We all want to believe that there’s some magical balance out there, but the truth is what you’ve probably always suspected on some level: There’s no such thing as perfect balance. There’s just finding an un-balance that works for you.
I’m totally lucky to get to balance a job I love with hands-on homeschooling, which I also love, but hitting that balance isn’t always easy, and I’m learning to be okay with that.
Finding time for yourself as a homeschool parent is essential — but it’s probably not something that’s going to happen on its own. You need a plan — and you need one that adapts with your homeschool.
You can't do everything, be everything, buy everything — nobody can. So why do homeschool moms feel so guilty about it?
The new midlife crisis sounds eerily familiar, the uneven burden of emotional labor, writers snarking on other writers, and more stuff we like.
Lauren’s excited to go back to work—but she’s not ready to give up homeschooling her two kids. We help her find a way to have it all.
That harried, nagging busy-ness that plagues modern life can be especially hard on homeschool parents. Here’s how to chill out, slow down, and stop feeling so scattered.
I don’t know about you, but when we started homeschooling, I actually thought the housework part of life would get a little easier. After all, we would all be home all day—surely that would making keeping up with the dishes/laundry/bathroom cleaning a little easier, right?
Nope. At least not for us. Homeschooling didn’t give me more housework time—it just meant we were home to make bigger and more exciting messes. I’ve accepted the fact that homeschooling and a shiny clean house don’t go together for everyone, but if we want to have a happy homeschool, it’s also important to recognize that the burden of housework should not fall on one person’s shoulders.
Even very young kids can help with things like sorting laundry or tearing up lettuce for a salad, and older kids can take ownership of tasks from start to finish. It makes sense to collaborate on this. Sit down with your kids and make a list of all the housework that has to get done every day, then figure out together a fair way to divide it up. Be clear about expectations—what, specifically, does picking up the family room entail?—and deadlines—should work be finished before lunch or before bedtime? Be open to changing things as you go along. Treat it like any homeschool project—a work in progress that you’ll figure out together. Don’t think of it assigning chores: Instead, treat housework as a shared responsibility that everyone participates in. Between reminders and overseeing and that never-ending to-do list, you might only squeeze out 30 minutes of free time a day from letting your kids take on some of the daily duty—but hey, that’s 30 minutes, and as you settle into your new routine, that time may grow.
And don’t think divvying up the housework list is just for you: Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that helping with household tasks is the number-one predictor for future success—more than IQ, more than extracurricular activities, more than social status.
Your challenge this week: Sit down with your kids to plot a new daily schedule that lets everyone share in the everyday household duties. Try to take at least one task completely off your to-do list.
In her 1992 book The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron touts the creative benefits of regular “artist’s dates” to feed your spirit and spark your imagination. In late July, I took a doozy of an artist’s date and headed to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ annual summer conference, held this year at the historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A.
The Society, known by the acronym SCBWI, is one of the most amazing resources out there for people who write books for children (I joined SCBWI not long after beginning a nonfiction book about Charlie Chaplin for teens back in late 2012). Among many other helpful services, SCBWI sponsors two big annual conferences in New York and L.A. which draw children’s book writers, editors, agents, art directors, and illustrators from across the country.
Knowing that we homeschoolers are a book-loving bunch, I thought it might be fun to share some of the insights and inspiration I gleaned at the conference—and to give you a preview of some forthcoming books I heard mentioned there.
Pam Munoz Ryan, author of Esperanza Rising, was one of the conference’s first keynote speakers. She noted that interviewers sometimes ask her what she wishes people would ask her more often.
“I wish they’d ask me about failure as much as they ask me about getting an agent,” she admitted with a wry smile. She spoke of how often she finds herself thinking she’s on the right track with a book, only to discover she’s not.
“If you are not struggling,” she urged attendees, “if nothing is a challenge. . . then you’re setting your goals too low.”
In another keynote, publisher and editor Justin Chanda spoke of how important it was not to get caught up in writing to trends, telling the audience, “Erase ‘trend’ from your thinking. . . By the time you finish your manuscript, a new trend might be starting.” Instead, he encouraged writers to focus on writing the stories close to their hearts and telling those stories in the distinctive ways that only they can tell them.
Illustrator John Parra echoed Chanda’s sentiments in a later panel, telling the audience, “You don’t want to be a second-rate someone else. You want to be a first-rate you.”
