I was holding my life together for a while. I was managing my son’s cello life and my crazy startup work life and my older son and my marriage. I was sort of holding it all together.

Then we started having to go to Chicago a third day a week for cello lessons, which put us at 24 hours a week in the car. At the same time, I had to start pitching investors all over the US in order to raise another round of funding.

I was still doing okay.

But then my older son started running into executive function problems with his school work, which forced me to realize that I was not paying enough attention to him. I was making everything work by sort of hoping he could take care of himself.

[Insert self-flagellation here.]

Managing executive function is hard for me, because I have none. So it should have been obvious to me that this would happen. But I was just sort of hoping that if I ignored the obvious it would go away.

Executive function: It’s very difficult for me to tell what is most important in any given time. And that’s true for my son as well. I knew we both lose focus  – like I start cleaning the house when we are supposed to be leaving the house. And I know my son can’t follow a conversation – like, he’ll go on and on about the animal crackers that got stuck together in a mating position when he is studying biology because animal mating is biology.

I realized that the time I had the best executive function was when I was managing a call center. It was early in my career. And it was a small call center.  I saw no one was managing the call center, so I could probably get a promotion if I took charge. I wrote a plan.

The key to running a call center is making sure the most important stuff gets attended to, and making sure you don’t focus on unimportant stuff. So most of my executive function skills come from my time writing systems for my mini-call center.

So I stopped doing work and started teaching my son executive function by teaching him how call centers run. It worked for a while. I even showed him one of my favorite call center blogs – – this guy who writes about working in a call center. That was off topic, but reading comprehension is also an executive function thing. I told my son to tell me the main idea of the most recent post.

My son said, “The main idea is don’t work in a call center if you don’t have social skills.”

Great. We are making progress.

How is it that the kids both need me all the time? This is not what I had intended when I started unschooling. I thought it would be they do whatever they want all day and I work.

So I tried to get my cello son to practice more on his own. I punted on piano. I told him I can’t practice with him for two instruments so he’s on his own for piano. I helped my older son stay focused on chemistry problems while my younger son did the worst practicing of his life.

Finally I couldn’t take it. I said, “Forget chemistry. I have to practice piano or he is just wasting his time. How about if instead of chemistry you try to solve the problem of how our family is going to function when I am not giving enough time to either kid?”

Piano sucked. Chemistry sucked. Lunch sucked. It was all falling apart. And then my son told me that he thinks I should hire a call center to deal with the kids.

His idea: My son can call someone and ask them to help him stay focused on chemistry. My other son can call someone to listen to piano. You don’t need to know about music to know when a kid is doing terrible practicing, believe me. Maybe people should have call centers that are like tutors, or psychologists on call, or maybe I would just like a call center that would answer my questions about how to stop having such high expectations of myself that trickle down to my kids and make kids crazy.

Why don’t more people dial-up call centers and talk about their personal problems?  I think that would probably have the same effect as writing problems down in a blog post. The act of enumerating them for someone else makes the problems seem more manageable right away.

35 replies
  1. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    It has been a while since your last post, so I was wondering if you were having a hard time. Every time I hear about your schedule, I think it’s crazy. Maybe your sons’ father can help out with the piano or chemistry through Skype? That’s kind of like a call center…

  2. Fiona
    Fiona says:

    is there some reason you don’t want to hire a tutor or outsource helping your sons with their practising etc during this high-stress season? These stress points also seem pretty specific to living somewhere more rural – in a city you wouldn’t have the crazy music class commute / it’s pretty easy hiring someone to help your kids with their homework etc – does living on a farm still outweigh all these factors (husband aside of course; asking because I actually think about this all the time wrt where to live in the future..)?

  3. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    It’s an eternal conundrum. You always tell women that they can’t have it all. But it’s obvious that you’re spreading yourself too thin by having it all. Being an ENTJ your goal is to have the perfect life in which everything is perfect—family, marriage, work. You’re struggling because each of them requires so much of you and you’re starting to lose yourself.

    I wonder if you kids actually want high-achieving lives. Of course you’re trying to keep their options open for their adulthood. But maybe it’s at the expense of their teenage years. Or maybe they’re perfectly happy with their current lives, it’s just me being ignorant.

