Singing the Bilingual Homeschooling Blues

by Corey · 9 comments

Bilingual children reading German book

Look at these three cuties! How could they ever get on a stressed-out homeschooling mother’s nerves?

By Corey Heller

We homeschoolers tend to be a pretty upbeat bunch. We have to be. We don’t have the time or energy to be down. We are with our children 24/7. No breaks allowed. We worry that the minute we take our eyes off the ball, things will fall apart, which, by the way, does seem prone to happen. God forbid we should take a moment to actually look at ourselves from a distance: Aside from the gaggle of children hanging from us (who always have something to share, ask and discuss), we can’t even remember the last time we showered, let alone put on deodorant. Do I smell?

I’m exaggerating. A little.

The point is, even though it is exhausting at times, it is totally worth it. To be able to spend this precious time with our children is priceless. We get to share their daily experiences and realizations. We are the ones they turn to in delight when they finally solve a difficult math problem or see the connection between two seemingly unrelated historic events. We get to be there for all of it. Plus, we get to do all of this in more than one language (and in our pajamas if we want)!

There are times, however, when it becomes completely and utterly overwhelming.ย 

There are those pivotal moments when you wonder what the hell you are doing. Throwing in the towel would be an understatement for what you’d like to do. You start to wonder if you made some big, really big, mistake somewhere along the way when you thought you could actually pull off this whole bilingual homeschooling thing. Language Arts? Who cares! Math? Overrated!

There are times when three children (still in pajamas) are asking for the third time where breakfast is and why on earth it has to be oatmeal again and I answer angrily, “Because we are poor now that mommy quit her job to stay at home with you (lovely, wonderful, sweet) kids and oatmeal is all we can afford. Plus, it helps protect against heart disease. So eat up! And then do something productive that’s quiet, very quiet.”

Adding a second language into the mix makes it a disaster waiting to happen, especially when the parent doing the homeschooling (me) in the second language doesn’t even speak it natively. What was I thinking! Let’s just say that there are times when the last thing on my mind is whether or not I am covering enough Language Arts in German. Heck, I’m happy to have even gotten to it in English! Or wait, did I?

Sure, we can call it bilingual homeschooling. Whatever. Just pass me that bottle of brandy, er, mug of coffee.

In fact, there are times when I honestly can’t handle it anymore and I lose it. Completely. Fully. I feel something inside me cry out, “Enough! Enough! Enough!” and I inadvertently end up yelling at one of my kids about something slightly worth yelling about (or maybe not at all). I start to feel the hot, steaming tears rise as I rush into my bedroom sobbing, “Mama needs a time out – right now!” I throw myself face-down on my bed and break out into tears.

I cry. I sob. I curl up in a ball and I whimper. My whole existence is on the line. I question everything. My whole life. All of it. From top to bottom, one end to the other. I focus on a whole litany of things to feel sorry for myself about: No one is supporting me. I’m all alone in this. My children never listen to me. Others are always judging me. Nothing ever works for me. My parents are dead. I need to lose weight. I am a horrible failure. My German sucks. On and on and on until I can’t stand it anymore. It takes a while but in the end it feels really good to feel sorry for myself for just a little while.

Whereas many may meditate or read a book or chat on the phone for their “me time,” homeschoolers have just enough time to cry, scream, yell, sob and rant before getting back to math, history and an analysis of Charlotte’s Web.

Eventually I get myself together and emerge from my self-inflicted time out. My pity-party is over and now it is time to face the music. I sit myself down on the sofa between my kids who are furiously doing something homeschool related. No one looks at me except for an occasional sideways glance. Silence. Pencils scratching furiously in workbooks.

I apologize. I explain that I’m feeling worn out and that even though it is no excuse for an outburst, Mama is having a tough day (week/month/year/life). Mama just needs to take a little break to put things into perspective again (i.e. cry her eyes out in the other room). You see, Mama did really want to quit her well-paying software job which helped keep her family living in relative financial security and exchange it for living on the edge financially and spending every single waking minute with her adoring kids and not an ounce of me time. Yes, Mama actually chose this. Mama begged for this. She dreamed of it. Mama couldn’t imagine anything better in life than this. Doesn’t Mama remember that?

I’m not sure, exactly, what follows but soon my children and I are laughing about the stupid things I yelled at them. They literally roll on the floor and we all have tears streaming down our faces from laughing so hard. They remind me of stupid things they said in the past and we all roar again with laughter. Eventually we calm down and we talk about how sometimes we say things that we don’t really mean and how we are sorry afterward. They remind me that things like that just happen sometimes. And they are exactly right. Somewhere along the way I forgot that I was a human being too.

Still feeling a little bruised and weak and guilty, by the time my children’s father comes home from work, we are all snuggled on the sofa reading books together. He steps in the door and my kids run to him to tell him all about Mama’s wild and crazy outburst and how they almost peed their pants laughing so hard.

