I have been at home with my kids full-time for 23 years. It wasn’t what I wanted at first and I’ve had my share of challenges, but now I’m so grateful for the time I’ve had. If you’re a homeschooler whose kids are now home from outside classes and activities because of sheltering in or you’re new to having your kids home from school, this episode is for you. I want to share simple tips that will have you not just surviving but thriving with your kids home full-time.
I didn’t want to stay home with my kids full-time originally. I planned on working as a clinical psychologist part-time. But my first baby kept getting ear infections while in daycare, and I kept having to cancel my appointments. I moved to having sessions two evenings a week and then quit my practice entirely when I had my second child. When I had three children, I felt called to homeschool. I gave it a try with my preschooler.
I had struggles both with staying home with my kids and with homeschooling them that you can avoid with the tips I’m going to share with you today.
The first tip is to adjust your expectations.
I thought I would be able to get things done while home with my young children. I had freelance writing deadlines and conferences I was keynoting at the time. I counted on nap times to get my work done. Whenever I counted on nap time, I could be sure that my child wouldn’t sleep or something else would happen to interrupt me.
If you are currently working from home while trying to manage your children’s education, God bless you. What you are doing is not easy. There is no trick you are missing. Other people are not doing it well while you struggle. The truth is you are unlikely to get as much work done as you did before your children were home full-time. If you accept that, your days will be smoother.
I thought that staying home with a toddler would be a delight. I took my little guy to the mall to walk with a friend in the mornings. My expectations set me up for a lot of disappointment. My strong-willed child hated to be buckled into his car seat. The Herculean effort required to buckle him did not start the morning off well. Then he would deftly extricate himself from his stroller and would stand up in it as I pushed, looking like Kate Winslet on the bow of the Titanic. Even after I got him a stroller with a 5-point restraint, I let him out and he ran into Victoria Secret and flung the neatly folded lingerie out of the drawers as quickly as he could.
Homeschooling him went no better. I expected to have a darling little cherub of a student who would rise up and call me blessed. I didn’t get that. My son had not signed off on my educational plan. He wanted to avoid anything that required him to sit down and pay attention to me when there were so many other fun things to explore.
And I am not an outlier. I don’t know anyone whose high expectations of their children and homeschooling have been fulfilled. And that was in a time when the entire world wasn’t reeling from the impact of a pandemic. Our children are just as disoriented by all the changes as we are. Instead of believing that you’ll be able to get all your work done and your children will cheerfully, independently do their school assignments and chores and will seek out plenty of educational enrichment activities, adopt this motto: what can go wrong will go wrong. Then when you experience the unexpected gift of accomplishment, you’ll rejoice.
With low expectations, you can create a routine or schedule that has the best chance of success. Trying to accomplish two objectives at once is destined to fail. If you’re going to try to work and parent or work and teach, you’ll do neither well. Arrange a routine in which you first spend time with your kids to get them going on activities. Really attend to them. Go over the chore, the worksheet, or the activity. Have them repeat in their own words what they are to do. Explain that when the activity is complete, they will get to have a break to do something pleasant: play outside, play a board game, or have screen time.
That is when you are going to have time devoted to work. Explain to your children that interruptions of your work time for non-emergencies will result in shortened free time. The younger your children, the shorter your work periods will have to be. Consider alternating child supervision with a spouse or older children. And remember to expect the worst.
My second tip for staying sane with kids home full-time is to reserve time to recharge.
When I began staying home full-time with my child, the loneliness for this extrovert was a killer. I became depressed because I didn’t have work colleagues to talk to. I wasn’t allowing myself time for hobbies, either. Later, homeschooling limited my social contacts as friends put their kids in school and spent more time with other school parents.
I was able to recharge by first starting a stay-at-home-mom Bible study for women at my church. The Bible study, social, and scrapbooking time made a huge difference in my mood and in my ability to be a patient, loving parent. As a homeschooler, I created a home-based co-op so I could do the same with homeschooling friends. My kids loved spending time with other children and my visits with moms helped me stay sane and manage my expectations with a veteran homeschooler’s counsel.