    I concur with a commenter in one of your recent blog posts that it’s okay for your older son not to do undergrad at a top-tier school in order to do a PhD at one; it’s the thesis supervisor who matters. And piano isn’t your younger son’s major instrument, maybe it’s time for him to learn practicing on his own?

  4. ISFP
    ISFP says:

    I was concerned about you too with the long time not posting. I don’t read many blogs, but I have been checking yours each day. I keep reading your even though some of it is so painful for me to read that I have to read it while riding the stationary bike or pacing around because I can’t deal with some of the things you say while sitting still (I am ISFP) – not just because you are an interesting writer or because some of the topics your write about (such as personality type) interest me, but because your way of thinking helps me to understand my ENTJ husband’s perspective a bit better. I don’t ever comment but always think a lot about your posts. Just wanted to let you know that your thoughts are valuable. Thank you.

  5. Blandy
    Blandy says:

    I also was wondering where you were. Calm. The fuck. Down. [Does this get edited for swear words? If so, can you still see it?] I am not going to tell you the ins and outs of my kids imploding, reorganizing, imploding again, and finally pulling it together. Number three is still in dystopia-land but I think she will make it. Remember that 95% is nature, 5% is nurture. Okay that’s not science but my gut after raising Mars, Venus, and Pluto. If they know they are loved (yours do!) they will figure out the rest. It will take time. For what it’s worth, when I thought #2 was truly lost (age 20) he figured it out. Not with help. On his own.

  6. Mauricio
    Mauricio says:

    I give you props… not only for the awesome blog written, but for having the patience to read Godin’s article. I can’t stand ignorance in and of itself, much less to read it. Thank you for pushing through (reading the article) and speaking the truth! God bless you and your family!

  7. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I’m a director in a software company, and an elder in my church, and vice-president of a nonprofit. Meanwhile, I’m still parenting my last son (graduates in May!) and got married over the summer. Oh, and I’m taking on freelance work because I need the money to pay for the youngest’s college next fall.

    So I feel you on being stretched too thin.

    I think you and I must have different motivations given our personality types — I do all this stuff largely because I find it to be deeply meaningful and interesting. (Except the freelance work. That’s just pragmatism.) But I think the common thread here is perfectionism. And until everything crashes in on us because we really can’t do it all, we won’t look at it that way.

  8. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    P.S. The engineering school from which I graduated (rated the #1 undergraduate engineering program in the nation by US News!) runs a call center, staffed by students, that helps students with their studies in mathematics and science. They have all the textbooks everybody uses, and all these uber-smart budding engineers gently guide kids through whatever weeds they’re tangled in. The Rose-Hulman Homework Hotline is at askrose.org and 877-275-7673.

    • Rayne of Terror
      Rayne of Terror says:

      My mom was a middle school math & science teacher and I’ve heard from her the Rose Hulman hotline is an invaluable resource.

  9. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I think maybe you need someone to sit down with you and make a schedule, and then you have to follow it.

    I know you say you already follow a routine but I find that, for me (a fellow Asperger’s sufferer), I can only function well in a given day if I write a schedule for myself the day before.

    Except I only do that, like, two or three times a month. Even sitting down to write down a schedule becomes a chore that I just never get to even though it’s the most important thing to do that everything else hinges on. I wish someone else would do it for me.

    So maybe you need someone to write the schedule for you every day. Don’t you have an assistant? Maybe that should be part of her job. Write Penelope’s daily schedule. Then set alarms for you throughout the day to follow it or something.

    Or maybe the assistant could do that for your son instead. If he’s an INTJ I bet he feels bad about not keeping up with his studying too.

    As for your ESFP son, I wonder what he’s doing instead of practicing. Maybe he needs to start a Youtube channel of him performing cello renditions of video game or TV show music or something. That could be music practice and also marketing practice.

  10. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    This is sort of related…I always had an idea for a relative management setvice. Like if you had a crazy sister or mother who needed help figuring out her finances, making housing decisions, cleaning out her basement, making therapy appointments, etc. you could outsource this to a caring professional who would manage this person as a series of tasks that they had no personal baggage or history with. Probably a pretty sick fantasy that reveals a lot about me…hmmm..

