As I wrote this title, I realize it’s not just parent routine that’s important for homeschool success, it’s parent self-care. 

I remember when I didn’t have kids. I could spend a day in bed with a cold. A week in bed from a bad menstrual cycle. A month in a stupor from a bad breakup.

I remember when the kids went to daycare and I paid for a nanny and I worked such long hours that no one begrudged me for a few days in bed, moping. And honestly, I’m not sure the kids noticed.

Homeschooling ended all that. There is not another adult to take care of the kid all day when I stop functioning. Then I told myself the kids are old enough. And they’d be happy if I left them alone for a day. No forced wake up, no mandatory meals, no practice. They complain about that all the time. They would be thrilled with my absence. I told myself that and then I stared at the ceiling a day with the dog on my belly.

The boys asked what’s for dinner. They did not think a pizza party was fun. Kids in turmoil do not want special days. They want regular days.

So I made them dinner. Well, first, I made the dog a little bed in the kitchen. Then I did the pile of dirty dishes. Then I made dinner. Canned soup.

The boys didn’t say “this is not dinner” and they didn’t say “why can’t you really cook for us?” Which is a common refrain during canned-food meals.

I thought the bar was high for routine. After all, I need to make sure they do something during their childhood that makes them feel their time was well spent. (Whatever that means.)

But routine has a ripple effect. And actually, any routine is better than no routine. I first heard this when I read a study from economist Richard Easterlin about walking with a book on your head. Students who did it for 15 minutes a day were more conscious about studying well and eating well.

If you create routine for kids, you accidentally create routine for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a routine to change the world. It just needs to be consistent.

I’m moving from consistent schedules for the boys to consistent schedules for myself.

And I’m inspired by this description of Eleanor Roosevelt in Modern Mrs. Darcy:

Mrs. Roosevelt never took a day off. Her first “My Day” column appeared on December 30, 1935, and continued to run 6 days a week, year-round, until 1962. Her readers could count on her to be in their newspapers every morning. (She did make one exception, and took 4 days off after her husband’s death in 1945.)

Mrs. Roosevelt’s column ran 500 words, but she usually managed to complete each column in an hour. She had many obligations to attend to as first lady, and she made getting her column done quickly a priority. Readers didn’t complain that the quality suffered for it.

Eleanor didn’t have a consistent column as much as she had a consistent relationship with her readers. I want that. I started this blog because I didn’t want to homeschool alone. I already have so many places I write where the writing has to be remarkable. I want this blog to be a place where our relationships with each other are what’s remarkable. And that requires consistency.

26 replies
  1. Erin
    Erin says:

    Routine was never important to me before Matt left. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants INFP ffs. But routine was the first thing I added/changed & it helps a lot with the girls feeling secure.

    I started a “curriculum” with Phoebe but it’s just math-u-see and honestly the only reason I started it was to make sure I had “paying attention to her” as part of the routine. Sometimes we do “copywork” too, which is just a workbook of letter tracing practice I bought off Amazon. She loves the work. I think the structure helps her feel like her time is meaningful, too.

    We also go to the YMCA. They have this childwatch program that takes both girls for up to 2hr/day for just $35/month. I learned when the traffic is lighter so I could time the visits when the kid-to-adult ratio is better, so that’s part of our routine now, too. I drop them off and go work out.

    I’m trying to think of my life (& my girls’ lives) as a garden that needs these objective forms of care. It’s easier to tend to tasks when my internal compass is so clouded by hurt.

    But I’m still so worn out I’m struggling to figure out how working every day can be part of my routine. Maybe I’ll bring my work to the YMCA and just paint in the lobby. I can get a lot accomplished in two hours.

    • Tracy
      Tracy says:

      So sorry to hear Matt left Erin. That plus reading about Penelope’s and also Satya’s recent separations… does seem an all too common theme. Yes it is remarkable the relationships this blog builds. For I find I care for and am affected somewhat by the relationships and lives of many people I’ve never met…

    • Isabelle
      Isabelle says:

      When I was living in Berkeley, childwatch at the Y was my lifesaver. Literally. It took my depression from “I want to die” to “my life is too difficult and I hate it,” which was a big improvement. I miss it A LOT. We also made a lot of really wonderful friends there, I hope the same happens for you.

  2. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    My kids are all grown up now and my regular parenting time is over. The routines I built around that were strong, by necessity, and they ended abruptly on April 23 when my youngest turned 18. I’m scrambling to build new routines because I’m afraid that without them I’ll go into freefall and not have any idea how to live anymore!

  3. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I noticed your absence and I missed your posts, but life changing always makes priorities shift. I’m glad you still see this as something you’d like to do. I love your writing.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m also glad to see a post from you today. You’ve made a good observation recognizing what makes your writing remarkable elsewhere vs. this blog. There are different expectations and criteria for each venue. A post here doesn’t necessarily need to be groundbreaking or have unbelievable insights. Of course, it’s good to have such a post here once in awhile for good measure. I think it should set the table (so to speak) with ideas, thoughts, and more for this community to get started with a discussion in the comment section. A lot of learning happens in the comment section. Consistency will help with the flow of idea creation and sharing of those ideas among the readers. Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t have the instant feedback of the Internet and yet she had a connection with her readers by other means of communication. It was in many ways more personal and thoughtful because it wasn’t instant.

  5. Isabelle
    Isabelle says:

    This is so right on. Routine is critical for us all.

