When unschooling while working doesn’t work

I am one of the most outspoken advocates that homeschooling as a working mom can – and does – work.

I’m also quick to admit that in our house, as in any blogger’s house (and homeschool), sometimes, things do not run … according to plan.

And I’m ready to put out there, openly, here and now, that there are times when unschooling while working really doesn’t work.

That’s why, for the second year in a row, I’m joining the iHomeschool Network’s imperfect homeschool linkup… because I think it’s important to share our real story, even when it isn’t pretty, as well as the strategies we use to try to get back on track when things are kind of crummy.


The background: Our homeschooling-while-working situation

I work full-time, in-office, as an editor at our local newspaper, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 1:30 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays. Probably two nights a week, I bring about an hour’s worth of work home with me. In good news, our office is exactly half a mile from our house, so no commute.

I freelance about 10 to 15 hours a week for various clients from home, online.

I get up around 8:30 a.m. (Yeah, I don’t do a lot to get ready for work. Probably to my coworkers’ dismay; sorry, everybody. I do manage a shower most days.) I go to bed around 2 a.m. If I’m lucky, I try to fit in yoga practice at home in the evenings, or a walk, but my former three-days-a-week tae kwon do practice has given up the ghost thanks to the schedule.

For Ashar’s part, she (a) needs more sleep and (b) is an even bigger night owl than me. That means she gets up around noon and comes downstairs around 1 or 2 p.m. (when she gets hungry), and goes to bed around 3:30 or 4 a.m.

That sets the stage: Except for weekends, our time together is from about 6:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., which sounds like a lot of time, but which includes things like an hour or more of work-from-home time for me, an hour for family dinner, and the fact that fundamentally, I’m not good for much useful after midnight, and we’re cramming a lot into a relatively short time.

Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes, it’s not.

When unschooling while working doesn’t work

The problem comes when we’re – OK, I’m – overcommitted. Say I work all day, and bring work home because I didn’t get it all done. Then say I have to run a couple errands after work, and have a freelance project due that takes longer than I expect. Then suddenly it’s 11 o’clock, Ashar is engrossed in a movie or game, and I’ve missed my window to connect with her.

I wish I could say that’s rare, but the fact is, it happens more than I want to admit. And when it happens one day, when we get out of a rhythm that has us engaging and interacting, it tends to happen more in the following days.

The great thing about unschooling is that we don’t have “tasks” to complete each day. There’s no lesson plan to follow, which is great when it means we can go off on a two-hour rabbit trail reading about Hitler, World War II, D-Day and more without worrying about what we didn’t get done from the science plan.

But the part that’s not so great is that there’s no checklist to keep us accountable to actively learning and engaging together.

And that’s where things go wrong. Because I’m gone for 9 or more hours a day, there isn’t much “buffer” if my evenings fill up.

And even though I’m present physically, if my mind is elsewhere, if I’m exhausted and zoned out, then even when Ashar wants to engage in learning and discussing and generally being the cool person that she is, I’m not part of it, and our unschooling suffers pretty hardcore.

How we get back on course

For me, it comes down to saying no more often. No to this new freelance project, no to another load of laundry, no to going out with friends for a coworker’s birthday.

And that frees me up to say YES to what really matters, and intentionally choosing to do so instead of letting my newly acquired time fill up with Facebook surfing or random chores or other mindless junk.

Instead, I say yes to doing a “word of the day” project with Sarah.

Yes to painting together.

Yes to listening to what Ashar’s reading about in “The Matrix and Philosophy” and an hourlong conversation based on it.

Yes to a three-hour World War II movie.

Yes to being with my daughter, this wonderful, amazing person who is soon going to be 15 (ahh!) and who, all too soon, I won’t be sharing my evenings with.

That’s what matters, and when I can remind myself of it, even the imperfect days seem a lot better.

Read more perfectly imperfect homeschooling stories

A bunch of my fellow iHomeschool Network bloggers are sharing their imperfect homeschooling stories today too; I would really encourage you to check them out by clicking the image below.


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3 thoughts on “When unschooling while working doesn’t work

  1. Hats off to you, Joan, for prioritizing spending time with your amazing daughter. I don’t work outside the home but even so I am familiar with how easy it is to let my kids get on with their own projects while I get on with my own to-do list. And as you say, less connection tends to lead to less connection.

    Consciously making time to listen to my daughter sharing the cool science experiment she’s just seen on YouTube or my son’s excitement about getting to the next level of World of Warcraft is always rewarding – but if I’m not careful, I only half-listen. And they know that! (And I know when my husband does it to me! ;-))

    These years when they want to share everything with us above anyone else are so precious.

    You are a fantastic role model.

    • Lula, wow, you made my day! And you are so right – that “half-listening” thing is a BIG problem for me and one I really work on! (And wow. I can listen to an hour’s worth of World of Warcraft talk and really zone out if I’m not careful!)

      You rock. Thank you for stopping by and for being so nice about my failings, ha! 🙂

  2. Great post, Joan. As someone who needs at least 8 hours of sleep at night, I don’t know how you manage! I know it must be hard. I have a hard time juggling the work I do, which is considerably less than what you do!

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