Burnoutby Carole Breslin
There is always talk about burnout among home educators. What is it exactly? When does it happen? Why does it happen? How do I get through it? These are some of the questions that sit in the back of our minds as we work to finish up the school year.
The dictionary indicates that burnout is the complete depletion of fuel or mechanical breakdown. Sometimes home educators are worn out, or feeling inadequate or discouraged. As St. Ignatius teaches us, in spiritual warfare we will experience times of consolation as well as times of desolation; however, both can help us to grow in holiness. He further teaches that we must be aware, understand, and take action to fight the temptation to change our good resolutions.
Beyond temptations, there are a variety of reasons we develop burnout. A primary cause is unreasonably high expectations. While it is admirable to set high goals and strive for good grades, circumstances can change, and sticking to the schedule becomes virtually impossible. Yet we strive to be done on time and with high grades. Being too rigid will not only increase everyone’s level of stress but it will also discourage our children. As we read again and again in the Seton lesson plans: be flexible. Adapt the curriculum to the child not the child to the curriculum.
Another cause of burnout is discipline issues. The more there is loving discipline in the family in terms of school work and house work, the better the atmosphere. This means parents must themselves be disciplined enough to be prompt and consistent in the disciplining of their children. If nagging, whining, and complaining are increasing, the chances of burnout will increase as well. It takes time and energy to cope with children who do not obey the first time. It is a cross we must bear as parents to train our children to be obedient, kind, and industrious. Like all crosses, we will find joy in the peace and tranquility of doing God’s will.
Monotony can lead to burnout. Children sometimes become bored and restless when sitting all day long at a desk. Schedule some exercise and outdoor time into every day’s routine. Exercise is good for stimulating circulation and fostering better, clearer thinking. Try to plan regular times outside the house with the children once or twice a week. These could be field trips, work at a soup kitchen, or some other charitable endeavor. Some families have a celebration or some special outdoor event or treat when a quarter is completed. One family takes a few days off from school work. Another goes out for lunch, while yet another spends a day at the park.
Frequently overlooked is the need for children to get enough sleep and to eat a balanced diet. Snacks throughout the day such as fruits or juice can help keep the children more alert. Thinking takes energy, so make sure bedtimes are enforced and junk food is limited. Furthermore, limit the time on the computer. Computer games can be hypnotizing and intoxicating, lulling one almost to sleep.
Finally, we must be humble enough to ask for help. It is not unusual to see some families helping others but never asking for help for themselves. There is nothing wrong in asking for help. Think of the opportunity you could be providing for someone to practice charity. If you are floundering under the work or one of the children is having difficulty with a particular concept, call Seton. Seton wants your children to succeed. Seton counselors, available in every subject area for every grade, have marvelous ideas. They are well-versed not only in the subject matter but also in the different learning styles that children have.
On a more spiritual note, keep close to the Lord. Begin and end your day with prayer. Seek first His will in home schooling in order to experience more peace in your endeavor. If you have determined through prayer that it is God’s will to teach your children in the home, then the question is how to go about it more effectively or cheerfully. It can be done by the grace of God.
The Church understands the great importance of family life supporting our Catholic Faith in many ways, especially with the sacraments. Read the sections in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on marriage, the fourth commandment, and Baptism. If you have a copy of the Code of Canon Law, read the same sections to understand the loving care available to us through the Church. Go to Mass and Confession frequently, and remember that Confession is not just to forgive sins but to help us grow in virtue. According to St. Ignatius of Loyola, we can make use of the time of consolations to strengthen us to withstand the time of desolations. During times of burnout, we are to remember the consolations. Take courage, pray more, and resolve to continue in your efforts.
The “difficult” times of home education can be periods of grace. By weathering the storm, we grow in humility, we grow in trust of God, we grow in love as a family. It is a time to recognize our shortcomings and seek to do all things in Christ. We are nothing without Him. Like St. Paul, in Christ, I can do all things, even home school my children!