Good moms sacrifice for their kids, and homeschool moms sacrifice an even deeper layer of time and energy. Although our children and their education are one of the most worthy causes in life, taking the martyr role as a homeschool mom isn’t a healthy situation. There’s a fine line between being a responsible parent and losing our identity in our role as a home educator.
Have you crossed the line from great mom who homeschools into a homeschool mom martyr? Here are a few martyr tendencies that I’ve caught myself slipping into from time to time.
Do You Over Research and Over Plan?
Do you skip family fun because you are scouring catalogs, searching for product reviews, and making lesson plans? Has homeschooling become your hobby to the exclusion of all others? Do you take great pride in selecting the best curriculum choices, planning perfectly balanced unit studies, and creating unique learning experiences for your children?
Does research take you an inordinate amount of time compared to the actual lessons? Does a 2 week unit study turn into an advanced, semester-long course but you keep pushing through, past the delight-directed stage because you can’t waste all those great plans you created?
Do You Use an Large Amount of Different Curriculum Choices?
Instead of settling on one quality curriculum for a particular subject, do you feel a need to use a smattering of different types simultaneously and disguise your indecisive nature by calling it eclectic homeschooling? Do you change your curriculum every year or even a few times during a year? Are you always on the hunt for something better —even though what you have is already excellent —because your children deserve the very best? Are you so fearful of making bad curriculum decisions and gaps in your children’s education that you can never settle on a single plan but force your children to use two different curriculum choices at the same time?
Do You Micromanage?
Is every family activity an educational field trip? Do you make your children create a notebooking page after every field trip? Do you quiz your children after every news broadcast or documentary to make sure they retained the key points? At the library, do you reserve huge stacks of books related to your homeschool lessons instead of letting your children select whatever they want to read?
Do You Record and Save Everything?
Do you notate every detail of your homeschool day even beyond what is required you your state? This excessive record keeping takes a lot of time, but it can feel good to control something and keep it organized (unlike the messiness of relationships or finances). Do you have stacks of homeschool papers that you busy yourself sorting, labeling, and storing with no real benefit to you or to your child?
Nothing I’ve mentioned thus far is bad of itself, per se. But take several of these traits joined with the attitude of self-denial for the sake of our children’s education and you’ve got the potential for homeschool mom martyr syndrome. What starts out as a few overachiever or Type A tendencies can disintegrate a mom’s identity and leave her with no other role than that of the ever-patient, ever-prepared saint of home education.
Your Emotional Buffer is a Clue
If it’s still a bit hard to tell, gauge your stress level. Your emotional wellness is an indicator of how well you are taking care of yourself and how far you’ve crossed the line into too much self-sacrifice. Here are my most common symptoms of burnout and overwhelming stress.
- very little patience
- extreme frustration when small things go wrong
- sudden crying jags
- over-reacting but not being able to stop the flow of emotions
- anger and resentment
They all revolve around having little emotional buffer. When all of my energy is depleted from merely surviving, the slightest annoyance pushes me over the edge. When you are filled up emotionally, you can deal with slight delays and frustrations in stride because you have a reserve from which to draw.
Guilt is Another Clue
If you are Christian homeschool mom, you’ve got a triple whammy of pressure that can easily push you into the martyr role — 1. mom, 2. homeschool mom, 3. Christian homeschool mom!
The thinking goes, “Jesus sacrificed his very life for us. We should sacrifice our lives for our kids.”
It all sounds so noble and godly. And it is. And we want to do it! But when you are already empty inside from too much caring and serving others, this message can send a mom into a tailspin of guilt. On one hand, you desire to serve your family. But on the other hand, you know that you are about to crack from the pressure. You want some me-time but feel terrible about being “so selfish.”
This dilemma is hardest on moms with a special needs child, single moms or moms of abusive husbands, moms who work plus homeschool, and moms with chronic illness. They give to others non-stop with little restorative input by way of material help or emotional support from others.
The quote below is from Helper’s High: The Benefits (and Risks) of Altruism (emphasis is mine):
Not everyone benefits from altruism. For example, for those who are already feeling overwhelmed by having too many things on their plate, adding more—even if the intentions are positive—is not likely to end well. This is particularly true for those individuals who have problems with time management.
Also, for those who tend to help the disadvantaged, it sometimes is that case that the sadness of the situations they get involved in has more of a negative than a positive impact on the helper. Some of this has to do with individual personalities, but a good rule of thumb for everyone is everything in moderation. Do what you can to help others, but be careful that you don’t take on so much that it turns out that you become the one who needs help in the end.
Burnout among volunteers and those who work in helping professions is common. However, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, the risk can be lessened by being aware of the symptoms associated with burnout and compassion fatigue and by taking steps to take care of your own mental and physical health before trying to take care of others.
A sense of failure creeps in because you aren’t good enough as a mom, you are a pathetic homeschool mom, and an absolute disgrace as a Christian homeschool mom!
Okay. I’m a Homeschool Mom Martyr. Now What?
Once you see yourself in this pattern of overwork and high stress, it is still nearly impossible to make changes.
Because you are a martyr, you believe that the agony you are enduring is for a higher cause. So you keep pressing through, violating your emotional sensitivities that are screaming for respite.
Most of us homeschool mom martyrs have to learn the hard way. We are jolted from our self-destructive behavior by a tragedy. Maybe we snap in one way or another. Or maybe we have a realization that a scary snap is just a hairbreadth away, and it startles us enough to make a change. We stop. We let things be good enough. We start listening to ourselves and taking care of ourselves. We learn to say no. We accept that our children do not need us to pour out every single cell of our being on their behalf and that doing so is actually bad for them. We discover that when we have more emotional reserve, they are more at ease. We ask for and receive help. We learn to be silly and laugh again.
We look back and realize that we misinterpreted all those platitudes about loving our kids into something unhealthy and self-destructive. If we really learn our lesson, we commit to demonstrating our new-found self-acceptance to our children because we want to break the cycle.