Whenever people want to discuss homeschooling with me, I often tell them that overall it’s a great fit for our family and that the hardest part is not the academics, it’s just being with my kids all the time. This is the truth; there are days when the bickering and bad moods feel smothering. But it’s not the whole truth. Being with my kids all the time is a big part of the reason why homeschooling benefits our family through strong attachment relationships, mentoring and the ability to choose how we spend our time. I have figured out a few strategies that help me work with this challenge in a way that makes homeschooling (or stay-at-home parenting) more of a joy and less of a chore.
1. Make sure I get my needs met.
Even with the best self-discipline skills in the world, there’s no way I could cope with homeschooling for very long if I wasn’t serious about meeting my own needs. I know I need certain things, like guaranteed alone time every week, exercise, good sleep, healthy food and the right amount of social time with friends. I need to have some kind of creative project going on, no matter how small. I need to process emotional experiences by writing, thinking and talking about them. When these needs are met, I have deeper reserves of patience and I am more likely to actually enjoy being with my children every day.
2. Encourage independent play and project work.
While I am technically “on duty” around the clock, there are large blocks of time every day when my kids are not hanging off my body, doing something that requires close supervision or waiting for me to answer their questions. Now that they’re 6 and 3, they play creatively together well, are starting to be able to resolve some conflicts on their own, and have their own ideas about the things they want to make, do or learn about. While my focused attention and presence is still a critical part of our homeschooling experience, we cycle through the day alternating between time spent working closely together and time spent working or playing independently. The more the kids feel a sense of ownership and control over the activities we do, the less resistance and conflict we have with each other.
3. Go outside together.
Outside time has been an essential component of our day for the past six weeks or so, and it has the power to transform the atmosphere from crabby to focused and having fun simply by stepping outdoors. Spending time outside with my kids is fun, low-pressure and we usually learn something new every time we head out to the beach or the woods.
4. Make sure the kids are getting their needs met.
This seems like it should be self-evident, but it’s surprisingly easy to find myself pushing my own agenda, coming up against conflict and then realizing that my agenda is not really going to meet my children’s needs. In fact, conflict is a very reliable red flag which tells me there is a need going unmet – someone’s not feeling supported, loved or challenged, someone’s hungry, tired or sick, someone’s having a hard time learning a challenging skill. The good thing is that homeschooling is flexible enough that when I see those red flags I can change things up so we focus more on filling those needs.
5. Look where I want to go.
If I constantly told myself that being with my kids all day long was so horrible and difficult, it would indeed end up being very, very horrible and difficult. I intentionally chose this life of closeness so we would have many hours together. Hours we could spend learning about the world and about each other. Hours we could fill by going on adventures and working on fascinating projects. And yes, hours that sometimes fill up with patiently listening to rambling stories, making an infinite number of tiny choices about what is or is not acceptable, navigating tantrums and breaking up shrieking matches. But you know what? We would spend hours doing that whether or not we were homeschooling. That stuff is just part of the whole “being a parent” deal. The freedom and time together we get from homeschooling gives us more of a chance to make sure we can get outside together, work independently and make sure everyone’s needs are being met so the total number of happy hours outweighs the difficult ones.
The real truth is that being with my kids all day is both the biggest benefit and the biggest challenge of homeschooling. It can be a challenge because I’m still learning how to be disciplined about meeting my own needs. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of my clear cut, convenient agenda and do the messy, honest work involved in helping my kids follow their interests. It can be a challenge to balance my own needs and make sure that everyone else’s needs are being met too. But you know what? That’s all stuff I really, really want to do. Those things would be important to me even if my kids were going to school, and they would probably still be challenging even if we spent more hours apart. But when we’re getting it right? Well, those moments are magic, and they make all the hard work worthwhile.