Day in the Life

5:30am: My typical day begins. Mike and I switch off going to our local cross fit-style gym, Armati Collective, in the mornings. We each go 3 days/week, so when it’s my turn, I get dressed and head out the door. Whoever is at home gets up with the little boys (who are early risers!) and starts breakfast.

7:45am: Everyone is home from the gym, showered, fed, dressed, and the kitchen is mostly clean. Mike heads down to the office around this time and the big kids get ready for school. When he’s home and not too busy, the older kids take turns joining him for a quick Bible study session before he starts work. It’s good bonding time with Dad.

8:00am: Time for school!

Asher (5) is in Kindergarten and is the most “hands on” for me. Our lessons are fun, play-based, and short! For Kindergarten, I have always aimed for 20 minutes each of math and reading, plus some handwriting practice each day. Everything else we do is a bonus—and we have lots of them! We move around a lot (sit, stand, jump) and we often play games or do learning activities that don’t require tons of sit-still concentration. The goal is to gradually increase concentration time, but I follow Asher’s lead. We quit before he gets too fatigued and can always pick up later after a short break. He spends a lot of time in play-based learning—the other day he built an elaborate parking garage structure for his Transformers!

Ayla (3rd grade, 8 years old) can do some of her work independently, so she stays busy with that while I work with Asher. I follow up with her when I’m done, and we go through rest of her things. I try to keep it fun and light, bringing lots of hands-on activities and art projects in when I can since she enjoys that. At 3rd grade, I am requiring a little more rigor and responsibility from her than I have in years past. So far, she is exceeding my expectations and rising to the independence I have expected of her.

Of course, I bring the kids together when I can, like for science, read-alouds, or other extension activities, but with four kids at differing levels, attention spans, and interests, it’s not always synchronized.

Crew (11) is in 6th grade and largely independent. Yay!! My goal for all the kids is to build life-long, self-motivated learners who can teach themselves anything they desire to learn. It took many years of teaching him how to take ownership of his learning to get to this point, and we still have areas to improve on. Crew is naturally organized and loves scheduling his time, so he’s very good at managing his workload, which I intentionally increase with all the kids each year. I check in with him throughout the day, overseeing and guiding as needed, but he’s at the point where I only spend a few hours of dedicated “teaching time” each week. The rest he works on independently and through his online classes. I function more as a coach and less as a teacher for him this year.

My wild card in all of it is Huck (3 years old). Some days he’s good about joining us or keeping himself busy. Other days he’s into everything, annoying everyone, and generally terrorizing our learning environment or putting his own life in peril! He spends one morning a week with Grandpa, and another morning he and Asher spend a little time with both grandparents before heading off to their gym class so I can plow ahead with the big kids undisturbed. Those days are a lifesaver for me, and I don’t know that I would be able to homeschool without that support.

11 am: The youngest three have finished most of their work for the day. They are free to play, read, do projects, legos, puzzles, go outside, and the like while I make lunch and attend to any chores: swapping laundry, dishes, meal prep, wiping down a bathroom, etc. The kids are good about helping around the house so it’s usually not a total disaster, but 5 minutes here or there goes a long way to keeping things in shape all week. We eat around 11:30, and everyone helps clean up by noon.

12pm: It’s quiet time—the best part of the day. I started this with Crew when he gave up naps at age 2, and we haven’t really missed a day since! We have two rules: everyone must be QUIET and everyone must be ALONE. As a homeschool family, we spend a lot of time together. Quarters get close, especially during the long Wisconsin winters. Quiet time is meant to be an entirely independent time. The youngest 3 go to their own space and are free to play on a tablet, read, listen to a story, watch a movie, do puzzles, art, or other quiet activities. 

Crew had joined in on this up until last year. However, now that he’s older, I’ve scheduled online classes during this time of day. This way it’s quiet for him to focus and gives him that extra time he needs in the day to complete his work. Win-win!

And me? I get to enjoy a well deserved cup of tea while catching up on computer work, Bible study, phone calls/emails, read, or if I’m super lucky, catch a quick nap. With a 3 and 5 year old, there are interruptions, but everyone knows the drill and looks forward to this time of day.

