Best solution for balancing work and kids is homeschooling

The big barriers to work‑life balance are time and guilt. The best way to solve those problems is to homeschool your kids. I know because I work 70 hour weeks, and when I pulled my kids out of school, I didn’t work fewer hours, but my life got a lot easier. Here’s why.

1.  School ruins your calendar. 
School assumes that you will run your life around the school calendar. This means that you have to structure your life so that you can pick your kids up at 3:00 PM or have someone else pick your kids up at 3:00 PM, but some days, like institute days, your life gets messed up, or some weeks, like winter break, your life gets messed up. This means that some years you’ll schedule your life to start summer break the first week of June, and some years there will be too many snow days and your first week will be school and your whole calendar will be messed up. What ends up happening is a life that’s a moving target.

There’s research from Harvard University about how it’s easier to acclimate to losing a leg than to a bad commute, and here’s why. If you lose the leg, it’s the same bad thing every single day. So you can acclimate to it. If you have a bad commute, you never know what the commute is going to be like. You never know how long it will take and you have no control over it.

The same is true with homeschooling versus sending your kids to school. If you send your kids to school you give up control over your family life.  The demands of school are a moving target, and you never know when it will change. If you homeschool your kids, you have total control over your schedule. So it may feel like a lost limb at the beginning, but you have to remind yourself that it’s much easier for us to adapt to a lost limb than it is to a bad commute, and the same is true with school versus homeschooling. It’s much easier for parents to create a happy life with a schedule they can control. I might have to make lunch every day, but it’s predictable, so I can do a conference call while I cook.

2.  Kids are more difficult when they are traditionally schooled.
The most difficult time to deal with kids are when they’re clingy, when they’re fighting for your attention, and when they don’t want to do what school tells them to do.  These are all separate fights. They’re all separate annoying moments where you want to tell your kids to get away from you, because you think all the fights and clinginess and obnoxiousness will never end.

But here’s what happens when you take your kids out of school. They see you all the time, so they don’t need to be clingy. They have your attention whenever they want it, so they don’t have to do insane tricks to get the small moments of attention they can get after school. The most successful homeschooling households do self‑directed, optimized learning, which means the kids only learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, and how they want to learn it, which teaches them to not only love learning, but to not have fights with their parents about what they have to learn next.

There’s evidence that kids who have no choices about how to learn are anxious, and there’s evidence that kids who feel like they have access to their parents are more secure. So the worst parts of being a parent disappear when you take your kids out of school. Which means that being around them is actually much easier than you can anticipate. School makes kids artificially difficult and high maintenance to be around, which is why you think you could never get any work done while they’re there.

3.   No one ever had a great job when they stopped working at 3:00 p.m.
If you tell someone in an interview that you’re going to stop working at 3:00 PM, you won’t get the job. And if, instead, you regularly sneak out at 3:00 PM, eventually you’ll stop getting promotions. Which means that if you divide your day between time to work (when kids are in school) and time you don’t work (when you’re home with them), your career stalls. Your only hope of not having a stalled career when you have kids is to be able to work evenly throughout the day. (Best tip:  have a stay-at-home spouse.)

Homeschool enables you to work evenly throughout the day because while you’re not working 100 percent of the workday, you’re working enough that people will perceive that you’re working full time, and you can make up anything you missed after the kids go to bed. The idea of dividing the world between work time and kid time has been a failure, which is why people say work‑life balance doesn’t exist. The only thing that works here is melding things that we love to do into one successful life. If you love to work and you love to be with your kids, then the best way to do it is have it all day long: both things not competing, but working together.

4.  The end of guilt about being away from your kids.
It’s difficult to imagine feeling the too-common parenting guilt about time when you’re home with their kids all the time. If you take an hour for a conference call, it’s unlikely you’ll feel guilty for that time without them. But if you have to take a conference call after school, after the kids have been in school for eight hours, you’re much more likely to feel guilty.

