413 | Fight the Messy Middle! (Sean Allen)
It's that time again—time for your homeschool to hit a figurative wall. You might feel like your school days are dragging on. You might notice more complaining than usual. And you might be looking at your calendars longing for spring. It's the messy middle and it tends to show up every year about this time. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to show it the door. In this episode we'll look at some practical ways you can fight the messy middle and ensure a strong push to the finish line.
Sean Allen is the founder of The Well Ordered Homeschool, husband to his beautiful bride Caroline and a proud father of eight. He has a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design and is passionate about creating materials to assist parents in the incredibly challenging, yet surpassingly beautiful, work of schooling and training their children at home.
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Sean Allen Hello. Welcome to the Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Sean Allen and I am one of the many hosts here on the podcast. Since you're listening to this, I'm guessing you already know that homeschooling is both incredibly challenging and incredibly beautiful. Every week we're here doing a little guidance, some helpful counsel, and a whole lot of encouragement your way as you navigate this busy, yet blessed journey of educating your children at home. Now, even though the show is called Homeschool Solutions, it should come as no surprise to you that we do not have the answer to every homeschool related question. But if you come away with nothing else, our hope is that today's episode will point you to Jesus Christ and that you will seek His counsel as you train your children in the way they should go.
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Hello, hello. Welcome to the podcast again. Thank you for joining me. I hope everything is going well with you. We are in the messy middle, folks. We're at the halfway point or thereabouts. It's getting rough, isn't it? It's getting real. I don't know how it is with you all and your home and your homeschool, but every time, about this time of the year, it starts to get a little difficult. Or very difficult. And, I'll tell you one thing that's not helping is the weather. The weather in our neck of the woods has been brutally cold. Don't laugh at me if you're in some northern states or you live north of us or you're in Alaska listening to this. I know that you've got it worse than what we do, but, I don't care where you live, the weather that we've had the last two weeks has been cold regardless. And, we've had- oh there for a while we had like negative five, negative ten, and the wind chills were -35. And I kid you not, we broke a record or a few records or something like that. And that went on for like a week, week and a half. And then the temperature broke and started to rise a bit, but then it just started to snow and then it was followed by rain, rain, rain. And we haven't seen the sun for I don't know how long now, it's been a while. And we just want to see the sun again. And so all that, you know, kind of adds to the messy middle, doesn't it? It makes it a little bit of a tough slog. So that's what I want to talk to you about today. I want you to fight through this. I want you to remain strong. I want you to stand up and face the music, because you're going to have days like that. You're gonna have weeks like this, maybe the whole month. My wife is fond of saying that she hates February. And, like, yeah, the entire month. So for whatever reason, that's traditionally her roughest time of the year. And we're right there, aren't we? So I'm just going to give you a few practical suggestions to help ease this burden up a little bit, because he gets heavy.
And in my last episode, I talked to you about the only voice that you need to listen to. And I hope that nobody out there misunderstood me, I wasn't suggesting that you shouldn't listen to anybody around you. There are voices that you should listen to, but you should only listen to them when they're guided and directed by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes that's hard to discern, isn't it? It's hard to discern if the Lord's trying to speak to you through someone. But if you're constantly- if someone's constantly grating on you, or you don't feel uplifted, or you don't feel as if your homeschool has benefited by the counsel that you're receiving from a book or a podcast or a personal interaction, then, yeah, maybe it's time to move on. Maybe it's time to look elsewhere. And so one of the things that I want to emphasize in this episode is that it's not good to be alone. And when you get into the winter months, it's easier to be alone because we tend to huddle up into our homes and it's harder to get out. Nobody likes getting out in nasty weather. And so homeschoolers are generally, you know, more alone than what their public school peers would be, with teachers and students both. But, that doesn't mean that it's good. And I know that there's always that old and tired criticism of homeschooling is that it's not conducive to socialization, but that's just ridiculous. I won't get into that today. That's another episode. We're going to talk about that at some point. But that's silly. But there is a part of the homeschooling experience that does tend to cut you off from a lot of the outside world at times, and that can start to weigh on a person. And so again, winter is a prime time for that phenomenon to take place. And so maybe part of the reason why you're feeling so down and you're just kind of dragging through your days is because you've been alone for too long. You need to get out and maybe talk to somebody. You know, sometimes when things are just going along day after day and you're just gradually- you don't feel like you're standing up straight anymore, your shoulders are slumping, your head is hanging, and you're getting closer and closer to, like, crawling on the ground—maybe it's time to just say, okay, we're going to stop for a day or two, we're going to pick ourselves up and we're going to have a change of scenery. Can be very, very helpful.
