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Last month I introduced a three-part series titled, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Homeschool.” Since I’ve already covered the good, it’s time now for the bad—and a few survival tips for a bad day of homeschool. To set the scene properly, picture me in my leopard-print bathrobe with mismatched polkadot slippers, reading glasses, and long dirty hair swept up in a messy bun. (Yea, we’re going to talk about that kind of a bad homeschool day!)

Part II – The Bad

A bad homeschool day starts for me with the stupid alarm clock. I am not a morning person. So, when the alarm goes off a 7 AM, I hit snooze.

7:10. I hit snooze.

7:20. I hit snooze.

7:30. I slam the machine off and roll over.

Finally, about 9:15. . . I wake up on my own, stumble downstairs in my robe only to discover the kids watching “forbidden cartoons” in the living room—with cereal bowls stacked on the coffee table. I’m not sure what upsets me more. Is it 1) they let me oversleep, 2) they’re watching “that” cartoon, or 3) there’re sticky rings of condensation forming on my furniture!  Overwhelmed, I choose not to respond to any of it—as if this rough-start morning will go away.

When I do hit the kitchen, every thing is flowing backwards. Since I’m behind and not ahead, I don’t bother unloading the dishwasher or scrubbing the pans that soaked overnight. I don’t feel I have time to start the coffee—and so I fight to stay awake the rest of the day.

On this bad day of homeschool, the children drift toward the kitchen table for school assignments, but these kids have not brushed their teeth, they’re not dressed for the day, and not a single bed in the house is made. Obviously, after a start like this, devotions aren’t going very well. And then, out of nowhere, “ding-dong!” A repairman rings the doorbell (that I forgot about) and I go running to put on real clothes (as in that one upper garment that deems me decent) while yelling at the kids to “look like they’re doing school!” They would, but there are no lesson plans—I’m behind on that, as usual—and so they all go outside to play and I pray that the nosey neighbors aren’t watching.

Now, after paying the repairman, with a fake smile, my best friend calls with the biggest crisis of her life. True story—she caught her husband in an affair. Rather than call her back after school, I sneak into my bedroom to talk and pray and cry with her. I shouldn’t have taken her call. My kids come into the room three times for lunch and I shoo them away. Eventually I wave a box of mac-n-cheese at the oldest with the expectation that she’ll provide for her siblings. With an eye-roll, she becomes the mom that I’m not.

As you can see, we are one incoherent family. The children are aimless. I’m an emotional wreck. And the last I checked we haven’t done ten minutes of school.

Finally, I decide to dig my heels in at 2 in the afternoon to try two or three subjects out of seven. One of the subjects we attempt is math—and so the tears begin to flow. Child #3 is swallowed alive by long division. Child #2 is stumped by his algebra. And Child #1 marches off to her room; slams the door; and announces she “hates her life” and we’re all “stupid!” (Any wonder? In my negligence, she’s playing the role of mom.)

Hold on, It gets worse!

The next thing you know, it’s 5:30 pm and hubby comes home. One look and he knows what kind of day we had. The cereal bowls are still on the coffee table, as are dried up mac-n-cheese bowls. By the mess alone, it’s clear that there was no nurturing at this house today; no refreshing of the soul; no reward of learning. In the afternoon hours, I opt to deal with Child #1’s meltdown; I choose to ignore Child #2 with the algebra problems; and I’ve no idea the whereabouts of Child #3. (I assure myself she’ll show up soon to eat.)

Needless to say, dinner is a hack job and when bedtime comes, hubby and I rush through the “tucking in” routine. There’s nothing sweet about it. He says a quick shallow prayer (when I’m in need of Moses) and he plops down to watch sports. I curl up with a book and fall asleep when I should have been preparing for a better day tomorrow. I’m simply exhausted and feeling every bit like a failure.

You may be wondering . . . did she really have days like that? Of course I did! In 17 years of homeschooling, there were lots of them. I don’t have an exact count. I’m guessing, once every couple of weeks? Sometimes more, sometimes less? Sorry new people—homeschooling is a tough assignment. And lots of days will unravel at the seams.

Now, because I have had enough bad days to become a “student” of them, I’ve got a few survival tips for a bad day of homeschool that might help.

Survival Tips for a Bad Day of Homeschool

One thing that helped me with bad homeschool days, was to narrow down the causes out of four possibilities. (There are more than four causes of bad days, but these are the ones I honed in on.) In the midst of a bad day, I would stop and ask myself, is this . . .

  • a meltdown,
  • sibling stress,
  • subject stress,
  • or just me, being me, again.

I have a few words on each potential source.

1. Meltdowns

From my experience, there are two kinds of meltdowns, minor and major.

A minor meltdown . . .  is my little girl at the kitchen table working away on spelling when she begins to deteriorate because her pencil breaks, her hair falls in her eyes, she’s cold, she’s hungry, and her brother is poking her in the ribs every time I turn my back. This is a minor, “consolable” meltdown because I can probably redirect it. I can replace her pencil, grab a headband, throw her a hoodie, hand her some apple slices, and remove her brother from her side. I think every family has a lot of these. This is just ordinary stress that clutters our days and drains us of life.

My best survival tip is to stay on top of the minor meltdowns and redirect them to the best of your ability through the gifts of the Holy Spirit (ie. with love, patience, and kindness.) Be the gracious parent/teacher in the room and use your adult coping skills to teach them how to deal with ordinary stress. Model to them how to put out the little fires to avoid the next scenario, which is a major meltdown.

