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In Which I Propose A Gentler Approach During a Season of Goal Setting And Resolutions

By Chelsea Whitby, HHU Contributor

Guest writers are invited for their insights into different aspects of the Homeschool Hub Utah's four pillars, which are to connect, empower, educate, and serve homeschooling families in Utah. While we feel each guest blogger's message will be helpful to homeschooling families, not all ideas presented by every guest blogger are officially endorsed by Homeschool Hub Utah.

Ever since I began homeschooling over a decade ago, I’ve had to brace myself each December. The holidays are a special kind of hard for me personally and have been historically difficult for my household of neurodiverse and sensitive humans. But it’s not fully December’s fault. Honestly, I would place most of the blame on December’s ugly stepsibling, January. I’ve worked with many new homeschoolers over the years, and every year I find myself having the same conversation about January. “If you are going to hit a point where you want to give up -- a point where throwing in the towel looks like the best option -- it’s going to be in January.”

January is the time of year when you have given all your best-laid plans a solid go and have found all the pain points. Everything that you’ve been eeking along, trying to do with optimism and joy, putters out, and your last bit of energy is zapped. (For us it was always spelling. At the first of the year, it was just the kids crying when we pulled out the workbooks. By January I was sobbing in the corner as well.) January comes and I feel suffocating pressure to make resolutions and goals and a fresh start. But "fresh" is not a word I would use to describe myself in January. January is the month when the sun is still hiding on the other side of the world. Solstice has come with its promise of warmer weather and longer days but we’ve yet to see any changes. January is the month when all of our best habits (sleep, healthy eating, balanced screen time…) have just been obliterated by crazy holiday schedules, more parties than any human really needs to attend, and an overabundance of chocolate. (I can neither confirm nor deny whether my youngest son has eaten anything other than carbs and sugar for the past 30 days.)

For years and years, my typical approach would be to feel the overwhelm and anxiety creeping in all through the end of the year, and once the chaos of December was put away I’d start January off like a novice marathon runner -- pushing myself to my limits and running as fast as I could right off the starting line. I was a madwoman, trying to fix all the problems I’d collected in my head since we’d started school in September. This would sometimes result in creative problem solving, but more often than not it just resulted in a very burnt-out mom who hated everything and desperately needed a vacation. Often we need a reset in January, and I’m not advocating otherwise, but might I suggest a softer approach to this time of goal setting and resolutions?

Recently I’ve been reading a memoir called Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Some may remember it from the Julia Roberts movie adaptation back in 2010.) At one point in the book, Gilbert is weighed down by grief and depression. She’s feeling a desperate need for change in her life -- unsure how big the problems really are or if she’s even going to see the other side of them. So she pulls out her journal and starts to write… to herself. She’s doubtful at first if there is an inner wisdom in her that can come to her aid. She explains it like this: “In response, somewhere from within me, rises a now familiar presence, offering me all the certainties I have always wished another person would say to me when I was troubled.”

This scene struck me, because I too have been weighed down by crushing expectations and brutal mental battles with myself. For me, the idea of tapping into what an older and wiser you might say in comfort during moments of need is so therapeutic. This approach is used in other settings as well. Metta is the Sanskrit word for "loving-kindness." In many meditation practices (like this one), students are encouraged to imagine themselves in the future coming to remind their younger selves of the things they need to hear. In many 12-step programs, participants are encouraged to do non-dominant handwriting exercises for working on re-parenting their inner child. Research shows that this gives one better access to the right hemisphere’s brain functioning including gut instinct, intuition, and inner wisdom (to name a few). Participants ask their inner child a question by writing it down in their journal with their dominant hand and then responding with the opposite one. (Seriously try it -- it feels like magic!)

These practices have helped to shift my expectations and allowed me to see myself through kinder eyes. They remind me of where I really am right now, the efforts I’m putting forth, and my true reality -- which is that I am enough at this moment and this moment will not last forever. I racked up so many years of doing the hardest things for the education and well-being of my family. I pushed past my limits, because the needs seemed so great, and I felt like I was the only one who could meet them. There is certainly a time to push and do hard things, but I’m not convinced that’s always what’s needed most. Perhaps this year we could try sitting still for a little longer than is comfortable, and in that silent sitting space, ask ourselves what is really necessary.

Perhaps this year we could try sitting still for a little longer than is comfortable and in that silent sitting space, ask ourselves what is really necessary.

If I could go back to my younger homeschool self, I would wrap that girl up in the fuzziest blanket she owned, make her a warm cup of hot cocoa and tell her to cry out all the rivers of frustration and disappointment that were flowing inside her. I would sit and listen to the pressures she was under, and then when her sobs turned to mostly silent heaves I would say,

“Listen sweet one, you think there is no strength left but I know better. You won’t feel this overwhelmed forever, but it’s OK that right now you do. There are universes of good you are still going to travel through. Your family will still be so many of the things you want them to be and some you can’t even imagine yet. Right now those amazing humans you are wanting to create are simmering on the back burner, slowly mixing and marinating. You all can sit as long as you need to. You’ll know when it’s time to get up and get moving. Trust yourself.

You’ll know when it’s time to get up and get moving. Trust yourself.

You’ve always been more than you thought you were. And when it’s time to put this moment aside and move forward, you will be ready because you rested and let yourself recover. Only strong, wise people allow that to happen. I’ll sit here with you for as long as you need me to and even after your need is over. Believe me, we are going to be just fine.”

Maybe what you need this coming year is to get up and get going, or maybe you need to lean into yourself and breathe through the recovery time. Only you know what is best for you and your family. Please, just do what feels right, not what feels expected. There is a time for big changes and sweeping reboots, but sometimes those are just our fears and anxieties trying to convince us that we are less capable than we really are. Before you start running that marathon this January, maybe ask what your future self would say to you during this season. Are you willing to listen?

Chelsea Whitby and family

Chelsea Whitby has been working in education in one way or another for the past 20+ years. She has her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Language Literacy. When she decided to homeschool her kids almost a decade ago she discovered her love for alternative education and hasn’t looked back. Chelsea is a founder and executive director of ConnectED a homeschool co-op in Layton, Utah. She lives with her two teenage boys, her fantastically patient husband, an eternal puppy aussiedoodle, and an angry senior cat. She loves to read everything, practice meditation and yoga, imagine she’s a professional author and artist, and have deep existential conversations with anyone who will listen.

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