Hey Home Educating Parent – Protecting Yourself from Burnout in 2020

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I think that as home educators we need to assume that we are going to feel burnout at some point this year, and we need to think about how we’re going to protect ourselves as much as possible.

Kate wrote a fantastic article about this that looks at the big picture of burnout and the pandemic and what you can do. You should go back and read it, if you have burnout on the brain. In this post I’m going to pep talk myself and get some things straight in my head, and hopefully you’ll find it helpful too.

We’ve been ‘back to home ed’ for 6 weeks now and it’s been a lot. Not the learning, but the learning on top of an extended family emergency – everyone is fine – on top of a pandemic.

For me, this is the start of our eighth year home educating and I’m already tired. We didn’t do any of the usual, small, simple summer things we normally do. We saw a few friends from a distance, and we played in the park a bit. It was lovely to see people, and sit in the park, but it wasn’t refreshing or invigorating. It was a continuation of the 2020 Covid pandemic. The most exciting thing was that we all got haircuts and when the library reopen I stocked us back up on books.

Maybe you can related. (Maybe you had it way worse…)

And now we are starting our 2020-21 educating year, and I don’t have a spring in my step.

I have some books and curriculum and plans that I think are going to work for us (and have already been working for us.) And some interesting things for us to explore, and some things I want to explore for myself. But, as with most of 2020 so far, we don’t have the usual community support that (it turns out) we rely on, we can’t gather together in groups, and a load of the children’s socialising is still happening online rather than in person. I have less time to work, and less space and time to podcast in, which is why there has only been one podcast episode since March (it’s a good one though. You should check it out!)

I’ve lived through servere burnout before, before I had children, and it sucked. I’d rather not go there again, if I can avoid it. Maybe regardless of everything I can’t avoid it, but this time a least I’ll know not to ignore it, because pretending you’re not burned out when you are just makes it worse.

How I’m protecting myself from burnout (because I don’t have all the answers)

  • slowing down – I keep our lessons and daily subject list short. We keep steadily stepping forward with the things we are learning. I both trust the process and am willing to stop doing things that aren’t working for us. That helps a lot.
  • make lots of space for the things the kids want to do off their own bat – my lot are 7, 9 and 11, which means they have things they want to do, which sometimes needs my help, and sometimes needs me around, but doesn’t need me to take over or run. I have always tried to leave space for these things but now that space feels even more crucial and important so I make sure there is plenty of it.
  • adjusting the plan as I go and pull back where necessary – I have made a list of the learning I want us to experience, and worked out the frequency of that learning, and I use it to plan the next day out, either at the end of the day, or first thing in the morning. I can adjust how much we do depending on what is going on, on any particular day or week. I probably won’t tick everything off that list by the end of the week, but I’m ok with that, and it allows me to see what we might want to concentrate on next week. This is working much better than ‘on Monday’s we do x, y, z and on Tuesday we do a, b, c’ which is how I have done things in the past. Some weeks we do more writing, some weeks we do more science. Some week they do their maths, and I read history to them, and the rest of the time is for their own plans. We are moving forward and learning together regardless.
  • say no to stuff – this is a hard one, because if my kids have an opportunity to see their friends then I’m going to do my best to make that happen. But we can’t do everything, and getting around is much harder than usual so I have to swallow down my immediate ‘sure!’ and actually factor my own needs into the mix, because whatever happens, I need to get dinner on the table at a reasonable time, and I can’t afford take out. Or to run out of energy before that happens.
  • accept that you can’t power through this – this week I learnt about Surge Capacity, and it made so much sense, and was a genuine relief. The short version is that surge capacity is your ability to power through for a short time during an emergency. It doesn’t work for longer periods like a pandemic, but it will kick in at the start because your body doesn’t understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Also this is where I point you towards Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski again, as a great source of strategies for how to handle stress.
  • get decent sleep – lol. This is a work in progress. I have been doing a lot of bedtime procrastination this summer. I know it’s stealing from tomorrow, but in the moment it can be so nice. Especially when my early bird hb is knackered and needs to pass out super early. No one needs me and I can potter about. But I need to experiment with what it’s like the other way around – when I go to sleep early and don’t feel sleep deprived. I bet that’s nice too.
  • rest – omg. Rest. Do things you like doing. Even if it’s just for a bit. Be done for the day in a way that gives you some space. Plan small things that make you happy, and do them. Find things that give you comfort and make sure to give them priority over easy things that make you feel rubbish once they’re over. Do nothing for a bit.
  • recognise your warning signs and don’t ignore them – when I’m heading towards burnout my anxiety flairs hard, I want to cry but feel like I don’t have the time, and even small everyday jobs feel hard. Time to scale right back for a few days, and give everyone some breathing room. It’ll pass, but only if I take it seriously.
  • give yourself some compassion – this is not business as usual. We are all doing what we can in any given moment. We are going to make mistakes, and that is okay. We are going to have days when we can do more, and days when we can do way less. Our children are still learning. We are still learning. Please be gentle with yourself.

How do you cope with burnout? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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