I wrote How to Be Happy and Homeschool Too in which I argue that we need time to recharge doing something other than homeschooling. I think that’s just as important as we shelter in place. Unfortunately, socializing has become a lot more difficult. But it’s not impossible. We can use apps like Houseparty to get together with friends and have that book club, Bible study, or craft time. Aside from socializing, we can make sure we have time alone for devotions, reading, or exercising by communicating our need for it with our family. Take turns with a spouse or reserve screen time so you can have the quiet you need to be recharged. If you’re not sure about self-care, read my recent article on Is Self-Care a Snare. I urge you not to skimp on sleep now to meet other needs. I’ve made the decision to stop staying up late during this time and the difference in my mood is dramatic. The other thing I do to recharge is get dressed every day and share in the Get Your Pretty On group on Facebook. I love having the outfit and the interaction to look forward to each day. Find free outfit formulas to use with the clothes you own.
My third tip for staying sane with kids home full-time is to focus on what your kids need most.
When I started homeschooling, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to teach my kids because I’m not a trained teacher. I didn’t know any of the tricks I was sure teachers had learned for teaching my kids to read or do math. I was also worried that my pregnancies in which I was so fatigued and the constant interruptions in education caused by my toddlers and preschoolers were doing my kids irreparable harm.
Soon I will have four graduates, all of whom have earned A’s in college courses. More importantly, they are well adjusted adults who love God and are close to their families. I have to give all the credit for that to Jesus. Even though I am a psychologist, I am naturally lazy, disorganized, and prone to anger. That leads me to share what I think kids need most. It happens to coincide with the greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Our kids need to see us loving God, loving our spouse, and loving them. Our current situation is like a final exam with that. If you can keep loving in the midst of fear and uncertainty and disruption, what an amazing lesson that is for your kids. We provide them then not just with love but security.
Take the time to pray and read the Bible together each day. You can use a prepared devotional, but you don’t have to. We still pray prayers of thanksgiving, repentance, and supplication for ourselves and others in need and it has been time well spent. I always come away from our family devotional time with more peace.
Also give your children individual time. Our kids need time with us to connect and share. Spending time with each child doing what he or she enjoys most will pay dividends in better behavior and less sibling squabbling. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time and each child doesn’t have to have that time daily. With six kids, I gave each child a day of the week. That was their day to have the choice seat, make decisions, and have time with me. In your individual time, ask your child about their adjustment to sheltering in. To draw them out, ask about their least favorite things about it and the things they enjoy about it. Ask what if anything you can do to help them adjust.
The next best thing your children need now is reading. The worst thing that happens educationally for children is what teachers call the summer slide–a break during which kids quit reading. Don’t allow sheltering in to be a time your children put the books down. If your school district doesn’t provide online instruction or at-home curriculum, have your children read, read aloud to them, or listen to audiobooks. Public libraries have digital books to check out. Numerous classic books are available for free online. And consider Grammar Galaxy, a short, fun curriculum you can read aloud or listen to as a family. Reading in any format improves vocabulary which is the best predictor of academic and life success.
Finally, what your children need now is memories. None of us will forget this time of being home together. But how will we remember it? Let’s make the memories sweet. I think we can do that by shared activities, celebrations, and games.
Our college boys are home for the year. One of our sons loves going on challenging bike rides. My husband has been going with him, even though our son pushes him to his limit. They both love it and the relationship that is being strengthened in this. The first Sunday we stayed home from church, my family planned a huge breakfast. Several of the kids helped prepare the food for it. I don’t think we’ve had a more memorable meal outside of Thanksgiving. Easter is coming up and the kids are already asking me for special foods. I plan to dress up for watching the livestream of our service together. I don’t know if I can talk the kids into dressing up, but I’ll try! Finally, we have been playing indoor and outdoor games together and having so much fun. We had a blast playing spoons and the app Psych!. We have played pickleball and four square outside. We got out our stilts that have been sitting for years and I was even using them.
Use this time to create shared experiences. Cook together, exercise together. Plan celebrations for your family. Have extended family join you via FaceTime or another video app. And play games together. Make a list of games you have. Try some you haven’t played much and give any away you don’t enjoy. Consider playing some of the free grammar games I share on my site. Or sign up for the Grammar Guardians mission calendar for free.
When you adjust your expectations, reserve time to recharge, and give your kids what they need, you’ll not only survive this time, you’ll thrive during it.
