We went bowling earlier this week, using the kids' free bowling coupons. There was something new in the bowling alley: big banners advertising a "Moms Open House." It's taking place during the first weeks that schools are back in session, and is designed to introduce moms to the joys of league bowling. The flyer promises fun, and prizes, and gift bags.
My kids asked if I wanted to go. No, I said, I'd rather be home with you.
Homeschool moms sometimes feel conflicted this time of year. We are happy to have our children home with us. We don't like seeing other mothers rejoicing at getting their kids out of the house when school starts. We don't join in the champagne celebrations at the bus stop. (I truly did see someone's blog post describing such a thing.)
Of course every mother needs to get away from her children sometimes, and kids need to be away from mommy (more and more so as they grow up). But it is kind of ugly, the way mothers are so eager to get the kids out of the way so they can get on with their lives. I have to wonder how a kid feels, watching his mother do a happy dance as he gets on the bus to spend most of his day away from home.
(And of course I am not talking about all mothers of schoolkids. Just those that are sick of their kids after summer vacation and can't wait till they're out of the house for eight hours a day again.)
But then, after we stop feeling superior, the envy can set in. Those other mothers, the ones with the kids out of the house all day, have free time. They could go bowling! They could have cleaner houses, more beautiful yards. They could go shopping and out for coffee; or just sit on the couch and read. All while we are staying home fighting over math while the dishes stack up and dust bunnies frolic.
So we go to our homeschool mom friends and cry out our frustrations: "I'm overwhelmed. I can't do all this." We are tired, we are burned out - and that's just from the planning. We're not even doing anything with the kids yet; they're still out in the back yard on the trampoline. We plan to "start school" real soon now, but keep pushing it back because we're not ready, not up for it yet.
And we pat each other on the back and say "oh, yes, of course you feel that way. Take some time off, let the kids stay on the trampoline a while longer, rest and relax, and you'll feel better. You are trying to do too much." And we believe we are offering encouragement.
But sometimes that's not encouragement. That's enabling. That's letting us revel in self-pity and giving us reason not to get on with with what we need to be doing. Real encouragement says "yeah, we're all tired. But we have a job to do. Get to work."
Christian homeschoolers often like to quote Jesus's offer of rest. Yes, His yoke is easy and His burden is light. It is important to remember that; I am not making fun. But we tend to forget the parts about hard work. Jesus didn't let tiredness, or being in a bad mood, or feeling down keep Him from His work. He got up when he was tired. His disciples worked hard too, and they didn't wait to get started till they felt up for it. They endured greater hardships than any tired homeschooling mom.
Years ago when my sister's four children were small, I was amazed at the amount of work she did for them. She wasn't homeschooling, but she helped with Girl Scout cookie sales and Boy Scout fundraisers, made the girls' dresses and everyone's Halloween costumes - and these were elaborate, sewn-from-patterns costumes, not cardboard, felt, and duct tape creations. She was always busy and she didn't get much sleep. When I expressed concern for her lack of sleep and rest she always said "I'll sleep when I'm dead." She wasn't being cynical. Her rest wasn't important to her. Maybe her rest came in the satisfaction of seeing her girls wearing pretty dresses, in watching them have a great time on Halloween, in helping them enjoy their activities in Scouts.
Her kids would have turned out fine without the cool Halloween costumes, but it was something she chose to do - no, something she felt she was supposed to do. It was important to her. And she didn't complain about being tired while she was doing it.
Of course the costumes and the lack of sleep are not the point. Of course we are supposed to get our rest. (For all I know, my sister is one of those people who only needs 4 hours sleep a night.) Of course if we are sick we should stop and take care of ourselves. And of course we all need a little downtime. This month I finally set myself a goal of spending one hour reading each day. Real reading, in real books - not magazines or websites. It's been wonderful, and refreshing, and motivating. But I'm still doing my other work. I'm still homeschooling.
So if we're homeschooling because we feel it's the right thing to do, or feel called by God to do, then we need to stop talking about how hard it is, and go do it.
This morning I overslept. When I got into the kitchen, I remembered some things I had let slip the night before, so I had work to do right from the start. Because I overslept, bread dough I'd left rising in the refrigerator all night wasn't going to be in the oven when I wanted it to be. I was pretty annoyed with myself for my poor planning.
I could have called on some girlfriends who would have sympathized with me. They may have told me that I must have needed the rest and that I shouldn't be so hard on myself. They most likely wouldn't have said what I needed to hear, which was, "why didn't you go to bed earlier, and set the alarm to wake you up?" Or, "why are you calling me now instead of getting things done?"
So, I didn't call (or write); I looked up a Bible passage. No, not Matthew 11:28 - 30. Instead, I went to the first chapter of the book of Acts. Jesus has just ascended into heaven, and the disciples are standing there:
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
In other words: "Why are you standing around? You have work to do. Go get to it."