4 tips for working while you homeschool

I’m just going to be blunt and tell you that I make an amazingly large sum of money for someone who is homeschooling. Last year, my first year of homeschooling, I cleared $150K. Some of you will admire my spunk. Some of you will say what I’m doing doesn’t even count as homeschooling.

Either way, you will want to know how I did it. Here are four rules I follow and they help a lot:

1. Spend money where other people cut costs. 
Other people have budget vacations. You have all year to take vacations, so you will travel more than a normal family. You will have more lattes than a normal family because they will be drinking theirs at work. You will be drinking yours while your kid zones out in a cushy Starbucks club chair. And you will want more because homeschooling is so easy at Starbucks.

But there is no scenario where you feel financially safe giving up free babysitting and giving up eight uninterrupted hours of work. So you will need to take measures to approximate safety using some other avenues besides having a stable career. My favorite thing to do is cut costs. Under dire circumstances I have gone too far, and we have had our electricity turned off. But I’m better at a low-cost lifestyle now. I know how far is too far.

Some things we live without that I wouldn’t think we could live without, but I actually don’t mind. No air conditioning, for example. People hate coming to our house, but it’s already like going to another universe for most of my friends to come visit a cattle and pig farm in the middle of nowhere, so what’s ten or twenty more degrees after that? We also have only one bathroom. I could pay to put in another bathroom, but mostly it doesn’t bother me. And anyway, in the summer the boys use the Slip-n-Slide as a bathtub.

My point is that if you cut costs as a game (called maybe “Is this too ridiculous or not?”) then it feels better. You are already living on the edge of what’s reasonable because people think you’re a nut for homeschooling. So cutting costs where other people wouldn’t seems okay.

 2. Send email just enough to look like you work all day. 
The trick, of course, is to scan email all day looking for mail that really truly needs to get a fast response so the person thinks you are not with kids all day.

But to do that successfully you need to know when you can not do that. The break times are what give you strength to do the rest of the time. And, luckily, there are times you look bad sending email. For example, when I have written email on Rosh Hashannah, I cued it up to send out after sundown. I don’t want people thinking they are communicating with a bad Jew. And Saturday night has always felt like a great night for me to send out email, like it’s a sneaky time when the parents finally get a little leg up on the single people. But when I was single I felt like it was pathetic to be home on Saturday night answering email.

Avoid sending email at dinner time, because losers send email at dinner time. Because you need people to think you have a life. And if you don’t have a life, at least respect the sanctity of your digestive tract.

But there’s a magic time around 9pm cst when everyone starts sending emails. It’s the pause in the evening for people to tend to their personal lives. And then people start doing work again, if they like their work, when it’s socially acceptable.

3. Mix work and family all day, but know which is which. 
So you are essentially going to have to mix work and kids all day long. Some people will say that constant attention to work is leading to the destruction of the family. The Harvard Business Review (admittedly a biased source) says our constant attention to our iPhone is merely a reminder of how boring life would be if we didn’t always have something new to read when our mind needs some candy.

Even though you are sneakily mixing kids and work all day, you will need to make a clear distinction for yourself in order to feel like you have sanity. You need to be able to be a parent sometimes and a worker sometimes and not a eunich all the time.

When I realized there is an uptick in email at 9pm cst, I started planning my kids’ bedtime around the event. If I can get them to bed at 8:30 then I can have a bath and have a marker between family time and work time. The bath is the transition.

4. Don’t let the kids know when they have trapped you in kid land. Use reverse psychology to get them to leave you alone with your work. 

So last week I filled the tub up just high enough so it would get my book wet while I read it.

My son barged in.

“I’m in the bath. It’s private time.”

He walks over to the toilet paper. “I need to blow my nose.”

“Get paper towels from downstairs.”

“Hey, what’s that blood in the toilet?”

Pause. “I cut my hand.”

“Are you okay? Let me see.” He reaches for my hand.

“No. You can’t see.”

“You didn’t cut yourself.”

“Go to bed.”

“Are you okay? You’re bleeding.”

“It’s the eggs that I didn’t use for babies this month.”

He yells to his brother: “Oh no! Mom laid her eggs!”

His brother comes rushing in.

“You guys, get out of the bathroom. I’m taking a bath.”

“Let me see the blood.” He looks. “Oh. Yeah. It is blood.” He looks again. “And mom, you have to tell him you don’t lay eggs.”

“Get out.”