Recently, a woman on my Psychowith6 Facebook page, made a comment on the self-care movement. I wasn’t aware that self-care was a movement, but she got me thinking. Previously, I wrote How to Be Happy and Homeschool, Too in which I discussed the importance of what could be called self-care. In fact, I frequently talk about the importance of it during my sessions at Great Homeschool Conventions. I suddenly found myself wondering if I had been teaching wrong things. So I wanted to address the topic in today’s episode. Is self-care a snare? I am tempted to tell you the right way to think about this issue. But instead, I am going to give you some considerations for you to take to the Lord.
How should we define self-care?
First, I want to take time to define self-care. We can’t have a fruitful discussion if we haven’t defined our terms.
Time away from family
A couple of years ago I asked on my Psychowith6 Facebook page how long it had been since moms had been out on a date. One response that I got surprised me. The mom said that she not only hadn’t been out on a date, but she thought that staying home with her family was the whole point of homeschooling. I’m not going to take issue with her statement now. But I am going to take from her statement one potential definition of self-care: time away from your family.
This definition of self-care can certainly elicit strong opinions. I have taken time away from my family over the years, whether I was off to scrapbook with my friends while my husband watched the kids, whether I had time to run errands while my niece watched my young children, or whether I accompanied my husband on a business trip out of town while family or friends watched my kids.
I believe that I have benefited greatly from that time away. And while that has been my experience, I would not insist that every homeschooling mom needs that time away from her family. I think that that is again something that you will want to take to the Lord.
Justification for destructive behavior
Another definition of self-care surprised me. I was talking with a formerly homeschooled young man who is now a college graduate. He asked me what I thought of the self-care movement. Again with the movement. I had no idea that this was such a popular thing. And I asked him why he was asking my opinion and furthermore what his definition of self-care was. He began to tell me that people his age were using self-care to describe their destructive habits. For example, friends might say they had spent the night drinking because of self-care. Or they might say that they had been binge eating or watching Netflix all day when they should be working or studying. This they described as self-care.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that this is not my definition of self-care. I can see taking a day off to relax and even to indulge in more treats than normal. But anything that harms us or dishonors God or others is not how I would define self-care, nor is it anything I would recommend.
Caring for our body, mind, and spirit in a way that allows us to continue caring for other people
Physical self-care is important. If I do not pay attention to signs of illness that require medical care and I let it go too long in a way that results in my inability to teach my kids and care for my family, I am not loving myself, my family, or God.
Mental self-care is important. If I am not having a mental and emotional time of refreshment and quiet where I can think and relax, my very sanity may be at risk. You might think I am exaggerating, but our mental self-care or lack there of can lead to crippling depression, anxiety, and even psychosis.
Finally, spiritual self-care is important. The less connected I am to the Lord, the more likely I am to have physical and mental problems. Time for worship in a way that builds that connection allows me to fill up on God’s love that I can then share with others.
Is Self-Care Selfish?
The next issue I’d like to address is whether or not self-care is selfish. That whole issue will turn on your definition of self-care. If you believe that time away from your family is harmful to you or your family, then by that definition self-care could be selfish. If your definition is like my young friend’s, then behaving in a destructive way can absolutely be selfish. You are likely not concerning yourself with other people’s needs and you are putting your body and mind at risk. But if you are taking time to care for your body, mind, and spirit in a way that enables you to care more for other people, I do not think that self-care is selfish.
So given that you can already sense my answer to the question on selfishness, let’s talk about what unselfish self-care might look like. Let’s start by discussing care of the body. I was very surprised to hear other homeschooling moms I know talk about exercising as selfish. This is one of the reasons they didn’t engage in it. I suspect that that has to do with the time away from family definition. So if you are leaving the kids at home while you go and get exercise, or you are leaving your kids in a gym daycare, and that feels selfish to you, I am not going to try to convince you that time away from your family isn’t selfish. I likely couldn’t do it if that is your fundamental belief. Instead, I’m going to say that exercise is one of the most powerful treatments and preventatives we have for dozens of diseases. The Bible says that physical training is of some value.So it isn’t that exercise is evil and staying at home and praying and serving your family is the only unselfish thing. No, exercise helps to keep you healthy and strong and energetic and even mentally equipped to keep teaching and serving your family.