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      That exists in the UK. Call social services and they will send out a carer for the adult to manage day to day tasks and schedules.

  11. Tina
    Tina says:

    Penelope,
    You need to decide what is important. You want to do everything and have this impossiblely “perfect” life where your kids can handle themselves and you can work and you and your husband have an amicable relationship with regular sex with little investment in the relationship.

    This is not possible. You already know it is not possible, but you want to pretend it is possible. You need to give up on that fantasy and be real.

    Decide what is most important and everything else will fall away and you will be happier. The key to this is staying focused and what you decide is important. You will feel sadness/regret about what you must give up. But what’s the point of trying to do everything if you suck at all of it?

    I know you will say that your kids need certain things that are a priority. And work. And relationships. But think about reframing your choices. That you are teaching your kids how to take care of themselves by taking care of yourself. And isn’t that a better lesson than one more music lesson?

    These are difficult choices. But you can do it. And if not, you and everyone around you will suffer. You’re call.

  12. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    Meh……mental breakdowns seem to be part of everyone’s homeschooling journey. Then question..is why?

  13. MC
    MC says:

    Hey P-

    As you can tell, there are a lot of us who are wanting the best for you and your family.

    I noticed that you forgot an important item on your list of things to take care of…Penelope! Taking care of yourself is highest on that list. That gives you the strength and resilience to take care of the rest. We love you and want you to show yourself love too. :-)

  14. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    Nice to see you back. I figured things were falling apart a little.

    “How is it that the kids both need me all the time? This is not what I had intended when I started unschooling. I thought it would be they do whatever they want all day and I work.”

    This made me laugh a little. I imagine everyone who homeschools has said this at some point. I know I did. At first I thought it was just because I am an introvert with extroverted children, but I think now that has little to do with it. It’s mostly that kids want attention.

    As another parent of a child musician, I’ll suggest that your boy really can practice by himself, or he should be able to, at his age (11, right?) He must hear when he messes up, or he wouldn’t be any good. Perhaps he wants your company, and messing up gets it for him better than does practicing well.

    Is there some kind of work you can do in the same room as him? Your mute companionship might be sufficient for him to feel connected. I will sometimes bring my book into the living room when my son practices, and he likes that. I like to think of this as similar (for him) to bringing your work to a coffee shop or bar, as many adults do. My son doesn’t like to be alone either.

    Another thing you might consider to help with companionship for your kids is hosting an au pair. You’re unlikely to find the kind of help you want in your remote community, and most au pairs want an urban setting, but there are surely some farm girls out there who would enjoy living with your family for a while (just don’t expect an au pair to drive your kid to Chicago). Maybe you could even find an au pair who plays cello?

    As regards your 24 hours a week in the car, there’s a great contradiction in your life. You want things that do not exist in the same place, but far away from each other. You want to live on a farm, and you want classical musical training for your son. It’s not surprising this is tearing you apart; it’s more surprising you’re holding it together.

    I’d like to encourage you to hold it together a little longer, because your son is getting to the age where he might have a little more independence. You’ve found a great resource for your son near Chicago in your son’s teacher and in the community program of the MIC. That seems, with the exceptions of your long commute from cowtown, and your difficulty accompanying your son in his practice, to be working for you now. The next step, in a couple of years, will likely be a full pre-collegiate program; the school he’s at seems to have one of those too. Will that concentrated Saturday program make it easier for your family? Might it reduce the number of days you need to be near Chicago? Will his greater independence at that age make it easier for you? By 13, you should just have to get him to the school, not accompany him – you could drop him off and go work all day, and get him in the evening.

    The prep program / academy is what will prepare your son to audition for a conservatory, at which point he will have to leave not just Wisconsin but Chicago, because Chicago has no highly ranked conservatories. It is a long path to a terrible career, with far more applicants than jobs. Your son’s competition will be steep, and most of his competitors will be the children of musicians, who grew up near (or at) conservatories. Most of them will also do intensive and selective summer programs every year, and your son is nearing the age where he should start that too.