The older boy leans against the sink like he’s never going to move. “Mom. You tell everyone in the world that we don’t go to school because we do self-directed learning. So you have to talk to us about the blood when we ask.”

I shoo them. I towel off, get dressed and go to the bookshelf to get the book I’ve been saving for this moment.

“What’s that?”

“It’s called Life Blood. It’s a book about when women’s eggs come out as blood.”

“Eeeewwwww! Gross!”

“I’m too tired!”

“Yeah. Don’t talk to us! We’re going to bed!”



24 replies
  1. MBL
    MBL says:

    The Life Blood link is 404’d. Why do I know, you ask? Today in the stairwell of the homeopath’s office I had this conversation with my 7 year old. Thanks tampon vending machine . . .

    On the plus side, I got to use the word slough.

    Now I’m curious if you set this post up to go out at 1:20 a.m. or you are skating past you midnight/pumpkin deadline.

      • MBL
        MBL says:

        No indeedy. :D

        I think it is so brave when people put intentions out there like that. It is funny because if I did that, I would worry about being judged if I didn’t adhere to it. But when someone else does it, I merely notice whether they did or not and am rooting for them to either stick with it, or figure out a better goal.

        Apparently, I am judgmental that other people are judgmental.

        • Mark W.
          Mark W. says:

          I agree. It is brave. I’m not sure I could do it except for those things that I really wanted to accomplish. Penelope recently mentioned in one of her posts that she uses her blog to “keep herself in line” or something like that. So when I saw your mention of the midnight “deadline”, I chimed in. I don’t see any problem with being judgmental so I think I must be judgmental. However, I try to follow up any judgments with constructive criticism and keep “rooting for them to either stick with it, or figure out a better goal.” as you said.

  2. karelys
    karelys says:

    oh gosh that’s hilarious! “mom laid her eggs!”

    I wasn’t going to write anything because I didn’t think it was something that added anything of value. But then I remembered you like people starting conversation in the blog. And your blog is valuable to me so I’ll write something so that you know I read it and I’ll type even though I grated my knuckle yesterday.

    The more I’ve been reading here and then elsewhere about homeschooling I just can’t imagine doing the school’s schedule. Sure, homeschooling can feel like the land of the greenest grass when you’re not doing it. I know being a stay at home mom felt like that. It’s probably terrifying if you haven’t seen it done in a way you deem successful.

    So I watch these shows that are totally predictable but I notice I keep coming back to the shows because the characters are all about their job/career. I mean, they are so good at what they do (because they are born that way so they’ve figured a way to turn something that’d be a disability into a career move) that they are very successful.

    I took the plunge on marriage and family because I couldn’t bear the thought of being torn between career and family. If I ever build a career I know that family is still my first priority. But sometimes I fantasize about not having a family so I won’t be emotionally torn and I can stay at work for ridiculous hours to finish what I do.

    The current show I watch is Lie to Me. I love it. I want to be in a place that challenges my brain but not my emotions like marriage does. Thanks to marriage I’ve grown a lot and hopefully I’ll apply that to career moves.

    Then I realized that raising a kid can be exciting in the way that I get to apply whatever I’ve learned in life and try to raise a human being as healthy as possible emotionally/physically. It can be like a game. But then my emotions get in the way, obviously, and I get so scared I’ll screw him up.

    I’m reconsidering getting plants for the house.

    • Becky Castle Miller
      Becky Castle Miller says:

      I love Lie to Me. It helped me learn to read people better AND to read myself better. After watching all three seasons, I could tell when I was lying to myself, when I was saying the socially acceptable thing instead of what I truly felt (“I just shrugged one shoulder as I said that…I don’t actually believe the words that just came out of my mouth.”)

      I bet you also like Bones, because she is also someone who turned a weird set of special skills into a successful career.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I remember watching Bones and telling my husband that I envied people who stayed at work all day (for an interesting job like that). It’d be like playing all day and loving it.

        I told him that if he died while we were younger I’d never marry again and I’d just wait until the kids had lives of their own so I could throw myself at working. He laughed.

        • Wellergurl
          Wellergurl says:

          Karely’s……. that is hilarious! Soooooooo funny……..I ALWAYS love your posts also.

  3. Becky Castle Miller
    Becky Castle Miller says:

    THANK YOU! I have just been thinking, “I wish Penelope would write a post about how to work while homeschooling, because I’m trying to figure that out for my future,” and lo and behold, you did. Thanks. I got so excited when I saw the headline.

    I just tried to explain my period to my six-year-old daughter a few weeks ago. My kids call pads “Mommy diapers.”

