On Juggling Work & Homeschool

working and homeschooling

source: Heidi @ Mt. Hope Academy

This month we’re talking about homeschooling. I’ve shared our homeschooling philosophy, our curriculum plans for next year and how we organize our weekly work.

Today, I want to talk a little bit about how I juggle working full-time and homeschooling. The short answer is: not always very well.

For that reason, one of the things I was most interested in chatting with Susan Wise Bauer about on my recent trip to Williamsburg to meet her and tour Peace Hill Press was how she does it. After all, she runs a thriving curriculum company, has written countless books that involve tons of heavy research, creates curriculum and teaches at William & Mary. Oh, yeah, and besides being a homeschool mom, she also lives on a farm — with animals, a sprawling garden, fruit trees, etc., and all that entails.

Although I’ve certainly done better at juggling my responsibilities this year than in the past, I knew there was still a lot of room for improvement. In fact, before we even sat down to chat with Susan, I confided to Stephanie that something I’m struggling with is the desire to act like a stay-at-home mom even though I have all of these extra responsibilities.

So, for example, when I stepped down from Deal Seeking Mom at the beginning of this year, I assumed I’d suddenly have plenty of time to exercise and cook from scratch and do more activities with the girls and go on field trips and meet friends for play dates and head to the library every week, etc., etc., etc. That bubble burst pretty quickly, but I was still trying to cram way more than humanly possible into my schedule. Thankfully, Stephanie began nodding almost as soon as I started talking, and she really did understand exactly what I was saying. It was really nice to have conversations like that in person with other bloggers who get it throughout the entire weekend!

As it turns out, the conversation we would have with Susan the following morning would end up having a pretty significant impact on our home, but I didn’t realize how big until weeks later, as things we talked about popped up again and again and we began to make changes to the way we’re doing things.

Dealing with Guilt

My first epiphany, and the one that sparked all the rest, came through a simple statement Susan made.

We were talking about getting feedback from outside parties we trust about the things we’re doing at home, not from anyone who feels like giving it, but from people who know us and know our children and truly care.

I began to ask a question about how you evaluate a child who is working to the best of their ability but still very behind, something we’ve been dealing with with one of ours, and I burst into tears. Like, “ugly cry” tears. I explained some of our struggles and Susan offered some feedback, and then she said, “You should not be this emotional about this. You need to go talk to a counselor to find out why it’s affecting you this way.”

But you know what? I didn’t need to go to a counselor; I just needed to admit it to myself. It’s because I feel guilty. While I do truly believe that some of these struggles are just the way God made this particular daughter’s mind (because she excels in other areas and she has been improving, just behind her peers), I also wonder if she would have seen faster improvement if I wasn’t a working mom and if I had invested more time with her.

In How to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too, I said this:

“Intentionality is the number one thing you can do to prevent and fight mommy guilt. It means being intentional about the hours you work, the things you’re willing to sacrifice – and those that you’re not – how you will draw a hedge around your family life in the face of business demands, and more.

When you’ve decided these things ahead of time, you don’t have to feel guilty because you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. You’ve thought through the sacrifices involved and decided they’re worth it.

To be honest, the only time I struggle with mommy guilt is when things are truly out of whack. If we’re following the plan we’ve set, I don’t feel guilty, but if I begin to work longer hours, take on additional projects or push against the boundaries I’ve set, then guilt creeps in. And in that way, it’s a really useful reminder to step back and reevaluate and make the changes necessary.”

And I knew immediately that I needed to reevaluate some of our boundaries and commitments to make sure that they were getting what they needed so that I wouldn’t feel guilty, no matter where they were on the learning curve.

Snatches of Time

Another fairly big change we’ve made happened because of something Jessica said following our trip. Susan had talked about using “snatches of time”, especially during her early years of homeschooling, to get things done. They did math when she had a few quiet minutes in the morning, or she wrote when everybody was down for their afternoon quiet time. It hadn’t really made an impression on me one way or the other when Susan said it, but later Jessica talked about being burnt out from living life in snatches of time and how blocking out time for work and time for family was really working better for her.

I can definitely understand being burnt out — a place where I’ve been for much of the past six months, it seems — but something about that conversation clicked in my head. I realized that I didn’t have to wait for random snatches of time; I could actually schedule them in!

We’d been trying to do school in a three-hour chunk each morning, but inevitably something would take me longer than expected, and we’d start school late, and then it would run into lunch and everybody would be grumpy.

Since then, we’ve been breaking school up — doing some things in the morning, some in the afternoon and some in the evening — and it’s working much better for our family. Here’s a rough idea of what our school day looks like now:

  • 7:30 — family devotions (Bible)
    **we’ve struggled a bit with putting this one into practice consistently because we’ve never had a set wakeup time before, but we’re still trying.
  • 10-11:30 — science/language arts/history/CC memory work
  • 2:30-3:30 — reading and math with dad
  • after dinner — read alouds

By breaking things up, and delegating some of the school day to Sean (which we’ll talk about more in a minute), I’ve found it a lot easier to give my attention to school during school time, because I don’t have a long list of things on my work to-do list that are being set aside — and therefore causing stress — for three hours straight.

