Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe. ―Susan Cain, Quiet
It feels redundant to mention the messy and loud work of motherhood, let alone with the homeschool. Whether by the practical work of our hands or the soulful work of the heart, it is simultaneously the most beautiful and depleting work, requiring every bit of our reserves, regardless of educational choices or occupations outside of the home. Parenthood will turn our hearts inside-out in the best of ways, and while it is inherently about our children, parenthood is also a journey of self. I encourage you, dearest readers, do pay attention to this less obvious part too.
On a recent weekend, I spent the afternoon in the kitchen on my own, listening to music and working with my hands. At the end of the evening as the kids were bathing and sliding into bedtime routine, I recognized an internal energy that typically isn’t there at this point in the day. I’m more likely in these hours to fall asleep during read-a-loud or slip into my own sheets just after the kids. Our children had played or worked outside all day, taking full advantage of our unseasonable warm weather. The overflow of energy, I realized, came from quiet, from spending a few hours working with my hands, listening to music, and simply allowing my thoughts to drift without the need to talk or explain a process. I had simply worked.
Knowing how much solitude or quiet activity fuels me as an introvert, the choice to live and learn with my four children all the time may seem funny to others. For years I have wrestled with guilt about this personal need. Taking time for the self can often feel secondary and selfish in the wake of all that can be (or should be) done for our children, and we mothers can be hard on ourselves in the process. After reading Quiet several years ago, I realized this need of mine is as much a gift to my children as any other. I can only say it this way:
The point of solitude is not merely to be filled but to be filled often enough to overflow into something or someone else.
Motherhood is not a life of solitude (even though a mother with a newborn or young toddlers might feel differently). It is a conscious practice of living out-loud, of talking through actions and patterns of thought in order to teach our children. This is a tree. This is a book. This is a bed. This is food. We teach them how to handle anger and happiness, how to talk through hurt feelings and where to look up answers to practical questions. This is anger. This joy. This is laughter. This is hurt. Here is how we speak, how we use our bodies to share our emotion. Here is how we ask for help. We show them the paradoxes and contexts for living. This is a stranger. This is a new friend. Here is how and when you greet them. We teach practical skills in self-care. Here is a toilet. Here is a bath. Here is a toothbrush. We also teach them about boundaries, about the connection between self and others. This is yours. This is mine. This is sharing. This is fun. This is tired. This is a tantrum. This is the need for rest. Homeschooling simply adds the layer of academics. The same lessons spiral over and over in a new context. Here is frustration. Here is joy. Here is perseverance. Here is respect for others. Here is a need for rest.
By honestly sharing my own boundaries and limitations, I am likewise teaching my children to recognize their own. I am also teaching them it is okay to say remove myself from people or activities I love in a healthy way. Here are a few ways that I’ve learned to find quiet during my homeschool days and in motherhood in general over the years:
rest time | Take an hour in the afternoon for rest time. This is a time of quiet, where littles can nap and non-napping children can listen to audiobooks or play independently. Quiet is the emphasis for our home during this hour, and the rule is you must choose an activity that won’t disrupt someone else. This last bit gets easier as they grow older, although sharply protecting this time is more difficult. During this time, I typically take care of online work. On the best days, I just grab a book and a cozy spot on my bed.
go outside | Anytime I’m feeling overwhelmed by the noise in my head or environment, I step outside. When my children were young, I would load them in a stroller or wrap them to my body somehow for a journey to the park. Now as my children are a little older, we may take our work outdoors or I may just go and sit in a sunny spot in the backyard for a few minutes. Sometimes emotion and thought need to be free of the physical home.
take a time-out for yourself | Time-out has such a negative connotation, as it feels equated with toddler tantrums or other misbehavior. I realized during those early mother years, that sometimes I was the one who needed a time-out. Some moments I felt overwhelmed, frustrated, or like I might lose patience, I learned it was better to take a ten minute break for myself before addressing them. I might put the baby in the crib or the toddler in a high-chair with a snack or on their bed with a book. I might send pre-schoolers outside for a bit to swing or play. I still do this, no longer because of tantrums, but because some days the work at hand does feel overwhelming. It’s always good for me to find a quiet spot in the home or yard, take a few slow, deep breaths. These moments feel almost trite, but they work wonders for finding perspective.
offer screen time | Let me pause here and say there’s no shame in using a screen for help. Most modern parents are aware it’s best for children to learn with our hands and by human interaction. And yes, make that type of experience the bulk of your day together, but remember to show compassion to yourself, too. Are you dressed or needing a shower? Are you feeling emotionally anxious or stressed? Have you spent more time playing the sibling referee or working through toddler tantrums than normal? Take 30 minutes. When my children were little, they had a daily 30-60 minutes of screen time. They watched (and loved ) the BBC’s Planet Earth, which we still own and watch, and several documentaries on Netflix. They also watched PBS shows or Leap Frog Letter Factory or Math to the Moon.
send the kids outside | As my children have grown older, I often send them outside. I may give them a specific task or the simple imperative to play and enjoy fresh air. As our studies grow more complex and difficult, they need the balance, too.
Also: Rest Time in Our Home