Homeschool Mom Burn-Out

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table.

~Psalm 128:3

the giving tree

Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.

So begins the poignant children’s book, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein.

Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk…and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave.

Link to the complete book summary from Shel Silverstein’s website

When I first read the book as a child I did not understand why the boy took away the tree’s beauty. I thought the boy was selfish. However, when I read the book as a mother I understood why the tree gave her beauty to the boy. I understood why she gave the boy everything she had which in the end meant giving him herself. It made the tree happy to see her boy happy.

As I looked at the black and white pen drawing of the sagging stump I saw myself. Since the birth of my oldest daughter I have been giving myself away to my children. I have replaced my activities and my interests for theirs. My children came at a pivotal time in my life. I had just stepped into adulthood. I had not yet figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I was trying to figure out who I was. As I journeyed through the mire of confusion I met my husband and had our first baby. Suddenly I was something. I was a mother. No longer did I need to agonize about what I should do with my life. The answer lay in my arms.

Several children later with babies on my hip, toddlers around my legs, and students on my mind I realized something needed to change. Unlike the tree I was not happy. I read Proverbs 31 and for the first time it struck me that God says this amazing woman, “Strengthened her arms.”   The godly woman built herself up so that she could accomplish her tasks.  I changed our daily schedule to involve activities that I enjoyed, mostly hiking. I packed a book that I wanted to read alongside our lunch. While my children played in the stream I sat nearby and read books on homeschooling. I reserved a couple hours in the afternoon to spend some time by myself doing things that I enjoyed.

But then one day I looked in the mirror and saw a sagging stump. I thought of the beautiful tree I had been. I thought of all my talents. My life had been so promising. What had I done with it?  I had given it away to a selfish child, actually seven of them. Homeschool mom burn-out, it held me in it’s ugly grip.  

I stopped. I thought. I listened. I realized that reading books on homeschooling while my children played nearby, or carving out a couple hours of “me time” a day still left me with nothing but an old stump of the person I used to be or could have been.

Vincent Van Gogh

I do not want to be a stump! I want to be a tree.  I want to have branches that reach high to the sky and spread their dappled shadows on the grass below. I want to have the sweetest, crunchiest, juiciest apples. I want my children to delight in swinging from my branches.

I needed to return to that complicated place of self-discovery.  I needed to cut off not my branches but everything in my life that has become like the dig of a chainsaw: math lessons, for one.  Why was I spending so much of my time trying to figure out how to teach my children math when it is not something I am really interested in myself?  Let someone who loves math teach them math, and I will spend my time sharing myself with my children. I will share the books with them that I love to read. I will share the paintings with them that I love to enjoy. I will teach them how to do the things I love to do so that we can do them together.

In the end of The Giving Tree, the boy, now an old, worn out, tired man returns to the tree which is only a stump.  He wants nothing more than a place to sit.  He lived his life searching for meaning in relationships, wealth, and wanderings.  The tree gave to her boy everything he wanted. She lost everything she had. I do not want my children to become worn out old men and women just looking for a place to sit.

There is a tree in a park I visit with my children.  It is over three hundred years old.  Once we circled around it and tried to touch hands but we could not.  It is immense. An aged tree is majestic. One beholds an old tree in awe. Even children stand amazed at the girth of an ancient tree and gaze up wonderingly at its strong, thick branches.

Children and trees. The words paint a beautiful picture.  They belong together.  Yet, is not the glory of a tree its age? It is the age of a tree that becomes its beauty; that offers a place for children to play.

Vincent Van Gogh

I want my children to grow strong limbs from learning to climb my branches. I want my children to develop wondering minds from sitting and dreaming under my leaves. I want my children to grow healthy bodies from being nurtured upon my sweet fruit. I want them to return to me some day with the crown of age shining silver upon their heads. I want to stand as a tree, immense and majestic before them.  In the dappled sunlight they will stand with me: poets, painters, philosophers, leaders, dreamers, and an aged tree.

Mom, I want you to be a fruitful tree. How can homeschool moms prevent burn-out?

Strengthen your arms.

Focus your life on doing those activities that make you a strong individual. Then share those things with your children. Seek out others who will enjoy teaching your children the subjects that you do not love whether that is math, foreign language or art. Teachers can be found in all sorts of places other than schools or co-ops. Look to grandparents, co-workers, and teachers online who can come alongside you as you educate your children. You are more than a mom. You are more than a homeschooler. God designed you and you have a special purpose as an individual. He wants you to share your strong and beautiful self with your children. Strengthen your branches, don’t cut them off and give them away! Do you want to be a giving tree? It is a sad book, almost everyone cries when they read they end and see the sagging stump and the old, withered man. Instead, as God wrote of in the Psalms, be the fruitful tree!

Vincent Van Gogh