homeschool challenges

52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 30: Make a Plan for Minor Frustrations

52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 30: Make a Plan for Minor Frustrations

Here’s something you might not know: When it comes to your homeschool life, dealing with big problems is much easier than dealing with smaller ones.

The truth is that little irritations—a particularly stubborn attitude toward a math lesson or a kid who totally slacks on his history work—can take a bigger toll on our happiness than big crises. That’s because big challenges encourage us to rise to the occasion and often come with built-in social support—your kid gets diagnosed with dyslexia or needs surgery? You’ve got this, and your community rallies around you. Dealing with a kid who refuses to work on his handwriting or who always grumbles his way through math? You’re going in with less patience and likely to garner less sympathy from people when you try to discuss it.

So how do you deal? Acknowledge that little frustrations take a big toll and figure out coping mechanisms to help you deal with them as they pop up. Think about the things that tend to irritate you in your homeschool life—and don’t be embarrassed if they’re small things that you know you shouldn’t really let yourself be annoyed by. Part of the reason small things can grate so sharply is that we try to convince ourselves we shouldn’t be affected by them. Make a short list of small gripes—when your kid interrupts your readaloud so many times that you read the same sentence over and over or your child’s dramatic sighs that accompany every writing assignment, for instance—and come up with a mantra or action to combat them. Maybe you tell yourself: “I’m lucky to have a curious kid, so I’m going to close this book right now and let him follow some rabbit trails” or you’ll head to the kitchen to start lunch prep when you give your writing-averse student a writing assignment. You know better than anyone what is likely to defuse your frustration, so take the time to think it through. And when you’ve got your plan, write it down—research suggests that writing things down is one of the most effective ways to make a change in your habits.

Your mission this week: Think of the little thing that gets on your nerves, and write down a plan to combat it. You can opt for an action—leaving the room, taking a walk, changing subjects—a mantra (“I’m thankful that we have plenty of time to practice handwriting, and I’m not going to get caught up in feeling like a failure because we’re not doing it today”), or a combination. Next time your irritation strikes—and we know it will!—use your combat method to cope.


52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 23: Pat Yourself on the Back

52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 23: Pat Yourself on the Back

Here is the thing about homeschooling: Most of the time, it is a one-person job. Even if you rely on tutors, outside classes, and other resources that don’t require you to be hands-on every minute, you’re probably still the one coordinating all that activity. It’s usually still your responsibility. You are your own boss and your own employee—and in that space, it’s often all to easy to focus on all the things you are doing wrong.

Maybe you were short-tempered during math—which obviously means that your son will be permanently traumatized, never grasp fractions, fail to get into college, and end up living under a bridge, resenting you forever. Maybe you were burned out on small talk and decided to skip your kid’s favorite park day—which, of course, will prevent your child from being properly socialized and turn her into the stereotype of the awkward homeschooler and ensure that she never makes any friends and lives the rest of her life in bleak and lonely isolation. Maybe you just realized that your nine-year-old doesn’t know the days of the week—which, of course, means that this is just the tip of the iceberg and you’ve utterly failed him academically and who knows what other embarrassing and life-limiting gaps you’ve left lying around in his education? When you’re the one responsible for such a big undertaking, it’s way too easy to jump to the worst case scenario.

But the truth is, most of us are actually doing a pretty darn good job. Sure, we mess up. Definitely, we’re not perfect. But mostly and most of the time, we’re better than just good enough. If we had bosses, they’d give us glowing reviews and be impressed by just how much we actually get done every single week, all year long. (Because even when you take a break, you’re still a homeschooling parent.) Homeschooling is not an easy job, even when it’s a wonderful one—it requires a balancing act of intellectual curiosity, academic knowledge, heroic patience, gentle guidance, and intelligent problem-solving. And we do it! Sometimes, OK, we do it better than others, but we do it. And we should give ourselves more credit for that.