Now, I would not necessarily recommend that you just completely take a day off—maybe that's what you need. Maybe that's what you need is to just completely step away from homeschooling for a day or two, but I would recommend maybe that's the- you need a couple of days to focus on, like maybe a field trip, or maybe you will visit someone's home. Maybe you have a friend who is feeling the same way and you both could be benefited by getting your families together during the day and just having, you know, a day where you do some- maybe do a few things together and then have the rest of the day to just talk and to encourage one another and to lift each other up. That can be very helpful. Maybe you need some time to, you know—weekends aren't good for this, so you need to do it during the weekdays—maybe you need to send your children off to a family member who could help you, and watch them for a day or two, so that you can lesson plan, so that you can read, so that you can listen to podcasts, so that you can decompress. Something like that might be helpful for you to fight the messy middle. And it's okay.
Here's the thing. I'm a little bit of a runner. I wouldn't really consider myself an avid runner. I used to run a lot more than I do now, but I'm trying to be more consistent with it. It's hard. This is a very apt comparison, because it's hard to do that in the winter because you just don't want to get out. And so then you kind of lose your pace and you lose your fitness level, and then the next time that you do get out, it's even harder. So when I was younger, I used to—I don't know where this came from—but I used to have this aversion to stopping during my run. And it didn't matter how long I had set out to run, if I ever walked, I felt like I had failed. Looking back, I probably would have put in some better times if I would have taken a moment or two just to kind of walk or rest. But now that I'm older and I've gotten back into running a little bit more, I don't know, something's changed in me. It's like I'm okay with walking every now and then. I'll run, run, run, and I'll do the very best that I can but now it's—I'm going to take a little bit of a walk and catch my breath, and then off we go again. And so now, whereas I used to feel as if I ever walked that I wasn't succeeding. That was a sign of weakness. And, you know, compared to a young person, you know, it is. If I was, again, if I was trying to be elite or trying to be competitive in my running, you know, walking is probably not the best idea. But, you know, now the goal is to keep running. And that's the part of the year that we're in is if you need to just stop and take a breath, you haven't failed. And it's not, oh- the world's not going to end and your homeschool is not going to fall apart. You just need to stop and walk for a little bit. And you take a walk, you catch your breath, you get a drink, and then you start up again and you just keep running. And you can be thankful and happy and joyful that here we are, I just needed a little rest and now we're off to the races again. And that's wonderful. That's wonderful. That's okay. Now, if you needed to do that once a week, where are you taking two days off a week, well, maybe there's something else we need to talk about. But every now and then, it's okay. And if, you know, if you're "exercising properly", you know, or you're doing the things that you need to do to be a capable runner, then ideally you'll find that you'll need fewer and fewer breaks. But everybody needs a break at some point. And if they don't, they're fooling themselves. And this isn't- homeschooling is not competitive in that sense. So we're not trying to break any records here. We're trying to serve our families, and we're trying to do the best that we can by our children. And so if that means taking a little rest every now and then, it's okay. It's perfectly okay.
Again, if you could take those days off and still incorporate some homeschooling in there, like a field trip or, again, maybe just moving the location of your studies for that particular day—I don't know where you would go, but, you know, you can get creative with it—maybe that would be a nice change. Another recommendation that I would have for you—and again, I don't this does not go against what I told you in my last episode. Because, again, I was trying to recommend that you find reliable voices, and the most reliable voice is the Holy Spirit. But he can speak through multiple individuals and there are multiple avenues that are at his disposal. And so you just need to be listening and you can hear it, you know, in the council of one of your friends or perhaps on some of the podcasts that you listen to or the books that you read, you can hear that voice. When something rings true, you generally will be able to discern it.