So if you want to really alleviate your guilt, you should take your kids out of school because school is so wrong in so many ways, and you should work full time while your kids are at home, because kids don’t need your attention full time, and your work doesn’t need your attention full time. You’ll have very little guilt on either side of the equation because you’ll be giving everybody enough.


26 replies
  1. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    This may be your best post ever!

    I hated being the referee between my kids. There was much less of that once I started homeschooling because they weren’t tired and grouchy from the school environment and doing what they were told to do all day.

  2. jill
    jill says:

    all the time people say to me, “i don’t know how you do it. i could never homeschool my kids,” with an exasperated look & a frazzled throwing up of their hands, as if i were doing something mercurial.

    nope, my hs kids are so different from your school kids; it’s like two different animals. they don’t even belong in the same conversation.

    bring them home, let them set up shop in your closet to play with your shoes, & you’ll ALL be a thousand times happier (& nicer, too!).

    thank you, penelope, for the steady reminding that this, this is where our best life is, this at home.

  3. Kierstin
    Kierstin says:

    This explains pretty much all the reasons we homeschool. When people ask me why i always tell them its because school is based on an out of date system of work and home life having clear divisions. My daughter would come home from school and it was like she thought that meant her brain could check out. I knew that wouldnt fare well in the modern world where employers dont want you to just do a job,they want you to be passionate about it. How can she be passionate about a job when shes spent 12 years being taught work is something to get through so you can go home?

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Good one, Kierstin. Work is something to get through so you can go home. Everybody’s working for the weekend!

      This is something my wife, a human resources executive talks about: the difference between compliance and commitment.

      I know I went through school giving the absolute minimum compliance required (skipping hundreds of classes, never bringing books home) to maintain a B+ in the college prep track.

      It is very hard to get out of that habit in the four years of college. I didn’t find commitment until I was working on my PhD. (Then I backslid over a decade in the office).

      It would be nice never to learn the habit of minimum compliance. I think it should be easier to learn commitment through homeschooling. So I agree very much with PT on this, and find all four points very true, with some caveats.

      First and foremost:
      1. This does not apply to toddlers. They really do need all your attention. You really cannot have a 70 hour a week job while minding a toddler in the house.

      I think the example you set is far more important than the words you say, and demonstrating your own commitment day after day will be great for your children and better than anything you could tell them about commitment.

      Unless they’re toddlers. Then they need your attention to a degree that would make other major projects impossible. If you can’t do that, find someone who can.

      Don’t worry; a good daycare is way better than the best school.

      2. You can’t just ignore your kids all day and work on your 70 hour a week job from home if you’re not full on unschooling. As long as your children’s activities are of two types, work and play, there will continue to be a tug of war, and without your help play will win.

      Video games are designed to be addictive. If your kids have gotten addicted to Minecrack, they will spend every waking hour trying to figure out how to get back to it, at the expense of all other projects, and if you’re ignoring them all day while you work on your 70 hour job they won’t be able to follow a schedule or curriculum. They will just start lying to you about it.

      If your kids have work, so do you. Don’t imagine you can do a 70 hour job while keeping your kids working at subjects.

      3. Guilt will return in a different form. Always believing that your kids are better off homeschooling as they are requires great faith.

      If you have ideas about what your kids should be learning, there will always be something better they could be learning – math, music, history, writing… Guilt about whether you are doing a good job will rear its ugly head repeatedly even if you are dosing yourself regularly with the kool-aid of unschooling. Having a community of homeschooling peers helps immensely.

      4. Most worthwhile things your kids will do will end up tying your family to a schedule. If your kid is at Conservatory Prep, your Saturdays are spoken for, like it or leave it.

      But at least it’s not the _same_ schedule as everybody else, and it doesn’t have to happen every darn day at absolutely the _worst_ time.

      You have to cooperate with other people, have coop at a fixed time, or fencing class. You will still have to negotiate with these schedules.

