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.
Tsh @ Simple Mom
Love this, Hillary! Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom. This is my biggest question as I prepare to homeschool next year — how do I run SLM and homeschool well?
Totally agree with the cloud computing thing. Technology is one of the amazing things that makes this sort of lifestyle possible! Unconventional, maybe, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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Thanks Tsh. Just these past few weeks I’ve been thinking about how this lifestyle might be considered “unconventional” but just a few generations ago it was quite the norm!
Hillary, thanks for sharing this! I often get asked how our family functions with working and home schooling. For the last five years, this has been our lifestyle, which included planting a church and operating a music studio (piano and voice). Like you said, it, sometimes, does seem unconventional, but it’s become ‘our normal’.
And Tsh, you can totally do it! You’ve inspired me to continue this journey! So, THANK YOU!
Angela @ Homegrown Mom
This is so timely for me, and one of those posts I’ll be referring back to often! I’ve been blogging for a while, but just recently took on several professional projects that need more time. I definitely need to work on #6!
My husband was just trying to convince me to do dropbox or something similar, I’ll have to look into that!
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#6 is so tough. We’re always trying to stay super mindful of keeping boundaries, but sometimes it’s not possible.
Also, take a peek at Springpadit.com too. I’m in love!
I work from home and homeschool. I need to work more on the staying organized part! I have been super lucky, however and share some of the homeschooling tasks with my sister-in-law. We share kid duty and lessons, freeing up some time for each of us to get some of our own work done. I love your ideas and will take them to heart! Thank you!!
Jana, that sounds like a great set up with your sister-in-law.
If you are looking for help organizing check out “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. I was never great at organizing and his system was really helpful. It made a big difference for us.
Mandi @ Life Your Way
Similar to “get organized”, one of the keys for me is to reevaluate and look for time wasters. I don’t mean things like Facebook or blog reading (although those are definitely time wasters too) but areas of my routine that just aren’t working. For example, I ruthlessly unsubscribe from any email newsletters that I end up on, and I even filter things like Paypal notifications straight to the trash since I don’t need to see them as they come in. On the flip side, I do things like preparing as many of our fruits & veggies as I can at the beginning of the week so that we can just grab ‘n go for snacks and meals. By eliminating these distractions, I’m better able to stay on task, whether that’s work or homeschool!
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This is fantastic Hillary! It is such a balancing act working from home and homeschooling, but these are wonderful ideas for keeping it all together!
My favorite part is when you said, “Doing one job well is better than leaving a half-dozen unfinished,” because it reminds me of something my grandfather worked hard to teach me. It is so ingrained that it has led to some unfortunate late nights, but it also helps me prioritize!!
Living the Balanced Life
We homeschooled and had a family business for 5 years. It was not so much a technology based business as it was a service business. We took our kids with much as much as possible (we did pictures for homeschool groups, co-ops, teams and events). We joked quite a bit about *van*schooling as opposed to homeschooling. I mean, during busy season, we were hardly ever home! So, keeping things portable was important! We listened to a lot of classic stories on the road via CD!
That is the awesome thing about homeschooling AND about being self-employed is that you have freedom to choose!
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While I don’t homeschool, I do like to do regular learning activities with my kiddo, and I do work from home. I think you’ve made some great points and I particularly think it’s important to set aside time “just” for family. I have the hardest time turning off the computer, and walking away from work, since it’s right here, so close to everything, but when I do, even for a little while, everything goes so much smoother.
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Anastasia @ Eco-Babyz
Thank you! Great post. I work from home and my daughter is 2 now. We will be homeschooling regularly soon. This is very helpful! By biggest problem is that I am by nature not very organized, I will really have to discipline myself on that.
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I’m a single homeschooling WHAM and key for me has been having a childcare provider that is very homeschooling/unschooling friendly. Also, I made it a priority to find friends that fit us really well – other unschooling families with similar values, where I can be friends with the Mom, and our children are similar ages (give or take a few years) and get along well. In terms of organization, I attempt to use physical structures to make being organized almost a default position (I like some ideas from zenhabits.net). I still have a ways to go ;). Recommend the ideas behind “The 4 Hour Workweek”, (not that my business is online), like the 80-20 rule paired with Parkinson’s Principle and testing out what is worth your time/effort. I’ve noticed though that a lot of time management or ‘how to get organized’ advice is too linear to apply to the circular quality of (attached) mothering.
