What does it mean to be a homemaker? Can you be one if you have a 9-5 outside the home? Can you be one if you have no training, if your mother wasn’t a Donna Reed or June Cleaver type? Have you found yourself suddenly surrounded by children and/or a spouse with needs you are struggling to meet? Are you trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing at home during an extended quarantine, when all the things on which you depend are disrupted?
Even we on the homeschool front, the ones who chose this lifestyle, are challenged right now. Just because we homeschool does not mean we were at home 24-7. In fact, usually, we find it hard to juggle curriculum and academics with all the other aspects of life: activities and sports, household chores and meal preparation, family obligations, social engagements, and making a living.
But here we are, as a nation, as a species, brought to our knees by something as small as a virus and as large as our worst fear. We are in our houses, but are we at home? What’s the difference?
I suggest that a house is a dwelling where people share space, while a home is a safe and productive environment created by people who love each other. My husband and I chose to live unconventionally—to homeschool our five kids on a sailboat—and we prepared for it by changing the way we lived over a long period of time. We learned how to live off-grid, how to work from home (wherever the home traveled), how to cook creatively and how to teach our kids what they need to know (sometimes with limited internet access), how entertain ourselves when we are isolated or bored, and how to resolve conflict peacefully.
Perhaps you are beginning to make some of the same adjustments—but you may be doing it suddenly and involuntarily, without the necessary mental, emotional, and financial preparation. Stocking up on toilet paper does not prepare you for being at home all the time with your family. The learning curve is steep, but it’s sink-or-swim, so you’d better start doggie-paddling. Here are ten ideas for making your house a home:
- Accept the situation. We may have to accept that this is going to last a while (not a storm cloud that is going to “blow over”), which means hunkering down and toughening up. You might have to accept an old-fashioned view of family (think Little House on the Prairie) because it’s what will help everyone make it through this tough time. Or you may have to do something unconventional that takes both parents out of their comfort zones. Accept that some sacrifices will be necessary: that’s what love costs.
- Ask for help. I start my day with prayer and a devotional reading…and coffee, lots of coffee. I do this because otherwise I am the Wicked Witch of the West. I call a friend when I’m in over my head, and I answer the cry for help when a friend needs me. I have homeschool heroes—moms who have done this before—that help me figure things out. I read books. And, of course, I use the internet, but I often find it overwhelming, so I’m choosy about my searches—I usually go looking for something specific.
- Develop a routine. Not necessarily a rigid schedule, but an order of operations. It provides stability for the whole family and sanity for you. It should include regular mealtimes, chores, school subjects, free time, exercise, and work. Try to do the same things in the same order, accepting disruptions, but always going back to the next thing on the list. Get the family involved. Make a plan. Write it down. Tape it to the wall. And stick to it.
- Focus on one thing each day. This is something I learned while living aboard my boat. Trying to do too much results in doing nothing well. So, Monday I do the shopping. Tuesday I do laundry. Wednesday I have an early morning Bible Study (now on Zoom). Thursday is music practice. Friday is cleaning day. You get the idea. Of course, this “one thing” is in addition to the daily routines of homeschool, work, and chores.
- Make a meal plan/menu for the week. It helps with shopping, meal preparation, and managing expectations. Get everyone to make suggestions, learn recipes, and take turns with cooking and cleaning. My eight-year-old can make homemade tortillas by herself. Our kids are capable of so much more than we usually ask of them.
- Create an orderly space. If your kids are home all the time, they are like tornadoes leaving messes in their wakes. Try to create a zone of peace in at least one room, a place where order exists within the chaos. Maybe it’s your private retreat, maybe it’s the living room sofa. Clean something—it will make you feel better. At the end of the day, enforce a 20-minute tidy-up. Many hands make light work.
- Enjoy time with your kids. This is a special time—stressful, yes—but also amazing. Someone pushed the PAUSE button and we have a moment to enjoy all the things we’ve been working for. Go outside. Play a board game. Play cars. Play Barbies. Read aloud. One of the reasons we homeschooled in the beginning is because we wanted to enjoy the kids we made. Yes, being at home all the time together is hard, but it is also fun and rewarding.
- Be creative. Weave art into your daily life: music, dance, drawing, cooking, poetry, home décor—whatever floats your boat. See if you can spruce up the academic curriculum your kids are using with kitchen chemistry, musical parodies, or homemade games.
- Establish discipline. Without some semblance of order and mutual respect, all this advice is pointless. Your home will be in chaos. You and your spouse will be pitted against each other. Your kids will fight constantly. Making a house a home requires fortitude and teamwork. We just use good-old-fashioned rules, complete with rewards and consequences. And consistency.
- Offer grace. To yourself, to your spouse, to your kids. I don’t know your specific situation or challenges, but we all have this in common: we need to forgive ourselves and others for mistakes and failures, pick ourselves up, and try again.