Chanda also addressed the subject of diversity in children’s literature.
“Diversity is not a trend. Diversity is not the new vampires. Diversity is real life,” he asserted. He added, “Celebrating diversity. . . needs to be the norm.” Chanda is definitely practicing what he preaches: he recently launched Salaam Reads, a Simon and Schuster imprint devoted to depicting nuanced, realistic Muslim characters and themes.
For me, one of the must-attend panels at the conference was a presentation on Nonfiction/Fiction Mash-Ups by writers Elizabeth Partridge, Linda Sue Park, and Susan Campbell Bartoletti and agent Steven Malk. As the presenters shared their perspectives on when nonfiction veers into the realm of fiction, I found myself challenged to look harder at my own nonfiction project to make sure it really is just the facts, ma’am.
Linda Sue Park shared a particularly thought-provoking point about nonfiction, noting that almost all nonfiction eventually loses authority over time because of new research and new interpretations of the truth. Nonetheless, she said, it’s still important for writers to attempt nonfiction so that new information and perspectives can be discovered—even as nonfiction writers have to understand that they’re doomed to be found inaccurate on some points eventually.
Park also mentioned Fatal Throne, an intriguing new collaborative novel about Henry VIII and his six wives helmed by award-winning writer Candace Fleming. The novel will feature history-based stories from the point-of-view of Henry VIII and his wives, written by such noted authors as M. T. Anderson, Deborah Hopkinson, and Park herself. It’s due in Fall 2017.
At another break-out session, author Bonnie Bader offered tips for writing engaging biographies. Bader knows what she’s talking about—she’s written several biographies in Penguin Random House’s popular Who Was. . .? series (your kids might know them as “The Big Head Books”). Among her pointers: Try focusing on one particularly illuminating part of a person’s story instead of trying to cover a person’s entire life. She cited Martha Brenner’s Abe Lincoln’s Hat as a model of that approach. She also encouraged writers to steer clear of beginning biographies with the person’s birth, but to instead draw readers in with an attention-getting anecdote. As an example, she read the opening of her forthcoming biography Who Was Jacqueline Kennedy?, which showed Jackie taking Paris by storm in 1961.
For me, one of the most encouraging parts of the conference was hearing celebrated writers and illustrators admit just how humbling this business can be. Carole Boston Weatherford, the author of Moses: The Story of Harriet Tubman and Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins, noted that when writers are first starting out, people always ask, “Have you published anything?” Once a writer has been published, she laughed, the question becomes, “Have you published anything I would have heard of?”
Author-illustrator Sophie Blackall also emphasized the humbling nature of publishing: “I don’t know anyone in this industry who says, ‘Oh, I’ve totally got this now.’”
Repeatedly, I heard from authors I admire that no matter how far you advance, you are still going to experience setbacks and self-doubt. But if you commit to the work and persist, you can find joy and growth through the struggles. Good advice for writing—and life.
Another conference highlight for me was meeting fellow nonfiction writer (and longtime homeschooling parent) Sarah Jane Marsh, whose debut picture book Thomas Paine and The Dangerous Word is due out in 2017. Sarah was incredibly generous about sharing what she wished she would have known when she was at the career stage that I am now. My takeaway? If I’m lucky enough to land a book deal, I shouldn’t be afraid to ask my agent and my editor questions and bring up concerns, even if I feel a bit awkward about it.
One of the last presentations I saw was by author Margarita Engle, whose memoir-in-poems Enchanted Air has been winning awards and rave reviews this year. In her book, Engle writes of feeling torn between her childhood in Los Angeles and her summers in Cuba with her mother’s family. Her inner conflict was heightened by the Communist revolution in Cuba, the Cuban missile crisis, and the eventual ban on travel to Cuba, a ban that created a painful divide between Engle and the family and the island she loved.
Engle noted that she consciously used present tense for Enchanted Air because she didn’t want her memoir to come across to kids as an old person’s reminiscences, as she self-deprecatingly put it.
“I wanted to take a young reader on a time traveling experience,” she explained.
She pointed out that her memoir came out not long after Jacqueline Woodson’s acclaimed 2014 memoir-in-poems Brown Girl Dreaming, also written in present tense and also showing a girl grappling with the intersection between the personal and the political.
“Maybe it’s a point in history where poetry is needed,” Engle mused.
