Time management tips for homeschool parents

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.

11 replies
  1. MBL
    MBL says:

    Oh dear lord I hope my daughter never discovers urban dictionary! Yesterday, in the car, she asked the definition of “flaccid,” “desecrate,” and “flotsam.” I shudder to think what she might have found for that first word. She prefers to ask me because she doesn’t think the kindle dictionary is good enough. I just realized that is probably because I tailor my response to what I think she already knows via both vocabulary and experience.

    Interestingly, it seems like the the author misused “desecrate” to mean vandalize without the required “sacred” or “holy” component. But properly used “flotsam” without the customary “and jetsam.” (I got curious and looked the specifics of that up.)

    I do try to encourage her to be more independent with what she can do. And I find she is most receptive when I “can’t” help her versus merely “won’t.” But, based on my thoughts regarding this post, I will no longer be exasperated by her asking me about definitions since I no longer am ascribing her motivation to laziness. So thanks for that!

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      My fav is hearing my five year old say “Siri, show me pictures of…..”

  2. MBL
    MBL says:

    I’ve decided to combine 1. and 2. and separate out her and my emotional reactions to her meltdowns and give up giving a sh1t about spectators’ opinions. :D

    I spend far too much energy worrying about how others might judge my parenting and not enough time doing what I have learned works best when she goes all Aspie on me in public. And also when we are alone. I need to let go of my belief that I need to “punish” undesirable behavior. She feels bad enough about it after the fact and my belaboring the point isn’t going to help the next time she gets overwhelmed, so…

    Thus, now I have more time and energy to devote to composing marginally pertinent novellas on this blog. You’re welcome!

  3. Kristi
    Kristi says:

    Yes! A friend called me today to talk about this stuff. She said, “I feel like I’m failing. Who am I failing? I guess my children.” Yeah, it’s hard to get time away for our own pursuits and work. It feels like I’m making my kids revolve around errands and work and my personal time sometimes, even though I don’t get much personal time. And I wonder am I really here with them? Or am I just planning the next thing? But it’s still better than school. Thanks for the post.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    What works for me right now is being as under-scheduled as possible. It is the only way I can make things work with having three children home with me all day. Fortunately for me they are young enough where this works, and my oldest has no desire to participate in any sort of structured classroom experience.

    Every 6 months- 1 year we reevaluate and go over our options and every time I do this with my oldest she freaks out and considers “school talk” a threat, which it isn’t. I promise.

    Then I must reevaluate how I can get the time that I need to myself during the day and still be under-scheduled but still be meeting everyone’s individual needs. Then I realize it won’t always be like this, eventually our days will be packed with experiences that require possibly being over-scheduled, and I wonder how I will manage that. Right now, it is museums, travel, and acting on weekends. The rest is spent in our individual creative pursuits and self-directed learning.

    Also, brothers are not the only type of siblings that fight. Sisters do it too, most of the time I let them work things out, sometimes I do need to step in, like when I hear high pitched voices that make my skin crawl. I just want peace… I feel like some sort of peacekeeping diplomat at times. I enjoy these moments but also have a hard time handling three intense little girls by myself most of the time. Personalities, temperaments, and their intensities drive our need to be under-scheduled. How much longer I get to hang on to this subversive lifestyle is the real question.

  5. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I love this post so much.
    1) therapy for oneself – I realized I was stuck and I had a great diagnosis of what was causing my issues but I wasn’t able to get past it without help. I sought out help and it was amazing!
    2) it’s very hard for me to be a stay at home mom and ta very hard to be away all day from the kids when I work. When they’re crying to the max I think “you’ll have maybe 30 years to work. Only about one more year of having an itty bitty babe.”

    I love what you said about sepArating emotional issues from, well, any other issue. I’ve been doing this without knowing how to label it. It’s done wonders. I mean, I’m still stressed but now I know how to compartmentalize it.

    3) predictable work time and other times- my mom is so great at helping. I just don’t know when she will be there to help. I’m trying to be less of a planning person and more a “fly by the seat of my pants” person. It’s not working so great but I’m still tinkering with it.
    My husband used to ask me on dates randomly and I hated it. He wanted to be fun ms sweet with spontaneity because our lives were overwhelmed with predictability (predictable chaos and sleeplessness and crying babies). I told him that what worked best for me was to anticipate a date.

    Now, I can I go over to my moms house to get ready. Then he “picks me up” by crossing the fence and we go. Not bumping into each other getting ready works wonders for romance.

    I worry about being there too much for the kids and make them clingy and not being there enough. I guess only I time will tell. Until then, I embrace my decisions and march forward. I think of the post Penelope wrote about confidence being the best one we can give our children.

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I read #4 (Make work time predictable.) with interest and couldn’t help but think it’s every manager’s dilemma in the workplace. Only the ages and how the chaos plays out is different. The most independent workers that are able to complete the job with minimal management involvement are the most valuable.
    How is “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.” working out? The solution of making lists sounds like a good one in theory but not very workable in practice without caveats and exceptions which have been customized to the task and individual. There are going to be circumstances that require intervention of some sort that need to be resolved before a certain process can proceed. It applies to the learning process as well as work.
    The advantage of a flexible workplace or flexible learning (homeschooling) is the opportunity of setting the schedule to fit your needs and your worker’s/child’s needs to synchronize together in a customized environment. Otherwise, the outcome may very well be – “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.” I’m thinking the best outcome is having an independent worker/learner being able to determine and highlight the most important barriers they are experiencing to overcome that require your involvement in a timely manner. In other words, the formation of lists with priorities set by them. There are going to be real “show stoppers” and then other matters that can wait and be resolved at meal time or other leisure time period when both parties are more readily available. Lists can work when both parties know how to interpret and act on them in a prescribed and orderly manner. These lists used by a homeschooler have the potential to make them aware and provide them with practice on how to be independent and valuable once they enter the workplace.

    • kina
      kina says:

      Wow, you beat me. It’s 4am for me. lol. Question: how many hours of work do you manage to pull in each day on average? And, what do you do?

  7. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    The days I am most productive begin at 5am. We don’t have a scheduled bedtime, so my guys sleep til 9. I do all my focus work before everyone is awake. I had a hard time focusing with all the interruptions too, until I created my areas of focus. Just a few areas that I have to accomplish every week. Anything else gets logged in Evernote for another time or completed if absolutely necessary.

    When I do this, I am so much more productive. The priority management you use in business before unschooling and working at home just does not work for me.

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