    • Jocelyn
      Jocelyn says:

      Oh, Becky, my kids say that too! I once overheard my 6 year old asking my 9 year old “What’s that?” While we were out shopping. My 9 year old replied with great wisdom “Oh, they’re just Mum’s nappies”. I almost spit out the coffee I was drinking! I love the candid posts I’m finding on this site. Just what I need today!

  4. Olivia
    Olivia says:

    Any tips for combining homeschool with less flexible work? I adore my job teaching community college math (perfect fit for an INTJ), but I have to be on campus at least 9-2 every day. With 2 full time incomes and no housing costs, we could afford to hire someone to keep my daughter for those hours. Is anyone else doing this?

    • Becky Castle Miller
      Becky Castle Miller says:

      How old is your daughter? Could you bring her with your for at least part of that time? My husband works from home when he’s not traveling, and when he goes to work in a cafe, he’ll take one or two kids (6 and 4) with him. He has his laptop, they have their iPad, everybody’s happy. If you have office hours, could your daughter go with you?

      Also, if she is really small (under about 7 months) why not wear her while you teach, in an Ergo baby carrier or similar? I did public speaking after my third child was born and brought her along with me.

      • Olivia
        Olivia says:

        Unfortunately, like most work places, mine is not child friendly. Neither is hubby’s. The kiddo is four and attending a small school of 5 children, where she can stay two more years. After that, we’ll probably seek some governess type arrangement. I just wondered if others were hiring substantial child care for school aged kids?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Olivia, I don’t see anything wrong with hiring someone to manage self-directed learning. I don’t think the key to homeschooling is oversight by the parent. I think the key is giving the kid a chance to self-direct their learning. You can hire someone to help with that while you’re at work. Or a few people.

      I’m definitely not with my kids 100% of the time. You can consolidate the time you’re not with your kid so that it’s when you work.

      That said, I think you’ll probably find that it’s more cost effective for you to change what you do for work and oversee the homeschool yourself. That’s essentially what I did — I took a huge pay cut to stay home and I spent a year trying to figure out a new way to make money.


  5. Karen
    Karen says:

    I think I mentioned this in your post on getting the guts to go freelance, but I’d love to have you do a webinar on freelancing, either generally or specifically geared toward homeschooling, to help parents like me who want to homeschool, but need to bring in at least some income to make things work financially (or to not go crazy).

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s a good idea, Karen. I just might do that.

      In the meantime, something to think about is that a key component to successful freelancing is pinpointing the thing you are going to be able to reliably sell. And that’s probably best found in a coaching session – one is probably all it would take – where you make a plan for running a freelance business that is uniquely suited for you.


    • MBL
      MBL says:

      Excellent suggestion.

      However, given that our house is 75 years old, I’ll cop to going to great lengths to not mess up that perfect hot:cold ratio. Although we do have a palatial one and a half bath, so there is less of a chance of someone barging in.

      tip-o-the-day, we live in the upper mid-west also, and all winter long we keep a box of tissues in every single room.

  6. Amy
    Amy says:

    Reading about your religion and your period in the same post felt very “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret…”

  7. karelys
    karelys says:

    I just realized I never knew that a period meant eggs unused until I was way older in school and we studied it in biology.


  8. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    Number 3 is important. It’s a good idea to have the bath as the transition. For me it’s best to have longer chunks of work/kid time. What’s hard and stressful is taking business calls while the kids are around and switching between mummy mode and business mode at the drop of a hat.

    Trying to be more disciplined with email. I think it looks better if I don’t reply to emails too fast or at night or weekends so that works better for me and them.

  9. Helen
    Helen says:

    Thanks for this post! I work and homeschool and sometimes feel like I am the only person in the world doing both.

  10. Edith
    Edith says:

    Hi Penelope, I recently found your site and am thrilled as you write about homeschooling from a real honest place. I’ve been homeschooling my oldest since mid kindergarten and I also work full time. I teach in an evening college program three nights a week and manage a college program during the day, from home. I laughed as I read your tips because one key to working and homeschooling is maintaining a sense of humor as you transition constantly from teacher, coach, professional, cook…. my kids are learning about all my different titles throughout the day and it does help them learn self regulation, esp when I am on a businesa call…that can be quite an experience.

    Thank you for all of your ideas and tips on making it feasible to work and homeschool. BTW, I’m also learning that if I really promote self directed learning the entire family embraces my working in a healthier way.

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