This has been a stressful month for me. I have spent time thinking and praying about what led to the stress and what I can do about it. If you’re a stressed homeschool mom too, or if you just want to avoid stress in the future, I hope these tips help you.
First let’s define stress. Stress is a physical and emotional response to demands or threats. Release of adrenaline and cortisol is one response to stress that prepares our body for emergency action. The problem is when we have a chronic release of these hormones because everything feels like an emergency. Chronic stress can lead to physical and mental illness.
There are are six situations that can lead us to experiencing stress as homeschooling moms that affect everyone. But I will put these in a homeschool mom frame of reference.
#1 High Expectations
First is high expectations. The higher expectations we have of ourselves, our kids, and everyone else we interact with, the more likely we are to be disappointed. Disappointment leads to stress. When I began homeschooling I expected that I would have children who were dressed in matching outfits sewed by me, who would form a homeschool band at an early age. They would finish high school by the eighth grade and would make everyone praise me with their politeness, their bold faith, and their genius. That might be a little exaggerated, but you know what I’m saying. I went into homeschooling with very high expectations of myself and my children in particular. When we all failed to meet those expectations, I was disappointed. I was also stressed and even angry. My high expectations led me to become an impatient homeschooling mom. If that’s you, you may want to listen to the episode I did on how to be a patient homeschool mom.
My true confession time is that I have had very high expectations this month that have led to disappointment. Besides some events that were out of my control, like a hurricane, I have been stressed as a result of adding more responsibilities to my already full life. I wish I could do more and more and more, but I can’t do that and maintain the happy, balanced life I currently enjoy.
To manage stress as a homeschooling mom, we must manage our expectations. As you think ahead to this homeschooling week, the planned vacation, or another activity that you have high hopes for, consider the past. What has gone wrong in the past that may very well go wrong this time? It’s a good idea to also consider everything that might go wrong. This allows us to plan for those disappointments. Even more importantly, thinking ahead allows us to lower our expectations. I don’t know what you’re trying to balance in your life, but I also urge you to make an accurate assessment of your expectations of yourself. I had a long talk with my husband and he gave me some much-needed wisdom. I recommend talking with your spouse, homeschooling friends, and praying about your expectations and making sure they aren’t too high.
My high expectations of myself and my family often come from comparing. I love the relationships that social media has allowed me to develop. But I don’t like that I am constantly tempted to compare myself to others. There are enough temptations to compare even without social media. Other homeschoolers tell you the impressive activities or achievements of their children. You see another mom working full-time and homeschooling who even has a clean house, and you wonder what’s wrong with you.
When we compare, we typically compare ourselves to those we perceive are achieving at a higher level. We raise our expectations of ourselves and our kids and typically pile more on an already full schedule. We may wonder how we have gotten ourselves into a very stressful lifestyle. It usually begins with comparisons.
Here’s my true confession time. I often compare myself to others who are super successful as bloggers, podcaster, or publishers. I don’t have their page views, their email subscribers, or their customers. So I raise the bar, even though I am happy and at peace in the work I’m doing. My stress level increases and I wonder if I should quit it all.
To manage the stress of comparison requires putting blinders on. We haven’t been called to be great at everything. Even though a friend is teaching homeschool classes and blogging and having her kids become proficient in a foreign language so they can do extended missionary work, that doesn’t mean it’s your calling. I will be spending less time reading about what other bloggers, podcasters, and publishers are doing going foward. They have to run their race and I have to run mine. Consider taking a break from social media or even relationships that tempt you to compare. Remind yourself of your calling every day. We are called to obedience, not results.
The third cause of stress I want to address is complaints. When we’re stressed, we complain. But complaints also lead to stress. The more we talk and think about what isn’t right, the worse we feel. We can find ourselves feeling mistreated, taken for granted, and out of control simply by virtue of complaining. Because complainers love company, we can add fuel to the complaint fire when we participate in a complaint session. Maybe everything is going fairly smoothly for you and your homeschool, but you hear someone talking about how their kids don’t pick up like they should or aren’t doing their work fast enough, and you’re prompted to remember all the ways your children disappoint.
True confession time. I’ve engaged in a lot of complaining about everything that has gone wrong lately. My website went down, there have been mix-ups and mistakes in multiple areas of my life. My complaining about them has added to my stress level and I have entered into a vicious cycle.
