Homeschooling and Struggling with Self-Discipline

mother jugglingHaving been duly warned about the dangers of praying for patience, just before Lent I did something nearly as foolish: I prayed for self-discipline.

Because I haven’t got much of it.

Some people do, and if that’s you, please understand that we goof-offs and layabouts aren’t really trying to ruin your life, or our own, by our constant stream of last-minute frenzies, half-done jobs, and guilty evasions.    But here we are.

My experience with struggling homeschoolers is that the vast majority of moms who want to homeschool, but ultimately give it up due to self-discipline issues, fall into one of two camps:

  1. The very disciplined mom, who has such a strong need for order – and I do mean need – that the constant press to get everything done, with children underfoot all day long, eventually drives her to either the madhouse or the local school.
  2. The mom who struggles with self-discipline so much that she really can’t give her children the education she finds they need.  She discovers profound peace in handing over the essentials of the 3R’s to some more orderly schoolteacher person, and concentrating her efforts on those jobs only a mom can do.

There’s nothing wrong with being one of those moms.  On the contrary: Our kids need to see their parents take risks, try new things, and respond with a change-of-plans if our first efforts don’t work out.  It’s a life skill we have got to model for our kids, because they’re not going to sail through life with glowing success at every turn, any more than we do.

What about the rest of us undisciplined strugglers? Things may be not-so-great, but they aren’t so bad that the battle for self-discipline outweighs all our other various reasons for homeschooling.  So we give it our best in fighting the good fight.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far, since praying my fateful prayer a month or so ago.

My prayer opened my eyes to the reality of my situation. I immediately had many opportunities to see just how weak I am.  I began to identify the small changes I needed to start with, to build a foundation for future success.   And I began to see the things in my life that make self-discipline more difficult for me.

Sabotage!  I was already familiar a few of the better-known homeschooling saboteurs, but recently I’ve added others to my list.  Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Signing up for too many activities, which suck away spare time and energy.
  • Including too many subjects in the curriculum.
  • Allowing my schedule to get crazy by filling in every spare minute with some obligation.
  • Staying up too late, so that I’m tired and cranky the next day.
  • Not taking care of myself: Letting lousy food, inadequate exercise, and no mental quiet time slowly sap me of my energy.
  • Spending all day home with the distractions: TV, internet, good novels, phone calls from friends.
  • Letting my hobbies slowly turn into work, making my needed leisure time into one more chore weighing me down.

You may have some others you’ve discovered – please share them, so we can all be on the lookout.

My trick as I slowly build more self-discipline is to find a balance.  I can’t just quit answering e-mail, or throw away all the family’s DVDs.  And some of the struggles are with double-edged swords:  I need exercise, but I don’t want to crowd my schedule with a time-intensive fitness routine.  What I’m working on right now is figuring out ways to keep the saboteurs in check.

Discipline Helpers 

If you struggle with self-discipline, you are not alone.  Not surprisingly, there have blossomed multitudes of ways for homeschooling parents to add some structure to their school, so that the weight of ‘having it all together’ doesn’t fall solely on mom’s shoulders.  I’ve moved to using a formal curriculum for my older children, to save myself the time and energy I had previously spent (or failed to spend) giving the kids instructions and checklists.  Other moms like co-ops, hybrid schools, accountability organizations, or co-schooling to help them stay on track.

Personal Motivators

I remember my surprise when a veteran homeschool mom told me that she gave herself a little reward each day at lunch if she made it through the morning on-track.  It sounds childish, but . . . well, we struggle with self-discipline because we are childish.  Why pretend we’re too sophisticated for tricks and treats?

The thing that helps me the most (other than prayer, and the threat of mortal embarrassment), is to take time to think about my homeschooling plans and goals.  I daydream a lot.  It’s easy to get excited about the prospect of you-name-it-random-thing, just because I’ve put lots of thought into how wonderful it would be if that thing happened.  Which is ironic, because teaching my children, doing fun activities as a family, having a clean home, getting enough exercise . . . these are my dreams, too.

Fantasizing about these dreams won’t make it more fun when I’m stuck with the nasty job of getting a middle-schooler to do the dishes in a timely fashion, but at least I will have reminded myself that this is important to me, that I care about, that it’s worth the effort.  It’s a start.

Jennifer Fitz is a homeschooling mom of four, catechist, writer, and accountant. She manages the Catholic Writers Guild blog, and writes on her personal blog, jenniferfitz.wordpress.com. Her latest project is a book of practical, encouraging support for parents struggling with the decision to homeschool.