The following is a post from contributing writer Jennifer Fink of Blogging ‘Bout Boys
How do you do it?
Strangers and friends ask me that question on a weekly basis. Maybe it’s because I work from home. Or because I’m a single parent. Or, because I homeschool. Mostly, I think it’s because they can’t figure out how I manage to knit it all together.
It’s not easy to work from home and support a family while homeschooling. But neither is it impossible. Here’s how I made it work for me – and how you can make it work for your family.
1. Develop a marketable skill.
I’m a freelance writer who has no formal training in journalism. Fifteen years ago, I was a Registered Nurse with a knack for writing. After my oldest son was born, I became more interested in writing. I read books about freelance writing. I took classes, online and in person, through the Community Education division of local universities. I joined writing groups. And I practiced writing.
Today, I make a living writing content for healthcare agencies, websites and magazines, and I do it all from home, working hours that fit my family and my life.
What are you interested in? How can you turn it into a marketable skill? Read books and take classes, as necessary. Tap into the expertise and job training available at community colleges and universities. Talk to other people who are doing what you want to do. They’ll help show you the way.
2. Set work hours.
It is not easy to work “between the cracks.” Squeezing work into a few minutes here and there – you know, when there’s nothing else going on at home– won’t work, at least not on a long-term basis.
To work from home efficiently, you’ll need some dedicated work hours. Why? Because it’s easier to work when you can concentrate on work; numerous research studies have shown that constantly switching between tasks (say, homeschooling and work) is not nearly as efficient as spending some time on each, because the brain takes time to readjust to each new task.
So take a look at your family’s schedule. Some work-from-home parents schedule a block of work before their kids get up in the morning. That never worked for me – my kids somehow know when I get up, and get up too, thus defeating the purpose – but it might work for you.
I’m a night owl anyway, so I do better working at night, after the kids have gone to bed. You’d be surprised at what you can get done between 8 and 10 at night!
3. Set up a workspace.
A dedicated workspace is as important as dedicated work hours. Working from the kitchen table while your kids live and learn around you may work sometime (in fact, I’m writing from the kitchen table right now, while my 6-year-old plays educational games on my iPod), but it’s pretty hard to concentrate for any period of time in the midst of a family.
A dedicated workspace gives you space to store your stuff. (Do you want your important files buried under a baking soda volcano?) It also helps you make the mental switch between “homeschooling parent” and “working parent” – and helps the rest of your family respect your work. With time, kids can be taught not to disturb you when you’re working, unless it’s an emergency. (If your kids are anything like mine, though, you may need to spend some time explaining what, exactly, constitutes an emergency. )
Depending on the ages of your children, you might want to consider setting up a separate workspace, close to yours, for occasional use by your children. My office contains two desks, and that second desk comes in handy when someone is not feeling well and just wants to be near mom.
4. Hire help.
You cannot possibly do it all. For a while, I hired a cleaning lady to come in for a couple of hours a week every other week. She did the heavy cleaning, which allowed me to concentrate my efforts and energy on working and homeschooling. Later, I did the cleaning myself but hired an older homeschooler to come in and watch my children for 3 hours an afternoon, 3 days a week, and spent that time working.
If you can’t afford to hire help, consider trading time with another homeschool or work-from-home parent.
5. Make it easy.
If you’re working and homeschooling, do what you can to simplify the rest of your life. Use paper plates for meals whenever possible. Teach your kids how to cook, clean and do laundry. And choose homeschooling materials that simplify, rather than complicate, your life. My oldest son uses Teaching Textbooks for math, in large part because he can “teach” it to himself by watching the included DVDs.
6. Take it one semester at a time.
Homeschooling and working is hard, especially if you’re doing both full-time. Re-evaluate your situation at least once a semester. Is your current arrangement still working? How are your kids doing? More importantly, how are you doing? If you’re not sleeping, exercising or relaxing, things are not going well. You need to be at your best to be an effective parent, an effective homeschooler and an effective worker; burning the candle at both ends day in and day out won’t do you or your family any favors.
I reached that point earlier this year, and let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. So after much soul-searching, I made a decision. Three out of my four boys are now in school full-time; the fourth, my oldest, homeschools but takes two classes a semester at school (per our divorce decree). For right now, that arrangement is working for our family. Next semester, things may be different.
The beauty of working from home and homeschooling is that I can adapt my employment and my kids’ education to fit the needs of my family.
Jennifer L.W. Fink lives and works in southeastern Wisconsin. She blogs about boys, education and parenting at Blogging ‘Bout Boys. Her writing can also be found in Home Education Magazine, Scholastic Instructor, Parents and other national publications.