This point in history often feels frighteningly tumultuous, especially with the current Presidential race stirring up so much discord. The writers, artists, and editors speaking at this year’s SCBWI conference couldn’t help acknowledging some of the difficulties our country is facing. But again and again, the conference’s speakers emphasized the power of stories to spread hope and change kids’ lives for the better.
As author-illustrator Drew Daywalt said in a Tweet sent from the conference, “Dear hurting America, take heart. Even as we struggle, know the people making stories for our children are some of the kindest people alive.”
After hanging out with some of those people all weekend, that was definitely my takeaway, too.
For more information on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, visit the SCBWI website at www.scbwi.org.
A decade ago, I began homeschooling my children for selfish reasons. Sure, I thought homeschooling would be good for them too, and I read a stack of books about childhood development, learning styles, and homeschooling methods to back up that belief, but ultimately my reasons to homeschool were selfish. I wanted my children to learn free of negative social influences, gold star grading systems, and hours of pointless homework, but mostly I didn’t want to wake up early every day to rouse my sleeping children, pack brown bag lunches, and hurry them out the door. Waking up naturally and snuggling on the couch to read books before we began our day of curiosity driven learning was my romanticized fantasy of homeschool life.
There were many days that we lived out my fantasy, but many more days that I lost myself in the service of parenting and homeschooling. When mothers with more experience than I had counseled me to take some “me time”, I didn’t even know what they meant. All the hours not devoted to the enrichment of my children were spent cleaning up from said enrichment, planning for the next day’s enrichment, and recovering from all the enrichment, plus the usual business of running a household. When exactly was this “me time” supposed to happen, and what was I supposed to be doing for myself?
I recently listened to an interview with a 107 year woman and when asked for the secret of her longevity her answer was to eat well, exercise, sleep, and avoid stress - four of my favorite things to do now, but not my priorities during those early years of homeschooling. Hearing it from a woman with a tremendous amount of life experience affirmed that taking care of myself is my definition of “me time”, and hopefully it will buy me even more time.
As the new school year approaches, and you thoughtfully select and prepare curriculum for your children, consider the enrichment of yourself as well. Schedule “me time” in your daily planner, and keep the lesson plan simple: eat well, exercise, sleep, and avoid stress.
Here are a few sample assignments:
- Eat vegetables with your breakfast, because at the end of a long day when the idea of making a salad seems as monumental a task as teaching Latin to a preschooler, and you wonder if the marinara sauce on your pasta counts as a vegetable, at least it won’t be your only vegetable that day.
- Station your kids on the front porch with a timer and have them record how long it takes you to walk (or run!) around the block multiple times. Find the mean, median, and mode of your times and call it a math lesson. Extra credit if they cheer you on.
- Schedule a twenty minute power nap for that particularly stressful time of day when you begin to consider packing a lunch for your children and dropping them off at the nearest public school.
- Replace a “should” with a “want”: I should (insert an activity that stresses you out), but I want to (insert an activity that feeds your sense of self). You can’t avoid all shoulds in life, but if you’re not careful you may successfully avoid all of your wants.
- One of the greatest lessons I learned and passed on to my children is the importance of taking care of oneself. If you don’t make yourself a priority, who will? A bonus to this lesson is that others often benefit from your acts of selfishness. My selfish desire to homeschool was a selfless act of service to my children, and an inspiration for friends to choose alternative educational paths.
Families make great sacrifices of time, energy and resources in order to homeschool, but caring for yourself does not have to be part of that sacrifice. This school year, make “me time” a mandatory subject. What is good for you is also good for your children.
There was a time when I believed that I could do it all. I could work and be a mother and wife and also have my own interests—and importantly, I’d do it all dazzlingly well and my hair would look good, to boot. Way back, before I’d even had children, I think I imagined my future self as doing all of these things because that’s the yarn the 1970s and 80s spun for its daughters and sons: women can do it all, have it all, without smudging their blue eye shadow or putting a feathered hair out of place.
Imagine my shock when I actually had a baby in my arms: my own baby who needed and wanted me 24/7, who made rational thought seemingly-impossible, who made punctuality a thing of the past. Have it all? For goodness sake, I couldn’t even have a shower.
Later, when I began homeschooling my children, it became apparent that whatever career or other aspirations I had would need to take a back seat for a while longer than I’d originally envisioned. I felt excited about making homeschooling my full-time job, but also somewhat despondent that the ideas and enthusiasm I had for my work couldn’t come to fruition at the pace I’d envisioned. I love homeschooling. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t also love my work, my interests, my hobbies, my passions.