I’ve noticed though that a lot of time management or ‘how to get organized’ advice is too linear to apply to the circular quality of (attached) mothering.
I agree. I’d be really curious what the both of you think of “GTD”. What I like about it is he 1) doesn’t differentiate work from life (ie weeding the garden is work just like recording business expenses and 2) he’s got this whole “mind like water” analogy that really resonates with me.
I’m finding it to be the first “system” that can handle the multiple overarching focuses in my life (I’ve got six!) without overwhelming me. It’s given me a lot of control over life.
Hillary’s latest post: Homeschooling and Working from Home- Yes You Can!
renee @ FIMBY
GTD overwhelmed me. I have applied the flow diagram to my e-mail which I love. That’s working really well for me.
I like the idea management presented in Making Ideas Happen. Everything is a project and all incoming stuff (ideas, paper, tasks whatever) is either an action item (which you can apply the flow diagram from GTD), reference or back burner (my life seems full of those somedays). You create a system to categorize and sort these things and then manage your time to actually deal with the action items. I’ve probably explained it poorly but the structure is working for me right now.
Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home
I agree, Renee, that GTD was overwhelming. My husband finds it really helpful for the most part, but I just couldn’t keep up with it. I’m interested to look at the system that you mentioned. I’m definitely struggling to find a system that really works for me as a homemaker, homeschooler, and business owner. Feels like it’s difficult to find the right fit.
renee @ FIMBY
Making Ideas Happen is not so much about an organizing system as it is well… making ideas happen. I still recommend it but it’s not a system to follow more of an overarching strategy for creative types to see their ideas come to fruition. This can include your homeschooling ideas.
I’m a single wahm who home schools, also. I am so fortunate that my daughter is a very self directed learner, and has been from a young age. Home schooling is so much easier when you let your child follow their passions. We are slowly stepping away from a curriculum as she gets older and proves that she doesn’t need one to cover all the bases.
This is beautiful Hillary! RIGHT ON! Can we call an Ithaca meetup to the wonderful families living a homeschooling/ work from home life. I could host in the summer 😉
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This is beautiful Hillary! RIGHT ON! Can we call an Ithaca meetup to the wonderful families living a homeschooling/ work from home life. I could host in the summer 😉
p.s. i had to send this twice as the first one did not go through. apologies if this is a repost.
Robin at Stone Soup Homeschool Network
Super! Very clear and concise! Just what I needed! I will be posting this one on FB and Twitter!
Magic and Mayhem
Wonderful tips! I really like the 30 minute idea too. Thanks!
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Hillary. So nice to hear your voice here and have you share your wisdom. As you know, we are gearing up to earn money from home – Damien first and then myself in the next couple months.
We will be work-at-home partners in life and marriage and of course homeschooling our kiddos at the same time. I’m so excited and have started to give some thought to how we are going to organize our lives to make that happen successfully. I can’t wait to start! Right now I’m doing lots of organizational reading and planning so I have a few tools to implement when the time comes. Your post is very timely!
Carol J. Alexander
This was a great article. As a freelance writer and homeschooling mom I agree with all points. I’d also add that if you have been homeschooling for some time before starting your business, as I have, that you stress the importance of the business to the family so that they respect the fact that mom is “at work.” Thanks for sharing.
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This sounds a lot like our life! I second your husband’s advice to keep your marriage central and passionate. Sometimes, it can seem that we see each other quite a bit since we are both in the same house most of the time, but being in the same building and spending quality time together are two VERY different things! It is so important to communicate with your spouse, both about the mundane (schedules, meals, etc.) and about the truly important (dreams, frustrations, parenting). When we are both on the same page, life just works better : )
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Great post! People are always saying “how do you do it?” to me. The short answer is, I am constantly inspect-and-adapt-ing. I lose what doesn’t work and adopt what does. It’s never set in stone as my children age, my business changes, my family grows.
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Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home
We are a completely entrepreneurial family, with 3 young kids, and we homeschool. My husband quit his management job in the city a year and a half ago to launch a private music school, and I do various blog, writing and other web work. We are finding it a real challenge to get ourselves organized and find systems and rhythms that work for us.
Part of what drew us to this lifestyle is the freedom to be more spontaneous, to drop what we’re doing and have a fun family time, to have my husband around the kids more, and to not be chained to a schedule that anyone else is setting for us. BUT, I am recognizing more and more that we need to come up with a real system of organization like you talked about in #3, in order to be able to reap the other benefits that come with our lifestyle choice.