Your challenge this week: When you catch yourself spiraling into negative self-talk (“I should have done that,” or “How could I skip a whole week of science again?”), instead of dwelling on your shortcomings, force yourself to focus on one great thing you did. (“I picked such a great readaloud this week” or “I really handled that handwriting meltdown so well.”) Skip the caveats and second-guessing, and just pause to appreciate a place where you did a great job.


You Shouldn't Compare Your Homeschool to Anyone Else's

You shouldn't compare your homeschool to anyone else's -- your only homeschool competition is yourself!

Remember that old adage, comparison is the thief of joy?  We’ve all heard it. Heck, we may have even used that line on our own children at time or two.

Yet, have you ever thought to yourself in regards to homeschooling: Am I doing enough? Are my kids going to be okay? Have you ever heard an offhand comment by a schooled friend, or even another homeschooler, and thought to yourself: Oh my goodness, my child hasn’t learned that! I am not doing enough! I’m betting you have had those thoughts; I’ve been around the block enough to know that most homeschoolers feel like that at one time or another.

The why is obvious when we stop and think about it: we are so in the thick of it. We are so daily confronted, obviously and nakedly, by a struggling reader or a child who has yet to grasp simple algebra. And when the fear and self-doubt start to seep in, it’s easy to ask ourselves, and really mean it: Can I fix this? Am I up to this task?

And then, accompanying those nagging fears, are those Neighbor McPerfect types. Their children all play soccer, receive perfect grades, and every one of those little buggars takes part in academic summer enrichment activities; and no one at their house seems much worried about hitting certain benchmarks by a certain time because they all surpassed the benchmarks earlier than anyone else in their class. Their children are all college bound, not because its where they necessarily belong, but because it is the next rung on the ladder of how to do life. There is a neat, tidy bow wrapped so perfectly around their lives that it almost makes you want to weep with feelings of inadequacy.

Yes, ’tis true, comparison is the thief of joy.

Take a breath and pause for a minute. Why do you homeschool? Take some time— a lot of it if it’s needed— and remind yourself what you’re about.

Of course our homeschooled kids aren’t exact replicas of their schooled peers. Call me crazy, but isn’t that pretty much exactly why we do this? In all honestly, if we cared about following the traditional formula of doing life right, our kids wouldn’t have come home from a traditional school in the first place. No, they’d be in school. Where, I might add, our struggling reader would still be struggling to read, but instead of receiving one-on-one, positive attention in a place where it’s safe to fail, she would likely struggle to hide her perceived inadequacies from her peers.

That kid that just isn’t getting algebra?  They’d not be understanding it in school either, and unlike at school, at home you have the option to change the approach you’re using, or buy a different curriculum. You can even shut the algebra book for a bit knowing that when you come back to it, your child’s brain will likely be ready to make sense of what was confusing before.

So why do we compare ourselves (or, let’s be honest, our kids) to our (their) peers? Why do we let ourselves feel so very badly that the very outcomes we wanted (independent thinkers! individualized learning!) are the outcomes we get? 

The reality is we all maybe kind of want to parent that child that wins the national spelling bee. That child so very obviously excels at something, and it is so easy to defend homeschooling and demonstrate its efficacy. But the child who struggles to read in third grade? Has homeschooling failed her? On our worst days we maybe kind of believe that it might have.

What if though, instead of examining the minutia of our homeschooling successes and failures, we instead examined what we are all climbing toward? Schools don’t have a monopoly on getting it right. So what if your local public school requires memorization of multiplication factors in third grade? If your gaze is focused on your academic end goals, you might more clearly see that a love of math is more important long term to the child you see mathematical promise in than getting those times tables memorized at the assigned time. A focus that has its sites set on the academic finish line might more clearly see the value in a child forgetting to do her geometry lesson because she was so wrapped up with her charcoal pencils and her sketchbook. Why is it worse to learn basic geography solely through computer games while never picking up a geography text? Is the knowledge less real because it wasn’t absorbed through textbook and lecture? 