I look back and think of what I’ve had to release in order to be at home with my children. You might call them “sacrifices.” But I choose to frame them differently. Instead of thinking of what I gave up to be with my children, I am filling my frame with all that I have received. Instead of dwelling on what I could have been, I rejoice in what I am.
Since beginning this journey of parenthood I have learned so many things. I’ve taught myself how to cook, to knit, to crochet. I’ve learned how to communicate with compassion, to respect others’ needs and appreciate my own. I’ve learned to look myself in the mirror and accept myself regardless of what I look like or how much sleep I’ve had. I’ve come to measure my worth against my own balance sheet rather than my employer’s, or anyone else’s for that matter. I’ve learned that I have instincts and I’ve adjusted my antennae so I’m tuned into them.
I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I opened my hands and released all that I held, and into those empty hands fell different, unexpected gifts. I do have it all. It’s just not the “all” that you might expect.
Before I was married, I loved to take long walks. It wasn’t just for exercise. I could relax my mind while walking. I enjoyed looking at the houses, people, trees, and anything I would pass. After we got married, my husband and I walked our dogs most evenings, and it became a daily ritual where we reconnected and talked about our day.
We continued with our baby in a stroller, yet as my son got older and could walk on his own, it was hard to go for a walk because he wanted to stop and look at every stick and rock along the way. That can be fun too, but eventually, he didn’t want to walk at all, and my younger son followed in his footsteps. I’ve gone many years without having daily walks.
It’s necessary for me to spend most of my limited free time writing, or I wouldn’t get anything done. But writing is very sedentary, and as I get older, it’s pretty clear that I could use the exercise too. But I’ve put off trying to make walking a habit again. When? I thought. And how do I do it so that it doesn’t disrupt everyone else’s routine? Because no one in this house makes extra time for Mama, except Mama.
Recently it occurred to me that now that my boys are almost nine- and almost six-years-old, they are both much more independent and able to occupy themselves for a while. So I should be able to figure out a way to make walking part of my daily routine, right? Well, it wasn’t easy, and it’s still not easy. But I found a time that I try to walk on most days, and I found a way to get the boys to join me sometimes too.
One night after dinner, I left the dishes in the sink, and I said I was going for a walk. I asked the boys if they wanted to go with me. They said no, but that was okay because daddy was home, and they could play awhile before bath time.
The next night, I invited them again. Wanting to spend time with me, my five-year-old decided to come with me. Another night, the eight-year-old came with me. The night after that, they both came. Finally, I said, I’m going to try to walk every night after dinner. You’re always invited, but you don’t have to go, if you don’t want to. However, if daddy is not at home, you have to go because I can’t leave you at the house by yourself.
Giving them a choice has made all the difference. That little caveat about having to go, if daddy isn’t here, doesn’t seem to bother them too much since they understand the reason behind it. (They are still young enough to not want to be left at home alone.)
I also give them choices when we’re out walking. Which way do you want to go? If you’re tired, we’ll head back home. I don’t try to get a power walk when I’m walking with the boys, and I don’t care about distance. I let them meander, and I enjoy spending time with them and being outside, moving my body. In my mind, I’m establishing a habit. As the boys get older, as they leave the house, I’ll have a routine. I’ll have my exercise time.... At least, I can hope!
A surprising byproduct occurred by establishing this walking routine: I have given the boys an opportunity to act like a grown-up and decide how they are going to spend their time. Not that they didn’t do what they wanted to before, but now it’s an intentional act because we all stop to think about it each evening. They know they have the option for some Mommy-time. Only now, I don’t feel so dragged down about it. I am usually tired by this time of day, and I’m not in the mood to play or look up answers to questions on the Internet. Now I’m able to do something for myself while also offering something to them.
“Hmmm. I want to take a bath,” the five-year-old might decide.
“I want to water the garden,” the eight-year-old might say.
“I’ll walk with you, Mommy,” one or both of them might say.
My five-year-old likes walking with me, and I think the biggest motivating factor is looking for feathers. (Tip: If you make your walk sound more like a mission to search for something interesting, it appeals to little kids.) He collects feathers, and he’s discovered that if he goes walking, he sometimes finds one. Sometimes we find two! You’d be surprised at how many feathers you can find, if you just start looking.
