Friday, September 13, 2013

Encouragement For Haggard Mothers

This question was asked in a blog party in which I once participated. I believe it rings true for many harried and haggard mothers, especially homeschool moms. 
How do I teach each child their lessons AND cook 3 nutritious meals a day AND nurse the baby AND keep everyone in clean clothes AND keep the dust bunnies at bay, all on very little sleep. Did I mention that right now I'm only teaching 3 out of my 6 and we are only focusing on phonics and math?
Isn't this the same question every mother asks in each succeeding generation? And, home educators are not the only ones with this dilemma. Mothers of small children, mothers of many children, mothers who work outside the home, mothers who have a home business, and mothers who are caregivers of aging or disabled relatives all share in the feeling of being overwhelmed with their many responsibilities.

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd:
he shall gather the lambs with his arm,
and carry them in his bosom,
and shall gently lead those that are with young.

~ Isaiah 40:11 ~

It is helpful when feeling swamped to ask yourself some key questions:
  1. Is there anything I or the family are doing which doesn't really need to be done?
  2. Is there anything which needs to be done that someone else can or should do?
  3. Is there a simpler or quicker way to do that which needs to be done?
Let's take a look at each area mentioned by the inquirer and see if there are some solutions based on these three questions.

Home Education: Combining Classes and Sharing the Load

One of the worst mistakes I made when first beginning in home education was to try to teach six full courses a day for each individual child. I had to dismantle all my ideas about running our home school like an institutional school (see my post Being at HOME With Homeschooling).

Eventually I figured out that it was more productive to have the other children do independent seat work while I worked one-on-one with things like math, spelling, and phonics, then combine Bible, Science, and History subjects with all of the children in the afternoon. This worked very well until they were of age to do more independent studies in their middle and high school years.

One method, however, which may be borrowed from the one-room school house teachers is to pair younger children with older ones. For instance, if the oldest one can read, she can give a younger sibling a spelling test while you work with the new reader(s) on their phonics. Also, siblings who can read may also listen to each other's memory work. However, in high school subjects, it may be necessary to find someone outside the home or online who can better teach the harder subjects of math and science.

The point is, you don't have to do it all.

Housekeeping: Bare Minimum and Divide and Conquer

NEWS FLASH: While your children are small, you will not have a perfectly clean house. You may not even have perfectly clean children. It's okay. No one has ever died from choking on dust bunnies.

It is important to keep in mind that nursing babies and having many small ones, regardless of how many you have, is a season of life. It won't last forever. Remember, Baby Don't Keep. In the meantime, I would suggest, until your kids are old enough to be trained in helping with the housework, that you only clean what is noticeably dirty on a regular basis and tackle deep cleaning when you can get to it (see 10 Tips For Relaxed Spring Cleaning for ideas).

I understand in the culture in which we live everyone is expected to be a rugged individualist, but nursing mothers with small children often need HELP. Even farmers often hire others to help them when it's time to plant or harvest. These are planting days. If you need help, then pray for it, don't be ashamed to ask for it, and, by all means, accept it when it is offered.

Feeding Everyone: Remember KISS (Keep It Simple, Sweetheart)

Not knowing the inquirer's definition of "nutritious," it makes it difficult to answer according to her particular situation. However, if nutritious means everything is cooked from scratch, four courses are served at every meal, or involves anything which requires fermentation, putting up garden produce, or butchering your own animals, then it's no wonder you're overwhelmed. Sometimes we get guilted into creating impossible situations for ourselves, and food is one area in which some mothers get bogged down.

Yet, even if you have a personal conviction about these things, at least consider using pre-packaged, pre-cooked, and partially-cooked foods while you are in your nursing-with-small-children stage of life. They aren't called convenience foods for nothing. If you are seriously overwhelmed with meal preparation, you could use these types of foods just until you can get back into a more whole-food cooking routine.

One method of cooking which has worked for me is batch cooking. I never could get the hang of once-a-month cooking, but doubling a recipe here and there and thawing them for later has been a real time saver. I also like to cook a main-meat meal, then use the leftover meat for a casserole, sandwiches, and/or soup in successive meals. For instance, when I find ham on sale, I bake it in foil on Sunday, dice the meat and add it to macaroni and cheese or scalloped potatoes on Monday, and cook the bone and bits of leftover meat in a pot of beans on Tuesday. This method can be used for chicken, turkey, beef roast, and other cuts of pork as well.

Last of all, invest in electronic maids: a crock pot, a food processor, a hand blender, and a microwave (if you don't believe it causes cancer). There may be others, but these have been the most help to me. I can put something in the crock pot in the morning and not have to think about it all day. I use the food processor to chop vegetables in bulk, then freeze them for later. The hand blender comes in "handy" for making quick smoothies. Since I do not have a problem with using a microwave, I use the defrost setting to thaw frozen meat in it before finishing cooking the meat on the stove, warm rolls and frozen bread just before serving, and, of course, reheat leftovers.

Getting Enough Sleep: It May Be Impossible

Remember what I said earlier about this being a season of life? Sometimes that knowledge is the only thing which keeps you going. There will come a day when you can get a good night's rest. It may not be for several years, but it will come.

Yet, perhaps once you prune away all the extras and find the help you need, there will be more time to sleep. I pray it will be so.

A Final Word of Comfort

Regardless of what haggard stage of life you may be in, if you are feeling overwhelmed, there is One who understands; there is one who cares. He said that, if we ask for wisdom, He will give it (James 1:5). I encourage you, through these turbulent days, to lean hard into Jesus, depending on Him for all you need to make it through for His glory and for the good of your family.

When thou passest through the waters, 

I will be with thee;

and through the rivers,

they shall not overflow thee:

when thou walkest through the fire,

thou shalt not be burned;

neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

~ Isaiah 43:2 ~

(I have a three-part series entitled Getting It All Done With Little Ones, which might also be of some help.)