If being away from your family is an issue for you, know that there are many ways you can get exercise as a family. Walk, play a sport together, do an exercise video together. You can even use your baby as part of your exercise routine, whether that’s walking with your baby in a stroller or doing chest presses or squats with your baby in your arms.
The next unselfish way to care for your body is to get enough sleep. You are more likely to be ill or irritable if you aren’t getting enough sleep. I recently watched a video of a mom talking about falling asleep while driving with her kids in the car. Two of her children were killed in the car accident she had. Do whatever you have to do to get enough sleep. Sleep while your kids nap or watch videos, ask your husband to watch the kids while you get to bed early, or hire a mother’s helper to get yourself some extra sleep. Jesus slept when He was tired, even in the midst of a storm. His disciples wouldn’t dare have called him selfish!
Body self-care isn’t selfish because your family wants you to take care of yourself. Your family does not want you to be too overweight to play with them and engage with them. They don’t want you to be too tired or too sick to teach them and enjoy spending time with them. Your husband doesn’t want you to be too exhausted to have intimacy with him. Self-care of our bodies is one of the most unselfish things that we can do.
Self-care of our minds and spirits can also be unselfish. I scrapbook once a week at a friend’s house if my schedule allows it. While I am gone, I relive wonderful memories of times with my family and friends. I talk with my friend about what’s been going on in our lives. By the time I return home, I am usually in a fantastic mood. I’ve not only relived great memories, but I have had a refreshing time of talking. The added bonus is I often have finished scrapbooking pages to show my family. My husband and my kids love my scrapbooking. Sometimes I include my daughter in our scrapbooking sessions and it becomes a special time for her, my friend, and I. Could scrapbooking become something that is selfish? It certainly could. It hasn’t in my life, but I believe that anything that we truly enjoy can be used in a self-serving manner.
Spiritual self-care can be reading Scripture, praying, reading Christian books, listening to sermons or Christian podcasts, attending worship, singing, or playing a musical instrument, and attending a retreat for starters. Whatever leads us closer to God and isn’t harming us or our family is not selfish but a loving thing to do.
Is self-care a slippery slope?
Aside from selfishness, the issue some have with self-care is that it’s a slippery slope. And it can be. I was reading a Christian novel on our group family vacation and while I enjoyed the mental and spiritual break it provided, I found myself wanting to keep reading instead of interacting with friends and family.
If your self-care is resulting in more and more time away or more and more childcare, or if you’re spending more money that your family doesn’t have, you should be cautious. We should ask ourselves if our self-care is leading us closer to Christ and to more love for others, and if not, we should reevaluate.
The snare of guilt
Even though it can be a slippery slope, self-care doesn’t have to be a snare. Guilt and pride are more likely to trip us up. If we feel guilty every time we go to the gym, the enemy can use it. He can convince us that we are terrible mothers, that something awful will happen if we aren’t home, and even that God isn’t pleased with us. The Holy Spirit can use guilt to check sin, but persistent guilt where there is no sin is not from the Lord. In this case, guilt is the real snare. Take your guilt to the Lord and ask Him how to respond.
The snare of pride
The next real snare is pride. We may be tempted to judge others’ self-care. If you’re an introvert, your self-care will likely not be getting out with friends. Yours may be staying home to have some quiet time. That’s still self-care, no better and no worse than the mom who is physically, emotionally, and spiritually built up by being with others outside her home.
So, is self-care a snare? Think about what you do to care for your body, mind, and spirit. Is it destructive, excessive, or expensive? Does it draw you closer to God and your family? Ask the Lord about your self-care or lack thereof and trust His answer.
As we face new challenges with social distancing, I am doing a series of tips on Facebook Live for homeschooling parents, traditional parents, and others dealing with anxiety, depression, and parenting challenges. In this video, I share some general tips to implement now.
As we face new challenges with social distancing, I am doing a series of tips on Facebook Live for homeschooling parents, traditional parents, and others dealing with anxiety, depression, and parenting challenges. In this video, I discuss why teaching your child to respect and obey you is the most important thing to teach your child and home. Then I give you some easy suggestions for how to do that!