Thursday, January 10, 2013

Reducing My Homeschool Anxiety

This fall I turned a corner. I started letting go and that allowed the anxiety to dissipate.

I realized I was in a state of anxiety about homeschooling. This terrible mindset started when my oldest began 8th grade and I began to learn of how to homeschool high school with a rigorous education level aimed for college admissions. I had pressure from peers in Connecticut fueling my fire. I joined some new co-ops. Being there and teaching there, I had contact with more homeschooling parents and heard their fears and saw some were truly anxious about it.

Look: in the earlier years I would question and contemplate and research and investigate and ask questions, that was one thing. But to have true anxiety and a state of constant stress over worrying about homeschooling or doing the homeschooling was another thing entirely.

The long distance move just before grade nine threw me for a loop and that whole thing took over as the top family task and priority in our lives. Yet the big change was in and of itself stressful not to mention the fact that we were trying to sell our home from long distance and managing construction, repairs, and modeling from long distance. Oh, and my older son's new diagnosis of brain injury from Lyme Disease, the treatment, then his later tonsillectomy took up our time and was a focus. Living in that rental unit last year presented its own challenges.

Although grateful for the sale this summer of our home, the whole thing was not without stress and the sale nearly fell through two days before the closing. Then there was the move to this house to contend with. My plate has been full with this move for the last 18 months, and that was preceded by 6 months of stress about my husband's sudden unemployment. So I have been living with major stress for the last 24 months.

Here we are half way through grade 10 and where are we? We are stressed out. The attempt to reduce stress and ensure a high quality home education by enrolling younger son into a "not a homeschool co-op" this last fall actually created more problems than it solved. My worries for my children's education was now about both of the kids, not just the high schooler, it was not just worrying "Are we doing the right thing, is he studying enough to get into engineering school?"

So where are we now? A couple of major medical events occurred in our family in the last five months which shook me to the core and frankly each of them can be traced back to stress as the main culprit. (Not everything has or ever will be blogged.) First and foremost it was made plain that we need to live a life that does not create new problems with our physical and mental health. Three of us are experiencing medical problems, or are in the process of treating them so they hopefully go away for good.

If we have to stop homeschooling in order to improve our physical and mental health, we will. In the meantime things are actually shaping up well that for this semester at least, homeschooling will help us get on the road to recovery faster than a sudden shift to using public school will.

I hit a place in November where I realized the state of mind I was living in was truly a state of anxiety. I had never, ever, thought myself to be a person prone to suffering from anxiety. I always fancied myself a person who could weather any storm and come out fine in the end. Well my body is not accepting that any longer, apparently, as it is starting to break down.

Events happening in our lives had me on edge and jumpy. I was unable to relax and actually enjoy much of anything since there was so much stress. I felt like I was always rushing to do this or that and then was putting out this fire when the next one started.

It got to a point where I had a hard time recollecting what our former lives used to be like since the group dynamic in this family turned into something foreign and negative. I wondered some days who these people were that I was living with? They certainly were not my sons. That was not my husband. Even worse, I began to question my own sense of self. Was I a monster? Had I turned into a taskmaster ranting and raving, yelling and screaming, threatening and coercing bitch?

For the first time ever we changed our parenting choice and I started using corporal punishment on my twelve year old in order to get him to do his homeschool class assignments before the due date. I had previously been so anti-caplital punishment. Was this worth the price? I didn't think so, so we ended that short experiment.

Who was I becoming? Was this who I really wanted to be? These were the questions I grapped with in November and December 2012.

For most of November and all of December my younger son did not attend the new co-op. I basically "deschooled" him by having him do extremely minimal work and letting him do whatever the heck he wanted with the rest of his time. The kid was burned out after three plus months of doing almost 50 hours a week of intense learning. The kid he used to be reemerged around Christmastime. I am so grateful.

In those two months I was more available to work with my older son doing homeschool lessons. We also were busy getting him the care he needed from professionals.

I started working out, and even though it is only 2-3 times a week so far, it is something. My husband has stared exercising also. At present we are debating some major nutritional changes such going gluten free or doing a candida diet to clean the slate then to add in dairy, wheat and corn to see if any of us reacts to any of it.

I have also backed off from volunteering with Boy Scouts as I have nothing left to give of myself. I have reduced what I do for my son's sport team temporarily; since my husband is on the nonprofit org board he is doing more than enough as a member of our family. I am skirting the co-op's request for parents to help out, we take one class there so it's not like we are a major user of their services anyway.

We thought about it long and hard and came to the decision to remove our younger son from that "not a homeschool co-op". I notified the organization two days ago. He will be homeschooled by me this spring and will continue the one easy writing class at the other co-op. He probably will remain homeschooled for grade eight but we plan to have him take entrance exams for private high schools in the fall of grade eight, just in case, so we see what options he has. If private school is not in the cards for financial reasons he could attend public school or be homeschooled. My outlook about homeschooling him for high school is that given the stress I have gone through with my older son for high school homeschool I don't think I have that energy in me to go through should my younger have the same type of push-back. First and foremost I need my own physical well-being and I need to have a sane state of mental health!