And so another suggestion, something else that I would recommend is to find a mentor. And, you know, you might not- I've talked to a lot of people, and they've said, you know, I just don't know anybody, and we're out in a remote area, or we just moved into this new area, and so on and so forth. So it might not be possible for you to find someone that you can personally know and interact with, but in this day and age, you're going to be hard pressed not to find somebody that's speaking your language. Again, if, you know, you get a recommendation from a friend or you've stumbled upon a podcast and you find this person and they just are speaking to you, that can be very helpful. And you listen to them frequently, you know, hopefully if they have a podcast or something like that you can find their materials or shoot them an email or something like that and say, hey, I had this question. You know, depending upon who they are, they might be happy to help you out. Relying on something like this is also not wrong. You know we're not all self-sufficient, aren't we? Thankfully not. It is good to reach outside of ourselves and to find the sustenance and the strength that we need to keep doing what we need to do. And it's okay to receive that from each other. And most assuredly, as you are strengthened, as you are helped in your homeschool journey, you will be able to turn right around and return the favor to someone at some point in time, if you're not doing that already. And so find that mentor, find their material, or find two, find three. Maybe you've got three. Maybe you like a little something from this particular individual, and there's another individual that speaks to you in another area. You know, find those individuals that it's okay to listen to them or to read their material frequently. You know, you go to church every week, don't you? Or most every week.
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And as Christians, we need that consistent encouragement at least once a week. We generally will go twice a week, sometimes three times a week, we're involved in some kind of church activity. And, you know, I'm not ashamed to admit it. I need that. It's good for me. It's not good for me to be alone as a Christian. It is good for me to interact and to receive strength from and hopefully provide strength to other people in that setting. And, so, homeschooling really is no different. And it's okay to need to rely on those outside voices.
The third thing that I would like to recommend to you is to talk to someone. Please. Find someone and talk to them. If you are just feeling really down and you're at that point where I'm struggling or I see it on the horizon, I'm just going to- I feel like I'm going to give out. I'm going to break down. I can't go on anymore. And maybe it's, again, it's that time of year where you feel that same feeling creeping up on you, you know, that age old discouragement that badgers you from time to time. And you feel that creeping up, you need to talk to somebody. You know, just reach out to them. And preferably it'd be your spouse, if you could. And I know that, oftentimes husbands are not nearly as supportive as they should be, myself included, I fear, and being available and providing a listening ear to those of you who are in the trenches. But I would like to think that most of them, or many of them out there, many of your spouses, are supportive. Certainly in their heart of hearts they are. And if they're faced with the grim reality of you not being able to continue on for very much longer, I would, again, I would like to think that they're going to listen to you and hear you out. They might not understand everything that you're saying, but surely if you reach out to them—you know, and set aside a time. It's not always best to just, like, spring it on your spouse and just, you know, download on all of your woes and all of your struggles just in a moment. It might not be the best time, but if you could say, hey, could we go out to eat? Could we go on a drive? Could we, you know, this Thursday, could we spend some time together, get outside the home, sit down and talk? Caroline and I have done that a lot. And just, again, the change of scenery and it just being the two of us has really helped for us to be able to talk some things out. And, you know, she has felt really down prior to our talk, and then we both come away feeling uplifted. Like, previously this was insurmountable, but now it's like, okay, we can do this. It's all right. And you see some light on the horizon.