My husband looks at me sympathetically. He knows what happened. It has happened before. He smiles at me and I say, “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Glass of wine?”

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 15, 14 and 12, in German and English.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Claire January 11, 2012 at 8:56 am

I can only imagine the stress involved with homeschooling, bilingual or no! I am facing partial homeschooling of my three children (ages 2, 2 & 4) if we stay in Germany (I am American, my husband French) and I KNOW I couldn’t do full-time homeschooling. Back-up only!
Hats off to you and keep it up! I hope to keep up with your website in the future. Stay in the multilingual frame of mind. Like I could forget ๐Ÿ™‚


2 Corey January 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Thank you for your comment, Claire! Partial homeschooling is fantastic as well. Being that the school days are shorter there (they still are, right?) it makes it a little more doable. Your kids are still young so I’m sure you haven’t planned out everything but do you have some general ideas of what you’d like to focus on the most? For part time homeschooling, just spending time reading different types of books and talking a lot about them can be enough. Adding some writing is always fun, especially if you can find some things that the kids enjoy doing.
Kudos to you for planning this ahead! I’m sure you are going to feel great about doing it!


3 Amy Van Vranken January 11, 2012 at 11:01 am

“Whereas many may meditate or read a book or chat on the phone for their โ€œme time,โ€ homeschoolers have just enough time to cry, scream, yell, sob and rant before getting back to math, history and an analysis of Charlotteโ€™s Web.”

YES!! You made me laugh out loud with this! You can forget all that stress-busting advice to talk a hot bath or a long walk when you’re a homeschooling mom: just not an option. I did it for 6 years without the bilingual factor. You are really a hero for being so committed to your kids.

The world needs more honest voices like yours who tell it like it is!

My 10- and 14- year old daughters are bilingual in French. Right now they’re in good school programs that teach them much better French than I could ever do at home. But in a few more years, when the youngest moves up to high school, I’m told she won’t be allowed to study French at school because she’ll be too proficient for their program. I dream about going back to homeschooling with her then for 4 more sweet years, maybe arranging an internship for her at the French bakery she loves so much, enrolling her in cultural classes at the Alliance Francaise…. there are so many possibilities open to homeschoolers.



4 Corey January 14, 2012 at 3:13 pm

LOL – it is amazing how the curriculum worries is nothing compared to the 24/7 involvement. It’s sometimes like too much of a good thing: I can’t imagine living without salt on my food, but a little too much ruins it! ๐Ÿ˜‰

What a bummer about your daughter not being able to do French in high school. I can totally see your predicament. I am going to think hard on this and talk to some other families so see what tips we might be able to put together. We already talked about it, but what if you and your daughter put together a fun plan which includes Skype and writing emails back and forth with a few students her age in France? Plus, reading novels and academic books (since each has such different language and vocabulary involved) together and talking about them. Of course, as you said, it is hard to think about this when she is in such a great program right now where all of that is taken care of.

Let us know what you end up putting together/planning!


5 Terri Lovins January 12, 2012 at 9:32 am

Ahhh such a pleasure to read such honest writing. Well done Corey – thanks for brightening my day.


6 Corey January 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Thank YOU Terri for being such a beacon of courage and optimism even in the face of unbelievable hardships! As you already know: when the moments get their hardest, we do find a way through to the other side where the sun IS shining again! In fact, I find that some of my darkest moments are followed with truly inspirational (and necessary) breakthroughs that I wasn’t allowing myself to face/work through/acknowledge, etc. What is funny is that even though I KNOW this, I still fight until the end before finally breaking – it is only then that I finally reassess and renew. LOL! Humans are a crazy bunch! ๐Ÿ˜‰


7 Natalie March 9, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Thanks so much for your article! I needed that! Sometimes weforget we’re not the only ones feeling this way… Thank You!! ๐Ÿ™‚


8 Shari April 2, 2012 at 10:46 am

Heya! I realize this is somewhat off-topic but I had to ask. Does managing a well-established blog like yours take a massive amount work? I am brand new to writing a blog but I do write in my journal every day. I’d like to start a blog so I will be able to share my personal experience and feelings online. Please let me know if you have any recommendations or tips for new aspiring blog owners. Thankyou!


9 Juliana February 2, 2013 at 11:35 am

Hello, my name is Juliana, and I am actually considering this crazy idea of homeschooling bilingual children – in a language I don’t speak natively. Is there an AA-type meeting for this?

I loved finding your website and reading this article in particular. I think I’m looking for someone to talk me out of homeschooling, but somehow, it feels like it might be just what we need.

We’ve spent the past 2 years in France, and are considering a move back to Seattle. Our middle-school-aged kids speak (much) better French than I do, since they attended French schools. There are only a couple of choices for schools in Seattle that have bilingual programs, and they both have their drawbacks.

Thank you for finding the time to keep up this blog. It’s nice to find a community of other crazies like me…. ๐Ÿ™‚


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