It’s not that the way schools do things is necessarily wrong. For many kids those ways work well, and we, like so many of you, do use a lot of traditional things in our homeschool. But my point is this: please don’t allow yourself to get bogged down in the mire. Every parent experiences self-doubt when it comes to their kids, even the ones who are doing it the traditional way. Second-guessing ourselves just means we care about the outcome; it doesn’t validate our doubts. 

If you simply must compare a child to someone, compare him against himself. Can he do more today than he could yesterday? Is she an inquisitive soul who last year knew more than you ever imagined a person could know about every dog breed on the planet, and yet continues to learn more in her free time? Can your struggling reader read more today than yesterday? When comparing by those metrics, which are the only ones that matter, there is no joy stealing from the comparison. In fact, I would wager that by those measurements, your child looks pretty darn good, just as they ought.

Comparison can be the thief of joy. . .  but only if you let it. I hope you won’t.


Transitioning Back to Homeschool After a Holiday

Tips for getting back into your homeschool routine after the holidays or a long-ish break. #homeschool

This week most homeschoolers are getting back into the swing of things after a few weeks off for winter break. It’s hard for everyone – adults and children – to start getting up early and getting back to work, so here are a few ideas to make that transition a little more bearable. Please add your ideas in the comments section!

Play Games :: Instead of pulling out the curriculum, pull out your games. Pick the most educational games you have on hand and do it during your regular school time. If you like to get up a little earlier in the morning for your homeschool routine, use the games as a way to ease back into that schedule. It’s much easier waking up for a fun game than spelling lesson!

Plan a Field Trip :: If you spent a good portion of your holiday in your pajamas, sleeping late and watching movies, you might find that planning a field trip will help you ease back into a routine. You’ll need to get up early, get dressed, and best of all, you can plan a trip to a place that will spark someone’s interest. Ask your child to take a notebook and sketch their favorite exhibits or jot down ideas for follow-up once they get home.

Plan a Trip to the Library :: This is easy, and it feels good to watch our kids pick out their own books. While you are there, you might pick up that history book you’ve wanted to read to the kids too. Once you’re home, you have a stack of books that will kick start your new season of learning.

Find a Good Book :: You might not need a stack of library books, but just one great book that pulls everyone together on the sofa. And especially if you spent most of your holiday visiting relatives, dressing up, and being on your best behavior, you might enjoy easing back into your regular routine by cuddling together in your pajamas for a good readaloud. (Click here to check out some books we've recommended in the past.)

Watch a Documentary :: Do you want to do something educational, but you’re still not ready to do much planning? Try getting the family together to watch a documentary. See Family Time: Our Favorite Documentaries for a must-see list of documentaries.

Make Art Your Lesson :: A great first day back might be an art day for your family. Be sure to check all the past issues of home/school/life for Amy Hood’s great ideas on how to explore art with your children. You can read one of her columns online too.

Ask Your Child How to Begin :: Finally, if your child is just not transitioning well, or even if he is, but you want to make the transition fun, ask him what he’d like to do to get back into the swing of things. How about research a new subject? Make a poster. Make a film. Or do a puppet show? You might kick start a whole new project!


At Home with the Editors: October Homeschool Rewind

Fun peek behind the scenes at what's happening in the homeschool life of the editor of home/school/life magazine #homeschool.

We share lots of little things happening in our homeschool lives in our Stuff We Like posts every week, but we don’t really talk about the big-picture stuff often. I thought it would be interesting to share some of those now and then on the blog—because maybe you’ve had similar things on your mind and can commiserate or have brilliant advice to share. Here's what was on my mind in October:

Homeschooling with a (temporary) disability is hard. Until I broke my ankles, I never realized on how much our homeschool moves around: We’re in the backyard nature journaling, hanging out in the rec room for math, cuddling on the couch for readalouds, walking around the block before lunch—I think of myself as a fairly sedentary person, but now that I am really and truly stuck on the sofa, I see that I relied a lot on changes of scene. Physically moving from one space to another works like an intellectual palate cleanser for us, and I’ve had to get creative about getting similar effects when I am stuck in one room. (To be honest, more days than not, I’m cutting things short with our more structured learning and sending the kids outside to play because it feels like we’ve gotten bogged down.)