So say something to them. Again, I'm going to say this again, I say it multiple times in this episode, it's not good to be alone. It's not good for you to be alone. It's not good for you to harbor all these feelings and these doubts and these misgivings. And if you do feel alone, please find somebody. There's got to be somebody out there who will listen to you, who will sympathize with you, and who will hopefully encourage you in the selfsame way that you would desire to encourage them if you had the opportunity. And if not, I would pray about it and just voice your concerns to the Lord and say, I need somebody. Can I please talk to somebody? And he'll send somebody along. He'll take care of it. One nice thing about this season, I hope it's this way for you and where you live, but in our area, this is when a lot of the women's encouragement days fire up. That's a very male way of putting that, isn't it? "Firing up a women's encouragement day." Good heavens. But my wife always looks forward to this. Despite the fact that this season is gloomy and drags on very slowly, she knows that there's a women's encouragement day that she can go to, and she always marks that on her calendar. Her and her sister go. She has a lot of friends that go. She meets the ladies there on a Saturday. It's almost all day long. The one that we have in our area, they do an amazing job. They put on a beautiful meal in the morning, and I think they have something for lunch. They have amazing speakers. There's lots of like-minded people there that you can talk to and, you know, just gain insights from. It's just a wonderful thing. She always looks forward to it, and it does genuinely help her to pull through this season. So look for one in your area or nearby. Even if it's, you know, hours away, it would- I'm almost sure if it's anything like the one that we have in our area, it's going to be worth it for you and very helpful. Or maybe a co-op of some kind that you can meet with on a weekly basis.
Also, convention season is on its way. It's going to be here very soon. Sooner than I care to think about, because we've got so much to do to get ready for it. But, you know, GHC puts on amazing conventions every year. This year is going to be no different. They have a lot of amazing speakers lined up. I don't know that I would consider myself an amazing speaker, but I'm one of the speakers that is going to be there. And the first one's in South Carolina that is going to be here, I think, the second week of March. If you'd like to find any more information on that, just go to their website—greathomeschoolconventions.com—and you'll find all the information there. They've got five different locations. There's a very good chance that there's one nearby at least. And we meet all kinds of people who travel- they fly. They'll fly to these things because, again, it's one of those deals where they recognize I'm running and I'm getting tired and I feel like I'm going to quit so I'm going to stop and rest for a little bit. And that's what this is. Not only is it restful, but it's inspiring, it's empowering, and it spurs you on into the next chapter of your homeschooling journey. It really does it. It's really amazing. You know, we go and we're vendors and I speak, and I feel uplifted at the end of it talking to so many different individuals and hearing their story. So convention season is on its way. If you can't make it to a GHC convention, which I personally feel that those are the best, there's got to be some other convention in your state or in your area. So find one and, you know, just draw the strength and the sustenance that you need to to continue on.
And lastly, here's something that is very simple but very, very effective. And I'm just going to put it to you this way: go to bed. Go to bed. And that's just about all I have to say about that. No, no. Go to bed on time. And it—my goodness. So many of the struggles that I think that we've had in our homeschool have stemmed from the fact that we have not gone to bed on time. I hate admitting that. I really do. But for us- I'm not- I don't want this to be an excuse. It's the excuse that I'm using in my head, but I know that this has overcomeable. And I know that's not a word, but I'm going to use it anyway. This is overcomeble. But we get so overwhelmed, you know, we're remodeling our 1897 farmhouse, and we've got eight children, and we've got two businesses to run, and we have church responsibilities, and everything else, you know, all the detritus of life that comes along with it. And so, you know, I think we have a hard time shutting down because there's always something else to do. Always. And then we realize it's like 9:30, 10:00, 10:30, and here our children are, we've work, work, worked the live long day and we want to spend some time with our children, and then it's 11:00, 11:30 and we're like, well, we haven't spent any time together and it's late, right? And so we fall into bed, we're totally exhausted and it's just downhill from there. And then you get up late and you start the cycle over and over and over again. And it's very detrimental to the inner workings of the machinery of your homeschool. You're just going to find—I'm full of all kinds of male-induced references today, aren't I?—machinery, the machinery of your homeschool- I probably could find a better reference. I'm not going to do that right now, though. But you know what I'm saying. And starting off on the right foot is so important and so imperative.