We’ll be adding a third student (our soon-to-be five year old) in the fall, so it will be interesting to see how that affects our schedule, but I’m fairly sure we’ll be sticking to the “snatches of time” principle for now!

working and homeschooling

source: Heidi @ Mt. Hope Academy

Sharing Responsibilities

One area where I’ve really struggled for the past two years is turning over some of the homeschooling tasks to Sean. Although he’s passionate about homeschooling, it’s more like he’s passionate about me homeschooling. (I’m not saying that in a bad way, that’s kind of how I’ve seen it as well). But what I’ve come to realize is it’s not possible to do everything we want or need to do with school, still run my business and make time for all of the other activities I want to prioritize — like family outings, cooking from scratch and, yes, reading myself.

He’s been ready, willing and able to do more to help me this past year, but I’ve been reluctant to turn much more than listening to the girls read over to him.

What really stood out to me during our conversation with Susan was that her husband does a large chunk of the homeschooling in their home. I actually asked them how this worked in their home and whether Peter was passionate about teaching or had experience teaching, and really, like Sean, he didn’t — but he knew he wanted his kids to be homeschooled, and he happily took on some of the responsibility so that Susan could focus on her writing and business. (As a pastor of a small church, he has some flexibility in his schedule to be able to do that.)

They also shared some practical tips for how they’ve made this work:

  • Susan goes out to her chicken coop-turned-office to work so that she’s not backseat parenting or dealing with constant interruptions.
  • Although Susan is willing to give guidance on how to teach things, and she chooses curriculum (sometimes writing it specifically for him to do with the kids), she lets Peter teach in his own way without butting in and demanding that it be done her way.

Sean has already done a bit of listening to the girls’ read or helping with math when our oldest and I are butting heads, but we took this a step further and actually assigned reading and math work to him so that he could schedule it for every afternoon and know exactly what needed to be done.

We’ve actually taken more of a tag team approach to math with our oldest daughter because she often gets frustrated and we’ve found that passing her off to the other person relieves some of that pressure and helps her to reset her attitude towards it, but for the most part Sean’s handling those two subjects now.

And we’ve been closing the doors to our bedroom, where I find myself working most days, so that I can tune out what they’re doing and focus on the work I need to get done.

Honestly? It’s been huge. I much prefer teaching the other subjects anyway, but we were getting bogged down by this core work, especially on days when it was a little harder for the girls to get through. Now, I get to do the “fun” subjects — science, language arts, history, memory work, etc. — in the morning, and Sean takes care of workbooks and reading practice after nap.

Really, it just amounted to me being willing to give up control of those subjects and let him figure out how to teach them…the same way that I had to figure it out in the beginning!

Staying Home

The hardest lesson I learned, by far, was that we just need to stay home more. To be honest, I was a little disheartened when Susan said they stayed home during the week when her kids were younger, even though it’s advice I’ve given in the past.

We are now part of an amazing community of homeschoolers (both our Classical Conversations group and the Winchester homeschool community as a whole), and I’ve so enjoyed our time with them — seeing the girls’ friendships blossom and developing friendships of my own — that I didn’t want to admit that our current schedule was stretching us too thin.

I made the difficult decision to limit outings to once per week — whether it be a field trip or park day or mom’s night out — so that I have at least four days at home each week. During the CC year, when we’ll have class every Friday, we’ll do up to two more activities during the month. Although that will mean that some weeks have two outings, I don’t want to automatically say no to all play dates and field trips, so it seems like a fair compromise.

I also, after much soul searching, decided to step down as a CC tutor this year. Sean had actually been saying for months that he thought it was too much stress for me, but I was reluctant to accept that because I so enjoyed the time with the other tutors in our quarterly meetings and weekly prayer times. However, when I really took the time to step back and evaluate the amount of time I was pouring into it each week — in preparation, leaving early on Fridays, etc. — I realized that it would take a lot of pressure off to go as “just” a parent instead of as a tutor. Now that the decision’s been made, I’m really looking forward to the next year and the additional hours that I’ll have this year that I didn’t last year.

The Importance of Reevaluating

More than anything, what I learned was the importance of reevaluating and talking to other people in a similar situation. I probably wouldn’t have made any of these decisions without the time I spent in Williamsburg, and there’s no doubt that they were important decisions that needed to be made.

I’ll be asking for input and reevaluating at least annually moving forward (and I’ll also be sure that I’m listening to my husband’s input more carefully as well!).

How do you juggle homeschooling and various other responsibilities? What changes have you had to make to better balance them?

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.