I’ve homeschooled my two kids for over ten years now, and for five of those years I’ve been working part-time. I won’t say it’s ideal, but it’s reality for many families. Here’s how I manage.
I’m a librarian, and for several years when my children were very small I was doing extra work for the public library. They would call me once in a while to substitute or to fill in a few hours on the schedule. My plan was to keep doing that until a position opened up (hopefully in the children’s room!), and then I could just bring my kids to the library for school time. A previous children’s librarian had done this, so there was precedent.
That plan unraveled completely when the county decided that no library needed more than one librarian to run the whole place. I, along with anyone else who wasn’t a head librarian of a branch, was let go, and there wasn’t much prospect of future employment. I was out of work for a couple of years, and this started to get worrying. I live in a small city and the demand for my expertise had disappeared. I worried that I would have to go back to school and train in another field to get good work in the future, but for the moment I was homeschooling two daughters and that was plenty for my plate.
I got an unexpected job offer though – the local community college needed a librarian for less than ten hours a week. Few people want to work that little. I wasn’t sure I wanted to work that much, but our financial needs were pressing. I felt very strongly about continuing to homeschool our daughters, so I figured I’d just try to muddle along.
My girls were seven and ten when I started working three days a week, three hours at a time. No family members were available to stay with them, but friends helped out. Over the next couple of years, depending on who was available, my daughters would spend those hours at the homes of various friends. Sometimes I paid – usually about $25 a day – and sometimes, if the friend was also a homeschooler, I would barter. I sewed a fancy baptism dress for a friend’s daughter, for example.
In the mornings, we would do as much work as we could and pack up the more portable or independent work for someone else’s house. I tried to make lists of what they should do, but more often my instructions were verbal. They’d have a pile of books to go through, so it wasn’t hard to remember, but checklists were much superior. Then after work, I would go over what they had done and do more work directly with them.
It was not easy for my kids to go to other homes. They often struggled with distractions as younger children watched television or played. While my older daughter has always preferred to work independently, the younger one wants me right by her side. Their hosts were not familiar with the work they were doing and could not keep noses to the grindstone in the way that I would (nor would it have been fair to ask it). It was too easy for the girls to say they’d done more work than they really had, and by the time I’d done drop-off, the commute, the work, and then the pickup, most of the day was gone.
I enjoy my job, but it was not easy for me either. Switching focus takes energy and organization, and I looked forward to the days at home with no worries about getting everything done before I had to go. Working while homeschooling is very draining, and the house certainly suffered. My meal-planning skills were not really up to the challenge either. I had less time for personal reading or sewing, and both are very important to me. Over and over, I would remind myself that I am happier when I can get some sewing time in every so often, and then I would forget again as life got too busy.
As the girls got older, I didn’t need to take them to others’ homes quite as much. My work schedule changed a bit every year, and at one point I was working two hours on Fridays. By then I figured they were old enough and could manage for that long alone. They much preferred staying home together where it was quiet.
It’s now been over a year since my mom – another librarian – retired from full-time work. I promptly recruited her as a backup homeschooler! This works much better since she comes to my house and is able to keep a closer eye on their work (I’m better at checklists now too). She discusses books with them and can critique their writing. This year she and my now-15-year-old are reading Dante together. I really appreciate all the help she is able to give us. Right now, a couple of my work shifts are scheduled later in the afternoon, so we have the whole morning to work together, and then they finish up while I’m gone.
It’s still not easy. I won’t lie – this is not an ideal way to homeschool. Homeschooling is already a full-time job, and I’ve piled a part-time job on top of it. The house and meals are still suffering, but my older girl makes dinner sometimes, which helps.She is a soup artist! If I could afford some cleaning help, that would probably make a huge difference, but I’ve never felt able to do that.
By the time summer rolls around, I’m pretty burned out. Luckily my workplace does not want me over the summer, so I do get some time off (albeit no money). By then I need to spend a lot of time not thinking about school. This year I avoided it as long as possible and only got things under control a couple of weeks before we were due to start back! I try to do a lot of planning in spring when it’s easy to see what my kids will need. Summer is for relaxing, trying to get the house into some semblance of order, sewing, and a road trip or two.
That annoying pest, Reality, dictates that many of us work while homeschooling. It may not be ideal, but it can work as long as the paid job is not too onerous. I would definitely not recommend that you try it while working more than, say, 15 hours a week at most. Fifteen would make it really quite difficult to keep up the energy and dedication needed for your children to thrive. (During some difficulties staffing my workplace, I found that 12 was too much for my family’s well-being.) I hope you are good at efficient meal-planning…and try to squeeze a housecleaner into your budget!
One more thought. If you really, truly have to work more than a few hours per week, keep a sharp eye on your children’s well-being. The more hours you have to work, the more possible it becomes for them to suffer without getting noticed. If a child is struggling with something, don’t just assume it will get better; pay attention and think seriously about whether some changes might be necessary. It is better for a child to be doing well in a school setting than it is for him to be troubled at home. Don’t let your dream of an ideal homeschool cloud your sight as to what is actually going on; it’s not appropriate to subordinate a child’s needs to a parent’s ideal.
Jane-Emily–Jane-Emily is a classically homeschooling LDS mom of two girls, and a librarian at the local community college, very part-time. She loves to read and will pick up almost anything. She also loves to sew and mostly does quilting, heirloom sewing, and smocking. And she’s a Bollywood addict. Jane-Emily is our Webmistress.