1:30pm: Free play! Quiet time is done and the “formal school” is mostly out of the way. To preserve our mental health, I’m big on getting the kids outdoors. We head outside year round when the weather is decent, usually to take a walk, romp around the yard, ride bikes, build snow forts, or head to the park. When it’s crummy or super cold, we play inside.

3:00pm: I don’t know about other families, but since my kids have been babies, 3pm marks the witching hour. A switch flips and they go from happy, studious little beings to wild, annoying, hard to entertain hellions. To combat this, I try to change the scenery with after-school activities like swim team, art class, horse lessons, time with friends, library trips, random errands—anything that gets us out and about. 

But some days we don’t have anything going on, we just have extended free time that requires me to get a little more creative. The kids especially love when I do “3 o’clock Quiz Time”, where I choose random questions from our learning that day and quiz them to see what they remember. Another alternative is to put everyone to work and do a “Zone Clean.” Each kid gets a zone they are responsible for tidying up—if everyone cooperates, it actually does make the house look and feel a lot better. Hacks like this help keep the afternoon crazies to a minimum. On afternoons when we are home I typically cave by 4pm and let them watch TV so I can get dinner started in relative peace.

5:15pm (ish): Dinner! Most nights we eat around this time. Mike is done with work, and we have some family time.

6:30pm: For the little boys, it’s showers, books, and bedtime. Their light is out by 7.

The big kids get to stay up a little later, and often watch Jeopardy or play games with me until 7:15. They can read in bed until 8pm, but usually their lights are out sooner, even for the middle schooler. We start our days early, go hard all day, and I am a firm believer in plenty of sleep. No shame!!

Mike and I get to spend the rest of the evening relaxing and reconnecting before heading to bed ourselves. We read, watch TV, or spend time catching up with each other. Our light is almost always out by 9:30.

Of course there are days we deviate from this. The kids have a gym class on Friday mornings, which is also my day to grocery shop and do major household chores, so everyone is mostly independent for school that day. I also try to sneak away for a Bible study on Wednesday mornings. We start a little early to get things started before I leave, and they finish up on their own. My Dad also oversees social studies for Ayla, so she works on that with him most weeks as well. And then there is the random errand or appointment we sometimes have to work in. When Mike travels, the whole routine gets adjusted to flex with the challenges of solo-parenting. 

I’m grateful that homeschooling allows us flexibility to ebb and flow with life and learning seasons. However, I also think rigor and routine are largely undervalued by homeschoolers in general, and I find them essential to keeping things on track and our goals within reach.

Thoughts on Schools, Jobs, and the Upcoming Generation

A few days back, I had the opportunity to take my kids to a Step Afrika performance at the UW-Green Bay campus. What a vibrant display of culture, physical fitness, and dynamite excitement! The performance was exclusively for students, and the venue seated homeschoolers together in one section. Across the aisle were public school kids and teachers. Both groups were polite audiences, and it was clear everyone had a great time.

As a bystander, it was also a fascinating social experiment. The experience offered an organic, side-by-side comparison of two large groups of students from differing educational models. Predictably, the adult to student ratio was higher among the homeschoolers. The age range of students was also greater and in general, it was a chattier crowd. The public school kids were also talkative, but less so, many of them preferring to interact with their phones until the performance commenced. At one point during the show, the leader asked the audience for a show of hands: “How many of you want to go to college?” he asked. In the public school section almost all of the hands went up. On the homeschool side, it was around a a third of the audience.

Observing the outworking of differing ideologies in the two groups sparked some thoughts about many of the interrelated issues facing our schools, business owners, and national leaders in the days ahead.

Lately, a week does not go by where I do not chat with public school parents who express a growing concern over their kids and how hard life in public school has become. The parents aren’t happy with what’s being taught, their kids are facing crushing social pressures, and on top of that, academic proficiency is low. Most of these conversations are with friends here in Wisconsin, but similar complaints are resounding across the country.

Equally hard to ignore are all “Help Wanted” ads and business owners lamenting the available workforce. Finding employees who show up and do their job is difficult; finding ones who actually show up on time and perform well borders on the miraculous.

When my dishwasher broke down this summer, the repair man was booked out four weeks. Regardless of how many hours he and his father put into their appliance repair business, they cannot keep up with demand. They are drowning in work but have to turn business away due to staffing.

