The Danger of Maternal Overload and Maternal Distress

Home education is not an easy option. It differs from classroom education and produces different results in the child, parents and in the family as a whole. Choosing to educate your child at home is making a long-term life-style decision that will affect every aspect of your family’s life. It is not a choice to be made lightly because it requires a great deal of commitment, time and diligence. It would be unwise to embark upon home education unless both parents agreed upon the decision.

Some circumstances appear to increase the difficulty of home education e.g. single parenthood, isolation, children with specific needs, financial constraints or poor health. People with these problems have successfully home educated their children but it makes a difficult task considerably more difficult. I should know. I was a casualty of the “Mother Burn-Out” syndrome that is seldom talked about. Husbands may enthusiastically support the idea of home education but it is generally mothers who bear the brunt of the daily toil and so it was in my case. Here is my story. I hope it will be useful to illustrate the difficulties but also the joys of educating your children at home.

Our 5 dyslexic daughters were home educated until they entered school to complete VCE in years 11 and 12. They have all achieved wonderfully despite their disabilities. It seems unlikely that they would have managed so well in the school system because they didn’t learn to read until their teens. Home education gave them the time they needed to develop at their own pace without pressure.

It was 1984 when we kept our 4 year old daughter home instead of taking her to kindergarten. We didn’t even know the term home education. We knew nothing about it except that it seemed the natural thing to do- a natural extension of motherhood. We were ignorant of what home education is and how it works.

We knew that we didn’t want our daughter to undergo the tedium of almost 3 hours daily by school bus but we didn’t realize that by opting out of the Education System we alienated ourselves from the local community and also from our relatives who disapproved of our radical ideas. We had unintentionally isolated ourselves from the very people whose support we would need. Looking back, we realize how important a good support network is and how much we needed their help.

Of course there were good times that kept us all enjoying the way of life that had evolved but external circumstances kept battering at our fragile ability to cope. Drought years and low commodity prices meant that financial demands were heavy and the children’s inability to read meant they needed extra time to help them break the code between print and sound.

As a fully trained primary school teacher my mental concept of learning was linked to the school system and my classroom expectations continually reminded me that these children were not “keeping up” to the standard. What was I doing wrong? Why weren’t these children learning? I experienced guilt and self-recrimination, common emotions among the mothers of children with learning difficulties but such emotions do not help. No one helped because no one realized how desperately I wasn’t coping.

As my husband worked longer hours to meet the mortgage payments, the children and I were left with many of the farm chores. A faithful camaraderie developed between us as the children realized the importance of their roles in keeping the family system working but it all came at a price and very soon my health began to suffer. Severe migraines plagued me and lasted for days leaving me weak and tired and even further behind than before. I seldom went out because I just didn’t have the energy for anything more than the basic necessities and I was too ashamed of my dirty house to have visitors. I was on a dangerous downward spiral to a complete physical and nervous breakdown.

By the Grace of God, it didn’t happen and slowly with extra help I regained health and vitality but I was close enough to the ‘edge’ to know that Mother Burn-out is real and can happen to anyone, even Christians who are “walking every day by the Spirit of God”. No one is exempt despite what has been said by leaders of the home education movement, mostly men who have little idea of the reality of home education and the daily tasks of teaching, disciplining, feeding and cleaning!

It is vitally important at this point in home education’s development that the process of learning at home be examined, to understand it as a unique educational practice and to consider the roles of both parents and children in the process. Is it really feasible for one parent to shoulder the entire teaching load? Or how can it be shared? How will prospective home educators cope with the compounding difficulties of isolation, children’s special needs, financial constraints or poor health? Who will admit their need for help?

Factors Contributing to Maternal Distress

What are the factors that contributed to my experience of maternal overload and then to maternal distress? In my opinion, ignorance was the major cause of my difficulties as we embarked on home education. It was 1984 and little was known about the theory of home learning. I hope that today’s parents will be much better informed! Unfortunately we were very ignorant;

Ignorant of the nature of home education. Being a teacher, I transferred classroom expectations and methods into my home but you can’t run a “school” and a home simultaneously. Home education is a unique form of learning that is not bound by school hours or classroom walls. It is a Learning Life-style. Find out about it!

Ignorant that home education parents are Learners in their own right. As Learners, parents experience a steep learning curve that challenges previous mind-sets and causes tension.

Ignorant of the application of the father’s role. With 5 daughters, my husband may have felt distanced from the need to become actively involved in his daughters’ education but the demands were too great for me on my own and I paid the price.
Other important factors that in combination may compound a difficult situation are;

Children with special needs; stress and the demand on the mother’s time and energy reserves become greater but the benefits of home educating “special” children who often suffer greatly in school, are also greater.
Financial constraints; home education families usually manage on a single income.
Isolation; a rural setting means that facilities are not easily accessible.
Lack of a support network; relatives and friends are often unavailable to help.
Husbands and fathers, it is up to you to understand the dangerous connection between home education and maternal overload that may end up as maternal distress. Do not take it lightly. You have been called to “give yourselves, even as Christ gave Himself for the Church”.

May you taste the joys of home education, and enjoy its fruit in the lives of your children.

Rosanne Trevaskis
MA (English Literature and Language)
PGCE (Education)
PGCE (Research in Education)
M Ed (Research in home education and learning difficulties) (03) 51 557 242

[posted September 2nd, 2015]

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