I've been at this home education thing for some time now, long enough to recognize the symptoms. When I start to say and write things like this I know I'm coming perilously close to burnout. I know; I wrote the book on burnout. Well, not the whole book, but I did write a chapter on it. And it's easily the most-requested and discussed chapter in the entire book. Since I wrote that chapter ten years ago, one would think that burnout was not an issue in my house. One would think.
But our lives are constantly evolving and one thing that mothers of many learn is that just when you have it all figured out, the family dynamic changes. A new baby is born, a husband begins a new job, a child takes on a new challenge, we pack, we move, someone is ill, someone dies. Slowly, without our recognizing it, we are like the frog dropped in temperate water who doesn't recognize it when the water begins to heat to boiling. We are rapidly approaching burnout.
Recently, a reader wrote to ask me about a passage in Real Learning. She asked me to clarify what I was trying to say when I wrote this: Burnout occurs when we are out of sync with God. It happens when we shoulder a yoke that is not His.
When I responded, I told her that God tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. So, if we are straining and fall under the yoke and the burden, it's not God's. Something that we are doing, or something in the way that we are doing it is out of God's plan. I don't mean that life is never hard or that our homes must always be filled with only sunshine and roses. But I still mean that if we are straining and falling and sinning under the strain of the yoke, it's not God's yoke. He never leads us into sin. Yes, we will suffer, but I have learned that it is indeed possible to suffer joyfully. Burnout is not suffering joyfully.
So, is it a sin to snap at your children all day long? How about only half the day long? Is it a sin to be unavailable to your husband? Is it a sin to find yourself, at the end of the day, surrounded by mountains of laundry and the remnants of an scarcely nutritious meal? Is it a sin to go about your daily round feeling as if you are always on the brink of tears, scarcely ever sharing a smile or an encouraging word? Well, yes, it is. None of those things are God's will for your family. And whatever circumstances of your life are causing you to behave that way need to be pruned. You're burned out and that is sad, scary, place to be. But you don't have to stay there. And God doesn't want you to be there.
Here's a caveat: Burnout is not another phrase for clinical depression. They are two different things, though they can be related and look very much the same. I'm not saying that mental illness is sinful. I'm saying that if you are burned out because you have a shouldered the wrong yoke, then you're not living in God's will. Depression isn't God's will either–He doesn't want you to live in that kind of pain. If you suspect that you are depressed, don't hesitate to talk it over with a doctor. None of the burnout remedies will hurt if you are depressed–indeed they will be healing–but depression requires even more help.
Now, back to burnout. If your heart is heavy and you are wondering why you ever thought it a good idea to stay home with a gaggle of small children and medium sized children and teenaged children all day every day, it's time to take stock and lighten up! Let's take this love-filled Easter season, the time the Church has set aside to celebrate new life, and let's learn a new song. Let's look at ways to bring the joy back to the home education lifestyle. Let's throw open the windows and let a fresh breeze blow through our homes (okay, it's 20 degrees outside this morning, perhaps we should only do this metaphorically today:-).
Begin with prayer. Lock yourself in the bathroom (nah, not there; they always want to join you there). Lock yourself in the laundry room and just lay it all down. Give God every last exhausting detail. Share every problem, no matter how big or how small. Tell him how overwhelmed you are. Beg him to right the wrongs and to help you see what His will is for you and your family. Ask Him to be your constant companion on this journey back to joy. And then believe that He will be. Because He will. He wants you to find joy in your vocation. He wants you to know love in your vocation.
Sometimes homsechooling mothers give and give and give and then they crash and burn. They look up and say, "I'm serving, I'm giving, I'm loving…I'm utterly depleted." Why? Because we are not called to love from the depths of our being. We are called to love as He loved. We fill ourselves with Him, first, and then that love overflows. We know that He is God and that He loves us,infinitely.
So, we love our families and our friends and our seemingly unlovable acquaintances. We love them with His love. We've drunk deep from the well of Him and it bubbles up and out. That love is not going to burn out. Instead, it will be like candle flames. Light one candle after another and it just gets lighter. Brighter. Even warmer.
This is not a "school" day. It's Easter Monday. If you planned to hit the books today, don't. Instead, sit with your children and make a "joy list." Ask them to help you remember all the things they love to do with you. Do they like crafts? Which ones? Nature study? Where? Why? Favorite books? Teatime? What to eat or drink? Revel in your successes. Then, take that list, put it on the refrigerator and resolve to do some of those things this week. Not after the regular school is finished. Do them first. Make the "joy" things the priority.
So, the joy list is the first thing today.
The only other planned thing (the rest will come from the joy list) is to take a praise walk. It's important–when you are burned out–to get outside every day. If Charlotte Mason could take a walk every day in in Lake district of England well into her old age, so can we! Get outside today with your children and revel in the goodness of our Lord's springtime.
Tomorrow we'll look at another layer of burnout recovery. For today, just pray, make that joy list, and take a praise walk.
Burnout isn't a death sentence. It doesn't mean you need to put the children back in school. It doesn't mean you need to stop having children. It doesn't mean you are a failure.
Burnout is an opportunity. It's a chance to sing a new song. Let's sing it together.