      But the change of removing school from your day is massive. School dominates children even when they’re not at school. It makes a child get up too early and miss sleep. It makes them stay up too late and do homework. It makes them worry all day long (until they calibrate their minimum compliance threshold). And the imposition on parents is likewise intense. Meeting your remaining schedule will be so much easier without school.

      • Maria
        Maria says:

        I sat down to write my own caveats and LO! someone else already was thinking along the same lines.

        Per #2: It depends on the family and child. It depends on the needs of the individual child and how and if they are met, whether they are public schooled or not.. There can’t be a generalization here of one size fits all when it comes to “kids are more difficult traditionally schooled”.

        #4: Home/unschooling is not a get out of parenting guilt free card. Oh, that it were. Because we want ultimate control to produce the happiest child in the world. And that won’t happen. Ever. A parent always wishes they could do/give more. After unschooling for 9 years I can say that I am happy we’ve had more time together than we otherwise would, but that doesn’t mean guilt for something or another hasn’t banished.

        That having been said…I’m thrilled in our personal choice to unschool for many of the reasons outlined and many not.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I like your comment.

        Right now things are working out ok. I have a job in a quiet office where I can bring my 1 yr old to work. He gets bored.

        I am trying to figure out to keep him happy and engaged while I work. So I try to be there for a pick up and a hug as soon as he asks. Normally, if I do this on time, he won’t be clingy and mad.

        I take breaks. I try to stay so focused that my work quality doesn’t suffer for bringing the kid to work.

        I try to tell myself “this is just for a little while. Just until he’s old enough to understand and his attention span will be longer.”

        For the people who work from home I think it’s more than ok to have assistance. It’s never the same as being away from the kid 10 hrs a day. If you have someone to help then every time you get a 10 minute break you can go see your kid and give them a hug. If you’ve been whole days with toddlers you’ll know that they need a lot of attention but not constantly. They play 20-30 minutes by themselves (sometimes).

        Also, expanding your and the kid’s circle of trust is super important. If other people can pick them up and take them to do fun stuff while you work/have a mental and emotional break then that would be amazing.

  4. Ali Davies
    Ali Davies says:

    As someone who is just about to start homeschooling (our son leaves school this Thursday) and who also runs a business from home I really enjoyed your article. I am also a work life balance consultant for business owners so going to be an interesting period of adaptation for our family and my business. However, I tend less to focus on work life balance and more on designing how we want life to be. And that can be different each day, each week, each month etc. When we accept sometimes work might be using more time and sometimes persoanl stuff life becomes a whole laod more simpler and fulfilling than chasing the mythical concept of work life balance.

  5. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    This post, and the previous, ‘everybody is a teacher’, is starting to sound more of a call for a parenting revolution, with a secondary schooling revolution to follow.

    People have children with certain expectations…if those were totally re-arranged, I wonder if people would decide to have children at all if they knew they could not get rid of them for 8 hours a day for 13 years.

    On the other hand, others might decide to have children who otherwise would not, if they knew they were not chained to a school calendar and compulsory crap that goes with it.

  6. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Hey P,

    I love the photo! Great kitchen space and I love the random wine bottle! :).

    Of course I have nothing else to contribute to what you have said except to say that I agree with you. I would add that school still ruins my calendar even though we’ve checked out of the system. I’m so used to having no crowds when I go on vacations and trips with the kids that I go into shock during summer when everyone is free from school and I have to stand in lines like a herd of animals.

  7. Briana
    Briana says:

    The age of your kids and the kind of work you do are huge factors. I have 3 kids and my youngest is only 6 months old. I’m not pulling 70-hour workweeks from home anytime soon.

    That said, with older kids it is a different story. Also a world of difference with one kid vs two or three or more.

  8. Becky Castle Miller
    Becky Castle Miller says:

    These caveats from other readers are making me feel much better. I have four kids: 7, 5, 2, and 11 days. The 7 and 5 year olds are in a local Dutch school (we’re Americans in the Netherlands). I love that they are learning Dutch in an immersion environment. Once they have mastered the language, though, I can tell they will be bored academically. I think that by next year, they will both be ready to homeschool.