My eight-year-old is also opting to walk with us frequently. He likes looking for snakes, rocks and feathers. But sometimes he decides to stay home and practice his piano, water the garden, or just play.
It’s exciting to me to see the boys make their own decisions. It feels good when they decide they want to walk with me – an activity that has been so important in my life. I’m not only creating a new ritual, I’m creating memories.
How do you work exercise or self-care in to your busy schedule?
Back in the days when two of my three children were in school, I lamented the morning time, when we were rushed off our feet to get out the door on time. Packing lunches and bags, making sure school uniforms were clean (well, cleanish) and homework completed felt like a herculean task. I wasn’t really very good at it, and it made me feel incredibly stressed. Often, I ended up shouting at the children and the day started on the wrong foot. I’d wave them into school, then I’d squirm uncomfortably all day as I waited for them to come home so we could make up and start over.
It’s an unpleasant memory. I’m glad we don’t have to do that anymore.
That said, sometimes I catch myself being that manic, stressed lady who wants to get out the door on time, but just can’t seem to get each of the planets into alignment. Turns out, school or not, I find it hard to get everyone dressed (and keep them dressed) (let’s not talk about the child who likes to take everything off minutes before we leave the house) and out the door. Turns out I overfill the day and we end up rushing from one thing to another. Turns out that even as a home educator I find myself shouting at the children because of the pressure to be somewhere.
Fortunately, we can start over a lot sooner. I don’t have to wait all day to say sorry, take a deep breath and just calm down, for pete’s sake.
When I’m doing that hare-brained thing I do when we’ve got swimming at 9.30 and violin at 11.10 then a meet-up with friends at noon, followed by clarinet at 4.30 and a run scheduled straight after, I have to stop for a moment and say, “Lisa, what on earth are you doing?” Kids are overscheduled, yes, but what about mothers? I’m overscheduled and I hate it! (Someone do a research study about us!)
So I take a deep breath and I step back and think about my priorities. I imagine what my ideal day would look like, and I think about what my children love doing most: cycling around nature reserves, going pond-dipping, reading books on the sofa, drawing, watching documentaries together. And I wonder why I’m doing any of that other stuff. I slow this tightrope walk down, circle my arms in the air for a bit, rock from side to side and attempt to regain balance. I want this to be enjoyable. I want it to be graceful. I want it to be fun.
I think we can easily achieve a consensus that rushing and getting stressed is not fun.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a yoga teacher. As such, I believe in the power of thoughts. My latest mantra (repeated words or phrase that shapes our thoughts and distracts us from unhelpful ones) is, “I have all the time I need.”
I have all the time I need.
Because I do, don’t I? We have time to read books on the sofa. We have time to cycle around nature reserves. We have time to draw. We have time to lie on our bellies and stare into ponds.
Sometimes it’s worth just taking a deep breath and reminding myself. I have all the time I need. And so do you. Let’s go stare into a pond together. I don’t mind if you’re not on time, because, really, I can’t guarantee that we will be.
“Nooooooo!” he shouted, a fearful tone in his squeaky voice.
If you read my last installment, you will know that when my five-year-old son and I discuss what we’re doing each day, he sometimes sees the glass as half empty. But this wasn’t one of those times. Today we would be seeing friends he’d been asking to see for weeks. Today we would be going to a place he loves: a skate park and playground halfway along a bridge that crosses the bay. Until recently, he’d ask me every day whether we could go to that skate park. We go there a lot!
I was surprised at his reaction. This wasn’t a complaint. He explained, “I’m frightened of going there!” You see, partway along the bridge, the road lifts up to allow boats to pass through. A loud siren sounds, barriers come down, red flashing lights warn everyone that the bridge is about to open…. In the many years since it was built, it has never once swallowed anyone up. But still, it is a little disconcerting to have the ground that was, only moments ago, beneath your feet form a great chasm and lift into the air.
I remembered that the last few times we’d visited the bridge park, my little boy expressed worries about falling through into the fathomless sea below. The last time we went, he crossed over with his eyes closed, while I led the way. Today his fears peaked, and he asked plaintively, “Please can we not go there?”
Children are frightened of all sorts of things. It’s understandable. The world is large and they are only small. If you can’t swim, the prospect of falling into a grey, churning sea is terrifying. Come to think of it, even if you can swim it’s pretty scary.
