Back when I was an overwhelmed young mother with a perpetual babe in arms and stair-step children by my side, an older woman shared some simple advice that really transformed my life. In fact, I still live by her words of wisdom today! Her timeless advice??
KISS — Keep It Simple Sister.
Before you quit reading in disappointment, your hopes for help dashed, let me explain how that simple nugget of wisdom transformed my life. By applying that principle to every area of my life, I was able to keep not only my sanity, but my joy!
Let me share a few examples.
A Simple Beauty Routine
A homeschooling mother of a large family does not have time for a complicated beauty routine! However, a wise woman continues to care about her appearance for the sake of her husband, her children, and her testimony out in the world. For me, that meant washing my face in the shower, simplifying my make –up routine, and adopting an easier hairstyle than in my younger days. Since I have fine, limp, flat hair, and have always adored curls and bounce, my favorite mommy hairstyle has been a soft perm that I can “scrunch” and let dry by itself. (Oh what a blessing a flexi-clip would have been back in the days when I was so busy caring for babies and toddlers that I didn’t have time to fix my hair!)
While I know that denim skirts are the brunt of many homeschooling jokes, I’ve always found them to be the busy homeschooling mama’s ideal wardrobe item! A denim skirt is versatile, durable, comfortable, requires no-fuss washing and drying, can be dressed up or down, and hides many a spot and smudge!
A Simple Menu
There is no need for a busy, homeschooling mom of many to wear herself out trying to create and prepare elaborate meals! Frankly, most kids (and husbands) don’t like gourmet or fancy food! On the other hand, convenience food is very tempting for the overwhelmed mom, but also highly processed, expensive and unhealthy. Simple, home cooked meals are the best choice for the body and the budget!
Furthermore, our families really don’t need tons of variety. I recommend planning 7 to 14 simple meals and just rotating them throughout the month. These can be changed out with the seasons by implementing a spring/summer menu and a fall/winter menu. If you like a bit more variety, start with a basic theme for each night of the week and then vary it throughout the month. For example, one night might be “taco meat” night. Once a month brown up enough “taco meat” for the month, divide it into four packages and freeze. Each week on taco night, use your pre-prepared meat to make meals such as tacos, enchiladas, taco salad, taco soup, or Tex-Mex casserole.
Another helpful tip is to only plan one complicated dish per meal. If the main dish takes a bit of time, plan very simple sides. If your main dish is simple and straightforward, you could pair it with a more time-consuming side dish. With today’s bagged salads, which can be spruced up with a few additions, having a salad with each meal is a simple task that even young children can handle on their own.
A Simple Chore System
I can’t tell you how many times I put together some elaborate chore system, only to have it be too complicated to keep up with from day to day! Back in the day, when I was drowning in nursing babies, toddlers, and many young students, I learned that a simple system was best! I found that elaborate chore charts that looked impressive on the refrigerator door and were supposed to make my life easier, quickly overwhelmed me! I learned to dislike the rotating chore method, because I never could keep up with whose turn it was to clear the table, wash the dishes, or sweep the floors, and even if I could, my husband was always confused about whose turn it was to do what! What worked best for me was to assign standing chore assignments before each school year and then reevaluate and revise the responsibilities in January for the second half of the school year. I also learned that summer is a great time to change over responsibilities and allows more time for “on the job training.”
My two favorite strategies for dividing up the house work over the years have been assigning jurisdictions and teams. By “Jurisdictions,” I mean that I gave different children the responsibility for an entire room or job. Each child was responsible to clean his or her assigned jurisdiction once a week and to maintain it daily. This was simple to oversee and maintain, and taught the children to look at the whole job instead of just parts and to take pride in keeping their jurisdictions clean and neat.
Another helpful strategy was to pair an older and a younger child in a team for certain jobs. At one time, we had three teams in place that were responsible for one of the following jobs after each meal: cleaning the kitchen, picking up toys and straightening the family room, or changing over the washer and dryer and folding laundry.
A Simple Schedule
While there was a time when I lived by a detailed, color-coded daily schedule where the children changed activities every thirty minutes, I eventually decided that following a simple routine was less stressful and more realistic than being a slave to a detailed schedule. With the schedule, if one thing changed – such as baby’s naptime – it threw off the entire schedule and I had to make a new one! Also, I ended up feeling stressed and rushed as I went through each day as a taskmaster “cracking the whip” trying to keep everyone on schedule.
Back in the 1990’s when I was having most of my babies, I felt tremendous pressure to follow a popular infant feeding approach, where the mother scheduled and controlled the baby’s feeding times, sleeping times, play times, etc. throughout the day and forced baby to sleep through the night from an early age. It was promoted strongly in my homeschooling circles as the only way to have a godly home, since the alternative would create a child-centered home. Finally I gave into the pressure and gave this approach a try. The result? It depleted not only my milk supply, but my confidence as a mother and my joy! In addition, I discovered that instead of avoiding a child-centered home, I created one! It seemed the whole day had to revolve around baby’s schedule and whether baby was supposed to be playing or sleeping or eating! We couldn’t just enjoy the baby – we had to check the book for what baby should be doing next. If baby fell asleep at the breast, we even had to wake the baby! Ridiculous! The best thing I ever did was throw that book in the trash, tuck baby into our daily schedule, and get back to mothering from the heart!
A Simple School Day
Homeschooling mothers often try to cover their insecurities by adding an abundance of electives, field trips, and activities to their days. Whenever I tried to “do it all,” I was soon spread too thin to be any good to anyone. I quickly became exhausted, stressed, irritable and emotional. Since Mom sets the atmosphere of the home, and a joyful, contented mother is the most important element of a successful homeschool, I soon found that sticking to the basics and keeping outside activities to a minimum was the simple road to success.
So, if you are overwhelmed, burned out, and struggling as a homeschooling mother, may I suggest that you just “Keep it Simple Sister?!” This prescription may be a hard pill to swallow if you are a performance driven, perfectionistic, Pinterest-loving Mom!! However, in my experience, when we try to make things too elaborate, complicated, and impressive, we often end up with feelings of failure, frustration, guilt, and hopelessness. Keeping it simple is the easiest path to success!
Elizabeth, who blogs at Yes They’re All Ours, is the busy mom of 10 children — 6 sons and 4 daughters, who range in age from 8 to 27! She has been homeschooling since 1990, and continues to teach her five youngest children at home, while attempting to keep up with the adventures of her five adult children (some of whom still live at home). She has been happily married since 1983, and lives with her husband and children on the Georgia coast, where she enjoys creating an inviting home for her family, cooking great southern food (and blogging about it), homeschooling (when not spending the day at the beach), and learning to embrace being an older woman, while encouraging the younger women in her life according to the spirit of Titus 2. She invites you to connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or email her at Elizabeth@yestheyareallours.com