A major meltdown . . . begins with some ordinary stress, but suddenly, without warning, a child decides all of life is horrible, everyone hates them, and everything is “stupid.” (Read that in the tone of a Valley girl!) Unfortunately, in a major meltdown, the more you cheerlead to counter the negative comments, the worse it gets. I call that “inconsolable.” You have two options: deal with it immediately or deal with it later.

In the immediate, you could stop what you’re doing and get to the bottom of it. Take the child out of the room; sit them down and have a heart to heart; hear whats’ going on in their little minds. You may choose to pray, find scripture, advise, assure them of your love, and put them back up on the horse to face the day. This is Christian parenting 101.

But sometimes—you can’t deal with it right then and there. If you are trying to get out the door, and this just has to be dealt with later, then all you can do is physically and emotionally intervene on their behalf. Wipe their tears, acknowledge their state, set them at the door with their jacket and shoes, and move on. You can’t always deal with meltdowns on the spot. In fact, if you do, you may be getting played—you may be getting manipulated.

Now, if in fact you had to put off the situation—for legitimate reasons, and there are a lot of them—please go back to address the major meltdown later. Don’t forget about it. Don’t sweep it under the rug. Make a date to deal with it. That means when the dust has settled, perhaps late at night, you talk. It may be then you can pray about the sin and selfishness in your child’s heart and the narcissist that wants to get out and control the world. (We’re all guilty!) You additionally may have to address how his or her disruptive behavior or tantrum affected other family members and suggest some apologies. You are ultimately leading their little self-absorbed heart to God. This is Christian parenting 201.

2. Sibling Stress

Moving down our list, if meltdowns aren’t the culprit of your bad day, it may be age old sibling stress. Kids are so good at this one. Like cats, dogs, and monkeys trying to coexist—you may be a regular referee between your children. I know I was! My survival tips on this scenario:

a. Teach them to love each other using God’s Word. (Bring in THE highest authority, which is the Lord!)

b. Set up pre-determined school rules to outline your expectations. (Write them down!)

c. Establish pre-determined rewards and consequences for their behavior. I’m a big fan of positive rewards and incentives for good behavior, but when it came to negative behavior, I resorted to fining my children 25 cents per each broken school rule (that’s why I needed to write them down!) We collected these fines and deducted the amount from their allowance. Yes, there was wiggle room in those fines, but it was an effective tool to reduce some of the sibling scuffles.

3. Subject Stress

Now, continuing down our list of the cause of this bad homeschool day—what if, it’s sincere subject stress? What if a student cries every time you turn to Spanish or every time you turn to handwriting or every time you turn to math? Well, this student may be telling you they are not ready for the subject or the level of the subject you’ve place them in. A few options:

  • Drop down and relearn some basics.
  • Re-evaluate the delivery of answers (in other words, seek to cater to their learning style by employing visual, auditory, or kinesthetic alternatives.)
  • Negotiate. If they just don’t like a subject, perhaps you negotiate a bottom-line definition of completion. It may be appropriate to offer an incentive to teach the value of hard work. Or it may be appropriate to skip the subject if it’s not worth the tears. (Be careful with the last option. Last I checked, life is full of chores and responsibilities we don’t want to do! To teach responsibility, I would be hesitant to skip subjects of true value!)

4. Just me, being me, again.

For our last segment of a bad homeschool day, what if the problem is you (like the bad day I described.) What if you didn’t wake up on time, you took the phone call you shouldn’t have, and by lack of preparation you’ve been the reason that everything ran backwards for the day? What if it was just me, being me, again?

You could start by humbly and sincerely owning up to your weaknesses. I asked my children to forgive me many times in 17 years of homeschooling! My “Mary” personality (versus that of a “Martha”) meant I was frequently guilty of allowing emotions to dictate my day. My softy-mom-side led me to under-discipline rather than over-discipline. And my sanguine temperament hindered my planning. (It was rewarding for me to homeschool, but it was not easy!)

I feel compelled to add, If you’re always tired (and that contributes to your lack of planning or preparation), please consider the fuel you’re putting into your body! As an overcomer of chronic fatigue, through diet, I urge you to trade sugary processed food for real, nourishing whole food and see if that helps. We all have the same amount of time in a day, but, based on the fuel we run on, we don’t all have the same amount of energy! (I hope to write more one day about my journey out of exhaustion! I have a testimony to share!)

I also feel compelled to add, on a very serious note, if you or a family member has an anger problem, and that contributes to your bad days of homeschool, please get wise, professional counsel!  Don’t assume it will go away. in our fallen world, anger, rage, and violence are real. Get the help and protection you need! (Focus Ministries provides “Faith Based Domestic Violence Help for Women and Families.” Call 630-617-0088 or click here.)

A “Good” Bad Day?

In closing, let me encourage you with this thought: a bad homeschool day might be the result of DOING YOUR JOB RIGHT! Maybe, just maybe, you’re really having a “good” bad day because you set loving boundaries on your children and they’re pushing back. For example:

  • You said no to ice cream at 5.
  • You said no to TV after 9 pm.
  • You said no to that inappropriate outfit on your pre-teen daughter.

I can assure you that some bad days are a reflection of you being a great parent!

Are there TEARS AND RESISTANCE when you properly discipline, parent, and teach? Usually. But it  doesn’t mean you are a failure. All that whining and crying may mean “job well done, mama!” Peace and quiet in your home, while desirable, are not pure tools to measure success. So, don’t use tears to evaluate your day.

That concludes my piece on a bad homeschool day. Stay tuned for “the Ugly,” which has little to do with homeschooling and a lot to do with living in a fallen world!

For the Sake of the Mystery,

Linda Lacour Hobar

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