This was originally published on June 16, 2016, but since it’s still one of our most-searched-for posts, I’ve reposted it with a few updates.
I work full-time. (And then some.) I also homeschool my kids in a pretty hands-on way. People are often interested in how I balance those two big jobs, so I thought I’d write a post about my work/homeschool balancing act.
First off, I’m pretty sure a lot of the time that I do it pretty badly. It’s not easy. Things slip through the cracks. I have a vague, nagging sense of guilt all the time, like whatever I’m doing at any given time, I should be doing something else. (I’m not saying this to complain—I know I’m lucky to get to do things this way. But I think it would be totally fake to pretend that working full time and homeschooling is easy or that I do it well all the time!) And second, I love what I do. I think I have the best job in the entire world, and I find homeschooling really fun and satisfying. I think if either one of those things weren’t true, my situation would feel much harder. I also know that I’m able to make my balancing act work because I work 95 percent of the time from my home office. I know there are people who make it work when they’re doing most of their job out of the house, but I sure couldn’t.
Here’s what works for me:
I completely let go of the idea of a normal workday. I have a big workload, and in a more traditional environment, I’d be logging plenty of overtime. Last year, I made the decision not to keep up with my hours or try to set up a consistent schedule. I work when I need to work. My kids are late sleepers, so I’m usually able to get in three or four hours of work before they wake up in the morning. I usually work while I eat lunch and then in the afternoon and evening when the kids are doing their own things. I work through the weekend. Most days, we’re actively homeschooling for about four hours, and we try to spend at least an hour or two every day just doing something fun together—watching a show, playing a game, taking a walk, tackling a new craft project, whatever. I have accepted the fact that I’ll be working a lot every day, including weekends and holidays, and I try to make my non-work hours really count.
I do not try to do everything. I make dinner and we all eat together, but unless I’m feeling particularly into it, I don’t do breakfast and lunch—the kids are on their own for that. (I stock up on easy-fix things like instant oatmeal, sandwich fixings, or yogurt, and do occasional mega-cooking sessions where I freeze individual portions of meals like macaroni and cheese or enchiladas that the kids can heat up. Sometimes I buy frozen meals from the supermarket. I try to buy the healthiest ones, but I buy them, and I don’t feel guilty about it.) Our house is usually messy because cleaning is low on my priority list, and I’m okay about that. (Well, at least mostly!)
I push myself to be all-in with whatever I’m doing. When your to-do list never ends, it’s easy to feel perpetually fragmented—you’re doing one thing, but your mind is on something else. I work hard to stay in the moment: If we’re homeschooling, I turn off my phone. (I’ve actually got my phone set up so that it doesn’t even receive work email—I have to check it on my desktop.) If I’m designing a page for the magazine, I don’t check Facebook until the page is done. Some multitasking is inevitable and some days I do better at staying in the moment than others, but I really try to stay focused on one thing at a time.
I compartmentalize. Along the same lines, I keep a separate bullet journal for life (including homeschooling) and for work. This makes sense practically because my work timelines and my life schedule are pretty different, but it’s also symbolic: When I open my work bullet journal, I’m working. When I close it, I turn off work—as much as I can, anyway, when my office is just steps away from my bedroom. This is a small thing, but it’s made a big difference for me: Now, I have a life calendar that doesn’t just get swallowed up by work to-do lists.
I say no to extra stuff. I wish I had time to go to every homeschool day and park day and play date, but that’s just not realistic with everything else I have to do. So the kids and I try to choose one out-of-the-house adventure each week, and that’s it. I don’t take on volunteer projects, even when they’re awesome projects that I really believe in, or extra responsibilities, even when they come in the form of super-fun classes I could teach. I have to know my limits and be honest with myself about them.
I take time for myself. Our house would certainly be much tidier if I went straight to housecleaning every time I logged off from work—but that’s never going to happen. Carving out little corners of free time for myself is really important to me. So yes, I could be cleaning when I’m watching Poldark with Jason or having lunch with my best friend or knitting on the back deck, but I would feel overwhelmed very, very quickly. I don’t always get a lot of me-time, but when I do, I never feel guilty about using it for what I want to do (not what I might think I need to do).
I try not to talk about how busy I am. I know people whose conversations always seem to circle back around to how busy they are, and I don’t want “busy” to become the way people think of me—or, more importantly, the way I think of myself. So yeah, I’m busy, but unless you catch me right on the cusp of a magazine deadline, I’m not going to tell you all about it. I’m going to enjoy the break that I get chatting with you for all its worth and go back to my projects a little rejuvenated when the conversation is over. Dwelling on how busy I am just makes me feel busier, if that makes sense.
I take busy work weeks off from homeschool—and vice versa. Deadline weeks for the magazine, I don’t even try to do any kind of structured homeschool—our homeschool has a year-round calendar, so a week off four times a year isn’t a big deal. Similarly, if we have a big homeschool project going—like the trip we took to Savannah this year—I organize as much as I can in advance so that I can do the bare minimum work stuff during that time. I’ve learned that when something needs my full attention, trying to split my attention is a recipe for stress and grouchiness.
I feel like this balancing act is always a work in progress—for every day that I finish triumphantly, feeling like I’m that one person in a million who’s figured out how to have it all, there’s a day where I feel like the worst mom/wife/editor/friend in the history of the world. Mostly, though, I’m thankful that I get to have a job that I love, homeschool my kids, and make it—mostly—work.
[Update: Now I do work about 30 hours each week outside the house, and I was right that it is much harder. It is doable, though — I rely heavily on weekend prep time to do things like put together meal kits and set up daily checklists in my bullet journal of where I need to be when and what I need to have with me. I bought a laptop — which I’d been actively avoiding — so that I can work when I have unexpected moments of time during the day, and that has been very helpful. And the kids are older now — 17 and 11 — so they are largely independent when it comes to feeding themselves and making sure they have clean clothes. We do most of our hands-on homeschooling in the evenings and on weekends, which, if I’m honest, I don’t love, but which has worked fine so far. We’re still averaging about 20 hours a week of quality homeschool time, though they both do a bit more independent work than they did when I was only working from home. I’m still trying to adjust the schedule to make the most of my time, but it is definitely a work in progress.]