Your spouse is almost home from work and you still have no idea what you’re cooking for dinner. You guess it’s spaghetti again, and hope the family doesn’t complain that it’s the second time this week. You’ve been running all day but can’t figure out what you’ve done, and you still haven’t gotten a full day of all the lessons you’re “supposed to do” in, and you wonder how in the world people pull off this Charlotte Mason thing.
You want to do more intentional work with the kids, but there’s always someone asking for something, and the living room floor strewn with toys and half-finished projects covering the dining table nag at you. And you’re just so tired!
You get the kids in bed and plop on the couch to veg and watch a few Netflix shows that you don’t even care about, but you can’t think about doing more.
You finally drag yourself to bed and sigh when you see the piles of clean clothes you dumped there this morning. You didn’t get around to folding them today, but you’re so exhausted it’s not going to happen now. Sweeping them off into the clothes basket, you promise yourself you’ll fold them tomorrow. Then you remember the wet clothes still in the washer.
You love your family, love your kids, but can’t help but think, “Is this all there is?”
Sound familiar? I’ve been there. It doesn’t have to be this way.
You can be fulfilled, joyful, happy, and have a life that feels easy (or at least doesn’t feel hard all the time).
Over the last several years, I’ve come to see that there are things that when instituted consistently, bring this peace to a homeschool. It doesn’t matter what kind sort of homeschool philosophy you follow; these principals are universal.
I call them the four pillars of a peaceful homeschool.
Why pillars? I love this visual of Greek architecture. Pillars are what hold up great amounts of weight. They are so much more than just decorative accents, but are instead integral parts of the structure. Take a pillar away and the entire thing can come crashing down. At the same time, they are more than just utilitarian. They can be beautiful in their own right.
The beauty of these four pillars is that they not apply no matter what homeschool philosophy you follow, but they aren’t dependent on a religious tradition or a specific culture. They are universal.
What are they?
Self-care, Rhythm, White Space, and Gratitude
Each one is just as important as the others. Let’s take each one in turn.
Pillar 1: Self-Care
You’re laughing to yourself right now, aren’t you? You can’t even go to the bathroom alone without little fingers sticking under the door, how can you even think of self-care?
In order to continually give give give to your family, you have to also take care of yourself. You know how when you fly on an airplane they tell you that if the oxygen masks fall, put it on yourself first and then help those around you? They say this because you can’t help anyone else if you’ve passed out from lack of oxygen.
The same applies to your life. You can’t give endlessly of yourself if you’re not taking care of yourself. Sure, you can force yourself through for awhile, but it shows up in snappish attitudes, short tempers, impatience, depression, feeling like chores are endless and a drudgery, resenting your family, and avoiding doing the daily tasks that need to be done to run a smooth house and homeschool.
When I first heard of self care I imagined a woman going for a weekly manicure and massage, putting on a full face of makeup every day, and going on regular shopping trips with her friends while her kids ran wild at home.
No thank you! I’m not a shopper, I don’t ever do my nails, and I’m not about to spend the money on relaxing massages.
Self-care doesn’t mean you’re selfish and it also doesn’t need to take a lot of money.
Think of a few small things that you could do every day that would refresh you. That are for you and you alone.
Here are some ideas:
- sit on the back porch in the morning
- get up earlier than the kids (highly recommended!) to have a few minutes just to yourself
- set aside 10 minutes at night to read a book that has nothing to do with homeschooling and that’s just for you
- take 10 minutes while you’re outside with the kids and take off your shoes to stand barefoot on the earth
- put on under eye concealer and mascara
- read from a book of wisdom from a spiritual tradition
- let your spouse put your kids to bed while you take a bath
Plopping on the couch to watch Netflix in a daze after the kids are in bed is not self care (though being intentional about it can be). Surfing on your phone mindlessly watching cat videos is not self care.
A good barometer is to ask yourself afterward, “Do I feel refreshed? Or do I feel like I just wasted that time?”
Write down your own list. Then look at that list again and decide on one or two things that you can realistically carve out time for on a daily basis.
And then do it.