The answer to avoiding and managing stress that comes from complaints is to focus on gratitude. The book Kisses from Katie convicted me of my complaining attitude. I highly recommend the book and I think it would be an excellent one to read to slightly older children. I realized that my complaints were shameful given the abundance God has blessed me with in multiple areas of my life. I certainly didn’t like having my website down, but I am so grateful that I have a platform to share my ideas in a free country and that God provided technical help and emotional support very quickly. Gratitude has to be more than just listing one thing we’re grateful for each day. For me at least it means covering every complaint with gratitude.
At the root of our high expectations, our comparisons, and our complaints is fear. We are afraid that we won’t measure up, that we’ll fail, that we’ll be rejected. So we raise our expectations of ourselves and our kids, so we won’t be labeled a homeschool failure. We compare ourselves to the exceptions rather than the rule in a misguided effort to motivate ourselves. We don’t want to be left out or left behind, so we agree to do one more activity.
Our fear of an unlikely eventuality creates something more fearful–stress. God would not have us choose out of fear. He admonishes us not to be afraid more than 300 times in the Bible.
Confession time. I hate doing new things in which there is a possibility that I will be embarrassed. I was, in fact, embarrassed more times than not by doing new things this week. I was stressed as a result, but I am honestly grateful. Here’s why.
To overcome fear-induced stress, we have to stop sweating the small stuff and laugh. I did everything in my power to avoid being embarrassed and it happened anyway. I realized that the Lord was most likely trying to get me to stop being so afraid of embarrassment. I decided to laugh. Some fears aren’t funny though, right? One of my stressors was my son having a serious bike accident. Had the circumstances been just a little different, he could have been killed or paralyzed. My fear of him possibly needing surgery or having a complication from his injury did absolutely nothing to change the circumstances. This is why Jesus asks us which of us can add even a single hour to our lives by worrying. Our fear serves only to cause us stress. How much better it is to trust in the Lord and to take all of our anxieties to him in prayer. I definitely asked friends and family to join me in praying for my son as well. Fear is not our friend. I encourage you to listen to the episode I did on anxiety for more.
#5 No Limits
Another way in which we contribute to our own stress is by having no limits. We throw out our routine. We ignore guidelines. We go to bed later than we know is good for us. We eat more sugar or fat or whatever food doesn’t sit well with us than we know is good for us. We allow the kids or ourselves to have more screen time than is healthy. We let the house go. Having no limits or disregarding them will increase our stress level tremendously. We think that having a free-for-all in our homeschools is relaxing, but it’s actually the opposite.
True confession time. I stayed up until two in the morning one night last week for no good reason, other then the comparison and high-expectation trap. I have also been spending an inordinate amount of time on social media again. I have tried to tell myself that having no limits will make me feel better, but of course I feel worse.
To manage the effects of no-limit stress, the obvious answer is to create and/or enforce limits. Get to bed at a reasonable time. Start eating the diet that makes you and your family feel great. Have limits for screen time that help you and your family be productive and enjoy one another’s company. Choose reminders or apps to support you in those limits.
#6 No Rest
One of the biggest contributors to stress is not having rest. Whether that means not getting enough sleep or not having enough down time, no rest will eventually lead to serious stress. Again, our habit of no rest can come from many of the other risk factors: high expectations, comparisons, fear, and no limits. Glitches and challenges that would normally be easily managed can become crises if we aren’t getting the rest we need. This, of course, applies to our kids too.
True confession time. While I have generally been getting eight hours of sleep a night, I have been expecting myself to work evenings and Sundays in addition to my usual six full days a week. This is important, so please hear me on this. Even if I don’t work evenings and Sundays but I expect myself to, I will experience stress. I never have guilt-free down time then. A mixture of working, kid and family activities, and guilt over not working have led to my having no rest and a very high stress level.
To manage the effects of no-rest stress, I am calling it a day guilt-free at dinner time and I am going back to my habit of not working on Sundays. This doesn’t mean that I won’t have to be a taxi service to kids in the evening or that we won’t have a commitment on Sundays. But I will no longer have the unreasonable expectation that I will be working at those times. I took last Sunday off and stayed off social media. I felt like I had been to a spa! I talked to my husband about how great I felt and he said, “You need to talk about this on your podcast.” So here I am.
When we have reasonable expectations, stop comparing, complaining, and fearing, and when we institute limits and rest into our lives, we and our families can manage stress.
Which of these six causes of stress has been the biggest problem for you? Comment and let me know.