As if homeschooling our children isn’t enough, many of us also decide to add working at home to the mix. I still haven’t decided if we’re blessed to be able to work at home or totally crazy. Probably a bit of both.
I began working at home as a writer when I decided to leave teaching. David began working at home when he was downsized out of his corporate job. He’s an excellent web designer and graphic designer. We often work together on projects and he has his own clients as well. He also does all the design for my products in my learning shop. We worked from home together for five years before Caroline was born and have continued to do so.
After working at home for many years and now with a child I’m homeschooling, I’ve determined that there are definite needs in order to succeed. This is my big picture, all-in-one realistic expectations list for homeschooling moms who are thinking about working from home.
What Do You Need to Work from Home?
It all starts here, folks.
I interact with a lot of bloggers online. I regularly see moms who say something like: “I have five children under the age of eight and I’m homeschooling the oldest three. I really want to earn a full-time income off my blog I just started two months ago, but I’m finding it hard to get the time to get much done. How can I get it done?”
You know what the answer is 99% of the time for that situation? You can’t. Unless you have an incredible support network that regularly helps with childcare and/or you have a husband who makes very good money so you can outsource most of your homemaking responsibilities and get lots of babysitter time, you simply aren’t going to be able to be a good mom to five kids, homeschool three of them, and work full-time from home. That’s not a realistic goal.
Another example is people who decide to sell printables online after seeing an article about women who have made huge amounts of money doing so. They expect to earn $5,000 a month after a couple of months. That’s not realistic.
Working from home, especially when it is your own business, is a marathon. It can take a long time to build up a business that pays well. We’re talking YEARS. If you need cash right away, it is better to find someone who will pay you to work from home such as answering phones for a customer service line. If you aren’t careful with your spending, you might be better off finding ways to cut corners and save money instead of trying to generate a way to make more money.
You have to be realistic or you will be constantly frustrated. And one guess who will bear the brunt of your frustration. Your children. Because it will be all too easy to see them as the obstacle to your money making goals instead of delightful little people entrusted to your love and care.
Unless you are truly in a desperate place financially, working from home can wait. Little people can’t.
A Supportive Husband
If you are going to work from home, you need to have a supportive husband. If he’s not on board with your plans, it is going to cause friction in your marriage and it isn’t worth it. He’ll resent the time you spend working instead of taking care of the home and investing in your relationships with him and your children.
If you are barely holding it together in terms of taking care of your home, homeschooling, and mothering, it’s not going to get any easier when you try working as well. Your best approach to change his mind is to demonstrate you can do everything else over an extended period of time and then suggest that you slowly add a few hours of work time each week.
I could not do what I do if I didn’t have David’s support. He supports me emotionally and physically. He does many of the household chores because we agree that my work is just as important as his. Our marriage is truly a partnership in every sense of the word. If your husband isn’t willing to support your need for time to work, then think long and hard before you try to take this on.
If your business plan requires that you sleep only four or five hours a night, rip it up and start over. You cannot be a healthy person on four or five hours of sleep. This goes back to the realistic goals I mentioned up above.
If your plan to work requires that you sabotage your body in the process, forget it. It’s not worth the long-term health problems.
Your little people need a mama who is reasonably healthy. You simply cannot be healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically if you are chronically sleep deprived. A lack of sleep messes with your brain in a multitude of ways. You lose your ability to think clearly, be patient, etc.
You need your sleep.
A Simplified Life
If you are working from home and homeschooling little people, that is enough. Period. I personally think that you need to consider letting go of any other commitments both for your own sanity as well as your children’s. It is going to be challenging enough for some of your kids to share you with work. If you are also involved in multiple outside activities, you are probably going to be stretched too thin.
We live in a culture that thinks margin is optional. You need margin. Your children need margin. Your family as a whole needs margin. Again, if you are homeschooling and working from home I truly believe that is enough for most women. If you aren’t convinced, read one of my favorite books – Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. (He also wrote another favorite of mine – The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits.)