I want to read more for pleasure. I read a lot, as you probably know if you read all the book lists in every issue of home/school/life. But I realize that I’m not reading for pleasure very often these days—I’m reading books to review or to brush up on a subject or to keep up with my daughter’s ridiculously long reading lists. It’s not that I don’t enjoy this reading—usually, I do—but I’m not browsing shelves, judging books by their covers, and reading things just because they look interesting very often, and I miss that. Plus, I think pleasure reading just looks different from required reading, and that's something I'd like to model for my kids. I want to integrate more pleasure reading into my life.

We are struggling with math—again. My son gets math instinctively, but my daughter struggles. Lately, it’s hard for her because her little brother likes to jump in and solve her math problems before she can finish working them out—and when you’re a teenager, getting one-upped by a first grader doesn’t feel so great. I’m not sure how to navigate this—I think my son should get to be proud of being good at something and my daughter shouldn’t have to be embarrassed about being the kind of person who has to follow the steps to solve a math problem. I’ve moved to trying to point my son toward another project when my daughter is working on her math, but her confidence—her hard-won math confidence!—has really taken a hit, which stinks.

So those are a few of the things on my mind as we move into November. What’s got you thinking in your homeschool life right now?


"Homeschooling Must Be Really Hard."

Love this! All the things that run through your head when someone says "Homeschooling must be so hard" or "I could never homeschool my kids." #homeschool

Today we spent an incredibly satisfying hour sitting beside our brand new wildlife pond, watching dragonflies lay their eggs in it. A few weeks have passed since we dug this pond. It appears that wildlife has discovered it now, and it’s teaming with little squiggly things. To anyone who claims that children have a short attention span, I wish they could have seen the attention my children gave these dragonflies today. Magic.

Those of us who home educate (homeschool) our children are used to hearing inquisitive and somewhat incredulous comments like, “But are you a teacher?” And, “How do your children socialize?” Or this beauty: “Is that even legal?!” People have all sorts of things to say about home education, especially where I live, because it’s fairly unusual and a lot of people have never even heard of it.

Sometimes people say, “Wow. That must be really hard.” I don’t think they necessarily mean that teaching primary level skills is a challenge. What I think they might mean is that being around your children all day, and carrying the weight of responsibility for their education, must be hard. They usually follow up their comments with something along the lines of, “I could never do that.”

It’s awfully nice of them to try to commiserate with me, but I think the thing that’s missing here is that, believe it or not, I am actually choosing to home educate my children. And most of the time I love being around them. But whenever I hear people say, “Wow, that must be hard,” I think to myself, yeah, it’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

Then I find myself thinking all sorts of negative thoughts about home education. And I wonder where my joy has gone.

It’s been a few weeks since anyone has told me how hard my life must be and I’ve noticed that my life is not actually the vale of tears everyone thinks it is. I have a renewed sense of clarity and I wonder how I got talked into the idea that home education is a penance for martyrs. I remember that there are some glittering moments in every day when I think, “This is why we do this.” Today’s dragonfly magic was one such moment.

Of course there are other times when I so desperately want to be alone, I can feel it beneath my skin. I have a list of interesting ideas and projects I want to sink my teeth into, yet round every corner I meet a new needy person who wants me to do something. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. English, maths and spelling. Build a Hot Wheels track with me, edit a film with me, help me feed my caterpillars. Predictably, I sit down at my computer or unfurl my yoga mat, and it’s as though I’ve rung the dinner bell and everyone comes running.

This is what they’re referring to when they say it must be hard. What I’ve found is that the more I focus on the hard the less I focus on the magic. When I fill my mind with what I don’t like about it, I forget about the gratitude I feel that I am fortunate enough to be able to do this for my family. Being held in awe or pity, or commiserated with means I am a martyr, or worse, a victim. I am neither.  Sure, home educating my children can be hard, but it is a joyful kind of hard, like a diamond in all its surprising, sparkling brilliance.


