It’s tough getting by on one income. Like tight with a capital T. I quit working full time when I was pregnant with my second child, the week after I finished my MBA. Great timing?
We thought we were in pretty good shape. No debt, except the mortgage. A little savings. A budget. Boy, were we wrong. I made slightly more than half our income, so even though we had a budget, we fell behind very quickly.
Then, a friend’s husband asked if I could help their small firm with some computer work. Sure! I can do that a few hours a week. There was the little extra we needed to make ends meet and put us back on our feet. One client turned into two, then three. Within a few years, I was pretty busy. Not full-time, but more than a few hours a week.
By this time, I was homeschooling my oldest and had two active pre-schoolers. All days were busy, busy. Most were manageable. We won’t talk about the ones that weren’t.
When I was pregnant with numero quatro, I decided to drop one client. Actually, it was fairly mutual. They were going bankrupt and didn’t see the need to pay me. Obviously, that was the beginning to the end of our relationship and their business.
Now, I’m down to two clients, and that’s usually about right with five kids and homeschooling. It’s even busier. Manageable is overrated.
Over the years, I think I can say I’ve learned a few things about mixing work and homeschool. It’s kind of like a vinaigrette salad dressing. You have to shake it up to get the oil and lemon juice to mix, and they eventually separate when left alone. In other words, it’s not easy, but when you need the extra money, you can make it work.
Family Friendly Employment: Probably, the first priority for any job when you’re a parent is for it to be family friendly. That’s the buzz word for working mothers. It might include flexible work schedules, work from home, job sharing, onsite daycare. I, personally, could go for a daily foot massage, but none of my clients offer that. For the working homeschool mother, family friendly means I can bring a child to work with me every so often and stop by to check their math. They have to understand I might need a different work schedule to accommodate co-ops and field trips. While I’m always on call, due to the nature of my business, my clients also need to know that I don’t always respond immediately, except in emergencies. I might ask to wait until lunch of after dinner to fix something. Last, but not least, no one can complain about the screaming child in the background when they call. I promise no one is dying.
Scheduled Home School: Some home school advocates tend to gloss over the need for a real commitment to schoolwork. Yes, home schooling involves learning in real life, but washing the dishes and changing a diaper will not teach the area of a parallelogram. We have defined times to start school, daily lesson plans so everyone knows what pages need to be done each day (whether mom is sitting there or not), and regular reviews to see where we are and what we’ve missed. I’m not saying we never get behind, but it’s a lot easier to “do the next thing” when the next thing is on paper with a timestamp.
Low Maintenance Curriculum: When we started home schooling, I liked the idea of unit studies. Tying all aspects of a subject together seemed like it would be fun and interesting. At least for me, I was wrong. As my family has grown, I’m even less able to improvise. So, I switched to a mixture of textbook, workbook, and classical methods. This allows for a reasonable amount of independent work and a checklist of to-dos. I love checklists. I also rely on someone else’s experience on how to teach certain subjects and how much a certain age level really needs to do. Otherwise, I might get stuck in Ancient History for two years, not that I’ve done that.
Limited Extracurricular Activities: Extra curricular activities are important to children for many reasons. They develop confidence and foster friendships based on similar interests. However, extracurricular activities tend to take on a life of their own and suck up free time. Many sports require several nights of practice during the week and game(s) on Saturday. That’s just one sport for one child. If you have multiple children, you might be lucky to see them face to face except in the car. We have chosen to limit our activities to ones that do not take a large chunk of time, allow all the children old enough to participate, and build desired character and skills in our children.
Everyone has a Job: Elves do not visit our home at night to do dishes or laundry. Real life means real messes, and everyone has a job to do. I mean EVERYONE. From the 4 yod picking up shoes and toys to the 15 yod cleaning the toilet and putting up dishes, chores are part of life around here. Everyone has a specialty or two, but everyone pitches in to keep the house livable every day and deep cleaned once a week (or so). Sure, I do a better job than these minions and I get tired of the fighting over who should do what, but chores teach responsibility. And by working, I’ve already made a sizable contribution to the running of the household. Their turn.
Operate as a Family: My busy schedule does not give me the excuse to detach from my children’s lives. One of our goals is to operate as a unit. We are not lone rangers. We go places together. Eat meals together. Spend time together. Laugh, cry, get mad, and get on each other’s nerves together. That’s called real life. I know everyone’s friends. I know where they are and what they’re doing and who they’re with. Yep, I’m invasive and nosy. It’s called being a parent. As our children grow up, we discuss decisions and goals and concerns. In all ways, our family unit is our priority. It’s the magnet that grounds us.
Adjust Our Attitude: There are lots of times I feel that work is an intrusion in how I think my life should be, but that’s not a helpful attitude. I am blessed to have a job and one which is flexible and helps provide for our family. God commanded us to work (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 1 Timothy 5:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:10-13). Rather than feeling like work is a hindrance or an imposition, I choose to see it as God’s calling for this season in our life. This attitude is a witness to my children as well. Give thanks in all circumstances.
So, if you’re looking for a job to help make ends meet, don’t take the first offer that comes along. Think it through and put it to the test.
- Is the management family friendly?
- Will the hours and work requirements fit my family’s goals and lifestyle?
- How can I schedule our homeschool to better support time at a job?
- Does our homeschool curriculum help or hinder our schedule?
- What extra curricular activities conflict with school and work?
- How can everyone pitch in to help?
- What changes need to be made to operate as a unit?
- Do I have the right attitude about this need?
Above all else, don’t let anything divide and conquer your marriage, your family, or your commitment to God’s call on your life.