I think one of the hardest parts is that we feel truly odd and out of place in many respects. We just don’t know many families doing what we’re doing, and although we have amazing friends and family and church, not many of them understand why we’ve chosen what we’ve chosen.
All that to say, this post is timely for me. I need to read it over with hubs on a date night. 🙂 Thanks!
What a good topic! I work from home as a doula and student midwife, and I have hard time getting privacy to make phone calls or emails with clients or other midwives. My kids seem to think they can barge in wherever I am! Perhaps I need to be more clear about my space? It’s funny, I’ve read your posts before, but I never knew you were a doula! Nice to meet you!
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Nice to meet you too!
Hillary’s latest post: Homeschooling and Working from Home- Yes You Can!
I am tardy to the party but what a great post! My babe isn’t old enough to be homeschooled, but when the time comes that is what we are doing. I don’t fear the challenge because I work from home with him anyway; along with balancing other things. But if I had more than one kid…I would seriously have to do something differently. I’d probably need more help.
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Hello Tish, I’m a homeschooling mom of my 4th grader whom I’ve educated since kinder with a 5 mos stint last year in 3rd grade at a nearby private school. I have three other children, my son 6 and daughter 4 are in school nearby and our baby, almost 2 is at home with us. I’m on a mission to create order so I can grow my established business, better maintain order in our home, and foresee homeschooling all three school-aged kids next year. I’d like to know more about your “control center.” Where do you keep it and what did you use to create it. Any chance of a photo? Did you use like flylady.net or what? Thanks a million.
YES! This is exactly what I need to be reading. Thank you so much for writing this.
amy aka Ms Paperlicious
I know this is an older post, but I just found it b/c I am a WAHM with a web based business so I do it ALL at home, and I am contemplating homeschooling. This was great to read as I try to decide the best thing for my family!
Happy to have found your site!
I just stumbled upon this blog, realizing this particular piece was written in 2011. However, thank you! This is great information! My husband and I have made the decision to homeschool our daughter and I will be running a home-based crafting business in addition to working a part-time position at my church that also allows me to work from home. My husband is a college professor and freelance writer. We always dreamed of having a flexible work/family life and are now at a point where we can actually do this! The excitement is plenty but we often worry about balancing all of our competing demands. Thanks for providing such wonderful tips! I figure between my experience as a former corporate professional turned graduate student (finished this spring) turned homeschool educator and business owner, I can manage to keep the engines humming…without losing my mind!
Thank you for this post! I found it via google search for this exact topic, and I’m glad I did. My significant other and I home school/unschool my five children, and I work full-time for an online media company, in addition to publishing my blog, being a guest blogger, and trying to fit in bits of time to work on some birth book ideas. My SO works full-time out of the home and my 17yo also works 4-5 days/week outside the home so I often feel like I’m juggling a lonely chaotic mess. Your tips not only give me concrete ideas but also reassure me that my guilt and grief over not being superwoman are misplaced. Hopefully some time soon I’ll feel under control enough to publish a post on this topic myself. 🙂
I am a single mother of a 4 year old and her birthday is in October for 5 years.Public school would hold her back a year (literally) with the dumbing down of America, I feel she is smarter at home and we have the freedom of many field trips. I am a Cosmetologist and have a continuing education partnership for 10 career sector who need CEU’s to renew the state license for a profession like Real Estate, Insurance,Xray Techs and Cosmetologist. However, I can take her with me to the salon for a Highlight or haircut when the staff are off and work outside of hours, So far, this has worked, However , I graduate 2013 with a BAAS and certification to teach Cosmo and I am unsure whether I want to put her in public school, she is an only child and we a small amount of interaction with home schoolers,library and others but it does not seem enough social interaction for an only child. I almost could not breath with too much more added in our life, Any suggestions, advice or feedback is appreciated. Contact me by e-mail if you would like.
Melissa @ The Mom Venture
Excellent article! Thank you. I have been having a hard time with this since I started homeschooling. I am trying to work from home, though it’s not making much money yet, but I feel like I can’t get enough time to focus on my work. And then I feel like I’m not spending enough time with the schooling. I have 3 boys ages 3, 6, and 9. I’m wondering how I’m going to make this work if I want to continue. But I have known for awhile that I NEED to have a set schedule and I keep trying it, failing, trying again and I think I finally found one that will work. I just need to stick to it now and that is the hardest part. There’s no boss to tell you what to do and make sure you do it. Anyway, this article was motivating for me to keep at it and stick to my schedule. I tend to get thrown off way too easily and then get depressed about it. But this is something I really want to do. Anyway, thanks again!