    I think I could bring them home and unschool and probably work 20-30 hours a week.

    BUT I have the toddler and the baby. Even with the older kids in school, it’s hard to get work done without having a babysitter here at home with me.

    So it may be 4 or 5 years before I can homeschool all the kids and work at the same time. But having an idea of a timeline is encouraging.

    I had thought several times while reading this blog, “I wonder if P’s advice would be different if she had younger kids, or more kids?” Hearing from other parents with little kids is helpful. Thanks!

  9. Tenzin Thinley
    Tenzin Thinley says:

    I’m in the process of selling all to travel globally with 2 kids and wife, one of my kids has autism. We are encouraged by all the information on homeschooling and we are anxious to take our kids out, just last week my boy was suspended for a day due to the teachers incompetence. All in all, my goal with my kids is to teach them early on how to self educate, take risks, expect some failures and to be culturally competent. The world is changing fast, information is at your fingertips and we are living in diverse environments-it’s an exciting time for our children’s generation.

    • Rebeca
      Rebeca says:

      Thank you for this list, Tenzin. I haven’t been able to clearly articulate what I want for my kids but your pithy list really resonates. I think I will use it.

  10. Sue Schmidt
    Sue Schmidt says:

    I appreciated this post. I home school my 9 kids and it’s true. I am so much more at ease homeschooling than I was with them in school. The homework alone for all my kids was horrible and it needed to be done at the worst time of the day possible for me. When I was trying to get dinner going, the baby was cranky and I’m supposed to have time to help 5 kids with homework??? Now we get all we need to get done in the morning and we have the rest of the day to do what we want, it’s lovely! I love homeschooling and I will never go back-especially now with how down hill schools have gone with common core-never! Thanks for the post!

  11. Starrie Williamson
    Starrie Williamson says:

    What if you work outside of the home married to a stay at home dad who is completely fulfilled by pursuing his music career and he does the homeschooling? Would mom still feel guilty?

  12. AD Dixon
    AD Dixon says:

    Wow. I find this article very disturbing. At what point did you consider your children and what’s right for them? At all?

    I didn’t homeschool my son because “school ruins your schedule.” I did it because my son was suicidal after being bullied. I didn’t give a d*** if I had “enough” time to work. I cared whether my son survived and thrived.

    My daughter goes to public school because she was miserable at home. Again, I don’t care if “school ruins your schedule.” She needed to be in school.

    Because my children’s education, like most things in the world, is NOT ABOUT ME.

    And I do actually run a very successful business. I just don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all of my existence.

    • Sarah Craighead Dedmon
      Sarah Craighead Dedmon says:

      I homeschool because it’s much easier for my schedule and for the sanity of my family. But there’s this really funny thing about parenting, I don’t know, maybe it only happens in my family? But it *seems* like when my husband and I do what’s right for us, our children are happier, too! I’m guessing Penelope’s experience is the same. But hey, maybe we’re unique.

      I’m also guessing that this blog post is an argument against adults choosing to suffer needlessly with insufferable schedules, which ultimately decimate family time and therefore, family life.

      But, let me be the first to congratulate you on your utterly selfless approach to parenting! I mean first after YOUR self-congratulating post, of course.

  13. Sue Schmidt
    Sue Schmidt says:

    I think the whole point of the post is that homeschooling is the best thing for BOTH the parents AND the children. When the parents are doing good, the children thrive, I absolutely believe that. I know some parents have said to me that homeschooling wasn’t for one child but maybe is for another. While I can agree that each child is different and learns differently; I firmly believe that it’s a parents job to educate their children not the governments. I won’t hand my children over to be indoctrinated and shaped the way the government sees fit. I will teach them what I deem important for them to learn. I strongly believe that the best thing for any child is to be home with their parents learning.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Wow, I needed to read this post today.