When my eldest was very young, mannequins were high on her list of fears. Spiders; the wind; sudden, loud noises; sleeping alone; the creaking of the radiators as the heating kicks on; the dark—all of these have been my children’s fears at one time or another. With my first child I didn’t know that I couldn’t logic her out of her fears. I didn’t know that I couldn’t convince her to let go of fear and be brave. I didn’t know that I couldn’t just explain that the mannequins wouldn’t move and haunt her with their empty eyes (even though I wasn’t really sure of that myself, you know). I tried all of those things, and still she cried. Still she clung to me.
Today my son’s older sister felt frustrated with him. She’s grown out of many of her fears, and the prospect of missing out on seeing friends was too much for her. “Oh, stop being silly! It’ll be fine.” Her reaction was all too familiar. From the experience of saying similar things in the past, I knew it wouldn’t work. “Ugh. You always ruin everything!” she raged. And although I’ve never said those words to my son, I have certainly experienced the exasperation of having to go to considerable lengths to work around the fears of a small child.
Fortunately, we can be completely flexible in our plans. So, sure, let’s go somewhere else. Fortunately, our friends are flexible too, and they were happy to change the location of our meet-up. Everyone was happy.
Two summers ago my family went for a camping holiday on a remote and beautiful Scottish island. We did a lot of hiking, and on one such hike, the steady wind picked up to be gale force strength. We walked along a hillside, the land sloping steeply and dramatically down into the dangerous blue and white swells of the angry Atlantic Ocean. It’s not only children who have fears. I, too, have fears. I am frightened of cliffs, of falling into the sea, of my children being dragged off a hillside by a strong wind. Normally I am able to use coping mechanisms to get through my fear and enjoy a hike. That day, the wind was too strong, the ocean too threatening, my children too small and vulnerable… and I… I realized I was impotent in the face of such forces of nature. As the wind picked up speed, tears wicked from my cheeks. I knelt with shaking legs, and pressed my body to the hillside. Beneath my tear-stained cheek, tiny blades of grass and resilient flowers shook as my body spasmed in fear. “Just get them to lower ground,” I shouted. Paralysed with fear, ashamed of what my children were witnessing, my dry mouth clamped shut and I cried.
Minutes passed slowly as the wind whistled and gusted around my bare head. After taking the children to safety, my sure-footed husband returned to me, knelt beside me and uttered soothing words. So close I could feel the warmth of his humid breath on my ear, he told me everything would be fine, to just crawl down the hillside toward the valley. I could take my time. The children were fine. Gradually, I moved. I crawled down the hill, shielding my peripheral vision from the sea’s threatening breakers and made it to the valley. My children hugged me. They offered me chocolate. They told me they were fine and I would be too.
Nothing they could have said would have stopped me from feeling afraid. They didn’t tell me I was being silly. They didn’t explain why my fears were irrational. They accepted me and respected me and reassured me. They knew that, just like my son and his fear of the bridge that opens, I might get over my fear one day, or I might not.
Because, as with so many things, the antidote to fear is love.
You need a little me-time — and with some strategic planning, you can get it.
For the parent who homeschools, finding a little time to be alone can be harder than getting the pickiest of eaters to eat his broccoli. But self-care is essential, and if you want to be your best, you need and deserve a little break. Here are a few ideas to think about as you decide how you are going to make me-time part of your family’s routine.
If your child is young and still napping, try to transition naptime to “quiet time.” This will look different for every child. You may start with 10 minutes of quiet time and slowly stretch that to longer increments. You may want to designate an area of the house for each child to play in, or allow kids to play together quietly. You don’t want your child to think of it as a punishment, so allow them to move around the house or do something fun as long as it is “quiet,” safe, and doesn’t involve you.
Beth Gulley, homeschooling mom to two children who are well passed the napping age, decided to introduce “siestas” to her day after getting the idea from another mom. Right after lunch everyone spends 20 minutes in bed. The kids are allowed to read, and she says her son has read quite a few books this way. Her daughter prefers to just rest, and sometimes she even falls asleep. She rewards them with a piece of candy after the siesta, though she is working on finding other rewards and stretching the time to 30 to 45 minutes.
Try storing half your child’s toys in a box or boxes in the closet and rotating in a new box when you need some down time. The toys from the “new” box will seem like new to your kids, and they should keep them occupied for a while.