Pillar 2: Rhythm
Regularity. Routine. Cycle. Predictability. A template for your day, your week, the season, the year.
Knowing what’s coming because you have a regular routine frees up valuable brain space. It’s important for kids because it makes them feel secure about the predictability of the their world, but it’s just as important for adults.
Start with mealtimes and sleeping times.
A regular bedtime for both the kids and you, early enough that they and you can get enough sleep to be rested during the day.
Naps are good too, for both young kids and nursing moms.
Develop reasonable times for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. They don’t need to be bam-on-the-dot every day, but try to shoot for a 15 to 20 minute range.
Once you have those pretty well in hand, try time blocking the rest of your day. You don’t need to be a slave to a schedule, and certainly not one that’s scheduled to 15 and 30 minute increments.
Instead, time blocking means that maybe you decide to do lessons in the morning and household work in the afternoon. Or an hour and a half of lessons in the morning, an hour of working on the house, then after lunch you have two hours of time for family activities with your kids.
However you decide to do it.
The most important thing is to be consistent.
Pillar 3: White Space
“The beginning of the week was great! We got everything done, I was so productive and finished several projects I’d left unfinished, we ate on time and the kids slept. But halfway through the week I didn’t even want to look at the schedule I’d made for us and instead I spent the rest of the week on Facebook. What went wrong?”
You didn’t give yourself white space.
White space in graphic design is negative space. It’s not “nothing” — it has a specific purpose, and that’s to let the eyes rest so that the other elements of the page stand out better.
Think of a page in a book. Words don’t start at the top edge of the page and continue uninterrupted to the bottom.
There is a margin around all sides of every page with text. There is spacing between the lines so they don’t overlap. Words have spaces between them, letting us know that one word stops and another begins. Even individual letters have a small amount space between them; they are not bunched up right next to each other.
White space. Margin. Rest. A breather.
You need to work this into every single day. Not only once, but multiple times during the day.
This is where ease and spaciousness comes in to your life.
Letting things flow naturally from one thing to the next, rather than rushing to do the next thing.
This is not time to be on your phone scrolling through social media, but time to simply BE.
Slow down your pace. Take some deep breaths. Don’t schedule activities back to back.
Stop lessons or this activity or that one a few minutes before you think you’re “supposed to” to give yourself time to transition to the next.
Leave a part of your day unscheduled, and don’t fill that time with TV or scrolling on your phone. Give yourself that extra time to do what feels good in that moment.
Maybe it’s looking at the lizard your daughter caught. Maybe it’s writing a letter to your 97 year old Grandma. Maybe it’s doing some yoga positions. Maybe it’s lying in the grass looking at cloud pictures in the sky.
Do you know what Charlotte Mason called this? Masterly inactivity.
Pillar 4: Gratitude
The fourth and final pillar is gratitude and thankfulness.
This is just as important as the other three.
Gratitude will change your attitude. It will change your outlook. It will change your focus from what is wrong with your life to what is right about it.
It is the simplest of the four pillars, and perhaps the most powerful.
How to incorporate this into your day? Start with a 5-minute journal. You can buy one on Amazon, or you can just use a $1 composition notebook.
Every morning write down three things that you’re grateful for. Then write down three things that will make today great. Finally, write an affirmation.
In the evening, write down three things that made today amazing, and then how you could have made today even better.
That’s it. It’s that simple. Do it consistently though and watch how it changes your life.
You can add your children by having them write their own thoughts, or simply talk about what you’re grateful for as your introduction to morning lessons. Sometimes I read Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, other times my daughter and I just take turns saying what we are thankful for.
I like the Giving Thanks book because it focuses our thoughts on the natural world, and starts “To be a human being is an honor.”
Quick recap of the four pillars of a peaceful homeschool:
- Self Care
- White Space
Take these one at a time and incorporate them into your life. Start with the easiest one for your situation; success breeds success.
Having just one pillar in place will improve your satisfaction with your homeschool life. Each additional one will create a firmer foundation on which to rest. Having all of these in place is a huge step towards ease and peace.