My older son will remain homeschooled by me this spring, and he is still taking the chemistry class at the homeschool co-op. We are still trying to align his studies so that if he chooses to attend public school in the fall, he can enter without going back a grade (that is his choice to work hard so that happens). The worst case scenario is he enters publc school a grade earlier (and since he's an August birthday that is no big deal anyway as I never red-shirted him). He also might remain homeschooling for grade 11, and/or could take five years for high school if he needs it. Soon we get results of his latest brain scan which will tell more of what he is up against which negatively affects his general living and ability to learn and do schoolwork tasks. Later today we go pick up his new prescription reading eyeglasses which should help his ability to read books and textbooks.


In summary in order to refocus my perspective I did a few things.

First I backed up and looked at the big picture to reframe our priorities, which was difficult because when filled with anxiety and when stressed out it is hard to pull back and let go enough to get calm in order to see things on a macro level.

Second I focused my attention on the micro level to hyperfocus and live in the now in order to get small tasks done each day that were necessary for general living and homeschooling. Instead of living a lot in my head and thinking of ideas I focused on just doing stuff that needed to be done. I acted instead of just pondered. I also actively worked to not do things that threw me off track. I stuck to doing what had to be done rather than being lazy or procrastinating or letting this or that take me away from doing what I really should have been doing.

Thirdly I let go of expectations and started blocking out the noise of some people who did nothing but psych me up to worry that we were not doing a good enough job regarding academics, when in fact our reality is probably not that bad after all.

Fourth, I decided to let go of some common modern parenting notions such as trying to produce some perfect ideal students and instead focus on good enough learning of kids who are physically and mentally sane. I seriously could care less if my kids get into an elite college now. I am tired of thinking about it. If they land in state school that is good enough. I want them to be good people (in their hearts not just looking good on college applications). I want my sons to be happy instead of anger-filled, I want them entering adulthood optimistic not stresed out, anxiety-filled or depressed.

I thought back to the way we used to homeschool and my former goals, back when we were all happier together and when we were all so happy to be homeschooling, and realized that to try to achieve some academic goals I had let go of some core philosophies I used to feel so passionately about; I lost my way in the quest to do things just so in order to try to help my kids on their path to college. I realized my old educational philosophies, which I'd abandoned, were still what felt right in my gut so I started making changes to get us back on the old path we were formerly on. We are going back to being a more relaxed homeschool, a homeschool with goals but one that does not make the parents or kids sick in the process. For one thing I am relaxing back on core classes and making room again for creative pursuits, doing projects, and making art.

After our three week Christmas break and after making all these changes I feel like we have all started a new chapter in our family's homeschool journey. I feel renewed and excited and less burdened. My sons are both happier and relaxed and feeling less pressure and stress.

I can't tell you how great it is to feel excited and happy again about parenting and homeschooling my kids.


Xa Lynn said...

Good for you! FWIW, I am on a gluten-free diet to keep my fibromyalgia symptoms away, and my daughter is on it because she behaves like a lunatic when she eats gluten. She is a much happier child without gluten or orange juice... which makes everyone in the family happier, too. It was a pain starting that diet (it has been 6 years now) but it gets a lot easier as you find good recipes and figure out what will work as replacements in old favorite recipes. Also, there are a LOT more g-free options in the grocery store than there were when we started this.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

This is wonderful, Christine. Thank you for sharing! What a lesson for us younger moms!

Deborah said... describe the snowball effect of stressful events and attempts to deal with them very nicely. I think lots of families can identify with the stress trap you described. When we went through a lot of changes similar to yours, with a defiant son who was very angry about the move thrown into the mix, I left some things "by the wayside" that I am only getting to now, with yet others still on the "back burner". One thing that sucked down my energy was my phone support of a relative suffering from took much energy just to listen to her, sometimes 10 hours a week or more, which interfered with my ability to do everything else...because not only did it keep me physically tied to the phone but was also emotionally exhausting. FINALLY I figured out how to establish boundaries about the subjects I was willing to talk about...which gave me the "space" to understand that I needed a phone with a wireless earpiece so that I could do housework and cooking while talking. It took two years to figure out something that should have taken a week. The bonus is that now I can talk to my other friends and relatives (who know I am busy and limit their phone calls) without feeling that I have to get off the line soon. And the same for other things...if I had somehow been able to "stress proof" myself before things began piling up, maybe I would have been able to lessen their effects with a less reactive, more thoughtful approach. Or maybe not. (My capacity for optimistic self delusion can be pretty high.) I stopped worrying about doing the right thing for college when we shifted completely to interest led learning. My problem with the second kid is not whether she can get into a top flight art school (everyone who has seen her work, which includes audits of college courses) says she can...the issue is how to PAY for it. Sigh... The third kid wants to pursue equestrian studies in college and has considered a career in (among other things) mounted law enforcement. Another dirt cheap educational path...aargh.

Deborah said...

Oh...forgot to mention that I have been gluten free for over 25 years. Unfortunately the symptoms (caused by gut damage?) persisted for about 20 years and for the first 3 I still felt horrible all the time...I lost the acid reflux I had developed but still had symptoms of rapidly dropping blood sugar for years. My middle child is also intolerant of gluten. Our primary care physician doesn't think that the gluten grains are really okay for anyone so I try to plan our meals so that very little wheat flour is on the menu, although it's still in the crust of the apple pie and the pizza and spaghetti that the non gf family members get.