If you have a hard time saying no, then you need to get a grip on that as well. I wrote a short ebook about that very topic – The Freedom of Learning to Say “No”. It’s a brief book with an action plan in the back. If you have a hard time telling people no when they ask you to do this or that, please read my book and do the exercises that come with it. You are going to need to set boundaries in order to achieve some sense of balance and margin in your life.
Routines are very beneficial for a work-at-home mom. You don’t want to spend the precious limited energy you have each day herding children who have never been taught routines. Determine the routines that work for your family and then implement them. Try to get as many parts of your family life on autopilot as possible. This includes laundry, cleaning, and meals. Conserve your mental energy for when you sit down to work.
I have put together a collection of printables that will help you do just this. A Quiet Simple Life Planner & Guidebook is full of helpful plans, ideas, and more that will assist you in establishing routines and rhythms in your home.
Flexibility and a Sense of Humor
While I just said you need a routine, you also have to be willing to be flexible. That great workplan you have lined up for this afternoon that you can’t wait to get to? It will get torpedoed when one of your little people ends up breaking an arm, you have an inconsolable teething baby, or the babysitter can’t come. Family life is going to get in the way of your work plans over and over again. You can laugh or cry. Choose to have a sense of humor about it or you’ll end up stressed out and angry.
Confidence that Comes from Prayer
What you are attempting to do is challenging. If you are a Christian, I encourage you to pray about this before you begin. While it may be your desire to work from home, the Lord might have other plans for you. It might be a season of “not yet” at this point. Ask for guidance and then more forward in confidence with whatever answer you receive.
A Work-at-Home Environment
So what about a work-at-home environment? What is important to consider?
Tanks Filled First
One thing we learned as work-at-home parents is that we have to fill our daughter’s tank first. She must have her needs met early in the day or the entire day can quickly go downhill. Doing homeschool with her is not filling her tank. I’m talking play and total focus on her when she was little. Now it is more about conversation and connection.
If we fill that tank before lunch, the rest of the day generally moves along much more smoothly.
A Tidy and Clutter-Free Home
Everyone has the ability to live with different levels of “mess” in the home. For example, some people work fine at a messy desk and other people are paralyzed by it. You need to do what works for you.
The clutter I’m talking about is the mess that constantly sucks your time and detracts from your more important callings. The things you shuffle around because they really don’t have a home. The pile of stuff in the basement that never gets dealt with and continues to grow. The overflow of toys that you constantly have to pick up because your children haven’t been taught any kind of routine or there are so many it’s basically impossible for them to clean up.
This kind of clutter is a drain.
I recently wrote about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I highly recommend reading it if you have too much stuff. As I’ve gone through my home following these principles, I’ve eliminated probably 30-50% in each room or storage area. This surprised even me as we are not terribly materialistic and live in a relatively smaller home by today’s standards (1550 square feet). I’ve already pitched and decluttered many times in the past. But this book was kind of like the magic key I needed to take it to the next level.
Don’t waste your precious mental and emotional energy on clutter. Tackle it once and for all. Take a few weeks and attack it relentlessly. Free yourself from the bondage of stuff. I have many posts, printables, and podcasts that deal with clutter that can help you with this challenge.
Be brutally honest with yourself.
If you can’t tackle the clutter that regularly impedes your life, how will you manage your own business or work from home?
So what are some tools that you need to effectively work from home? I’m not going to give you a long list of expensive bells and whistles. I’m going to give you an overview of the things that truly make the biggest difference in our lives.
If you want to see a more detailed list, please check out my post My Essential Website Tools.
Find a planner that works for you. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I have used a Blue Sky Weekly/Monthly Planner as my overall planner in a variety of different patterns for the past several years. It is not expensive and works fine for my life. I also have a separate three ring binder for planning aspects of my blogging, social media, sponsored posts, reviews, etc. because it was becoming too much to manage in one calendar.
