I tend to be a pretty unstructured person. I wake up when I want, eat when I want, and go to sleep when I want. I've always struggled with routine -- other than school and work, we really didn't even have much of it in our home when I was growing up.
I've always liked that each day is not like the next. I always felt it worked well with homeschooling, too. In fact, it is one of the reason why we homeschool. Often, when I say that we homeschool, the response of others is "Oh, I don't know how you do it. It takes so much commitment." Instead, it strikes me that it takes a lot of commitment, more than I have, to have to wake up every morning at the same time, fight with my kids to get them ready, make lunches, take them to school, pick them up, and have most of our evening robbed from us by homework assignments, and then struggle to get them to bed. I went to school, I have family members who send their kids to school. I know how it goes. And to have that routine inflicted from the outside and have it dictate 90% of my daily life from when I eat my breakfast to when I can bond with my kids, and when we can take a vacation is positively unbearable.
So, with all of this being free and laid back, why do I constantly feel exhausted and at the end of my ropes?
On my vacation, I brought Home Education by Charlotte Mason with me. I've always embraced many of her ideals including using living books (books written by someone who loves that subject rather than a textbook), short lessons, narration rather than tests, being outside more (well, I don't implement that one well). A lot of homeschoolers, including me, kind of reject Charlotte Mason on the whole though not because of her own writings, but because a lot of those that have written about implementing a Charlotte Mason style education really come across as prim, retro-Victorian, mother-saints with doilies and bud vases on every piece of furniture imaginable. When I actually read Charlotte Mason, though, I don't get that as much. But she is an author that demands my concentration and that I need to take in small doses, so I've never made it through one of her books yet, and that is extremely rare for me. Howvever, it might be more common than I know, considering the number of resources that are out there specifically about HOW to homeschool according to the Charlotte Mason philosophy. I know of no other singular homeschooling author that has so many books ABOUT her (and at the same time, I do highly recommend going to the source. She is great).
Lately, I feel like I am nagging my kids to death and not enjoying being with them, as great as they are. I can't seem to get them to do anything, so I decided to just skip to the chapter called "Habit is Ten Natures." Miss Mason puts forth an interesting thesis here. Not only does she say that habits are important, that Education IS the formation of habits.
"This horse-in-a-mill round of geography and French, history and sums was no more than playing at education;" she writes, and I can agree with that, and more than ever this year, I feel trapped in this and don't know how to get out.
She continues, "for who remembers the scraps of knowledge he laboured over as a child? and would not the application of a few hours in later life effect more than a year's drudgery at any one subject in childhood?" Here she won my heart. I have not only agree, but I have seen it in my life and my kids'.
Then she drove this point home "If education is to secure the step-by-step progress of the individual and the race, it must mean something over and above the daily plodding at small tasks which goes by the name." She'd secured my intellect, so now I had to push forward.
She goes on to state that children are incapable of steady effort because they had no strength of will, and this was the parent and teacher's job to be able to make the child do that which he cannot will himself to do, and to train him to take over that job himself.
What really hit me was this statement: "That the effort of decision is the most exhausting effort of life...and if that remain true about ourselves, even when the decision is about trifling matters of going or coming, buying or not buying, it surely is not just to leave the children all the labour of an effort of will whenever they have to choose between the right and the wrong."
It was the first part of that which hit me hard. All of a sudden I saw my life from a completely different perspective. Having to decide when to rise and when to sleep, when to eat and what to eat at that time, whether to do the dishes after dinner or before bed, whether to do lessons today in the morning or see if we can squeeze them in after lunch, whether to eat in or eat out and where we shall eat EVERY SINGLE day is diminishing me of the energy I have to actually do those tasks. Not only that -- but the stress of whether we have the money to do so when I bought groceries that can go bad, -- weighed against whether I have the energy to cook when we had actually become hungry (the guilt of not feeling like I want to, because I am cranky and hungry), the fact that where we eat then becomes a family decision that we never can agree on, and that will push bedtime (relatively speaking) back to whenever we get home, etc. -- also depletes our peace and leaves open so many avenues for bickering and feeling deprived/neglected/frustrated.
I've tried over and over again to do Flylady and other things, but while I vaguely understood the why, I've never really believed that the routines she stated were important or weren't taking away something from me. I've never had it slap me so hard in the face that I have been touting as my strength what really is a bigger weakness than I ever could've imagined.
Apparently, others argued what I have always told myself, that being a creature of habit takes away real control of our actions. Miss Mason responded that no matter what we do, 99/100ths of our actions are dictated by habit anyway.
"We are all creatures of habit. We think our accustomed thoughts, make our usual small talk, go through the trivial round, the common task, without any self-determining effort of will at all. If it were not so-- if we had to think, to deliberate, about each operation of the bath and the table -- life would not be worth having; the perpetually repeated effort of decision would wear us out. And the little emergencies, which compel an act of will, will fall in the children's lives just about as frequently as our own. These we cannot save them from, nor is it desirable that we should. What we can do for them is to secure that they have habits which shall lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue, instead of leaving their wheel of life to make ugly ruts in miry places."
She goes on to describe many issues around how to form habits and why, but this was really what I have been contemplating since I have started this chapter. In fact, it led me to think about some of my clients when I was a social worker, and the boys who had been put in a group home, and how a couple of my clients were saved from going down a long and scary road simply by being pulled out of their homes temporarily and being put into an environment where there was a routine that ruled them rather than the other way around.
I'd better go to bed now. I am going to be waking up before the kids tomorrow and getting our day off on the right start. That is Step One of Day One. And for a while, that is all I will undertake (as Flylady says, "baby steps" and that even this will bless my family).