A Post synthesizing Homeschool Burnout, the Sunday Lectionary, and how a retreat taught me to CM my Marriage

“We are not built for pain,” the bishop said yesterday, “but we are built for suffering.”

Why talk about suffering? It’s not even Lent, yet. This is how those of us who are Catholic know we are Catholic: if we aren’t suffering, we are doing something wrong.

Okay, seriously, let’s talk about suffering – a certain specific type of suffering that has nothing to do with pain. The bishop’s comment referenced the readings for the fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The first was an excerpt of Job: “Has not man a hard service upon earth, and are not his days like the days of a hireling? Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like a hireling who looks for his wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness and nights of misery are apportioned to me.” (Job 7:1-3)  And then the second reading, in the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “Brothers and sisters: If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.” (1 Cor. 9:16,17)

I hereby dub this “Burnout Week.” So apropos that these reading show up in February! Have you seen Brandy Vencel’s series on Homeschool Burnout yet? She offers some great ideas to help you cope with it, but here’s what burnout is: the crash you feel when the good that you do, whether homeschooling or anything else, feels unrewarding, draining, or just plain boring in the moment you are doing it. The light inside feels as if it is extinguished, hence the sense that you must just suffer through, because the stewardship with which we have been entrusted, our children, is our primary duty. What is suffering but the willingness to get through the drudgery of doing – not planning and dreaming, but doing – day after day, week after week – for no immediate recompense. And why?

“So that you might have joy,” said the bishop. “Not happiness, but joy.”

We’ll forgive him, English is the bishop’s second language. I think he meant, as Fr. Pinckaers points out in his reflection on Catholic morality, that joy is a very different experience than pleasure, even though the two may both bring about happiness. The happiness derived from pleasure is external to us and short lived, but joy is about the deep satisfaction derived from, among other things, the “savor of a long task finally accomplished…truth understood and goodness loved.” (p. 78) When we are burned out, it is easy to turn to pleasures by “temporarily” suspending our duties in order to relight the fire. What we are looking for, in truth, is joy.

“Energy follows attention. The more you focus on the good, the more good there will be to focus on.” This quote hung on the wall at our marriage retreat on Saturday. Given the importance of attention as a habit we develop, it does follow that we use much of our energy in the process.

What does it mean to “CM” my marriage? Relationships experience burnout, too. The retreat, far from being an escape from the marriage, gave us a chance to ensure we were still working together. So the most important part of a marriage is dialog, where one partner shares either experiences, feelings or thoughts and the other responds. In Marriage Encounter, “dialog” is all about feelings, which did my husband and I very little good. We are both thinkers, not so much feelers, and our thinky hearts were warmed to know that we didn’t have to talk about feelings all the time.

Anyway, back to CM – how to use a Charlotte Mason principle in another area of my life. Think of dialog as narration. The dialog partner responds to the sharing partner with mirroring (“you said…” “is there more?”), validation (“I can understand this…”) and empathy (“I imagine you might feel…”). The partner does NOT respond with questioning, because, and this is important, the person asking the questions controls the conversation. When our kids narrate what they have read to us, they find it very frustrating when we interrupt them with questions, when we redirect the narration away from the direction they want to take it. It is natural to want to be heard. When we allow a narration, or a self-disclosure, to flow, we allow the speaker to show us who they are and how they think. “This is as good as it gets,” said our retreat leader, “to be seen as we really are.”

Our recompense, perhaps, is discovery. And that is a sure-fire way to prevent burnout.

When Fairness isn’t Fair: Disability and Equal Treatment

Miss T. is taking a Humanities 105 class, called “Intercultural Communication.” Interestingly, instead of being solely about communicating between people of different ethnic cultures, the course explores the different cultural divides within our own community, with a heavy emphasis on how cultures other than the dominant culture experience discrimination that affects their ability to take “their place at the table.” These last two weeks she has been learning about disability and was asked to write a paper on her personal experiences or observations of discrimination based on disability. What she wrote is such a window on how she thinks, what she is learning, and how one views equal treatment from the standpoint of disability, that I asked and obtained her permission to post it here, in all its raw glory:

“I cannot really say that I have experienced discrimination based on disability. I am also not competent to speak about disability. I do not remember ever seeing anyone being discriminated on basis of disability, except in the cases pointed out in this very class, such as how it takes going up stairs to get to the cafeteria, making it inaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair.

When it comes to disability causing problems with me interacting with society, the issues are all on my end.

I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a mental condition on the Autism Spectrum, which makes it hard for me to read social cues. I just don’t get when people are treated differently based on social class, and that includes when it happens to me. The difference in treatment has to be very, very obvious, or else I just don’t get it. I’m often out in my own world, and I don’t tend to remember what discrimination I do notice.

The problem with me and society is not that society treats me differently because of it. My condition is impossible to notice at first glance and easily mistaken for simple personality flaws, and without it, I am just your average white female, and people treat me as such. The problem is, I am not your average white female. I’m autistic, which means that I just don’t work in the same ways. My problem is that society does not treat me any differently than it does people without my condition, and that just doesn’t work.

I have problems remembering things not written down, issues with attention span, and have problems working with a team. This is a big issue when dealing with people who expect me to be able to act like neurotypical humans, an uphill battle for me.

I don’t work well with spoken words, and often need things to be written down, but spoken words are the most common way of communicating in society. This leaves me behind and struggling to catch up in a lot of things. For example, I find it hard to remember details of assignments without hand-outs.

Most of the essays assigned so far in this class also give me trouble, because they rely on the personal experience that I just haven’t had, because I’m too oblivious to notice the differences in social interaction between people of different classes. Only once have I really noticed the difference in interaction between races, and that was when I was the only one of my race in a group, and we were talking about differences in interaction between races.

Apparently, this is different in the adult world, and I have heard stories of autistics being discriminated against as unintelligent. Temple Grandin, autistic and prominent animal scientist, has said that she needs to show prospective employers her portfolios, because otherwise they wouldn’t accept that she was actually competent at what she did. Grandin attributes most of her success to her autism; she is more able to empathize with animals and so understand the tricks of animal perception that lead to fear reactions, calmness, and other such things. For instance, cows are simple visual creatures, and they look mostly at shapes. Cows cannot make any connection to someone on horseback and someone on foot, so they have to be trained to consider both ‘not a threat’.

The ability to think like a cow may seem an unlikely superpower, but it’s one that Temple Grandin is happy to have. I cannot empathize with animals to her extent, but I have my own autistic gifts that I am proud to possess. However, autism comes with drawbacks too, and society just can’t treat us exactly the way it treats everyone else. It just doesn’t work.”