Everyone from the chiropractic office to the auto mechanic down the road to a manger at our local Target tells the same story. National grocery store chains have even run ad campaigns during NFL football games aimed at attracting workers–not customers–to their stores. Despite competitive pay, job security, opportunity for advancement, and great incentives, businesses cannot find or keep employees. Even the United States military struggles to attract new recruits. It seems the grandchildren of brave men and women who served their country in the ’60s and ’70s would rather sit at home playing Call of Duty than respond to the actual thing.

Meanwhile, the parents of today’s young adults offer yet another compelling perspective. Some complain that their adult children declined further education after high school and are thus stuck in low-paying jobs, unable to afford much of anything, depressed over what their futures hold. But the more common and surprising narrative among parents of young adults is that a growing number of their college graduates are no better off! After school, these new grads find themselves living back at home, often working jobs outside of their fields, shackled by debt, bemoaning their meager salaries, long hours, and cost of living. These parents are quick to believe that their children are “worth more” than their non-college educated counterparts, but in truth, most of these kids simply hold an extremely costly piece of paper, often without any real-life experience that make them attractive to prospective employers.

Take, for example, this statistic: in 1979 the percentage of high school students that had a job at some point during the year was nearly 60%, and in 2000, 51%. Today that number is around 30%. Allegedly, high school has become more intense since then, with more expectations that take up the time in a day.

But the supposed increased rigor isn’t producing better students. Test scores nationwide are falling, with roughly 1/3rd of 4th and 8th grade students performing at or above grade level in math and reading. That means nearly two out of three students are below grade level. The real shocker is that compared to scores from 30 years ago, there has been an increase–not decrease–in these deficiencies. Over 1/3rd of high school students have failing grades in the U.S. and 4/10 have at least one D or F on their report cards. Yet the graduation rate in the U.S. is at an all-time high of over 85%.

The academic tailspin of Covid shed a stark light on the fact that teachers and school administrators are passing failing students and have been doing so habitually for years. Any number of factors are to blame, ranging from overwhelmed classrooms and inadequate resources to crumbling home lives and negative socio-economic outcomes. For one reason or another, holding kids back until they achieve proficiency has become an antiquated practice across the board in U.S. schools. More often than not, we pass students regardless of their performance.

Parents are not doing much to help matters. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center the percentage of parents who said they read to their school-aged child every day was 31%. Thanks to declining parental oversight, kids are getting less sleep and have poor diets. Parents who grew up doing regular household chores themselves are far less likely to enforce them on their own children. Instead it would seem these kids are either parked in front of a screen (average screen time for kids is between 5-7 hours per day) or commuting between school, activities, or care providers. When they are home, kids and teens have seemingly limitless boundaries, demanding leniency from mom and dad, often facing only empty threats or arbitrary consequences for poor behavior. (A simple trip to your local park will be demonstration enough.)

While it’s true that kids have always pushed boundaries, fewer moms and dads are actually parenting and cultivating stable family environments that promote healthy levels of work, play, and rest. Is it any wonder that by their high school years these kids are academically behind, detached from their families, and indifferent about both?

It’s not hard to put the two pictures side by side and see the relationship. In school, kids can either do or not do the work. They generally matriculate through the system all the same. Armed with smartphones their defunct parents pay for, these kids are shuffled through the mill of their various activities, their real-world merit or academic practicality notwithstanding. These kids grow up, obtain higher education or don’t, and then apply the same ethic they’ve been conditioned to their whole life: work hard or don’t; it doesn’t matter either way. Employers begrudgingly keep them on because it’s not worth the effort or cost to replace them.

As a both a former high school educator and now a seasoned homeschool parent, I have never put much stock in judging potential or mastery based on test scores or grade levels alone. Rather, I look holistically at the evidence, and sadly in this case, it’s clear. Our decrepit educational system coupled with parents who are asleep at the wheel has created the most apathetic, depressed, socially-confused, ill prepared, and under-literate generation our nation has ever seen.

In fairness, I believe there are excellent public school teachers, schools, and parents out there. I know many and earnestly respect them for their efforts. But the reason a recent photo of the coal miner father at a basketball game with his young son went viral is because it depicted a rarity: a father who works hard to make ends meet and still shows up for his boy at the end of the day. Unfortunately, these scenarios are becoming the exception to the rule.

