I have seen several of my friends share online their struggles with parenting or postpartum depression or other mental health struggles lately. I’ve always thought “That is a good thing to share.” It lets others know that it is okay to not be perfect. That struggling is real and if you are also struggling, that you are not alone. So, today I am going to share about a time I struggled as a homeschool mom.
Actually, before I start, I want to share that there have been lots and lots of bad days. Those happen to everyone, and that is not what I’m writing about today. Today, we are going to talk about how due to my husband’s job, I got to suddenly, and without preparation become a single parent.
So, if you are a single parent or your spouse is in the military and gets deployed for months at a time, I applaud you. Parenting with no breaks is really hard.
Too Much Travel
Back to my story. For almost our entire marriage, my husband has had jobs that required travel. Sometimes the trips were only a few days, but never longer than 2 weeks. Usually, if he was going to be gone for a week or more, I would make plans to take my young children to visit my mother for the week. It was a long drive, but she loved the visits and it helped me a lot to have another person to lean on, talk to, and help with my 3 kids.
However, about ten years ago, when my kids were 4, 6, and 11, my husband was working for USPS as an engineer and he and a group got sent to fix the worst mail plant in the country. Week after week, they flew him there Monday morning and shipped him home on Friday night. I now had a weekend husband and no support during the week. We didn’t live near family and while I had some friends, I didn’t have friends I could ask to move in with me for a few days a week to help.
It Was Okay at First
The first week, I figured out I needed to have a new routine for when my husband was gone. I made a plan and got all the kids to color in my bed while I read bedtime stories after dinner to them as a group. They were then all allowed to sleep with me in our king-sized bed or go to their own beds. The 4-year-old always slept with me on those nights. The 6 and 11-year-olds often did, but sometimes felt crowded and went to their own beds.
We worked out a rhythm of meals and schoolwork. I took them to the co-op I was helping to run. I took them to their classes and cooked almost every meal. We rarely ate out due to food allergies. I have never in my life been so jealous of those of you who can just order a pizza to be delivered. (I feel weird here noting that “back before the plague” the only delivery was pizza….but that is what it is.)
For that first month, I kicked into high gear and was an amazing parent. By the 6th week though, it was starting to wear me down. I wasn’t used to doing all the dishes, all the laundry, all the parenting. My husband helped when he was home, but he couldn’t make up for a week’s worth of help in two days. In addition, he was also working hard during the week in this nasty mail plant halfway across the country. He didn’t exactly come in the door at 8 pm on Friday ready to hit the ground running. He tried, but he was also exhausted.
By the 7th week, I was starting to seriously complain and asked if any other co-workers who had to do this type of work had kids. They did not.
At the end of the 8th week, I asked him not to go back on Monday. But he did. I called on Wednesday and said “I’m ready to put the kids in the mini-van and leave you. I can’t do this anymore.” So, he got on a plane and came home that day.
The rhythm I had established in the beginning took a huge amount of physical and emotional energy out of me to do day after day. And it turns out, that I was digging deep and drawing on reserves that were limited. That 9th week I hit a wall inside of myself and felt like I didn’t have more to give. I didn’t want a divorce, but I knew I couldn’t do what I was doing anymore. My mental health was suffering because I didn’t have enough time for myself. I didn’t have enough adult conversations. I didn’t have enough support while parenting kids who were young, dependent, and, honestly, crazy.
I needed my husband to hold up his share of things. Had I put the kids in the van and left, we likely would have gone to stay with my mother or best friend until my husband’s job let him be home again. Thankfully, he was able to tell them he just couldn’t do that work anymore and make it stick.
You are not superhuman and no one should expect you to be.
Now, why am I sharing this story this week? Because there is a good chance you’ve been homeschooling really hard for the last 6 weeks or so. And you might hit a wall soon, too. Your spouse doesn’t have to be out of town for homeschooling to be hard. If you have been digging deep every single day to work with children who are wearing you out, you may be feeling depleted. You may have clingy small children who are more destructive than a tornado, too. I did. If you or your spouse think you can homeschool the kids and keep the house clean and cook every dinner, that is an insane goal that most of us can’t meet. It is okay if you are overwhelmed and have to reset some boundaries and rebalance the chores with your spouse.
I recommend taking a fall break if you are starting to feel exhausted. Switch things up. Go on a field trip one day and let the kids just play with friends for a few days. Use some time to find yourself again. Call school off for a day just to clean the house if you need to. I call them “teacher work days” and, as the teacher, I work on keeping us alive. Take the kids to visit family for a few days if it helps.
Remember, we can all get overworked and overwhelmed. It doesn’t mean you need to quit homeschooling. Just that you need support like every other person on earth.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.