Mindful Homeschooling: Making Our Way Through Challenging Times

Mindful Homeschool: Finding a Way Through Challenging Times

I was reminded this week how life can be utterly unpredictable. Let’s face it, even when Life doesn’t throw too many curveballs, it can still be hard. Daily life with children, managing a home, trying to navigate one’s career and living expenses – it’s not easy. Throw in anything unexpected, though, and it’s downright…

difficult – such an inadequate word

stressful – still inadequate

heartbreaking – maybe

unfair – always.

But when I found this little poem by a very wise unknown writer, I knew in my heart that these are some of the truest words I’ve ever read. “I was given life that I might enjoy all things.”

I know that at age 43, I am enjoying most things. Maybe not the difficult – stressful – heartbreaking – unfair things so much, but when I look around me at my cluttered house, the spring flowers, even my long to-do list, I am enjoying life more than ever. And I have the deepest respect for those who undergo many more difficulties than I do, yet they still manage to feel Joy.

mindful homeschool via homeschoollifemag.com

What I wonder the most now is how to pass this wisdom on to my sons? Is it enough to teach by example and the occasional words of advice, or can only Life give us these lessons? Perhaps a little of both.

What do you think? How do you teach your children to face difficulty? How do you teach them to find joy in small, attainable goals?

And this is a good place to introduce our comments policy:

We at home/school/life invite you to share your thoughts, recommendations, and encouragement for others. Though we are a secular resource, we honor and respect all the beliefs, backgrounds, and different reasons for homeschooling, so please don’t feel restricted in making a comment about your own personal views. We only ask that you respect others’ beliefs and opinions as you would like yours to be respected. We will not tolerate attacks or abusive language, and we will delete any comment that does not honor this code of conduct.


Mindful Homeschool: Living and Learning on Wilderness Time

Mindful Homeschool: Living and learning on wilderness time

Recently I read the book, Living on Wilderness Time, by Melissa Walker. It is a memoir of a woman in her early fifties who was seeking a change in her life after years of working in a busy academic career and raising her children. Remembering her youthful days spent roaming the countryside at her parent’s home in south Georgia, she decided to be intentional about getting back into nature, and not only that, she wanted to learn about America’s designated wilderness areas.

Over the course of two years, she took a series of trips, driving through natural areas and camping in several different national parks—by herself. A couple of times during her travels, her husband joined her, and once a good friend, and she met all kinds of interesting people. There were occasions when she needed to spend the night in a hotel or at least in the back of her van, but usually she camped in a tent by herself.

I know I wouldn’t want to do that. Not only would I not feel safe, I’m simply not interested in camping alone. I do, however, understand the longing to be alone in nature. I totally get that. So I didn’t mind living vicariously through her as I read about her crash course in how to survive alone in the wild, and I also enjoyed learning about our designated wilderness areas and the challenges and controversies there are surrounding keeping a place “wild.”

But what I most enjoyed about the book was how she often described herself as entering “wilderness time” when she left home and got on the road. In other words, she didn’t have any deadlines. Though she occasionally made meetings with park rangers and other wilderness experts, she didn’t give herself much of an agenda. A wilderness ranger she volunteered with said, “Our work in there will take as long as it takes.”

Living and learning on wilderness time

Walker explains how her goal was to take this lesson learned in the wild and apply it to her life when she returned home. I couldn’t help but nod and think, “I want to live on wilderness time too.” Like Walker, I would like to spend my time wisely, working toward what is important and doing it well without worrying about how long it will take.

I realize I’m a very lucky person. I get to stay home with my kids, homeschool them, and pursue things that I am passionate about. Not everyone has that luxury. Despite this, I can get caught up in a race where I’m the only one racing-racing to finish whatever is on my to do list or whatever is foremost in my mind. Why in the world would I do that when there’s no one holding me accountable?

Yes, of course, I have obligations to my family and even myself. But not getting things done is not my problem. I can afford to stop racing. I can live on wilderness time right here in my own house.