It’s time Americans realize that the plummeting academic performance, the workforce crisis, and arguably the worst mental health among young adults we’ve ever seen are interrelated issues unlikely to turn around anytime soon. No amount of funding, school referendums, minimum wage increases, or waived student loans will fix the problem. In a social climate where ideas like tolerance, equity, diversity, and inclusion are plastered on the walls of our schools and employee handbooks, we need adults who will teach kids discipline, commitment, loyalty, and old-fashioned hard work, and then expect it from them.

Our kids deserve better. Our businesses need better. Our future as a leading nation hinges on whether we can innovate our broken systems and employ the now unfashionable values that served us well for generations.

The post-pandemic world we are waking up to is changing. It’s going to take sharper minds and stronger spirits to weather the global storms that lie ahead. Let’s get the next generation ready for it.

The One We Lost

I don’t say much about the one we lost. I was so young, and it happened so fast. Feeling the excitement and exhaustion of early pregnancy in one moment, then trying to comprehend loss the next. I knew only long enough to fall in love with that baby, and then in a flash, it was over. Cramping, bleeding, muscling my way through a workshop I had to teach that week. I remember waking up each morning in pain, slapping a smile on my face, and pretending my way through grief, only to collapse in a heap of hormones and tears at the end of the day as my body cleared away the life I had been so happy to cradle.

My sweet husband, older and wiser than me, held my hand, rubbed my back, told me it would be ok. He picked me up and carried me to bed when I was too ashamed and sad to get there myself. He tucked me in and sat there with me, knowing that only time would mend my heart, and time would go faster if I slept.

When the whole ordeal was finally over it was my birthday. 23 on the 23rd. I spent it laying on the sofa, sobbing at the loss of someone I never even met, wondering if I was doomed to repeat the horrible experience again. Because no little girl grows up playing with her dolls thinking her first pregnancy will end in miscarriage. There is something so sinister when a womb becomes a tomb.

After the miscarriage, we ended up back at the midwife’s clinic, where she reassured us that while sad, this was common, that it was not my fault, and predicted that we would be back in her office very soon, this time with a healthy baby. At first I doubted her. But she was old, many years into her career, and her instincts were sound. Not eight weeks later we sat looking at a tiny peanut of a baby, with a bright heartbeat of 155 bpm. It was my first, foggy glimpse of Crew.

Losing our first baby was the first time my heart broke. It shattered in a million pieces and at the time, I didn’t know that it would ever fully heal. But like our midwife, I am older now too, many years into my own career as a mother. I’ve since carried four healthy babies to term, paced my way through the unmedicated pangs of labor, and each time held that sweet reward at the end. And although my loss was real and part of me still feels that soft spot where the emotional scars have laid to rest the pain, it is only now, years later that I see that the gift of life was never mine to have. Only to borrow. Only to steward, to raise and nurture until the time the Creator asked for that life back. It’s His breath that fills our lungs. It’s His spirit that hems our flesh together.

Today the tiny one we lost rests in paradise, ahead of us in many respects. And I know that little one is eagerly awaiting the resurrection of their perfected body to come alive again on a renewed earth. What a beautiful moment it will be when I behold the face of the child I never met. When I see what has become of the one who has never known a life apart from eternal love. Isn’t that the best gift a mother could bestow on her baby? Isn’t that what we all want? To live fully and abundantly loved?

As I stay busy raising these beautiful blessings God has so bravely commissioned into my care, I still dream of the day I meet you, sweet baby. The day when I see your face, and hear your voice, and learn what became of the one we lost. Until then, may you shabbat in the everlasting shalom of the ultimate Midwife, the One who delivered you into a love more rich and deep than I ever could have given you myself.

Redwood

It’s hard to imagine how he started out.
Little farm boy playing in the fields around.
I wish I knew how he began.
How did he get here, to be my Dad?
And did anyone see it? Did they recognize?
Seven times seventy skies, 
passed over til that shaft of sunlight
fell on the seed of a redwood. Fell on a little farm boy who believed in something good.

Because he’s a calming landmark in all our lives. 
Like an anchor in the forest, rising high. 
We rush around, and we forge ahead. 
But he stays to mark the path where we’ve been. 
So out there when we feel alone, 
we just look for him, and we’ll find home.
He’s like a redwood. He’s like a song calling out something good.

