that moms find refreshing. For many it’s poetry, fiction, a magazine or an “escape book,”. We home schooling parents read so much research-type of writing and have to spend so much time in the education catalogs, that sometimes we have to make ourselves stop and read something for the simple pleasure of reading. I have found the answer for me is poetry. The reason it’s refreshing is you put in as much effort as you want. When all your reading has been for studying, it feels good to read words that simply have beauty and rhythm. You can work your brain if you want when reading poetry or you can just relax and enjoy it.

Another valid coping solution is to co-operate with other home schooling families. Many of the support groups have expanded to the point where they can offer very sophisticated co-ops. Various classes are offered either utilizing the parents or by bringing in experts such as artists or mechanics. Ordinarily, participation on the part of the parent is optional — of course if too many parents want a day off and don’t want to take a turn teaching, then the concept fails. My concerns would include that the co-op itself is run by home schooling parents who completely understand the situation and that they would be offered free-of-charge. Many of us do not have the extra money so often required for groups like this. Why not start a co-op if there aren’t any in your area? It may be just what the doctor ordered if you’re nearing burnout. Even if you’re coping very well at this point it would be nice if you could alleviate someone else’s distress.

It’s okay to need a break from your own children. Maybe you just tripped over your son’s size 13 foot for the tenth time today just as he was asking you how to spell “America.” Every now and then we are going to look around and ask ourselves “Why?” Sometimes, (especially when we get into our second decade of home school) it occurs to the mother that her children never leave. They are always around, underfoot (or on your foot). I’ve met a mom (or two) who held to very strict convictions that a good mother never needs a break. I can’t agree with that. I know I need time away from my little darlings and it makes me a better parent to get that break. So in case you were waiting for someone to do it, I’ll give you permission to (temporarily) retreat from the responsibilities of home management and home schooling.

Another coping strategy is to get organized. Regardless of where you physically conduct your home school, some basic tidiness can soothe rattled nerves. Having boxes assigned to each child has helped me tremendously. I like to buy those that stack and have ample room. If you buy them all at the same time it’s easier to make sure they’re compatible. Knowing where your materials are saves time and keeps your stress level down. Nothing is worse than spending any amount of time looking under beds and in dog houses for missing math books.

Menu planning can save valuable time. And what, my friend, is more valuable to the home schooling mother than time? I sit down with my children when we are all very, very, hungry and we brainstorm about breakfast, lunch and dinner. We make a huge list of meals we like. The more you think of, the better. The list can be kept in a computer file and added to from time to time. Years ago, I also made a master grocery list, and the funny thing is, people always wanted a copy. The best way to make one is to think of how your grocery store is laid out and group your regular purchases accordingly. Most trips I make to the store start with me hitting “print” for the list and using a yellow highlighter to mark what I need. I don’t do this so I can look like a show-off at the store, it really helps me. Many families benefit from freezer cooking and it has become very well known. I recommend the book Frozen Assets, How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month, by Deborah Taylor-Hough.

Learning how to occupy preschoolers during the school hours can help you to cope better during school. Even preschoolers are subject to habits. They can be trained over time to play quietly while everyone else studies. It will take work on your part to teach them that it is not okay to walk around finding ways to be mischievous and disruptive. Let me emphasize the work involved with this task. This is by far one the most often-asked questions by all home schoolers because it is not easy to deal with. There aren’t any easy answers either, and we need to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation. Last time I visited the local school classroom, the teacher did not have an unruly preschooler running wildly through the room and a baby to nurse.

So what can we do other than accept this difficulty with as much grace as possible? Try having a school box exactly like the other children with your preschooler’s name on it. Stock it with safety scissors, crayons, color books, lacing cards, quiet toys and all of that kind of stuff. Sometimes the young child will want to be like your older kids and look occupied with something important and sometimes they’ll want to run around and play. They don’t have the self-control, usually, to sit for any length of time. Preschoolers often want to work in the same book as the older sister. That problem is easily solved by giving young children used-up workbooks. None of my little kids have cared that they were already written in, it’s the appearance of looking like they are important enough to “do” school like the big kids that matters.

If you find a particular child comes into your life that is so distracting that nobody can get anything done around her, then perhaps you need to remove the child from the school area. Waiting until her nap time is one solution that worked for me. We couldn’t get the whole school day accomplished in that short time but we could save the most important subjects for then. Plus, I don’t see anything wrong with the child watching educational videos for thirty minutes to an hour while the rest of the children get a chance to concentrate.You could sit and play with clay or whatever your preschooler likes to do but watch out for manipulation. She sees you paying attention to the other children and her goal may be to hog you to herself. Be strong and be the adult. The education of your other children is important and the good news is that the preschooler will mature and soon take her place with the others.

Some people cope with the home schooling blues by going shopping for some educational “pick-me-up” such as some new books or games. This can be invigorating but don’t make the mistake of trying to find contentment through unnecessary spending — quite often it’s ineffective.

There might be better things than shopping to calm yourself with. Some possibilities I can think of include listening to music, playing an instrument, exercise, service projects, visiting friends or relatives, painting and sewing. In other words, think back to before you had children, if necessary, and recall the pastimes, interests and talents you once had time to enjoy.

Maybe it has been too long since you played. As we know, all work and no play makes mom a dull girl. Perhaps the best coping strategy you’ll ever find is being outdoors. We know Charlotte Mason would approve of that!

Cathy Duffy