Overcommitment and the Home-Schooler

I am taking a break this week from my series on “How To” teach specific subjects in order to publish a guest post by my lovely, intelligent and talented daughter Colette (and just because I am biased doesn’t mean all those things aren’t true).  Colette was home-schooled from first grade through twelfth grade and has a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and a Master’s degree in Forensic Drug Chemistry.  She is a fantabulous daughter and my best friend.  Today she is sharing her wisdom on how home-schoolers can guard against a common problem: overcommitment.

Over-Commitment. 

It’s a deep rut that many of us find ourselves entrenched in.

I personally have a habit of over-committing.  Sometimes it’s because I thought I could handle the additional commitment, even if it seemed daunting.  Other times it’s been because I took on a certain amount of responsibilities in order to reach a goal.  It’s a variety of circumstances, but the end result is always the same:  I end up over-extending myself.

Here’s an example of my tendency towards saying “yes” to everything: Last fall I thought surely I’d be fine working 40 hours a week at my regular job and then commuting an hour away to teach a chemistry lab in the evenings twice a week.  No big deal, right?  Sure, it would be a lot of hours, but I could handle it, right?  Right.

Then on top of that, I figured I would do something fun like “help” with the costuming of a local production of “Miracle on 34th Street.”  Only I ended up costuming nearly the entire cast of around 30 people.  No big deal, right? Right.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this (really, by the end of October) I realized I was probably (okay, definitely!) over-committed.  My desire to simply make it through the semester alive and with my personal & professional relationships intact became my goal.

Well, by God’s grace, I did make it.  My students’ lab reports were graded.  Final grades were submitted.  The cast of the play had circa 1947 clothing to wear for their performances.  All of my responsibilities at my day job were taken care of on time.  My family and friends still seem to like me and I’m thankful I’ve been able to spend extra time with them the last few weeks.

I think for years I’ve been pushing myself to the limit.  Whether in college or in job situations, I’ve always tried to make sure I was challenging myself as much as possible.  Looking back, I think this was often a great thing!  But I’m realizing that I need to sit back and evaluate where I am in life, and what is truly worth sacrificing.  If I am pushing myself so hard that I become a robot –accomplishing all my tasks but never really taking the time to think, reflect, feel, learn, and personally grow– I don’t think I’m truly being at my best.  And there are things I’ll potentially miss out on in life if I continue in this pattern.

It’s tempting to think that if everything in my life is not getting 110% of my energy and attention, I’m not doing my best.  I’m failing in some way.  But things have to be prioritized.  Some things are absolutely worth giving 110% to.  And some are not.  Oftentimes when we over-commit our time and energy, we end up doing nothing well.  We’re less effective.

Because of this realization, I’ve changed my schedule significantly this year.  Spring semester finds me working my 40 hour a week job and teaching 2 classes, but they will be locally.  No more commuting!  I haven’t committed to costuming another play.  I may do it, but I have plenty of time between now and rehearsals to decide whether or not I want to volunteer for that adventure again.

People have jokingly asked (at least, I hope they are joking!) what I’m going to do with all my free time now.  I have quite a list!  Top of the list is keeping relationships with my family and friends strong.  Other things are: to finish unpacking the boxes at my house that I moved into last September, cooking out of the awesome cookbooks my mom got me as a housewarming present, getting into a regular exercise regimen, and taking time for regular Bible study/devotions.

That’s me though.  Everyone has different reasons for becoming over-committed and it looks different depending on your situation.  Sometimes in life, we are stretched and over-committed through no real fault of our own.  Some of you may care for an ill relative or have little kids to take care of and you don’t have a whole lot of options in terms of “cutting back” on time commitments in your life.  Or you may be at a place in your life where, because of school and work demands, you simply must be in “survival mode” for a while.  For those of you who don’t have a whole lot of flexibility, I’d simply encourage you to keep hanging in there, and do your best.  Life goes through phases and no doubt there will come a day when you’ll be able to have more control over and be more intentional about your time and commitments.

If I can generalize for a moment:  Most people do have the option to cut out an activity or two from their lives.  If you are homeschooling your kids, it can be tricky to find a balance of commitments so that everyone is at their best (that includes parents and kids).  I think this is especially true at certain points in the homeschooling process.  Two that immediately spring to mind are when you are first starting to homeschool and when your children are entering high school.  Parents tend to be most “freaked out” about things at these times and when you’re worried about whether or not you are meeting the right standard, it’s easy to start packing the schedule with school and extra-curricular activities just to make sure you’re “covering” everything.

I’d encourage you when you are first starting to homeschool to relax.  If you are pulling your child out of public or private school to homeschool them and need to focus on a particular issue then, by all means, begin addressing that with a lot of energy.  But don’t assume your child has to be doing hours of school a day, and going to piano lessons, and playing soccer, and going to Park Day every other week.  I would suggest deciding at the beginning of each school year which activities are going to stay and which are going to go.  Don’t feel bad about saying “no” to things!  The park group or theater troupe is not going to dissolve because you aren’t involved.  (And on the off chance it does, you were likely investing more energy in it than you should have.)

As I mentioned, entering the world of “homeschooling through high school” is a pretty daunting idea for a lot of parents.  It is when some of your insecurities may emerge.  Pick your commitments wisely at this point.  In my geographical area, there are a number of enrichment classes for homeschoolers.  Generally these are courses that are offered by a homeschool mom who has knowledge in a specific area, and they put a class together for middle- and senior-high school homeschooled students.  And these can be a fantastic resource.  In deciding what to participate in or what not to, I’d say this: look at what your strengths and weaknesses are and if you feel intimidated by a certain subject, say high school science or math, then enroll them in an enrichment class (or consider getting them a tutor).  This can take a certain amount of stress off of you.  What I’m getting at is just because people are excited about enrichment class opportunities, don’t feel like you have to enroll your teen in math, science, English, history, government…you get the idea.  Be reasonable about how much time you want to spend driving your kids around to various activities.  What may seem like a fun outlet (or, you believe, a necessity) can become very old sometime around November when you start adding to it holiday activities or family commitments.

I do encourage you to network with other families and have your kids in various activities.  But simply be wise about what you choose.  It’s important to be able to take time to enjoy your family on a day-to-day basis.  Kids need to have time to just play with one another and BE kids.  It’s important for them to have structure and it is important for them to have freedom within that to learn, grow, and enjoy.  And we adults need to have structure and responsibilities, but we also need to give ourselves some margins in life to recharge, reevaluate, and grow.

It’s something I’m working on in my life.  How about you?

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  • Ann

    I agree with your article, but especially like the end where you say, “Kids need to have time to just play with one another and BE kids.” If we over commit, are we teaching them that family time is valuable? Where does their creativity have a chance to come into being? Great subject!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Ann! Colette did a great job didn’t she?! 🙂

      I remember when Billy was “little” (like around eight years old) our neighbor was so surprised – and thought it was so great – that he actually knew how to play! Imagine that!

  • Well said.

    There’s a great book – The 4-Hour Workweek – that talks all about *priorities* and what not.

    When you’re done with it…..lend it to you mother!

    • Anonymous

      Very funny. She already knows what I think of Tim Ferriss.

  • Great post! Thanks for sharing your insight!

    • Anonymous

      Jessica:

      Appreciate you stopping by and commenting! And I’m glad you liked the post!

  • Thhinking4ward

    Really nice Colette !! My wonderful daughter. Hmm wonder how you learned to write so well ? Oh Riiiiight you were homeschooled. : )