I always marvel at how much easier homeschooling is than sending my kids to school. For example, the only discipline problems I have are about manners and the boys fighting with each other, since they are in charge of what they do all day. Also, I control our schedule, and I don’t do anything I don’t want to do (like, stupid worksheets that a teacher sent home) so I am free to do what I want with my days as well.

The problem is that what I want is to support my children in what they want. Here’s what I’ve discovered is required.

1. Separate emotional problems from time management problems.
I go to therapy to overcome emotional hurdles. Like, I was left to do whatever I wanted as a child, with unlimited money but no adult supervision so I worry that if I am not available to my kids all the time then I’m neglecting them.

I know this is not rational. I also know that I am not my parents. If nothing else, I do not have a police record for child abuse. But I still need that emotional reinforcement from a therapist twice a month.

I told myself all I need to do is to decide that I’ll carve out time for myself, and then it’s done. I’m just not sure what it will feel like.

2. Make decisions about what you’ll give up.
I want to carve out time to work, and read fiction, and exercise. But I can’t do that if I cook and help my kids at random moments during the day, and spend alone time with my husband. (Irony. Sex is easy. It takes about seven minutes. The talking and being emotionally supportive is what’s difficult. That takes way more focus because empathy is difficult for both of us.)

I know I have to make hard choices. What do I want to give up? No one ever got anything good without giving up a lot of good things to get it. So it’s clear that I’m going to have to give up some amount of being with my kids.

3. Encourage independence.
But each time I try to do this, my kids have an issue. My oldest son says the mom  cat abandoned the kittens and he needs old clothes to build a house. I dash to the bottom of his t-shirt pile because last spring he used a Joseph Abboud suit coat for bedding. My younger son can’t merge two Photoshop files. I find myself trying to troubleshoot when everything I know about Photoshop I learned in 1994.

I’ve been trying to outsource as much as I can. But there are lots of little questions throughout the day that are hard to refuse when I’m right here. When the kids asked, “What does ‘blow me’ mean?”, I told them to look it up.

Later I worried about if the definition they found would make me a bad mom. And anyway, it’s my job as a mother of boys to make sure they are clear on the definition way before they are in a room with a girl. So I checked out Urban Dictionary, which I know is my kids’ dictionary of choice.

The second definition says “date rape” is archaic because all rape is rape. That’s a great definition that I would not have provided on my own. I am happy that I told the kids to look it up. And maybe my kids are better off if I push back on their constant requests for one little bit of help.

4. Make work time predictable. 
But then I read in the Atlantic that the most difficult type of work is unpredictable work. The article is about shift work, how the restaurant industry, for example, gives people different schedules each week. Management used to think this is a benefit in that you can work around other plans each week. But since you don’t know what you are doing week to week for work, it’s actually extremely stressful.

Now I know why working while I unschool is so difficult. I control when I work, but I also control when I decide to help the kids. And it’s hard to say no. And I don’t want to be away for days at a time. That’s not why I signed up for unschooling. I signed up so I could be there.

The problem is that being with kids while trying to work makes work unpredictable. So I have started minimizing work interruptions by telling the kids when they can talk to me and when they can’t. They are old enough to understand, and they keep lists of what they need to ask me later.

But what happens is they end up fighting with each other (what else do brothers do in crisis?) or doing a bad job with what they are doing because I’m not there to help (no one goes through violin practice faster than a boy left alone with a practice list.) And I need to learn to ignore that.

5. Get predictable respite.
I also enlisted my husband to have a regular schedule with the family instead of a random schedule. It used to be that he’d take the kids away to give me time alone when it worked out. But I realized that not knowing when that would happen minimized the relief I felt from time away from the kids. So he keeps a regular schedule now. And the boys know that they have to have their other stuff done early on days when dad takes them out.

But guess what? I find myself anxious and uncertain when I have alone time to work. Which makes me think that the warnings I got about homeschooling—that it’s a bigger adjustment for the parents than the kids—is true not only for learning but also for work.