It doesn’t matter, through fire or sleet. 
Highs or lows, he holds steady. Peace, his own heartbeat. 
When the smoke clears or the winter’s done, 
he’ still there, still firm and calm. 
It’s his pulse that keeps us all alive. 
His cadence of growth, his own design. 
He’s like a redwood. He’s like a song believing in something good. 

Cut him open and count the rings. 
See the seasons he’s worn thin, the seasons he weeps. 
The years where the joy made him grin, 
and the stretches where the growth was within. 
Seven times seventy lives. 
The ones’s he touched, the ones he’s multiplied. 
He’s like a redwood. Keeps humming along a song of something good.

Steady as the rising sun. 
Looking upward ’til the day is done. 
Arms hold high the silver sky,
he drinks up the rain to keep us all dry. 
His branches are the covering, 
so what’s beneath is always flourishing. 
So that there are more redwoods. So there are more songs pointing to something good.

He reminds me of the One who spread His own arms wide; 
the One who now reigns from the skies. 
Palms raised, dripping the blood that gives life. 
Water flowing down the red wood to change us inside. 
Forgiveness seven times seventy had, 
a love that made it all the way to my Dad.
And made him a redwood. Made his life a song of something good. 

The kind that hangs on, the kinds that boasts none, the kind that covers every offense.
The kind that holds up, the kind that bears all, even when we're struggling.
The kind that stays strong, the kind that stays calm, the kind that gives all that it has.
The kind that loves all, the kind that prays long, even when he's suffering.

Now he digs the holes; he plants the seeds. 
He waters, bends. He pulls the weeds. 
So the ones around him can grow. 
So they can thrive, so they know. 
The meaning of red wood. Just what it means to be very good.

He is a redwood. His life is a song of something good.

*The title and certain lines in this poem were inspired by the song Redwood, by Stephanie Quick.

Homeschooling: Five Things that make Us Successful

In a few weeks we will begin our 7th year of homeschooling! Seven–I can hardly believe it! I remember thinking our first year was doomed. Crew was 5, Ayla, 2, and I was due to deliver Asher—a surprise baby—in the middle of the school year, right after we had spontaneously decided to move cross country. Not exactly a recipe for success!

Be it public, private, or homeschool, people everywhere are dealing with the back-to-school worries, wins, and woes, and even after seven years, I’m afraid I am still no different. This year I’m homeschooling for 6th grade, 3rd grade, and Kindergarten with a toddler in tow. Just re-reading that line that makes me question my sanity.

With all the back to school buzz, I always get a lot of inquires about our homeschool as well. People are curious:

  • Do we school all summer or take a break?
  • Do we plan for days off or just do school when we feel like it?
  • What curriculum do we use?
  • Do we ever do school in our pjs? (No, for the love, we don’t!)
  • What about socialization? (Seriously people, it’s time to stop asking that question!)

Many people assume I have it all together or that I’m some kind of homeschool supermom. How I project this image I will never understand. I feel like I’m running around like a madwoman most days! While I normally reserve this blog for the more philosophical or theological implications of life and motherhood, I wanted to step away from that voice and platform for a moment, and offer an honest, real look at our homeschool.

The truth is that I don’t actually feel like I’m doing it. Like everyone else, I’m figuring it out as we go! But I’ve learned a lot over the years. So when it’s time for us to start back up with school, I remind myself that homeschooling does not start with a fancy curriculum or a box of books delivered to our door. It starts with our intention.

The reason our homeschool and, by extension, our life runs as smoothly as it does is because I set it up to do that. I’ve figured out what my must-do’s are and what kind of support I need to accomplish them. I’ve also created a vision for our homeschool that directs our priorities and gives us a bigger reason for home education. And in all of this I’ve learned to be careful to account for my own personal needs and weaknesses.

A while back I wrote a post similar to this, but I’ve updated this one to include some new insights. So here it is: five things I do that make our homeschool a success.

1) Maintain the Core Vision— Seven year ago, before we even began homeschooling, I outlined in my own mind our reasons for homeschooling. This wasn’t about choosing an educational modality (like Classical, Unschooling, Montessori, etc.). It was more about the over-arching reasons for keeping my kids at home.

One was that we want to raise life-long, independent learners and we felt the home environment was best suited for that. We also wanted to have the flexibility to incorporate a wide variety of educational experiences into our family culture and provide an academically rigorous but also more flexible foundation for our kids than what traditional schooling options allow for.

