Recently I asked a friend how her summer was going. Her response was that is was ok but she was looking forward to school starting because she “had forgotten how hard it is to get anything done with the kids home all day.” As a homeschooler I have to say I found that a bit amusing to hear.
I do get that it’s hard to get things done with small children. If you have toddlers or infants and you’re doing anything beyond getting everyone fed, safe and happy: more power to you. But this friend’s kids are 10 and 12, so not exactly at that tearing-the-house apart stage. My first thought was “What things are you possibly trying to do that you can’t do with the kids home?” (I also know that this friend doesn’t work at home nor is she in the middle of something like moving or caring for a sick parent or other unusual life situation.)
On further thought I realized that I hear this sentiment or something similar quite often. It’s what’s behind the “I don’t know how you do it” homeschoolers hear a lot. Or the “Mommy can’t wait for school to start” type of commercials. I think it’s primarily a reflection of two attitudes in our culture.
1) The “everything is important” attitude. I used to frequent a message board where there was a daily thread where people would post their to-do lists and then up-date as the day went on and they accomplished things. This greatly appealed to the list checking part of me and I participated for awhile. It was strangely gratifying to have somewhere to report that I’d finally cleaned the fridge and have people saying “Yay! Good job!”. That’s not the kind of affirmation that you hear when you are home doing the every day mundane kind of tasks we all have to do.
However, while I appreciated the women on the thread and the virtual social aspect it added to my day, I started to notice that a lot of people would complain about being busy and post a long list of things to do. These lists would include things like making phone calls, sending emails, ordering items online, scrapbooking, organizing photos, putting out holiday decorations, etc. None of those things are bad but really most could not get done and it would be ok. I then found that I seemed to be making my own long lists of questionably necessary items. This both left me feeling stressed and “busy” and also gave me great satisfaction at the end of the day when I’d checked off everything on my list. So I stopped participating in the thread.
I think this applies in real life too. Modern suburban life is filled with things we NEED to do. Except we don’t. It’s ok if the scrapbooks are empty. It’s ok if the school fundraiser items don’t get sold. It’s ok if the house isn’t decorated seasonally. Really. It is.
I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that a lot of the things my friend was moaning about not being able to get done fall into this category. Things that seem more essential and important than they are.
I’m also not suggesting that homeschoolers are immune from this attitude. Add in all the school things (nature study anyone?) that we think we need to do and sometimes we end up with even longer not-really-essential but must-do items. However, I do think that much of the time by default or by choice we have learned to separate the essential from the not-essential. Teaching math? Essential. Updating your blog? Not essential.
We also do find it easier to avoid the next attitude:
2) The compartmentalized life attitude. This is the idea that kids do kid things and adults do adult things. That school happens from 9a-3p, M-F, Sept-June. That school is one box and work is in another and home is in another and play is in yet another. So if the kids are home from school and it’s vacation time we must do x and y and z but not a and b and c. So therefore, it’s really hard to get a and b and c done, even if they are things that need to get done.
In ruminating on this blog post and my friend’s statement, I realized that living an integrated life is really one of the blessings of homeschooling and one of the reasons we do it. If we want to exercise, we can do it together. If the peeling trim needs scraping in preparation for painting, they all help. They don’t so much have household chores as they do what we do: they do what needs to be done. (John recently joked that for a required chore chart he needs to make for a Scouting requirement that he should just write “Whatever Mommy wants” for every day of the week.) They help with vacuuming and yard work and laundry. They make lunch. They garden. The bigger ones take care of the littler ones. And they have to learn how to do these things together and in between doing their daily work.
I don’t mean to suggest that there is no room for time alone. (Heavens no! As an introvert I’d go nuts without some time alone.) But kids can also learn that. “Mommy needs to lie down and read for a bit. Go play with your brother.” They can learn that there are things that Mommy likes to do that aren’t essential but that are important to me and that sometimes those things are going to come before their own preferred activities.
Public school starts here in about a month. It probably starts here around the same time. (Opening day TBA because we can be all flexible like that.) Some people are counting down the days until school starts and the kids get out of the house. Here, we’re glad that we’ll all still be home all day.