Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Motherhood Management in Your Home School

Are you going crazy trying to keep things running smoothly in your home school when your house is full of young children?  Let's think about two different moms at exaggerated ends of the spectrum.

Mom #1 rolls wearily out of bed when the preschooler starts whining for breakfast. The two older children stumble out of their rooms, poking each other, and meet with a sharp reprimand from Mom. After eating, the children wander off and Mom is left alone to clear up the debris. The baby starts to whimper and Mom discovers a blow-out diaper oozing onto the high chair. She sets the jelly jar back on the table and carries the baby upstairs to the nursery. As soon as she gets the messy diaper off, she hears a crash downstairs. It is the jelly jar, now shattered and splattered on the kitchen floor. After she mops, Mom trudges back upstairs to nurse the baby. The other children scamper outside to play, barefoot and in their pajamas. When Mom yells for them to come in, they track mud all over the fresh-mopped floor.

During morning school time, Mom #1's third grade son repeats the same math mistakes from yesterday, because she didn't grade his paper. They can't do the science experiment listed in their text book because they didn't buy the supplies. While Mom hunts for flash cards for the first grader's phonics lesson, the bored preschooler throws blocks at the baby. By now it's lunch time and Mom must try to make peanut butter sandwiches while clutching a howling baby.

The bedraggled family has just finished eating when the phone suddenly rings. It is a home school friend, inviting them all over to play that afternoon. Escape! After a frantic scramble to find matching shoes, they jump in the van and fight over the front seat. During their visit, Mom and her friend spend the time commiserating over the lack of good field trips in their support group, and ask themselves if maybe they should switch groups. Actually, though, Mom's friend is thinking of quitting home schooling anyway, and the social time turns into a gripe session.

On the way home, Mom drops off the overdue library books and stops at the grocery store to get meat for supper. She forgets to get a new jar of jelly, but her children manipulate her into buying candy bars to keep them quiet. When they get home, Mom has to set the groceries on the floor because the table is still covered with the remains of lunch and the counters are full of clutter. The preschooler has missed his nap and runs around wild until Dad walks in. Mom has a pulsing headache and the house is trashed. There is very little to write down for school, but Mom hasn't kept records this week anyway.

So that was an exaggerated Mom #1! (I hope!) What about Mom #2? She has the same children and the same house, but her perspective is totally different!

Mom #2 gets up early to have her quiet time and a shower. The preschooler is up when Mom gets out of the bathroom, so she puts him to work setting out the breakfast dishes. She turns on some music and greets her grumpy older children with a smile, because she knows that the next 10 minutes can either make or break the day. After breakfast, the children all take their dishes to the sink. One child wipes the table and another sweeps. Since the jelly has been transferred to a plastic jar, the preschooler enjoys putting the food away. Mom throws in a load of laundry, takes tonight's dinner out of the freezer, and quickly reviews her to-do list and lesson plans.

When the baby starts to whimper with that blow-out diaper, Mom takes her and the preschooler upstairs. The preschooler picks out a picture book and plops onto the floor. Mom changes the messy diaper, washes her hands and nurses the baby to sleep.

It's time for the third grader's math lesson, so the first grader takes the preschooler into the living room and helps him with a puzzle. At the dining room table, Mom pulls out a fraction chart to demonstrate the math lesson. She can see the concepts click in her son's brain. This is a dramatic improvement from last week's fraction frustration which impelled her to make the chart in the first place. Then the two older children switch places so that the first grader can do her math and phonics with Mom.

After this, Mom calls the other children in for a science experiment. She pulls the supplies out of a plastic bin, opens the book and directs the children through each step as the preschooler watches with wide eyes. School time proceeds smoothly through the morning. Lunch passes amiably with only one cup of spilled milk and lots of scattered crumbs, which are quickly cleaned up.

When the phone rings, Mom waits for the answering machine to come on, finds out it is a home school friend calling, and picks it up. Her friend invites them over to play, so Mom checks the to-do list. No, it won't fit in today. Mom reminds herself, “Great ideas deserve great planning,” so she suggests postponing it until Wednesday. This is fine with her friend, yet Mom detects an odd note in the voice on the other end of the line. Is anything wrong? “Well, yes,” replies the friend. “I am so burned out with home schooling. I'm thinking of quitting. I just can't seem to get it together. How in the world do you do it?” Mom chats with her friend for 20 minutes, trying to think of a way to encourage her. She recommends a helpful home school book which she has been reading in snatches each day.