If you are feeling creative, you can make sensory boxes for younger children. These are full of things that will be fun to touch, feel, and rearrange like dried pasta and beans with some spoons, pots, and pans. Other boxes could have sand and toys, beads and toy trucks, or items from nature such as pinecones, leaves and sticks. (Google sensory box for hundreds of ideas.) Children need to be supervised while using a sensory box, but you will at least get a few minutes to sit back while they play.
Don’t feel guilty about encouraging your children to play alone. This is a skill that will serve them well on into adulthood. To encourage them to play alone, be sure to keep your open-ended toys, craft supplies, books, and anything else that interests them accessible.
Make a point of spending at least half an hour of one-on-one time with your child each day. This should be time that your child directs, not you. That way, when you need a break, you can rest assured that you have given your child quality time.
Sometimes a firm but gentle, “Go play now,” may be helpful. Or, “You play with that while I get this done, okay?” Making your children feel like they are helping you by leaving you alone for a while can go a long way. If it works for you, let them play near you. It may only work for five minutes at first, but getting them used to the idea of playing alone for longer increments can take time.
There is nothing wrong with letting children watch some educational television or play games on their Kindle while you sneak into the other room for some quiet time either. Television is not bad for our children, especially when you make a point to fill your day with a variety of activities.
Make a deal with friends, family members, or your partner to trade time off with each other so that you have a break built into your schedule.
Be sure to tell your children why you need quiet time to rest or work. They might insist that they don’t need quiet time, but if you tell them that you need quiet time or else you might get cranky, they may agree with you! Tell your kids you are going to spend half an hour alone in your room, and when the clock turns to a designated hour, they can come get you. Better yet, plan to play a game or do another fun activity at that time as a way to reward them for good behavior. If none of these methods seem like they will work for your kids, don’t feel discouraged. All children are different, and it may require some creative planning on your part to find what makes your child more comfortable being alone or quiet for a while. What doesn’t work now may work well in six months, so keep trying.
On Tuesday I mentioned to a friend that I’d gone back to a new-to-me writers group on the previous night. She smiled broadly and said, “Congratulations!”
The word, “congratulations,” normally reserved for engagements, wedding anniversaries, promotions and the arrival of a new baby, might seem inappropriate in this situation. But you and I both know that I deserved that congratulations from my friend. She, a seasoned mother of five children and a fellow home educator, knows that it can take a military-style operation to get out of the house alone. She would also know that it takes a huge amount of bravery and derring-do to step outside one’s comfort zone and go into a new situation, especially when you half expect that there are toddler-snot trails on your shoulder and your most recent conversations center around the prize in a Kinder egg, rather than the latest literary prize.
The first time I went to the group, I changed into my pajamas, lay down with my youngest child (as usual) and waited for him to go to sleep. Then I got up, re-dressed into my jeans and fleece pullover, and drove across town to the group. If my son had known I was going, I doubt he would have gone to sleep. There would have been too many questions, tears about unmet expectations, and his need, ever-present need, for me.
The next morning we talked about it, and it turns out he’s okay with my going out to the group. The next Monday I gave him a kiss goodbye and walked out the door, and his dad lay down with him instead. That was the day I got caught in construction traffic, then drove round and round the patchwork of streets near the group’s venue, couldn’t find parking and after 45 minutes drove home. On the downside, I didn’t get to go to the group. On the upside, 45 minutes alone was rather a novelty.
(As an aside, did you know there are programs on the radio that are specifically aimed at adults? Yeah, crazy. Oddly, none of them feature “The Wheels on the Bus.”)
This week, I made it to the group, struck up a conversation with the person sitting beside me, and even shared something I wrote without running panic-stricken from the room. On reflection, I realize that I struggled to make eye contact with my fellow writers because for me, writing can be like a dirty little secret—something I do alone and rarely discuss with others. Talking about it somehow feels like uttering a profanity. It’s just not the done thing. Certainly not in mixed company.
I suspect that going to the group is going to be good for me, even if it does take a lot of organization and effort to get there. It’s stretching my skills and taking me out of my comfort zone. It helped me realize that maybe my son is ready to be left with his dad and have a change of routine now and again. It’s reminded me that I am an adult with many gifts and roles: mother and home educator being only two. And it’s reminded me what it’s like to be a learner again.
So when you congratulate me, I’ll say just smile and say, “thanks.” Because we both know there’s a lot more to it than just going to writers group.