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How I Juggle Special Needs Parenting and Homeschooling
Unlike the woman in the graphic above, I have no tiara, never wear heels, and definitely can’t balance the whole world in my hands. I am pretty good at juggling, though. Being the mom of a child with special needs, and a homeschooling mom at that, has taught me a few things over the past nine years.
I realize that time management is an issue for every mom, but when you add a child with special needs into the mix, things quickly get out of control. There’s homeschooling, extracurricular activities, field trips and sessions with your local homeschool group or co-op, church, and family—and then you add therapy sessions, doctor appointments, trips to various specialists (many requiring out-of-town travel), and medication to dispense multiple times a day. In my case, there are also weekly infusions to give and regular conferences with the immunologist and specialty pharmacy about those treatments, their effectiveness, and the number of infections she’s having. And then there’s the need to nourish a marriage, support a sibling, and sleep in the very brief 24 hours a day granted to me.
It’s a lot. In fact, it’s overwhelming. Do you constantly feel like you’re not getting everything done? Do you feel like you’re not doing enough—in your homeschool, in your housework, in your personal life?
What’s a mom to do? It’s definitely a juggling act.
Here are some ways to juggle it all (and stay sane):
- Realize you can’t do it all. That’s right. If you feel like you can’t get everything done, you’re going to have to learn to embrace that feeling and find ways to live with it. It is physically impossible to do everything we feel like we must get done every day. We expect too much of ourselves. We only have twenty-four hours in a day, and we really need to sleep seven to eight of those hours if we’re going to be at our best for our families. But all is not lost. We can learn to manage the time we have better.
- Focus. Forget multi-tasking. Most people aren’t more productive when they multi-task, and some studies are coming out now that show that multi-tasking actually makes us less productive and can actually be bad for our brain function. We don’t have time for that! Instead, focus on one activity at a time. When you finish one, move to the next one. If you’re like me, trying to multi-task just leaves you with a lot of undone tasks because you flit from one to the other, never actually finishing anything.
- Accept help. As much as I would like to be able to do everything myself, I have had to accept that I need help. I give my children age- and ability-appropriate tasks to help me with around the house. My husband helps me when he’s not traveling for work. My mom comes in once a week and pitches in when she visits. (Although I don’t expect it, I don’t turn it down when she does!) I have some friends who will step in and help out. I used to be humiliated by the idea of someone stepping into my mess, but I’ve come to realize that I need the help, and I can get along better by accepting it.
- Say no. You cannot do everything everyone asks you to do. It’s not humanly possible. Prayerfully set goals for yourself and your family and say no to everything that doesn’t fit those goals. I heard Tricia Goyer speak at a conference last fall, and she said she and her husband wrote down everything that was on their schedule and categorized each item as 1 (things you MUST do), 2 (things you SHOULD do), 3 (things you enjoy and want to do), or 4 (things you do because you’re afraid to say no or because you wanted to look good or have the kids look good). Cut out everything on the 4 list and some of the things on the 3 list. Later, items on the 3 list can be added back in occasionally as you get a better handle on your schedule. I am still working on doing this, and it is difficult, but freeing!
- Build margin. As you whittle your schedule down as much as possible using Tricia Goyer’s method, you’ll find a little more breathing room. This will motivate you to continue looking for ways to build more margin in your life so that you and your kids have some time to rest and participate in activities you enjoy—at home.
- Rotate subjects. You don’t have to do every subject every day. We start with Bible, reading, language arts, and math every day. Then we work in and rotate the other subjects throughout the week. This makes the load much more bearable. Find what works for your family, and stick with that.
- Schedule time for your spouse and other children. It sounds funny to talk about making appointments to do this, but that’s the only way I’ve found to make sure it happens on a regular basis. My husband and I have a monthly date night (free childcare is provided by our church once a month at a Parents’ Night Out), and my older daughter and I get to have “dates” sometimes when my mom is in town to spend time with my younger daughter so we can slip away.
- Use your time wisely. Like to read? Take a book to therapy sessions and doctor appointments. Waiting rooms are notoriously, as my daughter says, “wait-long” rooms. Have you been longing to learn to knit or crochet? Take it with you when you leave the house. Waiting for the kids to finish at an extracurricular activity gives you time to experiment. Want more time to write? Grab a tablet or netbook that will work offline. You can put all that time waiting to good use! Of course, there are times that there will be another parent who needs a listening ear and some encouragement, but many times, there will be time for you to do something you enjoy. (Another option is to get up earlier than your family does, but that’s very difficult for me to do as a born night owl. When I manage it, I do seem to get a lot more done during the day!)
What are your best tips for juggling special needs parenting and homeschooling? Please leave them in the comments!
For more great articles about how homeschool moms juggle the situations they find themselves and their families in, check out this great list by the bloggers of iHomeschool Network!