And what a gift it will be to my children when I repeat that little mantra in my head—“wilderness time, wilderness time” – and say, “Our work will take as long as it takes.” If my son needs extra time in math, we’ll take the extra time. If he wants to build a complicated structure, we’ll work on it until it’s finished. If he’s undecided about how to complete it, I’ll let him take the time he needs to figure it out. And, of course, taking the time to stop what we’re doing and getting into nature is a big part of that.

I’m not worried about my kids trying to keep up with the “rat race” when they become adults. Everybody has a knack for falling into the rat race. What I want to accomplish right now is letting them practice working in wilderness time. Letting them know that there are actually very few things that need to be rushed. Letting them know that whether they hit the trails or stay at home, they can usually choose how to spend their time and using it wisely might make all the difference.


Mindful Homeschool: Navigating Life's Bumps

Mindful Homeschool: Navigating Life's Bumps

So far 2015 has been challenging for my husband and me. We have had, shall we say, a series of bad luck that began just before the New Year. Thankfully, nothing has turned out to be life threatening, but dealing with it all at once has been stressful. Without going into too much detail, I can tell you that in less than two months we have been to the ER twice, have had numerous doctor appointments, switched health insurance, are dealing with major workplace changes, and had an ac/heating unit break. That costs a mint to replace! Other smaller-but-still-stressful things happened too, so we have been in a constant state of problem solving.

Whenever bad things happen, my motto has been, “This too shall pass.” With so much happening at once, that started to change to, “What’s gonna be next?!” Seriously, I’m still a little paranoid. I cannot help thinking that all of this is preparing us for some major trauma.

But that hasn’t happened, and most likely, it won’t.

It has also reminded me of some lessons I have learned through the ritual of storytelling. Our bad luck is exactly why, Chase Collins said, we should tell our children stories that have likeable characters who overcome threats and have a happy ending. By doing this, we are telling them that life is full of struggles, but we know that they have the ability to face them and overcome them. Furthermore, she says, by giving them happy endings, we are telling them that life is worth living.

Before now I never had so many random things happen at once, but I have dealt with life’s ups and downs. There has almost always been a problem I’m working through. Some were long-term and some were short-term. Some seemed more insurmountable than others, but I always had a sense that I would get through it. Having problems pile up on us so quickly started to feel overwhelming, but when I stepped back to look at the bigger picture, I could see that these are still just episodes—bumps in life—that we have to overcome. Perhaps all those stories I’ve been telling my son have actually been teaching me something too.

drift-wood-1.jpg

I have been able to work out my “psychic muscle,” as Emily Dickinson said. I have been taking the time to recognize the positive things that have happened so that I’m not so focused on the negative. Here’s a few good things that has happened since the New Year, and much of it has to do with our homeschooling lifestyle.

  • Because we homeschool and work at home, it has been easier to take care of our emergencies. There is no added stress about having to take time off from work or worry about the boys missing school.
  • Though sometimes I wish we had someone nearby who could help us out in a pinch, we don’t have that. Our boys have accompanied us to doctor appointments and to the emergency room twice—once we had to wake them up well before daylight. They are the best boys in the world during these emergencies. (We do let them play games on a tablet during long waits.) They transition well, do what we say and are quiet. It’s not lost on me that they are learning about the wider world through our ordeals. They are learning how to navigate life’s bumps too.
  • During an ice storm, we were one of the few homes in Georgia who didn’t lose electricity. But I feel extra lucky that my husband makes sure we are well prepared for those kinds of emergencies.
  • I have seen my boys progressing in academics and self-directed learning, and this has made me joyful. The cold winter days have been perfect for doing creative projects.
  • I have been grateful for good friends who care about my well-being and that of my family.

Navigating life’s bumps can be challenging, but doing it together with a loving family makes it bearable. Someday we’ll look back and say, “Remember 2015? That year started off terrible! But we got through it.”

How do you navigate life's bumps?


Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda— Homeschooling Better, After the Fact

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda— Homeschooling Better, After the Fact

You can spend your entire homeschool life second-guessing yourself — or you can trust yourself (and your kids) to get where you need to go.

Homeschooling Isn't Always Easy—So Why Do We Do It?

why, exactly, am I doing this?

Today has been one of those days when I feel like a tragic hero. Nothing I’ve laid my hands to seems to come out right. I open my mouth and the wrong words come out. I lift my hand and I break a glass. My children resist all of my suggestions; I’m at odds with everyone. I put a dishwasher tablet into my mug instead of a teabag. We’re having one of those days. And it’s not even a Monday.

Some days as a home educator are absolutely fantastic. We are going with the flow, bouncing off each other, getting our projects done, learning from one another, finding new things out together. On those days I’m striding along with confidence and feeling on top of the world. What’s more, I feel at one with my children, like we are flowing in the same direction. They’re enthusiastic and excited about what we’re doing, I can see their progress and we are all having fun. If you could make a commercial about home schooling, we’d have a starring role, but my hair would be a bit tidier and my clothes would be ironed. (You’ll have to imagine that.)

But today, like “those” days when things don’t seem to be going my way, has been hard. It started with arguments and bad feeling, moved onto irritation and resistance, and finished up with some yelling, resignation, and my head firmly resting in my hands. Ugh.

On days like this I wonder whether we are doing the right thing. Would they be better off in school? Wouldn’t my life be easier if they went off in the morning and returned in the afternoon? Then I could apply myself to pursuits where people actually value (and pay!) me.

When I feel the resentment building and I’m feeling bad more than I’m feeling good, I know I need to change something. I either need to make a change in what I’m doing or in what I am thinking. Or both. Let me explain.

On days like this I wonder whether we are doing the right thing. Would they be better off in school? Wouldn’t my life be easier if they went off in the morning and returned in the afternoon?

At the end of the day I will sit down and evaluate how it went. I’ll write in my journal, note down what I am grateful for and consider what could have made things better for all of us. The most common causes of difficult days in my house are too little sleep, too little nourishment, too little quiet time, and too much rushing around. Oh, and I’ll be honest: one of the things that really consigns our day to the dustbin is if I get into a bad mood at the start of the day, wallow in victim thoughts and can’t snap out of it. There, I said it.

What could I be doing differently? Could I rush less and make more space in our day for connection, snuggles on the sofa, read aloud stories, art? Could I commit myself to ten minutes (or possibly—hopefully—more) of quiet time after lunch in which I could journal, read a book, sit in meditation or simply lie down? Could we all go to bed a little earlier?

How could I be thinking differently? When things aren’t going very well, it’s so easy to feel like a victim (“Why am I doing this?” “This isn’t what I expected.” “Why are they doing this to me?” “How did we end up like this?”). It’s tempting to let the grey cloud expand, to let The Nothing absorb us and give in to desolation. For me, it helps so much to step back and find my agency in each day. I remind myself that I made these choices. I recall that they are good choices and that we are just stuck in a moment, but we will find a way out, as we always do. I practice compassion and try to see life through my children’s eyes. I meditate and allow unhelpful debris in the mind to dissipate.

I remember when my children were in school several years ago. We’d start the day on the wrong foot, then I’d wave them into the school and that would be it. For the whole day. There would be no opportunity until the end of the school day to rebuild connection, to try again, to say sorry, to hug. I try to recall how bad that felt, how I couldn’t wait to see them in the afternoon and start over, how hard it was to focus on anything in the day with that pall of bad feeling hanging over me. Now I’m lucky, because when life is dishing out moldy leftovers at 7 a.m., I have a chance at 7.01 to chuck it all in the bin and start over. I can say sorry NOW. I can hug my child NOW. We can start over NOW.

Why am I doing this? I’m doing it because I love it and believe in it. And even things we love can be challenging. That’s actually part of their allure.

But take it from me, tea made with dishwasher tablets is definitely to be avoided.