A tough season

Red tent

An email dialogue with a Brave Writer mom:


I feel bad emailing you like this. I know you’re so busy with all of your Brave Writer things and your actual life. I just know that I find so much comfort in your wisdom. I’ve heard you at conferences and chatted with you and I love your book, A Gracious Space. You’re just so encouraging, and your words always make me feel like everything is going to be okay. So right now, when I feel like I want to cry about all of this—kids, homeschooling, mothering, LIFE—I find myself wanting to cry to a complete stranger via email.

Aw. So glad you reached out!

I have four kids—7, 4, 2, and 7 months. My husband works long hours and has a long commute. He travels overseas frequently and our families live on the other side of the country. Basically, I’m on full-fledged duty around the clock, which is fine. I mostly do just fine with making it through the day. But I feel like I’m not giving my kids what they need. For example, my oldest wants to sew ornaments and sell them to make money. She’s a good little sewer, and I want to be able to help her accomplish her goals. But it’s not something she can do entirely on her own (she needs me to thread the needle and fix little knots and other mishaps). That’s no big deal, except that my 4-year-old has things he’s interested in, too. He’s really bright and curious and wants to learn to read, among other things. My 2-year-old is the real trouble. She’s so stinking cute, but she’s a little tornado that doesn’t quit. Ever.

This is a tough, tough season in your life. There are no easy answers because EVERYONE who has children the ages of your kids finds it impossible to come up with any system that actually works. You are in a kind of “happy-survival” mode and must make peace with the fact that the primary way you will overcome this stage is to wait it out (your kids will get older). Two year olds and three year olds have a way of undermining the space because who they are is in this enormous developmental Hurrah! They want what they want and they don’t have the tools yet to do for themselves. So you are all caught in the vortex of the two year old quite legitimately.

She WILL quit eventually but right now it seems like forever.

Confession: I hate reading to my kids. And it’s because when I do, I feel like I’m always yelling over someone (usually the 2-year-old). She wants on my lap, she wants off my lap, back and forth. She doesn’t nap much anymore, and when she does, she ends up staying awake in her room (coming out frequently, of course) until 9:00-10:00 at night, which is a problem on several other levels. The 7-month-old is…well, a baby. She’s super sweet, but she needs a lot from me, too. On top of it all, there’s the house and the laundry and the meals.

Try audio books. They saved my life when I had babies who nursed and hated hearing me read at the same time. You can even ONLY listen in the car when you are driving somewhere and then you don’t even have to read or calm anyone. They will be trapped in the car!

I just feel like there are so many things that I want to do to help my kids grow, but I can’t do any of them, because I’m so busy just keeping our house (barely) functioning. There are so many books I want to read to my older kids, but I only read a teeny tiny fraction of them, because of everything else. We manage to get the absolutely critical things done almost every day (math, copy work, independent reading),

WOW! Good for you. This is exceptional. Be proud of this.

but beyond that, it’s all about survival. My kids love poetry tea time, but we hardly ever do it. We don’t do free writes. We do history sporadically. I long ago decided that lots of outside play and watching Wild Kratts would have to suffice for science.

There you go! Rather than think you “rarely” do freewriting. Think: Yay! We got to freewriting twice this year! Yay! We had one poetry teatime! Yay! We took one field trip! Change your expectations and celebrate your tiny triumphs. Over a childhood, these will grow and repeat and become meaningful in new ways. Right now it seems you will never do any of these big activities with any regularity. But you will… eventually.

What were your days like when your kids were really little? You seem to have done this parenting/homeschooling thing really well—you seem to have enjoyed it, your kids seem to be successful, and you all seem to really like each other, which is what I’m going for over here, so I kind of look to you as my homeschool beacon.

Because they are full grown. I remember so many “squandered” days where all I could do was survive. I have five kids, all two years apart. I was pregnant or nursing for 12 years. Absolutely know your feelings. There were years where we hardly did dictation (for instance). But when I look at the notebooks from those years, we actually got it done 10 times. Ten is a lot! It’s more than I realized at the time, thinking I should have done it every other week for the whole year.

I realized that some years we were more into history than others. That’s just the way the cookie crumbled.

We had weeks where washing diapers and shopping at the store and laundering clothes and cleaning up toys felt like the only things we did. Yet when I looked back I could see that we built with Legos or I helped one learn to knit or I did manage to get to the library or we learned all the words to the songs on the Rafi album or we enjoyed watching Arthur on TV every night before dinner.

Remember that you are also on a learning curve about what works for you. Be good to yourself and trust that all of it will work together to create a vivid happy family life where learning also occurs.

For the older one who needs special help, help her. Keep her up after the baby goes to bed, or get her up extra early before the baby wakes, or promise her the next time the baby naps you’ll help her. You might consider hiring a mother’s helper (since your husband is gone a lot). She could be another homeschool girl or boy who comes for two hours to the house to play with the little ones so you can focus on the older one. This worked for me when I was working freelance as a ghost-writer. I just worked while the helper was downstairs. If they really needed me, I was available. But I didn’t have to supervise so closely.

Thanks for your time,

P.S. Because I feel like a bit of a mooch, emailing you directly for advice, I have to tell you that I am a paying member of the Homeschool Alliance. I don’t go there much, because I don’t have a lot of time, but I aspire to. Anyway, I’ve always thought you were amazing for being so available to so many people, so I’m happy to pay for my access to you. It’s worth it.

You are quite all right writing to me and I’m so glad you are in the Homeschool Alliance. Keep reading there. It will help you! Keep your chin up. You’re doing far more right than you realize.



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