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Great post! My husband works shift work and I work outside the home part time. You are right on all counts! People look at me a little crazy when I say we homeschool with our schedules, but I don’t think it would work for us any other way!
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Thank you for your post. We are having a curriculum day at our Homeschool Group, not just for our homeschoolers but for newbies. One of the questions our committee asked me to research and contribute to was working and homeschooling. I work from home too, but I am very new to this. Thanks for the wisdom of your article. Yes it is sometimes crazy but I wouldn’t change it. Keep up the good work.
I’m glad I read this today. Struggling in a transitional phase right now. Wondering how to even make enough money working from home, like what do I have to offer that people would actually pay money for lol? Except it’s not funny :/ Making plans to homeschool my two younger kids after they finish up at public school in June. They will be 10 & 8 this year. Trying to opt out of the rat race, let go of societal expectations, live without fear of what ifs, convince my husband it’s ok to try something different. However it always comes back down to the same question…where is the money going to come from? I’m so depressed because of this inner conflict. Please I could really use some advice, suggestions, encouragement. I’ve lived too long trying to achieve standards that aren’t even my own, and it’s only made me feel like a failure, stressed out, unmotivated. I know what I want our life to be about, I’m ready to be bold and be the leader, my kids would be thrilled to see their mom doing it! I have dreams! My husband needs reassurance it will be ok. But the money thing, it’s a bummer, a real stealer of joy and hope, takes the twinkle out of our eyes. Then we perpetuate the usual every day because we don’t have a real plan. Thanks for letting me vent 🙂
I so agree with Stephanie@keeperofthehome. I feel like we are the odd ones out! I literally just googled “how to run a business and homeschool your children at the same time” Its so hard. I have a 21 month old and a 3 year old and run a very busy succesful business. My husband runs 3. We do have a part time nanny (dont want a full time one rasing my children) but I constantly feel like a failure on all ends. The organization isssues you talked about is huge. There is none. I try and then it falls by the wayside and life gets in the way. My job calls for travel at least 4 days a month and once that happens all routine disappears. I’m tired, stressed, and long to be a “pioneer woman” mom, but then know I’d probably be miserable then too because I would miss my business. I just feel like even when we go to homeschool conferences or I search online there is no one like us. Nothing against it at all, but I feel like the homeschool moms who “work from home” are starting up a very small business or are working for someone else. I dont know any who are running their own large corporation. I’ve joined a local homeschool co-op in the past but all of the moms stayed home or had small part time jobs and I fell like they were put off when I couldnt make class time or had to leave early for meetings or a job. I just wish I could find some other local moms in the same boat that I could share ideas with, ask questions to, and just vent. HELP 🙂
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Great, great article! I have recently started my own work from home business coaching parents to educate their children with confidence. I’ve worked from home before and I didn’t set boundaries around my time, so I’ve set some parameters in place for my business time. I pretty driven, and want to get this business off of the ground so it’s been hard. It’s great to connect with other homeschoolers with businesses. In addition to my business, I also work part-time outside of the home, so it’s quite challenging!
I’ve homeschooled for over 15 years and I also agree that they’re aren’t many moms who that are working and homeschooling. Sounds like we really need a way to connect. Hmm… Something to think about.
Thanks for this article. I’m a work at home mum – not homeschooling yet but it is something I’m interested in. None the less this list is great for work at home mums also. I’m finding it hard to find that balance at the moment feel like I’m all over the show little bits of business here and there. We have a rhythm around children just need to fit my business in somewhere. I love the idea of breaking work into 30min chunks I’ll try and implement that this week. Thanks again Kelly
Great article and great thoughts! I will be referring to this frequently while I work on all of these points. I am in a very similar situation. I am a homeschooling, work at home, mother of three wonderful girls. However, one of my angels is under a year old and that is a big part of why I feel like I’ve gone a bit crazy. Does anyone have any advice on working that in as well? My other kids are in kindergarten and 4th grade.
Thank you for your article! I am a WAHM and I homeschool three boys (grades 2,1, K) and my husband and I are pastors at our church. I never imagined that my life would be so busy and, out of necessity, NOT simple. I am learning to be more organized and making a weekly this-gets-done-this-day plan. It’s tough! My tip is to stay connected to what brings you peace and joy. Focus on what is going right. Perfection is not the goal.