3 ways to overcome back-to-school overwhelm

Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins

This will be our family’s sixteenth year homeschooling.

That is a sentence I can’t quite believe, but math and history tell me it is true.

This year we’ll have two elementary schoolers, two high schoolers, one middle schooler, and one junior in college whose classes have gone virtual (temporary college at home!).

One thing I have learned in the last sixteen years is that back to school season can feel overwhelming, even under the best of circumstances.

Feeling overwhelmed?

Overwhelmed is what happens when we have too much of some things and not enough of others.

Start with too much—as in, too much to do. Too many responsibilities. Too many decisions. Too many directions to be pulled in at one time. Too many needs to meet at once. Too many places to put your attention. Too many feelings to process at one time.

Now pair that with not enough: Not enough time. Not enough energy. Not enough resources. Not enough help. Not enough support. Not enough rest. Not enough breaks. Not enough stability. Not enough predictability.

Pick anything off the first list, pair it with anything off the second, and there you go: overwhelm.

And honestly, that’s what things look like for many of us right now. A combination of too much of some things and not enough of others.

It’s not surprising.

It’s not surprising that we might feel overwhelmed. But when we get STUCK in that feeling, we aren’t able to really be present for ourselves or our people. When we’re drowning in overwhelm, we aren’t able to look around and see what we can do about the too much or the not enough.

When we’re stuck in that place, change (even good change!) feels like one more thing added on to our “too much” pile.

I want to feel my feelings, even when I feel overwhelmed. That feeling is giving me information. It’s telling me I need to change something. I want to pay attention, I just don’t want to get stuck there.

That’s what I’m thinking about for the fall—how do we keep from getting stuck in the overwhelm, given the realities of what we have and don’t have? Here’s what I’ll be trying:

1. Focus on the big truth instead of judging yourself on the small tasks.

What do you want your kids to know at the end of this season? What do you want them to know about themselves? What do you want them to know about your family, and how you face the unexpected? What do you want them to know about the world, and their place in it?

When you’re focused on those big truths, the daily tasks feel less overwhelming, even when they don’t go according to plan.

At my house, I can promise you that there will be entire days that go off the rails.

There will be days when everyone forgets to do their chores, and no one can find their math supplies, and someone’s book falls in the sink and drowns, and we’ll run out of sandwich bread for lunch.

But that’s okay. If I’m focused on what I want my kids to know—not just what tasks I want them to accomplish—the tasks that get missed on any one day are not a big deal, because we’re still headed in the right direction, and that’s enough.

When you’re focused on those bigger truths, the unchecked boxes lose their power to overwhelm you. (At least a little bit.)

2. Change one thing.

If everything is too much and nothing is working, ask yourself: what ONE THING could I change that would make the biggest difference right now?

Would it be starting your day at a different time? Would it be to make simpler meals? Would it be dropping everything else to work on just one skill? Would it be clearing off the kitchen counters? Would it be setting up your space differently? Would it be creating an afternoon quiet time for everyone (including you)? Would it be earlier bedtimes? Would it be asking for help?

Don’t try to change everything at once! That will just be MORE overwhelming. But I bet there’s one thing you can change that will free up some time, energy, or mental space so you can breathe a little easier.

3. Decide not to stay overwhelmed.

Being overwhelmed doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t doing enough. It just means you have too much of something and not enough of something else, and the good news?

It means you’re paying attention.

That feeling is your call to see what needs to be changed, in your life or in your heart or in the world.

But I tend to realize SOMETHING needs to change before I know exactly WHAT that something is.

When I’m ready to figure THAT out, I follow the same process every time. It’s a combination of paying attention to the right things and asking the right questions.

That process is longer than a blog post, so I put the whole thing together for you in The Get Out of Overwhelm Survival Kit. You can get yours free here.

You’re not stuck.

Things might feel overwhelming, but you don’t have to stay stuck in that feeling forever.

Soon you’ll be on the other side, discovering your family’s homeschool rhythm for this year one day at a time.

I’d love to hear: what feels overwhelming about the fall right now? What do you do when you start to feel overwhelmed?

What’s Your Homeschool Mom Personality? Take Jamie’s quiz now and receive a free personality report to help you organize your homeschool based on what your personality type needs most!

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