As my kids have gotten older, keeping this vision in mind has been really helpful. It’s allowed me to direct their education in fruitful ways and given me courage when we have a string of bad days (or weeks!) and I’m wondering “why are we even doing this? This vision drives us forward and helps sort out many of the doubts or struggles that arise.

2) Make a Plan–Around mid-winter, I begin my academic planning for the next school year. Yep–mid-winter! I used to do it over the summer, but with older kids I realized needed more time to pull a plan together. Plus, I got tired of stressing about school during the summer, which should be my time “off” too. Mid-winter works perfectly. It’s a low-key time of year, and by then I also have a good idea of what’s working well, what we need to adjust, and can start looking for ways to do that.

My plan starts by spending a lot of time thinking about what milestones I want each child to reach and how I plan to help guide them.

  • I ask the question: in a year from now, where do I want this child to be?

Personally, it works best for me to keep it to 3-4 broad goals per child, usually that have to do with helping my kids achieve growing levels of independence that propel us into future years.

Take Asher (5) for example. This year I simply want to 1) get him used to doing a short amount of more “formal school time” with me, one on one, each day, 2) introduce him to basic phonics, and 3) get him working with numbers and basic math on a regular basis. Everything else is a bonus, and believe me, we’ll have a LOT of bonuses! Why? Because my plan is manageable and set us up to succeed. At the end of the year what really matters most for Asher? Is it that we did art projects every week, took field trips, learned another language, kept a nature journal, reenacted Washington’s crossing the Delaware in full costume, read 100+ books, AND ALSO finished our math/reading/history/science/handwriting curriculums? No! He’s 5. The three goals I set are what will lay the foundation for the next school year, when I will expect more from him and he will need to pick up the pace.

For Crew (11) and Ayla (8), my plans are a lot different. They’re older, have mastered the foundations, and are ready to be challenged in new ways. But the goals I have for them function the same way; they’re always paving the way to another benchmark that leads to greater independent learning.

3) Define Priorities–Once my “plan” is in place for each kid, then I can start figuring out the ins-and-outs of how we’re actually gonna pull it off. I ask questions like…

  • What are my must-do’s each day? Each week? And how am I going to ensure that those things get done? (We’re talking both school and non-school stuff here.)
  • What curriculum choices will best support my priorities? (A highly rated math that requires 45 minutes of prep just isn’t going to work for me.)
  • What expectations do I need to communicate to my kids ahead of time so they can work towards our goals too? Are there any non-academic goals I need to consider planning for?
  • Are there any special opportunities, interests, or activities I want to bring into our learning environment this year? Maybe it’s a geography fair, an educational trip, a volunteering opportunity, or extra-curricular activity we haven’t tried.

Because I am a busy mom trying to homeschool middle school, elementary, and kindergarten with a very active toddler underfoot all day, priorities are a BIG deal.

  • My mantra is this: I can’t do it all, so I have to choose the right things.

Priorities look different for every family, but what I have noticed over the years is that priorities are very hard to meet when you are not available to meet them. In other words, if I’m disorganized, trying to do too much, or just not disciplined enough to stay home and see that things get done, then they won’t get done.

I’ve found it helpful to build the rhythm of our day around what’s most important. Most weeks follow a pretty strict pattern, and that usually involves me staying home to ensure that the top priorities get accomplished. It’s also super helpful when my husband is traveling. We flex a little, but the rhythm keeps the kids focused and calm, knowing what to expect even on a stretch when Dad’s gone.

For us, mornings are school time. We are early risers, and the big kids are often working away at math by 7:45am. This means by lunchtime, they’ve clocked nearly 4 hours of solid learning time. Our afternoons are marked by quiet time for the younger kids (and mom!) and continued independent work for Crew, and then we are free for play, work, extra-curriculars, or whatever else is left in a very flexible and often unstructured afternoon. Learning happens all day, every day, and for the most part, my must-do’s get done because the rhythm of our day supports my priorities. It’s been a helpful lesson to learn and eased my stress levels when I don’t feel like I have to do “all the things.”

