Thursday, October 11, 2012
I've written my share of posts about homeschooling. We've been at it for almost two decades now.
It dawned on me the other night that if we homeschool the twins all the way up through high school, I will have homeschooled something like a total of 30 years.
We always take homeschool just a semester at a time. Sometimes just a quarter at a time.
Sometimes just a day at a time.
And, yes, sometimes just an hour at a time.
So we school at home. Yes.
And I work. Yes.
While my work does take me in front of audiences and adult class settings, I primarily office from my house. Between women's ministry, speaking, writing, running my personal blog, managing social media and running a non-profit, I can wear the hats I do because of my home office situation. I am very, very grateful.
I've long worked from home, even when I was in the days of little jobs that weren't so much my passion but allowed me to be home with my kids. I put sequential stickers on medical files for several years. Yep. Stickers. On files. But it helped our financial bottom line and I could do it at home. I did voice-over work for commercials, did media for a nutritionist and produced a line of videos for him. I had my own photography business for a while. I produced several special events for several churches and designed video products and documentaries. All from home.
And gave spelling tests. And graded math papers. And made homemade play-do.
No nannies. No cleaning service. And not because I'm super woman, but because we've been raising eight kids here. Which is a little expensive. And doesn't have a line-item budget for 'help'.
It's a weird world, conducting a professional phone call while trying to strap a diaper on a wiggly toddler and demonstrating the proper pencil grip to a first grader.
So here are a few little things I've learned along the way, should you find yourself with a double passion for work you love and schooling at home. Not that I have all the answers, as you'll no doubt see. My biggest issues are trying to give 'time honor' to all my roles, without 'cheating' any of them. I would love to be noble enough to say that I always manage to keep my homeschooling role as the biggest rock. But because homeschooling is so daily and some of my work projects have eminent deadlines and urgency, it is all too easy to get off focus. I would love post some beautiful schedule here, showing this clean delineation of a block of office time and a block of school time.
But the reality is we school and work and work and school. A couple of my children now work with me and there is a blend of going over assignments and helping with papers and discussing an upcoming work project. So I stopped frustrating myself with trying to neatly containerize all the components and have come to a place where I just try to best manage the life/school/work blend that makes a recipe I happen to love.
1. Stay off the phone.
This is one of the toughest, toughest, toughest things for me. I love to chat, love to interact. And particularly when it comes to the ministry hat of my work, I want people to know that they matter. But because I'm still not great at the quick phone call, text or email is often best. There are many, many questions that can be answered, issues that can be addressed and resolved, all by text or email. I know it's not as personal, but if you're trying to combine work and schooling, you've got to get very exclusive in your phone usage. I've had entire days flash by with phone call after phone call after phone call, each person with important questions and issues, but often questions and issues that didn't require the length of a chatty phone call.
2. Get on the phone.
There are those situations that are most efficient by phone. Sometimes tone and intention can get lost in the verbiage of a text or email. If there is something potentially sensitive or complex that needs to be taken care of, I'm very intentional in handling that face-to-face or by phone. It can be the most efficient approach to communicate clearly. I do try to stay very aware of a situation that seems to keep needing my spoken input. The trick is in discerning which situations warrant which approach.
3. Don't underestimate the power of a handwritten note.
Because I have very little time in the week to be tied to a phone call and because text and email can sometimes come off as impersonal, I do love to drop some personal notes in the mail to folks several times a month. I can't always control the length of a phone call and therefore have to be very disciplined about how much time I allot for phone work. But I can easily decide to spend 30 minutes writing up some personal notes and sending them. It's a really beautiful and effective use of time to help people and clients know that you care.
4. Don't multi-task.
When it comes to schooling, I keep reminding myself of this. When I sit at the table with my kids, when we talk through their assignments, when I keep the cell phone off and turn away from the computer screen, we can get more done more effectively in a shorter amount of time. Working through math equations in a focused manner yields a faster learning curve for my kiddos than if I am trying to text replies while unpacking long division.
On the other hand, I do multi-task certain activities. If I'm driving kids to activities, I'm often on a blue-tooth, getting through my call list. If I'm sitting in a dance studio waiting room, I'm answering email. And when there is educational value to a project I'm working on, I've got my kids all in it. It's a huge component of a well-rounded education to me, this business of letting my kids closely observe and participate in my business.
6. I'm not running for Homecoming Queen.
I should probably print that up in a really cool font on really cool paper and matte and frame that above quote. 'Cuz I am still trying to make sure I don't get pulled into my natural desire to want to be friends with everyone and to have time with everyone and to call everyone and to help everyone which can stem from that unhealthy place of wanting to Be.Liked.By.Everyone. Sheesh. How old am I? And why do I still go around the bend with this one from time to time? I hate to disappoint people. I want to help heal people. I want people to feel important and loved. I'm primarily in the people business.
I'm not running for Homecoming Queen. I can't be everybody's best friend. I can't be everybody's counselor or mentor. There are amazing people out there who need a best friend...and people who could be that for them. There are people out there who need a counselor or mentor...and there are people who could be that for them. Our creative arts pastor said something so true the other night at a meeting~~when we allow people to stay in a spot they weren't gifted for, we are robbing them of the opportunity to discover what they were truly created for. I think for any of us in the 'people' business, it is so tempting to try to solve everybody's issues and be everybody's friend. But we could be robbing others of the chance to step up, to mentor, to befriend, to come alongside.
7. It's About Access...and No Apologies.
When it comes to working from home, it is so important to be timely, to be professional, to do what you say you will do. I'm very fortunate in that most people I work with are very aware of the size of our family and are aware that I still have young children at home. And I really do try to not use their awareness as any kind of excuse when it comes to getting things done. However, just because I have a blog that opens up our lives and all other manner of social media in which I post and a cell phone that's on my hip most all the time, I'm getting better about shutting things down as well. I'm getting better about leaving that cell phone in my office after a certain time at night. I'm getting better about shutting down the email after a long day. I'm getting better.
I still have a long way to go.
And I suspect a lot of us do. Whether we office from home or not, work and commitments and school/volunteering sign-up emails keep pinging our in boxes far into the evening. Gone are the days when someone left their work and office phone on a desk at an office a commute away and took the rest of the evening for family and leisure.
One of my precious mentors told me this week that my struggle is in wanting to be so available to people in a work situation that requires some space and quiet. For me to be able to speak, I need some time of retreat. For me to write, I need some time of quiet. When school assignments are done for the day, I can be quite guilty of jumping on the phone and email, not using that time to invest in research and writing. And whatever your flavor of work is, you need that time too. If you're doing web design, you need to time to read and keep up on the latest looks and HTML. If you're a creative type with an Etsy shop, you need some time to dream up some fantastic new creations. If you're a blogger, you need time to read and think and hone your skills. If you're a home-based childcare provider, you need time to read up on the latest in child development and interactive play. These things are essential to offering the best product/creative/service that you can.
And it takes some space.
My life is not more important that anyone else's...and it's just as important.
So it pays to be intentional. It pays to think through who fills your cup...and who drains it. It pays to be reminded that you can only truly, deeply invest in friendship with a limited number of people. And it pays to be reminded that a chunk of that limited number of people live in your own house and need you to give them a spelling test.