      My 3rd grade homeschooled boy has a bad case of the grumbles. This is not unique — third grade is a tough age for boys. I love the child so much and I just want him to STOP COMPLAINING for half an hour so I can enjoy my family. It takes a lot of cooling-off outside for me to avoid screeching at him like a maniac while he goes through this unpleasant phase.

      I look at this behavior as a testing time. “How much do you love me? Do you love me if I act like this? Do you love me when I sound like this? Do you still love me if I do this? What about this?” Third grade knows how to push the buttons of every member of the family.

      For me today, on November 21, homeschool is about my self-discipline as a parent first and foremost, and secondarily about my children pursuing their interests.

      It’s almost bedtime for the little children, and I can let out a deep breath and realize I made it through another day without doing emotional harm to anyone (probably).

      I can give my children what a teacher never can: a true commitment to cherish them. I don’t have the luxury of putting tally marks on a board or sending the child to the principal’s office; I have to reinforce the good and discourage the bad and spread love over everything like a warm blanket on a cuddly sofa.

      Before dinner, I decided to stop talking to my family, picked up David Copperfield and read to them. I didn’t trust myself not to scream in frustration if left to my own devices. We all get a big laugh out of Aunt Betsey — relief.

      Crisis over. Mr. Grouch is in the shower and it’s 20 minutes till I tuck him in, kiss him goodnight, and remind us both that tomorrow is a brand new day.

      Sometimes being the homeschool parent is the BIG JOB. I don’t usually have days like this, and it’s rattling.

      Sorry everyone — I had to unload.

      • Satya
        Satya says:

        Hang in there mh. I think the testing requires so much effort and creativity on the parents’ part to get through rough times without losing our shit. And I think that effort is vastly under appreciated. You figured out how to get through a tough day, and I applaud you for that.

  14. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    Well, I can relate to most of your views, but this one is a bit difficult for me. I tried working while homeschooling and found it impossible to concentrate on my work, and when I was interrupted, I was irritated because I then had to go back and figure out what I was doing before the interruption. I have three children and one is a toddler so my life is one interruption after the other. I have found that the most difficult job I have ever had is being a homeschool/unschool parent to three, yet there is no way I would ever go back because it has been so good for my kids. I actually liked the predictability and the schedule of the school day and I liked going to work and sitting at my quiet computer while being productive and receiving accolades for a job well-done. After quitting my full-time corporate job I tried to work part-time from home, but I found that I am not good at multi-tasking in that way — going from kid mode to professional mode — and I let the kid mode seep into my professional life, making me seem unprofessional, a completely new feeling for me. So I finally disagree with you. After reading about your success for so long, then giving it a go myself, I can say that this path is not for everyone. I am happy to now be a full-time homeschooling/unschooling mom, but have never in my life been more exhausted.

  15. Susan
    Susan says:

    This is so true. School crushed any kind of quality of life for our entire family. This is our first year homeschooling and we are staring to feel like a family again.

  16. Anastasia @ eco-babyz
    Anastasia @ eco-babyz says:

    I have to wholeheartedly agree! It works really well for us as photographers, for me as a blogger and social media manager. Most of our work is home based save for some on location days and weddings, otherwise all editing is done at home.

    I’m sure it will not work for everyone, but works for us. I love being home with kids and even though it’s challenging to get work done, I work well under pressure and being my own boss. I greatly disliked working for someone else! I now that now my productivity directly affects how much I get paid and that’s great motivation for a home based business.

    I usually work 4-5 hours in the a.m. (now!) before kids wake up and then while toddler naps and preschooler does online learning work, then another hour or so in the evening when they are free to play on their own. They love me being home, frankly they have no idea what it would be like if I was away every day. :)

  17. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    I was referred to your blog by a homeschooling mom as I am starting my research on homeschooling my children. I really do believe I can work and homeschool but the challenge would be on convincing my company to be on board with me working from home 100%. Has anyone had that experience?

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