So, what do I answer? Often I mutter something about it not being really so hard and that the children help out a lot and that really it's just a matter of more laundry and cooking larger amounts of food. This will often end the interrogation, er, discussion. But the questioner never seems convinced. The forced smile and slow shaking of the head imply that I have discovered some secret that I'm not willing to share.
I don't feel as though I am holding back on anyone, but I think there are some factors that are peculiar to large, homeschooling families that we know, but others may not be aware of. (And, for the record, we are, in comparison to some of the other families of which I know, not a very large family at all.) So, without further ado, my "secret" to how I do it:
- In my opinion, having more children is easier than having just one or two. I am not responsible for everything; there are a lot of other workers in my home. Everyone has chores, appropriate to their age. With a lot of workers, that's a lot of jobs I don't have to do. I do very little with the laundry these days and B. just learned to make bread. I actually spend more time supervising and checking that jobs were completed than doing any jobs myself. I noticed how much my children pitch in when two of them were gone for a week...it was more work having them gone. (To be clear, we're not talking hours of labor here, I don't think anyone has more than half an hour of work a day.) Plus, there is always someone to play with. I don't have to be the sole entertainment. They often play together, which gives me a suprising amount of time to myself...outside of the bathroom, even. I find that six children is infinitely easier than two children were. But it does force you to learn to delegate and relinquish some control over how things get done.
- The homeschooling issue is the other part of the equation that trips people up. The problem is that a parent of schooled children takes their experience and instead of replacing it with what happens in our home, adds on what they think is happening. For example, in talking with friends, it seems that the two areas of life that are particularly stressful for families with children who attend school are (1)getting everyone ready and out of the door on time and (2)homework and fitting in other classes and such. Both of these stressful parts of the day don't exist for us. We have a time we aim for starting our bookwork, but it's flexible and sometimes it's a little earlier and sometimes it's a little later...and if the day has not started well, sometimes the teacher is still in her pajamas. Most of the bookwork is completed before lunch, which leaves us with plenty of time for classes and outside activites, and there is no homework. I believe that having our children home with us also makes their interactions with each other easier to manage. There have been times throughout the years that one or two or three of the children will be involved in things that have them out of the home for signigicant amounts of time for several days in a row. It is these periods of leaving and coming back that I find most challenging. There are many more altercations between siblings when the one who was gone returns and has to readjust and find their place in the family again than when someone is gone for just an hour or two.
- Finally, probably the biggest "secret" to how I do it is simply that I'm home... and making a home for my husband and children is what I enjoy and what I focus a lot of attention on. It is not dull and I can't think the last time I was bored. I enjoy spending time with my children, discovering who they are and helping to guide them into adulthood. They are not my sole interest or focus of my attention, though. I have outside interests and activities...I do get out of the house. But I try to be careful about the balance of how I spend my time. Too much time spent on things outside the home just makes the work of running a home harder. There have been times when life has seemed too out of control, but often it is when we have become too busy and must rethink our schedule.
It is somewhat counter-intuitive that when everyone is home and together more, life is correspondingly easier, but it seems to be the case for us. I don't feel like Superwoman. (Or look like her for that matter....I tend to avoid spandex.) There are many things I don't do: baby books jump to mind (no one, not even the oldest has one); the tennis class I took was a bust; the list could go on and on. And there are many things I only do moderately well. And then there are the things I continue to try to do but have yet to do even moderately well. Plants - indoor or out- are an example. My mother-in-law used to rescue houseplants from my home to take to hers and nurse back to life. It's funny that they never seemed to return once they were green again. I still continue to try to grow plants but can't shake the feeling that when I'm at the nursery, they are all cowering in fear each pointing to his leafy neighbor and looking as sickly as possible so as to try and ward off certain death from coming home with me.
But back to original question of "How do I do it?" The short answer, for those of you who have made it through the long one, is: I don't. That is, I certainly don't do it on my own. The Bible's directive to pray without ceasing must have been aimed at mothers. I find myself praying pretty constantly, for patience, strength, wisdom, the list goes on and on, but always with great thankfulness that God has blessed me with the care of these wonderful children. I couldn't do it without His support and strength; I am not the perfect parent, but He is.