4) Find Support–I am not ashamed to admit that I am incapable of accomplishing the vision for our homeschool without support. No one can successfully homeschool, effectively parent multiple children, and also maintain a house, a life, a spouse, a healthy diet, and their sanity without support. I’m sorry, but they just can’t. Support is paramount for moms in general, and an absolute necessity for homeschooling moms. Moms can’t to it all!

Over the years, I’ve figured out what support looks like and also done the emotional work necessary to be ok with advocating for myself. This is a tough thing for many moms to admit, and especially difficult for people-pleasing personalities like me. But behind every woman who looks like she’s got it all together is a killer support system that she has cultivated and, more than likely, had a hard time accepting.

For me in this season of life, support looks like help with my younger two boys. Two mornings a week Huck (3) will leave the house for a few hours. This year my parents are helping out on those days, but in the past childcare has been part of our homeschool budget. Without a little one interrupting us constantly, I can plow through the critical things with the older kids and if I’m lucky, sneak in a few chores as well. On weeks when my husband isn’t traveling or too slammed with work, he also pitches in and will sometimes take the two younger boys out to run errands for a bit. It’s good Dad time for them, and gives me yet another block of focused time. I won’t need this kind of help forever, but I am unbelievably grateful for it right now.

It can be a sacrifice to make support a reality in your life but it’s super important for the longevity of your mental health and overall quality of your home. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m getting more comfortable accepting the help I need and planning for it to happen.

5) Play Up Strengths. Know the Weaknesses.–There’s a lot of wonderful ways to homeschool and many inspiring families out there who are accomplishing those things. I am not them. I’ve got to do what works for us, no matter how awesome another family makes it look. A few examples…

  • An Anne of Green Gables day? I love that idea–I would be a stressed out wreck trying to make it happen.
  • Reading aloud as a family? Sign me up! Except that I have a 3 year old who would rather launch himself off the sofa or climb the refrigerator than listen to me read.
  • Lapbooking and printables? Seriously, I could spend 40 hours a week scouring the web and cutting stuff out (ugh!) for my kindergartner to glue into a folder that he will forget about in 5 minutes.

Other things that are my weaknesses: I’m not the best teacher for math, I’m quick to shrug off science in favor of discussing a great book, and I know that if I don’t get a little down time each day, I will lose it and turn into Momzilla.

To combat this, I am a big fan of “farming it out.” Homeschooling means that we have educational flexibility; it does not mean I have to teach all the things. If there is something I am not good at, don’t enjoy, or simply don’t have the time to teach well, I look for an alternative.

Our math curriculum is a good example. It’s taken some trial and error, but I have finally found something the kids can be somewhat independent with. I still do math with Ayla and Asher, but Ayla especially can handle it with minimal time on my end. Crew does math completely online–I provide oversight and check in occasionally, but he gets to learn math in a live class with other kids, from a teacher who loves teaching math online to 6th graders. Win/win!

I also “farm out” certain things I just can’t fit into our day. Writing is my wheelhouse and while I love teaching it, my hands are full and I knew I couldn’t do it justice for Crew this year. So he’ll be taking a writing class from a fantastic teacher who also happens to be an old colleague of mine. This way, I know he’ll be well prepared for the rigors of 7th grade English come next fall (see how I’m going back to point #2 “Make a Plan” here).

By knowing my weak areas, I can better plan for them and free up my energy for the things that get me excited about homeschooling. I’ve loved teaching my kids how to read, and am so excited for middle school writing and literature analysis. I also enjoy history and social studies, and I find it easy to incorporate these things into our everyday life. My Dad also enjoys this, so we’ve brought him into the equation to guide the kids here as well. It’s taken a load off me while giving the kids a multi-generational learning experience they wouldn’t otherwise have in a traditional school environment. Bottom line: I’ve learned to play up my strengths and find creative alternatives to teach the things that I’m not good at or that simply don’t excite me.

To sum it all up, homeschooling is a wonderful privilege, but it’s also an alternative lifestyle. Most people think of homeschool moms squarely as teachers, but in reality, I spend more time curating the educational experience we’re after. I didn’t start out knowing all this and we’ve made some big sacrifices and significant life changes to make it work. But when the long day finally comes to an end and another day of school is in the books, it’s these things continually guide us onward. Seven years and we’re still going strong!

Next month I plan to post a follow up to this post that gets more practical. It’s a Day-in-the-Life style post for a behind the scenes look at how an average day actually plays out. Stay tuned!