    I’ll share an example of the type of competition he will have. To see Noah Lee performing at age 11, watch YouTube video 3NH3n3Ckji8. He studies at Julliard pre-college now, and spent multiple summers at Meadowmount. He’s 15 now, and making a name for himself as a soloist and competition winner. Lee is likely to be among the one in ten conservatory graduates who gets a paying job as a cellist.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      I like the au pair idea. It’s a good fit. The author is a career expert so mentoring a young adult is something she can do. They say a requirement to be a good host is being at least as able to care for the needs of a 19 yr old living abroad as needing the household help.

  15. JML
    JML says:

    I don’t homeschool and my life is falling apart. Lunches, homework, work, marriage, house. I can’t handle it! I cried everyday this week and ended it with a huge meltdown. It’s hard to identify what brings me over the edge and I wish I was better at that so that I could see it coming and develop strategies to avoid getting to this point. So instead of causes, I’m focussed on solutions. Which doesn’t seem as effective to me. Although cleaning out my cupboards is giving me a semblance of control, it’s making my life harder. But man, what I wouldn’t do for a dishwasher!

  16. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I would encourage you to keep trying to keep it together. Things tend to appear like they are falling apart when in reality it’s really a bunch of changes happening at one time and they each need to be handled separately. Even the most put together person would have a hard time with that many changes happening at once.

    I don’t think this is a case of trying to have it all, per se. Other than thinking you can have everything a homeschooler/music prodigy needs in a rural area, which is clearly the #1 issue here. I think it is fully ok to outsource some things, don’t you agree? Where is the Biology tutor that is clearly needed? Can you find one online? Can your son interview one and find one he likes?

    I disagree with the youtube video practice, people are absolutely vitriolic in the comments on youtube and would crush him. I like what Bostonian said about just being in the room with him doing your own thing.

    Eventually you will find your new rhythm to all of this, it’s just a lot right now.

  17. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Well, as far as lunch sucking, I think it’s time to get your boys in the kitchen for that meal. All hands on deck. I would say no to using the stove (unless you plan to be there in some supervisory capacity). However, I would think using the microwave to warm and cook would be OK, if necessary. Otherwise, it’s cold cuts, peanut butter & jam, chips, etc. that’s easy for them to fix for themselves.

  18. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I had THE BEST therapist in Seattle. I saw her for almost a whole year.
    I wiggled ONE session on the phone. She was in Wisconsin and I was falling apart and emailed her saying “I know you don’t like phone sessions but I need your help badly right now. You’re with family but I just need 20 minutes and you help me back to my feet and I’ll pay you for the whole session.”

    She got on the phone. And never took my money for it even though I tried for so long.

    I just couldn’t do the drive to Seattle all the time.

    It got me thinking of the friend support I provide for friends in crisis. They are so depressed sometimes that they don’t want to leave the house. We text and use messenger a lot. So now I want to do counseling long distance. And I keep seeing the beginning of it pop up everywhere.

    It’s probably a little bit of time before it gains traction. But it’s becoming more and more common. So that’s what I am going to do.

  19. Kae
    Kae says:

    I have only been aware of my neurodivergeance for the last year or so, and this year I have decided to dissolve my marriage to a man who could not appreciate me and am now single parenting and unschooling our two children in a new province. It’s hard. And I feel my executive functioning issues all the more because I am burning out. When overwhelmed, my quirks are exacerbated. Having a community supporting you makes all the difference. For myself, I am looking into hiring tutors for subjects that I am not personally well educated in or have time to really research. Those time slots will allow me to invest more time in the work that draws my income to support us and give me a needed mental break. Radical self care is the key, as well as consciously yielding control over every minor detail. Something I tell myself is that “this is not a crisis, we will be okay even if it isn’t perfect”. It’s those ridiculously high standards that create the anxiety-stress. I have to remind myself that I don’t need to do things above standard in order to be succeeding, or worthy to take up space in society. It’s okay if I am sub-par in some areas because of my neurology. It’s ok that I’m not perfect either and need my community to help me function when I am struggling.

  20. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    I know this may sound crazy but have you ever given the though to boarding school for your boys? I homeschooled my son for 7 years, he attended a military summer camp and was hooked. This is his second year and my life has become so much easier, I miss him terribly but I now earn more and have the time to focus on my business. He is happy and we are happy.

