Unschooling with Less Burnout: Self Care for the At-Home-Parent

For complicated families, ordinary life can be a beautiful mess… and then you add in home-based education. Bam, life together 24/7. As with any big family transition, our first month or two of unschooling we were all pretty twitchy and wondering if this was the right decision. Truthfully, we were in crisis mode. Now we’re at the 6 month mark, and we are finding our rhythm and I’m feeling positive and determined. But it is the hardest job I’ve never been paid for, and the most active form of the verb “to love” that I’ve ever known. I wouldn’t trade it for anything because of how meaningful it is to give my daughter this gift of unhurried childhood. Being together around the clock is invaluable for attachment and connection.

But, like the hand-written sign taped to my fridge right now says: “Be kind to yourself, you’re only human.” Parents and kids in families like ours need a more robust self-care plan for unschooling/homeschooling/whateverschooling to be sustainable long-term. 

Below are some suggestions: from my own lived experiences, from the brilliant foster & adoptive parents in the Parenting with Connection Facebook group, from my husband, therapist, family and friends, and from Instagram memes. But we are all wholly unique, so your mileage will vary. You do you.

  • Remember why you decided to pull your kid(s) out of school or not send them in the first place. 
    You had a very good reason that your weary brain isn’t remembering right now. The next time you are better caffeinated, write that reason down and stick it on your mirror. If you still can’t remember, go with: “My kid is amazing and much happier without the stress of school. There is nobody in the entire world like my beautiful kid. They deserve to have a happy childhood and I’m so privileged to be part of making that happen.”
  • Ptoa-heftiba-464644-unsplashredictable, scheduled time alone every day.
    I set my daughter’s “kid fitbit” to have an alarm twice a day, and she is in charge of reminding me when it’s my break time. Be ruthless in figuring out what it is that resets you the most, and do it during your break: soaking bath, walking, yoga, reading, knitting, gardening, sitting outside with coffee, journaling, painting your nails, walking the dog. After 6 months, I have learned that scrolling on my phone for 15 minutes may zone me out but it does not give me that “rested me-time feeling” (I literally did that today, again, sigh. I’m posting all of this as a reminder for me, too!).

    • I will likely write a separate post on the great work of helping a child learn to gradually accept – or at least tolerate – parent breaks. I know that this is hard for most of our babes and adds a layer of complexity.
  • Scheduled weekly break with a babysitter, grandparent, neighbors, etc.
    If your kid is capable of, and enjoys, an extracurricular activity then use this time to reset yourself as well. Not every break should be filled with laundry and cleaning and errands. Really.
  • Dates with your partner.
    Eat food the kids hate and see a grown-up movie with swearing and smooch, then tell your kids about it later and gross them out. Our therapist suggests laser tag (yep, go shoot each other). Don’t talk about the kids… or maybe just talk about them in the car, and then stop when you get to the Indian restaurant. Then ask your spouse what they’re watching/reading/learning these days. Thank them for all the big and little things they do all day, and name a bunch of specific reasons you love them.
  • Meet with your family therapist one-on-one. 
    Ask if they do EMDR. Do lots of that. If your therapist doesn’t make you feel better about being an amazing, doing-hard-but-great-stuff parent then find a new one. You are worthy and a priority to your family. A calm, regulated parent is a more stable parent.
  • Make housework and home life as simple as possible.
    We regularly order groceries online and have them delivered. If we could afford it, we’d hire a house cleaner too. Those with strong social or faith communities might consider ask for a meal train for the first few weeks or if you’re in crisis mode. Stop apologizing for the state of your house or the laundry you re-dried for the 3rd time. When you welcome people into your home, say “I love you enough to not clean for you. This is us.” and you’ll find that the people who really love you will probably hug you and return the favor next time you’re at their house. These are your BEST people.
  • pexels-photo-792777Identify your best people who love and validate you. Make a list on your phone with their names for when you’re having a hard time.
    Stay in touch with them regularly. Be honest with them. Tell them what you need and how they can help. For other folks in your life who love you but aren’t exactly able to give you what you need:  their love languages are probably different from yours, and they’re trying to help you in the ways that they feel most loved.
  • Do you know what makes you really happy and feel like yourself?
    Do those things, and also do kind things for yourself. When you have a moment that you REALLY feel happy: savor it and make a note in your brain to do a lot more of that, by any means necessary. These are meaningful for your soul. Those tv shows that crack me the hell up (30 Rock, Schitt’s Creek, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). Laughing a lot… like until I can’t breathe kind of laughing. Doing yoga alone. Visiting a bestie in my jammies. Refilling the keurig late at night so my favorite mug with a teabag is waiting for me, so that I don’t have to refill the damn thing at 7am and start the day grumbling. Snuggling my daughter first thing in the morning and kissing her precious face all over until she’s annoyed. Going hiking in the woods and listening to the birds (or songs with swearing on my headphones, because: kids). Kissing my spouse for more than .3 nanoseconds. …. That’s my list. What’s yours?
  • Move your body regularly in ways that you love. Eat delicious, nutritious food that gives you the energy for the long-haul. Get enough sleep.
    HA! The internet made me say all of that stuff.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Alina says:

    This is us!! We are also six months in, struggling to find a balance between connection and repair and catching up on everything she was unable to absorb at school. I look forward to hearing your stories as we follow a similar journey x


    1. Katie A. says:

      Wow, we are SO on the similar journeys, Alina! I’m so glad you’re here! 🙂


  2. I’m so fascinated by the at-home schooling community. Don’t have any kids myself, and in fact I am an elementary school teacher, but it seems like a great option for some families.


  3. AC says:

    This is the best thing I’ve read forever! Just perfect! I am homeschooling 5 wonderful kids ages: 14,14,11,7,5 . I love it home educating, but I need to a breath of fresh air. Thank you!


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