Written by contributor Hillary Boucher of infinitely learning
When my husband and I set out to homeschool our three children while running two home-based businesses we had no idea what we were getting into. We knew we would love the flexibility, the sense of control and the bonus family time, but we didn’t realize just how well organized we would need to be or the added stress it would bring into our home.
My husband designs and installs stonework and we run the business end from our home. I run a local birth services business that includes photography, doula services and birth tub rentals. I also do web consulting work for small businesses and non-profit organizations.
Three years later and we’ve finally learned how to make it work.
Here are seven things I wish I’d known when we started.
1. Start with a strong daily rhythm.
We’ve found, without exception, when we put work first and kids second nothing gets accomplished. On a busy work day our ability to roll with a well-established rhythm becomes a lifesaver.
While rigid schedules are likely to be broken, a family rhythm moves with the unique needs of the day, holding steady ground for children to learn and parents to work.
Rhythm makes it easier to identify what times of day are best for working, what times are best for homeschooling–and when you’re really rolling both can happen simultaneously!
2. Make your marriage a priority.
When I asked my husband what he would put on this list he quickly answered, “Keep your marriage passionate!”
I had to laugh, and agree!
In the same way that a strong family rhythm helps everyone enjoy the day, a strong partnership helps you navigate choppy waters of work and homeschooling.
Some of our hardest times as a family are when we’ve allowed business or money stress to affect our relationship.
Make time for each other outside of work and parenting. Take a short coffee break in the kitchen. Schedule date nights (even if you stay home) and invest in keeping the spark alive.
3. Get organized (and stay that way).
Our family’s income and well-being depends on our ability to stay organized. We can’t afford to lose paperwork, forget client meetings or miss family events.
We were attracted to working at home because we wanted control over our life. This was impossible until we took ourselves seriously, implemented an organizational system that worked and committed to staying that way.
Part of our system involves a family command station with a calendar, filing cabinets, dry erase board and personal organizers.
Taking the time to set up a system that works for you makes it easier for you to get your work done and have more time for your family.
4. Go mobile.
The ability to be mobile adds flexibility to the work-at-home and homeschooling family.
Homeschoolers know that much learning happens outside of the house. Cloud computing means you can work at the park, during a violin lesson, or at swim class. Check out great tools like Google Apps, Evernote, and Dropbox.
5. Be realistic.
When I used to daydream about homeschooling there was a clean house, art projects drying on the table and lots of laughter as we learned math while cooking dinner. In reality, our homeschooling life looks nothing like this. And that’s okay.
You will need to ruthlessly prioritize your work and home to make sure you are getting both done sufficiently. Trying to do everything and be everyone won’t work.
You might have to make peace with a messy house or give up the dream of a big garden. Doing one job well is better than leaving a half-dozen unfinished.
My friend Jeanette runs a business in Chicago from her home and homeschools her two children with her partner who also works part-time. She breaks up her work into 30 minute tasks.
She knows that she’ll need to turn her attention to her family frequently and she makes amazing things happen 30 minutes at a time!
You can be brilliant at work and provide your kids with a wholesome learning environment, but you might have to say no to things you love in order to do so.
6. Create clear boundaries.
Frequent disruptions while working erode your effectiveness with your task and your patience with your children. Clear boundaries can help.
There will be times when you cannot be disturbed because of an important phone call and your family needs to know that.
My kids know if I’m working at the table downstairs they can come and talk to me or ask for my help. If I go upstairs it’s a cue that I can’t be disturbed.
Letting family life distract you from accomplishing your work goals isn’t in your family’s best interest.
You also have to commit to making time for your family. This integrated lifestyle can make it feel like there is always work to be done.
Try to set aside one part of the day for no computer or work. It doesn’t matter if it’s dinner time or morning, just make sure there is a time of day where your full attention turns to your family.
7. Plug into a support network.
No family is an island and everyone needs a support system. This is particularly true if you are living an unconventional lifestyle that includes working from home and homeschooling.
Start in the homeschooling community and find friends. Look into community programs for homeschoolers. Having some activities a few times a week can free up work time for you and meet your kids’ needs.
If you are really lucky you might actually meet a family like yours who understands the unique challenges you face.
There’s no one way to do this.
No philosophy, book or guru can tell you what will work for your family. Try to let go of any outside expectations of what life should look like and instead focus on creating a life that fits your family’s needs one day at a time.
Are you a work from home, homeschooling family? Tell us about the life hacks you use to make it work.