I feel like I'm being a hypocrite here, but I know this is important, even though I have not been the most consistent with it. Sit down with your family and have a talk. And you don't have to be mean about it. You don't have to point fingers. You don't have to blame anybody. Again, this is you recognizing that you need a rest. This is you recognizing that you can't run forever and not stop. I think even the most seasoned marathon runners grab those little cups of water that are along the way. You know, they're running the Boston Marathon or whatever. They need something to keep them going, okay. And they also need proper rest. By heaven! They need rest. And they prioritize that because they're not at their best if they did not properly rest. See what I did there? But anyway, go to bed, get up and pray. This is going to be the very best defense against burnout that I can recommend to you today. Go to bed, get up and pray. And that is your personal visit with the God of Heaven, petitioning his throne to give you the strength that you need to get through this day, not tomorrow and not the day after that, but this day. Give me what I need to be the mother, to be the teacher, to be the friend, to be the confidant, the counselor, and probably 15 other things that you need to be on that particular day. That's going to help you more than anything else. And Lord, if you want to speak to me through another individual, if you want to counsel me through one of my friends or my family members, or perhaps even through one of my little children, I pray that you'd give me ears to hear what you have to say to me today. That is going to help you so much more than anything else. And you will find that before you know it, it's spring again. And won't that be wonderful?
So those are just a few of the recommendations that I have. I'm sure that there are lots of others that could be shared, but these are the simple ones. There's one last thing that I want to say, and that is in reference to our business. We have put the Well Ordered Homeschool Planner, the newest edition of the Well Ordered Homeschool Planner, up for pre-sale on our website. So at thewellorderedhomeschool.com, also at chalkfullofdesign.com, we have the newest edition of the planner up for pre-sale. It is the best time to buy your planner. They are currently in production and we're working hard on getting them completed as quickly as we possibly can, but there's a lot that goes into that. And we order more and more of them every year, and that's why the pre-sale is so- we appreciate it so much on our end, because it gets expensive to order the quantities of planners that we need. But nevertheless, it's the best time of the year to order the planner because you will be first in line to receive your planner in April, first of all. Second of all, through February 12th, I believe it is, you'll save $2 on the price of the planner. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, or however you care to put that, we have a preorder special. The first 250 orders of the planner will receive a new digital download that we created just for this year. It's a collection of supplement pages to go along with the planner, and what it is, really, it's a lot of the pages that are already in the planner, but we've heard from a number of you and said that, you know, you might have written out or filled out a loop scheduling page or a yearly overview page or something like that and maybe you made a mistake. And, you know, there are only five of each page in the planner because it's good for up to five children. But maybe you squandered one and you'd like to have an additional copy, well, you're not going to buy a whole new planner just for one page, and so we created the supplement page bundle so that you could print off a page whenever you needed it. And we've also included a few extra pages that are not to be found anywhere in the planner, like a meal plan page and a daily routine page, which is really nice. So it's a 12 page printable. It's normally $9. We send it to you for free for the first 250 orders. So now is the best time to order the planner. It's got a really beautiful design this year. I can go on and on about it, but I'm not going to. So again, the wellorderedhomeschool.com or chalkfullofdesign.com. You'll find it on both of those places. It's going to eventually be up on Etsy at some point. But anyway, we're really excited about it. That's my plug for the planner.
I hope that this episode has been helpful to you in some way. I look forward to just in the not too distant future to hopefully seeing you all at a convention during convention season. I hope you'll come and visit us at our booth. But keep doing what you're doing. God bless each and every one of you, and I will look forward to talking to you again soon. Bye for now.
Thank you for joining us this week on the Homeschool Solutions Show. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at Homeschooling.mom. Don't forget to check out my friends at Medi-Share because you deserve health care you can trust. To learn more about Medi-Share and why over 400,000 Christians have made the switch, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/Medi-Share. That's GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/Medi-Share. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast. And while you're there, leave us a review. Tell us what you love about the show. This will help other homeschooling parents like you get connected to our community. And finally, tag us on Instagram @homeschooling.mom to let us know what you thought of today's episode. Have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the Homeschooling events of the year offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops covering today's top parenting and homeschooling topic, and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit halls in the US. Find out more at GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. I'll be there. I hope to see you there too.