Moms often experience burnout, but we can address the issues at play and not give in to the temptation to give up.
If you’ve been homeschooling for a few years, you’ve probably felt it, and probably around this time of the year. Even if you aren’t homeschooling, still the temptation rears its ugly head.
Moms talk about burnout, but what is it, really? How do we know if that’s what we’re dealing with or if it’s something else?
The dictionary defines burnout first as “The failure of an electrical device or component through overheating.” That’s the metaphor we’re drawing on when we talk about burnout: something snaps or stops working because it’s been asked to do too much without adequate controls or cooling.
The next definition is “Physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” Maybe we aren’t actually at the point of collapse when we use this term, but maybe we are. Maybe we feel like we are, even while knowing we aren’t really. Maybe we see it coming and just want to do whatever it takes to prevent it from getting that bad.
Burnout might feel like you’re going stir-crazy, maybe even plain ol’ crazy. When you feel burnout, you feel like you just can’t get started and you’re stuck in bed. Burnout might feel like you snap at the faintest touch and have irrational outbursts at those you love.
Why moms feel burnout
Burnout – or even coming close to it – is not the way we are meant to operate. It’s not supposed to be typical outcome of a job well done. Yet it’s also not uncommon.
Because we do not have adequate controls or cooling. We do not rest as we need. We allow stress to build up. We take on more than we are meant to carry.
Too often, the advice given to those who feel close to or at the burnout point in their homeschool is to escape, which is exactly what we feel like doing.
What is it to “take time for yourself,” really? Not all times taken count equally or restore equally. What restores and cools and refreshes is not different for different people, either. That’s a cultural cop-out that allows us to define our own terms and our own life.
But there are overarching, always-applicable principles that govern human beings and all of creation. We can either operate according to the way we were created or on our own terms, but only one of those ways will actually work. The other will simply increase our stress and our overload and our burnout in the long run, even when we find momentary release.
We don’t want momentary release, a quick break before returning to the fray. We want true peace and joy in the thick of our daily work.
Answer burnout with joy
We must remain grounded in the truth: God made us and knows us. He can be trusted. He gave us responsibilities and callings and it is possible for us to fulfill them in a God-glorifying, gratitude-filled way. He doesn’t call us to easy mode, but He does call us to faithfulness with joy.
When joy is lacking, as it does when we feel burnout, we can ask with Scripture, “What has happened to your joy?”
To really solve burnout and even to prevent burnout in our homeschools, we need to “build a livable life” as a wise friend (Brandy Vencel) once admonished me while I was headed toward burnout after a case of the baby blues.
A livable life looks like a well-rounded life. A well-rounded life looks like a well-rounded education – which shouldn’t surprise us because education is a life.
When homeschooling or homemaking feels grueling and our daily life feels unmanageable, we need to look to the same things, because education and life run on the same principles.
Beat mom burnout with fresh air.
If we are ruled by go-go-go mode, where nothing counts unless it’s on the list or feels essential to “success,” we’re bound to hit burnout mode because that’s not the mode we were created to live in nor the purpose we were designed to fulfill.
Fresh air might seem counterintuitive. That’s not where the to-do list is going to happen. Exactly. We’re stepping out away from the pressure and tension for a minute, diffusing it by expending energy and breathing in clear, bright, fresh air. When we return, we find that the pressure and the tension was internal and not contained in the house or situation itself.
While getting some outdoor steps is a go-to strategy we should employ as much as possible, for ourselves and for our kids, we learn principles and ideas in the practice that show us a way out of tension and pressure even when we can’t get outside. We are not dependent on fresh air for tension relief.
We learn, by experiencing the diffusion of our frustration and tension, that our actions – and our thoughts and our breathing – does affect not only our own mood but also our perception of what’s happening. Getting outside is only one tactic to manage our internal combustion potential.
Prayer is another, obviously. We resist turning to prayer to diffuse our tension because we know that means repenting of it rather than blaming it on others or on circumstances. Allowing the Holy Spirit to soften and change our hearts means first admitting the problem is in our hearts. The fact that a simple walk helps proves this is the case, though.
Beat mom burnout by reading.
Sometimes we are so caught up in our own lives, our own task list, our own agendas that we can’t see beyond the urgent little things. Our worlds and minds shrink as we focus on the minutia of daily life and the incessant hounding of our own thoughts.
We need to step into the bigger picture and put our own to do list into perspective. Read history. Read biographies. Read thoughtful novels on the human condition. Read about the intricacies of Creation. Learn and do some math or logic or music.
We do more than gain knowledge when we learn the liberal arts. We gain wisdom and virtue, both of which are always applicable even in the mundane tasks set before us each day. We don’t need to be caught in the slavish mentality of total work, where the only thing that matters about us is what we’ve accomplished. Because we were created for worship and wonder as well as work, we must set aside time to put our lives in perspective of God’s bigger plan for the world.
Entertaining forgetfulness is not the best relief reading offers. Reading solves burnout by tying us to God’s grand purpose in the world – whether that’s via history or art or nature. Coming into contact with big ideas humbles us while also growing and maturing us.
When we have ideas and connections to feed our minds, the mundane work we must do is enlivened. Such works bogs us down only when we think it’s all there is. Reading reminds us that there is so much more – and that we are a part of that grander purpose in our own small ways.
Beat mom burnout through community.
Isolation kills. It is not good for man to be alone, and that goes thrice for women, who were made to be companions and helpers and nurturers.
Proverbs 18:1 says:
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.
We don’t need to feel alone. We don’t need to give into self-pity, which thrives in loneliness and isolation.
We have the community of our own families, the first and primary solution to loneliness. Scripture says that God puts the lonely in families because a family is a social unit, a means of solving isolation and loneliness. We need to do more than live with our family. We need to do life together, live as a team, share in one another’s joys and sorrows.
We have the community of our local church body. We ought to be members, participating and loving, of a corporate congregation. Individuals make up the church, and the church is the bride of Christ, the body of Christ. To neglect the gathering of saints in worship is to neglect the means of grace God has given for our upbuilding and encouragement: the sacraments and the Word preached.
We also have the communion of saints, as the Apostle’s Creed reminds us. Hebrews tells us that there is a great cloud of witnesses watching us, cheering us on. In Christ, we have fellowship with believers near and far, now and past. In glory we will join the glorious throng, so why not participate in and prepare for it now? We can connect with believers of the past through their writing. We can connect with believers around the world through the internet. We can connect with missions through our pocketbook and prayer.
Not only is God Himself with us, not only is the Holy Spirit our comforter, but God Himself has also given us a human family and a spiritual family so that we are not alone. Let us appreciate that and take advantage of this great blessing. Building these relationships will draw us up out of our self-pity and give us a grander purpose and mission.
Burnout is fixable
There are more ways than these three to address burnout, of course. There might also be underlying health conditions that contribute to our feelings of fatigue and despair.
Sometimes God calls us to dark times to learn dependance on him and to force us to give up our self-reliance and self-sufficiency and pride.
But when we feel burnout, we need to know that the right answer isn’t caving into it and wallowing. Though it is hard to do, difficult times require us to double-down on truth rather than give up on it.
The joy of the Lord is our strength, and we can call out for it and wait for it while we live out lives of obedience to his call.