Some years ago, I sat in a circle of homeschooling mothers, confused by the universal complaint among them that they couldn’t find time for themselves within this lifestyle. I was confused because I had found the exact opposite to be true in my own life: I was free to discover through my children deep Truths that had been hidden from me as well as opportunity to explore new and exciting ideas, perspectives, and interests. There appeared to be two camps within this circle of mothers: The majority were women who felt that as mothers and homeschoolers, they had to give up their own interests, hopes, and dreams to facilitate the orderliness of their homes and/or their children’s education. And, then there were those women in the minority who felt that being a homeschooling mother was a wonderful choice and experience. Why the discrepancy? I believe that the unschooling approach can make it possible for the former group to feel more like the latter.
I believe that women live with enormous amounts of guilt and stereotypes. We believe that a woman must martyr herself to the cause of motherhood and housekeeping or we believe that she must martyr herself to the feminist movement by pursuing a career while trying to keep her hand in the motherhood department. I believe there is another kind of balance, one in which a woman can be a nurturing and loving mother, an interested and curious learner, and a knowledgeable and intelligent person. I think that the first thing that we must recognize is that we may not be able to be all of these things in the course of one day. We each, in coming to understand the rhythms of our own lives, can recognize when each part of our selves gets priority. It may be that there is room for everything in a day, or in a week, a month, or a year.
I aligned myself with the unschooling movement because it reflected my thinking: that we would live, love, and learn together. To me, this applies to each member of our family. I consider myself an intelligent, creative, and curious person who loves to hear different perspectives, contemplate and/or adopt new ideas, and add to and expand my abilities. Naturally, I want the same for my children. How can this be accomplished? By pursuing my interests and curiosities as my children are pursuing theirs!
I’m interested in my children as people and as my children, so I watch or join them in their pursuits as my interest dictates. They are excited about their pursuits, so they often want to share with someone. They ask me to observe or join them, knowing that I will if I am interested. Sometimes I am involved passively, watching or reading something they have created. Other times I am actively involved, because they have inspired me. Sometimes I say, “I’m not that interested,” and they find someone else who may be or they just continue the activity without sharing it, because it is already intrinsically valuable to them.
It works in the other direction, too. What I am doing will sometimes inspire one of my children to watch, or join in, but other times they are not interested, and they will say so. This is how we live, love, and learn together.
Now, let’s be realistic. As a parent and facilitator, there are times when responding to my children must be my top priority. I had children because I wanted them; I enjoy their company. They are interesting people, I like them, and I love that I will spend all my days connected to them. So, I will often set aside my own pursuits to discuss things connected with their interests; I might suggest opportunities for further exploration, or help with a concept that is giving one of them trouble. At other times we will read or play together, or if one of them has fallen down and hurt themselves I will of course give assistance and comfort.
However, I am not always able to be available to my children. I have regular duties which require my attention as well as my personal goals and interests. With the former, I stay pretty flexible. (Housework is not a top priority on my list!) With the latter, I will often let my children know my plans. If a child approaches me during time I have set aside for my own pursuits, I may say, “Save that question for when I’m through here in half an hour.” They respect this kind of postponement because they have learned the value of having their own personal pursuits honored. It is also true that I have honed my “mommy antennae” so that I know when it’s really essential to drop my focus from my own work. Naturally, when a child is injured, that is one of those times.
So, there is a day-to-day flow of personal and family balance. There are further ebbs and flows that may span a week, a month, or a year. For example, if a family member is diagnosed with a serious illness or disability, the focus of family life may turn drastically toward the family member who is most in need. This would of course decrease time spent on personal goals.
I find that I can count on a balance over the course of a year. Some years ago, our family was given the opportunity to live with and learn from the diagnosis of a serious disability for three of our seven children. I find that there are at least two times per year when I need to focus heavily on decisions for these children which will provide a balanced educational approach for them and our family. This usually takes a few months, and then we need another month to readjust everyone’s focus so that we all feel balanced. Then, in the remaining months, I can carve out consistent time for my interests.
I also try to keep a balance among my own interests. There are those talents I want to develop as an expression of my intellectual side, such as writing or speaking. I try to keep these consistently plugged into my life. Then there are things I like to do as an expression of my creative side, such as needlework or calligraphy. There are also those things which I like to develop and grow from, things that just happen to emerge from life experiences, such as unschooling, autism, adoption, learning styles, or various therapies. These are larger focuses of my everyday life because I embrace learning from life. Finally, I try to incorporate service to others, by such things as sharing my experiences and knowledge with others regarding autism and homeschooling as well as consistent church opportunities such as teaching or leading the youth or children’s classes. It is important to me to include these things in such a way that I can share my journey with others or buoy someone else up while not overwhelming my own life.
How do I find peace with so much to balance? Over the years, I have found that I needed to develop patience and a slowing down so that I might enjoy more consciously the part of myself that I exhibit at any given moment. Let me enjoy that family reading or personal snuggle time with a child at that very moment and relish the mother in me. Let me appreciate the pain of being stretched until it hurts as I am being shaped by my personal life’s lessons that very moment and relish the spirit in me. Let me feel refreshed as I crochet an afghan at that very moment and relish the creativity in me. Let me feel validated as I share the story of my late reader with a new homeschooler or help a mother teach her autistic son to clap his hands that very moment and relish the wisdom in me. In other words, let me treasure the season of which I am a part at each moment in my life and celebrate the woman in me.