I’ve created beautiful editable homeschool planners. They can be an amazing tool for you. I use the homeschool planner myself.
I know there are many planning and organizational apps out there as well, but I’m a paper and pencil gal. I don’t want my life to all be on an electronic device. If that works for you, great! I’m wired differently and prefer to keep things as simple as possible.
Some people see technology as simplifying. I do to a point, but only to a point. After that point, I think it minimizes margin and boundaries by making us too accessible and making it almost impossible to disconnect from our work. (That’s another discussion!)
A Quality Website
Make the investment in a quality website. If you are serious about your business or blog, make it look professional. Buy your own domain and set up a self-hosted WordPress website. Don’t use a Blogger or WordPress.com website because you don’t own them. Blogger can delete your website at any time and for no reason. You do not own your Blogger website or the content you put on there. WordPress.com does not allow you to engage in commercial activity.
I go into much more detail about choosing hosting and how to set up a website in My Essential Blogging Tools.
If you have a blog or website you aren’t happy with, David would love to help you! Or if you need something completely yours, he is very experienced in creating a site that will be just what you want. He also offers website maintenance and support plans.
A Mailing List
This is one of the biggest mistakes I made the first several years I was blogging. I never developed a mailing list. From the beginning, make it easy to keep in touch with people who visit your website. I have used ConvertKit and was happy with it, but I think it is better for people with more established and complicated online endeavors. When I wanted to simplify, I went back to MadMimi.
Set up an easy way for people to subscribe to your mailing list. Even if you only contact them once a month when you are starting out, you are building up your own list of contacts.
I explain in much more detail why I don’t limit myself to one online location or trust my business solely to other companies in Building A Small Diversified and Profitable Online Business. The principles in that post apply wherever you sell your products other than you own website. I highly recommend reading that post if you are going to develop an online business.
Learn from my mistakes. Seriously.
Honestly, Amazon Prime is the best tool for work-at-home and homeschooling moms. I don’t have time to run all over the place shopping. I can get virtually anything shipped to me in two days for free. Caroline can watch tons of videos through Amazon Prime for free. Between the Meijer that is a mile from our home, the local shops we have a half a mile from our home in Cute Little Town, and Amazon, I rarely have to take time to go shopping. Amazon Prime pays for itself over and over and over again every year.
If you can afford it, hire a babysitter. I honestly think for a homeschooling work-at-home mom a babysitter is a legitimate need, not a luxury. When Caroline was younger, we hired a sitter to come in one afternoon a week (sometimes two) and it made all the difference in the world. The ability to focus for an extended period of time without being distracted or interrupted is gold. It was also fun for our only child daughter who got someone different to play with.
A Drop-Off Homeschool Co-op
We’ve been members of a drop-off homeschool co-op since Caroline was in kindergarten. It’s win-win for everyone. She gets to go to co-op and have fun with other kids while learning. We get a break and can focus on work during that time.
Highly Engaging, Self-Directed Activities for Children
This is critically important. You need to have highly-engaging, self-directed activities for your children. For us, that meant making peace with screens.
I’m not exaggerating when I say getting a Kindle Fire and Kindle Freetime changed our lives. It was something that was highly-engaging, learning oriented, and self-directed for Caroline. Then we added Minecraft – Pocket Edition. Caroline found that she absolutely loved the exploring and learning of Minecraft. (When we discovered that she is gifted/2e, visual-spatial, right brain type learner, it all made sense.) With the different options we had available to us, it freed up a couple of hours a day for David and me to work.
Allowing my daughter to use technology rather freely is not what I would have expected when I became a mother. I decided it was worth the trade-off. She is homeschooled and has both of her parents at home with her. Those are huge advantages in her life. I’m willing to trade-off extra screen time for that.
Meal Plans and Shortcuts
Having a list of quick meals and recipes is important. If you spend all the income you earn on eating out, you might as well not work. A slow cooker is great for having a good meal on the table at the end of the day. An Instant Pot makes it possible to cook a meal in a very short period of time.