  21. Lea
    Lea says:

    FYI: People absolutely do call up call centers and ask for life advice. I’ve been working in call centers for the last three years, and so many of the calls I’ve taken haven’t been about the actual customer service functions available by calling that number. It makes for an interesting job.

  22. Jackson
    Jackson says:

    That’s a great point. I never hear high school graduates being quizzed about what they learned. It would be absurd. Even though we know high school education is a crap shoot. I need to not worry when my kids get quizzed by people suspicious of homeschooling. I need to trust that my kids have enough self-confidence to deal with it.

  23. Angela
    Angela says:

    I completely understand what this blog is saying. Your not alone. I too will drive myself crazy and my kids crazy with a too long of a to do list. I fill my plate too full to the point I will suffer from anxiety and depression. The problem is I don’t know if I can empty my too full plate. I too will be caught between cleaning the house, my son’s home school, needing to get out the door to help take care of my dad or go to the store. I have trouble with prioritizing and so do my children. What do you do when so many people need you? I am a full time parent, wife, care giver, house keeper, cook, teacher, and so on and so on. I am the Power of Attorney of my 86 year old dad who has been sick in and out the hospital with MDS since Thanksgiving. On top of all that I have 2 of the most selfish and crazy siblings you have ever met, who sadly live with my dad. Now I know why dad made me Power of Attorney even though I am his youngest out of 5 children. I think I look like I have it all together but in reality I am screaming and falling apart on the inside. My phone rings off the hook daily with my siblings problems because apparently my dad took care of everyone’s problems when he was well. If I don’t answer the phone they are knocking at my door asking why I did not answer the phone. Its a living nightmare. I just got a phone call while writing this blog because dad is confused for the 100th time ( bless his heart) about what pills he s suppose to take in the morning. Again where are my 2 adult siblings who live in the house with him????? The pills are in his morning pill box where they always are and where I put them every refill day. My siblings know this. My siblings do not know how to take care of dad while I am away at my own home taking care of my family. I recently hired home health care to come in and check on my dad several times a week because I do not trust my crazy siblings. The one sister who lives with dad, stays in the basement and never surfaces. She looks like a zombie and her son, my nephew, is a conman who is always a wanted fugitive. I found out a few weeks ago from a police detective that my nephew is hiding stolen goods in my dad’s basement. My nephew’s picture was all over the news wanted for fraud. Yeah a lot of fun to deal with on top of everything else. My brother who lives upstairs with my dad has a eating disorder and weighs over 300 pounds. He eats and drinks every thing up in the house. I have to constantly check and see if my dad has food and drinks. Its awful. My brother also had my dad drive his car and go shopping with him for more food. My dad is not suppose to be driving or out in public with a low immunity. He is also on 3 heart medications and suffers from vertigo. What is wrong with this people? At home I have a husband who works full time but does not help at home or with my dad. I have 3 kids. My oldest son is 23, my daughter is 15 and my youngest son is 10. I only home school my youngest. I home school him because he was being bullied horribly in public school. H also has a learning disability that the public schools here don’t understand. He has Auditory issues, ADHD, and dyslexia. Of course with so much going on and it all happening during the holiday season, I am probably 4 weeks behind in the home school schedule. I have so much mommy guilt right now because my son has a learning disability as it is but now he is so behind because of me trying to juggle too much. I have had it and I am burned out. I am falling asleep too much during the day and having terrible anxiety and nightmares when I do sleep. How do I snap out of this and prioritize all of this? Any advice?

  24. Shawn Dsouza
    Shawn Dsouza says:

    Re: Why don’t more people dial-up call centers and talk about their personal problems?

    Well, we may have the mechanisms in place, but people are unwillingly to admit that 1) they have a problem 2) talking to someone will actually help 3) they don’t have things as “figured out” as they think they do.

    I remember, as a teenager, using internet forums/chat rooms with aliases to vent my problems. I came across some really knowledgeable/wise/experienced people that helped me persevere.

    The beautiful thing about the technology (phone/internet) is that you can reveal everything about yourself while revealing nothing about yourself.

Comments are closed.