After Mom gets off the phone, she tells her children that they can go weed the backyard strawberry patch if they put their shoes and socks on first. She then makes a quick phone call to the health insurance claims department. Next, she pulls out her home school planning notebook, opens to the support group section and flips to her field trip planning page. She calls the local science museum about group prices and jots down all of the information on a notebook page.

When the children are ready to come inside, Mom stands guard at the door to make sure that dirt doesn't sneak in too. The preschooler is filthy, so Mom sticks him in the tub. It's also time for his nap time story and cuddle. Mom grabs her own book to read in his room, because she knows she will have to prevent the nap-fighting preschooler from escaping. When he drifts off to sleep, she sorts through closets and drawers to find items to donate to Salvation Army.

For the rest of the afternoon, Mom reads to the older children, plays with the baby, supervises clean up time and prepares dinner. When Dad gets home, Mom tells about the day and hands him the notes from the health insurance phone call. After dinner and a short Bible video, Dad reads to the children while Mom grades papers and fills out home school record sheets. Mom and Dad chat about the agenda for the next day before she goes to bed, tired but satisfied.

What's the difference? On the surface, the most obvious thing is that Mom #2 has prepared for her day and prevented many of the time-and-energy-eating hassles that plague Mom #1. If you probe a little deeper, you might detect that Mom #2 has gone beyond mere survival to true productivity. How? She is focused on important goals and priorities previously set with Dad. In line with what she feels is her mission in life, she wants to develop a warm home atmosphere, be a helpful partner to her husband, teach and train their children effectively, optimize the family health, grow in her personal life, and assist other moms to do the same. These goals are attached to specific tasks (home schooling, reading, cooking, decluttering and cleaning the house, phone calls, etc.) which Mom does little by little each day, in delicate balance. She must keep her goals and tasks in mind so she doesn't get sidetracked. She knows when to say “NO.” Mom #2 is both efficient and effective. I know this ideal mom seems unattainable, yet we can at least see improvement to the extent that we emulate her and aspire to her ways.

 These two moms reflect different management styles: Management By Objective (MBO) and Management by Exception (MBE). MBO managers set positive, specific, measurable, attainable goals with steps to implement them. They also anticipate situations so they are ready to prevent them or respond to them. In contrast, MBE managers coast along until a problem comes up and then they react to it. They spend prime time on “fighting fires” instead of on productive work. For some, MBE is actually Management by Explosion. What is your current management style? As you move toward MBO management, ask God for a mission statement for your own life, a reflection of what he has called you to be and do. Next, seek God's vision for your life in the areas of marriage, child training, home school, finances, health, ministry, home making, schedule, personal development, etc. These should all be in harmony with your mission. List your specific goals in each area, both long term and short term. Choose a few that are important and/or urgent, and set up a brainstorming page for each. In detail, list the steps and resources needed to pursue each goal. Knowing that I don’t operate in isolation, I even include sections for God’s Part, Others’ Parts and My Part.

Hold on to your visions and keep them in your mind every day! Review your goals and evaluate your progress. Are you overwhelmed? Pace yourself and don't try to accomplish everything at once. Major on one or two things, and dabble in the others as you have time. You are not obligated to become an expert in every “essential” school subject, extra-curricular option, or homemaking skill. Find what fits your unique family. Keep your goals and priorities in balance, so that hobbies, projects, and ministries don't crowd out your first duties to spiritual growth, husband, children, and home life.

Plan ahead so that you can avoid spending all your time reacting to problems. When you are calm and rational, think through recurring problems to reveal creative solutions for the future. For example, if your child routinely bursts into tears while doing a certain subject, consider alternative ways to present or supplement the lessons. The care you take in solving your child's learning problems, rather than merely shifting blame, communicates to him that he is worth something. Your approach to life planning and problem solving will be one of the strongest lessons to your children in the home school of real life. Not even the zippiest workbook can surpass a resourceful and sensible mom.
This article is excerpted from my book The Real Life Home School Mom.  You can read the book for free via the PDF in the sidebar of this blog,

You can also read the first section of this "Life Management 101" section on my blog here: "Let Our Ordered Lives Confess the Beauty of Thy Peace...?" at


  1. Thank you for this post. I found it both helpful and inspiring...

  2. Oh my goodness... I am so much like mom #1. I am both convicted and inspired. Thank you for posting this. I hope to read it many times again. But first I think I should go clean my kitchen :)


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