Some people do detailed meal planning for every week. I’ve personally never found that to work. I keep a variety of foods available in a well-stocked pantry and we use what works that day and that meal. I’ve found working at home requires flexibility in terms of unexpected phone calls and so on. Whatever method works for you, just make sure you have one!
Online Support System
Find some groups online that make up a support system. There are many groups on Facebook, website forums, etc. where you can connect with other people who do similar work at home to yours. When you work at home, it is easy to feel disconnected professionally. I think seeking out people who do similar work is vitally important both for interaction and also networking, trouble-shooting and so on.
I put this one last because this is something I don’t have, but wish I did. The first thing I would hire out is the lawn care, even before a housekeeper. We’re pretty tidy people by nature and I’m very good about keeping things picked up. We don’t mind cleaning and with only three of us it really doesn’t get dirty around here.
But I would love to have someone take care of the lawn (and the snow) since it always seems like a huge inconvenience when David has to do it. So those are on my someday list. If you can afford them, it might be well worth the expense, especially once your business gets going.
Work-at-Home Homeschooling Moms
It is possible to work from home and homeschool your children! For some, it is the perfect answer to both their financial and educational needs. It could be the answer for your family as well.
If your children are very young, think carefully before taking too much on. They truly need you a great deal of the time. Just a few years down the road it will be much easier. In our own home, the difference between what we could accomplish with a five year old and what we could accomplish with a nine year old was HUGE. Truly HUGE.
Now that she’s almost a teen, it’s even easier. It’s so much easier now compared to eight or nine years ago. That isn’t to say we don’t have challenges, but the older your children get the more they can at least understand why you need to work. Lay the groundwork slowly and start with even just cleaning out your home! That will start you on the right track.
If you are thinking through the decision, I also wrote more extensively about this topic in Thoughts on Motherhood, Making a Home, Homeschooling, and Working at Home.
Best wishes in your working endeavors!
Sallie, this post is practically an e-book in itself!! 🙂 Very good points.
Peggy – I know! I thought that as I was finishing it up. LOL!
My gift to the world. 🙂
Great suggestions! I’d also add that a copy of Pamela Price’s How to Work and Homeschool could come in handy 🙂
Thank you for the reminder about Pamela’s book!
Catherine @ A Spirited Mind
As a homeschooling, working mom who is pregnant with #5, I agree with all of your points. I think the hardest part for the theoretical mom of five you wrote about though is the on-ramping. Once you have some sort of business established it’s somewhat easier. But coming up with a business idea and launching it solo when you already have a big family would be tough.
I work in a creative field (I do corporate writing and SEO copywriting, usually working with designers and developers for their end clients) and so I have found lots of ways to be flexible. I also work fast, so I define for myself what a full-time workload and salary looks like, and manage to get there without actually warming a chair for 40 hours a week. But I don’t know very many other people who are ambitious about work AND very serious about homeschooling. And adding in the challenges of three (so far) gifted/intense kids means even fewer people get it. So I would love to find a support network of some kind, if only to run ideas by people who won’t automatically think I’m wrong/crazy/weird all the time!
Anyway, I’m delighted to have found your blog tonight and look forward to reading more of your posts!
I’m so glad you found me too! I appreciate hearing from other women who are trying to balance work/homeschool/intense kids. I think part of the key is finding something you’re really passionate about for your work. I’ve done a lot of work over the years that I wasn’t passionate about and I know how much it drains me. If I’m doing something I really love, it makes all the difference in the world in how it energizes me for the rest of my life.
Yes, yes, and yes. I found myself nodding at so many points you brought up. I’m a big fan of routines and I talk big about keeping margin, but sometimes that margin gets a little thin. I keep hearing about that decluttering book. (Feel like a need to throw a few things away before I read it, though!) Great post.
Shonna – It’s a great little book. And don’t worry about throwing away things first. The book will inspire you to really dig in!