    I’m struggling with this for myself and my kids (2&4) now. After living somewhere where amazing childcare was everywhere (Berkeley), and my kids wanted to be in childcare all the time because it was way more fun than me (but I couldn’t afford to do it), now I live in small town Wisconsin and the childcare is pretty shitty and my kids want to be home with me. And I want that, too… except actually doing it often results in feeling extremely depressed and so anxious that I have panic attacks and end up screaming at everyone and feeling like a complete failure as a mother (and therefore a human, because I can’t pursue anything else meaningful while also being home all the damn time).

    I know more strict routine (including getting up before dawn to exercise before the kids wake up) would help us all. I get on the wagon, and then fall off, and then get on again… it’s a constant struggle.

    I really value the community here. Even though I don’t comment very often, I read every single post (and probably nearly every comment.)

  6. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Even thinking of life without a routine is hard for me to do. How does one function without having a routine? I’m not talking about rigid structure. I’m talking about life in general. My ability to create an optimal routine for my family is what keeps me sane. I also get plenty of me time.

    Homeschooling is best achieved with a healthy and functioning sober parent. Parenting and homeschooling are not entirely mutually exclusive. Elements of both are joined together.

    This blog and community has been a great place for me to sound off ideas, mature as a parent, and change/strengthen my views.

    Wishing you the best!

  7. jessica
    jessica says:

    So my big question is are you moving back to NYC? Or Saturday commuting?

    When the world doesn’t revolve around meeting the kids’ goals, it makes sense that there is a shake up of your self direction.With your posts, I’m left wondering what your new goals will be.

    My kiddo has been talking about school and we are looking into the pros and cons of that shift. Luckily, all the commenters here have given much varied insight into their experiences with the same.

    I think with any change there is a time of readjustment and that’s the uneasy part, which is perhaps where you are and where the community really matters.

  8. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    Structure and routine are my sanity, though at times I strain against my “chains” and long for spontaneity. So, of course, do the kids. So, I do the only reasonable thing a homeschooling mom of ten can do: PLAN for spontaneity. :)

  9. Rachel Reeves
    Rachel Reeves says:

    I think it’s been a zillion years since I’ve commented on a blog but I wanted to say thank you. I’m entering my fourth year of homeschooling my three girls and two days in. I already feel exhausted and like I’m failing but it’s because we got SO out of a routine that trying to get back into one is just going to take time and patience. A good reminder that even when I want to ease up a bit, I still need to have a routine of some sort. If only for my sanity. So glad to have found you. And I think, for the first time in what feels like decades, I’ll push the “subscribe” button so I can catch your next post…..

  10. Lille
    Lille says:

    Hi! How important is a high school certificate? In my country, an American GED, plus a few other administrative hoops, is the quickest way to get into university. My daughter, an INFP, is “a writer”, and wants to become a journalist. Do I spend money (and time) on doing the GED (with the maths and science she’s never going to use) or on an opportunity she has to go to Iran, Iran!!!! She has also already expressed an interest in getting married early. Your wise thoughts, please.

    • Yvette
      Yvette says:

      A U.S. GED is sufficient for most employment and university, here. It’s a basic credential. The GED test includes only basic math and science, and any journalist should have a well rounded knowledge base anyway, so there’s no getting around basic math, imhoI would recommend a college degree to all young woman, in order to do well in their lives and in order to postpone full time work or full time family. I have two daughters. I would not let either of them travel to Iran. Ever. On the other hand, eventually they’re old enough to decide for themselves. Teach safety!

  11. Allan Bartlett
    Allan Bartlett says:

    Although I don’t have children, I think routines are important for everyone. As our working or living environment changes, new routines will be developped. Thanks for your sharing and your ideas and beliefs resonate with me so much!

  12. Veronica
    Veronica says:

    A million times this! I really find it important to have a plan for my day, and feel like I’m accomplishing something worthwhile. Otherwise it’s just catering to others all the time and being reactionary. I schedule time for shopping for myself and spend time reading what I like at the library.

  13. me
    me says:

    I retired last year (at 51) and am still struggling with “So, Now What ?” I learned early on that a huge part of my struggle centers on the loss of the daily grind of work. After nearly 30 yrs of the strict routine of a fulltime work week, I feel lost in my current freelance world of (seemingly) endless free time.

    I think about establishing a routine, but then just get lost in wasting time on the internet & avoiding stuff I should be doing (home repairs, etc). And then the fear & self-loathing sets in. Ugh.

    I’m not a homeschooler, but this post reminded me yet AGAIN of how much value I find in unexpected corners of this blog ….

    Keep writing: I need you!

  14. Kate
    Kate says:

    I’m so glad I came across your blog, it comes at a perfect time as we start to consider the need to homeschool our autistic son. I feel the school system is going to be too much for him but I am needing so many tips on how to make it happen as he is a lot of work. Thanks x

  15. Mindful + Mama
    Mindful + Mama says:

    Ugh. I have yet to acknowledge that I am “accidentally creating a routine for myself” when I hang up another chart for the kids, or display a color coordinated, daily agenda to assist “them” in productivity. Figures, I just need to build it and they will come. Thanks Penelope.

  16. Ashley Wright
    Ashley Wright says:

    You are absolute right Penelope Trunk, there are times that we tend to make schedule for children and that turns to be ours.This is not going to help our children. We should ask our children to make their schedule which help them to be passionate in doing their work. Thanks Penelope your advice will surely help mother’s like us.

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