How to Homeschool While Your Partner Works from Home

a dad works on a laptop as a child looks on

Whether he’s just taking a vacation day to catch up on a house project or has a random day off from work, I love having my husband home. Don’t even get me started on that wonderful family cocoon we cuddle up in during the slow and confusing time between Christmas and New Year’s. Having my husband home in the middle of the day is a treat equivalent to when I’d be on a field trip and realize that I’d normally be in math class, but was watching a show or taking in zoo animals. It’s out of the norm and always a surprise. 

Well, it was

Like millions of others, my husband has been working from home for the last few months as a result of the coronavirus. I was excited at first. Why wouldn’t I be? All of my favorite people under one roof, all day, with nowhere to go and all of our plans cancelled? Sounds like heaven to me! 

Well, it did

Once it became clear that this global pandemic wouldn’t be allowing us to return to normal very soon, my delight and optimism began to fade. Not only did I downshift to the bare minimum in our homeschool while we devoured news and statistics all day, but I also had to figure out how to homeschool with my husband working just feet away. 

Talk About It First

Assumptions threaten us all, and with the novelty of our new arrangement, the temptation to hope or assume loomed large.

  • With my husband home, he could help me school the kids, right?
  • With my husband home, I wouldn’t have to be the only one figuring out what we’d have for dinner, right? He could thaw the meat, switch the laundry over to the dryer, and even give me a much-needed break during the day. Right?

While he could do these things, in theory, I couldn’t just come up with a mental list for him and expect him to fulfill my imaginations. I had to talk with him — a lot, and often.

We had to discuss what he needed to do and what extras he could take on. We had to talk about what time the day needed to start. I even had to check with him to see if there were any subjects he wanted to take over with our kids. We had to know what was expected of us and what was protected for us, everything from what times he needed a quiet place to make calls to when we needed him to keep his nose in his computer and stay out of our lesson.

We had to talk often because it turned out that I didn’t want him to take any subjects away, and his Zoom calls didn’t happen at the same time every day. 

If you are homeschooling while your spouse is working from home, make sure your'e not holding onto expectations which you've never clearly voiced in conversation. 

Schedule It Next

I am not someone who enjoys schedules. I don’t even like packing for a trip. I want everything to be available at all times for any reason. Schedules feel limiting to me, like I’m leashed to a clock, and our homeschool reflects that.

We don’t have a start time, don’t follow any particular order for the subjects, and can spend as little as 10 minutes or as much as 3 hours on a Read-Aloud. I like flexibility, so schedules feel stifling.

My husband, however, is always aware of what time it is. Even if he’s a mile away from the nearest sundial, he can, at any moment, tell you exactly what time it is. He has some internal clock that gives him this superpower, and he uses it to create, and adhere to, schedules. 

We new it wouldn't be wise to wait until tempers flared to make a plan. We needed to schedule our days so that no one was in the other's way. Because he had numerous virtual meetings in the mornings, I couldn’t bang around in the kitchen or play a lively (but educational) game whenever we got our day started. He couldn’t pop in to chat or ask what we were having for dinner when I was in the middle of science lessons with three kids. We set our do not disturb hours and planned accordingly. 

Don’t wait until you’re annoyed, interrupted, or both in need of the one laptop you own. Schedule your days, even if only loosely, to protect precious time and silence. Be sure to set aside time to be alone, time to date your partner on the couch, and time to spend as a family. It is as important to protect and plan for personal time as it is work time. 

Don’t Let Home Become the Office

I’ve worked from home for over a decade and love it. Plenty of articles stress the importance of maintaining a strict routine and getting dressed in work clothes to help your mind stay in work mode. Honestly, that just means more laundry for me later and the possibility of spilling lunch on a good top. I embrace my sweatpants while working from home because one of the benefits is not wearing office attire. I also don’t work on a strict schedule, tending to get most of my work done after midnight, when anyone who would want my attention is asleep. It’s awesome. But this won’t work while my husband is working from home. 

How to Homeschool While Your Partner Works from HomeThe lines beween work and play easily get blurred when you

  • stay in the same clothes all day and night
  • do your history lessons in the living room
  • taking virtual meetings in the dining room
  • play games and watch TV in the same rooms that were homeschool areas and business offices earlier in the day

Suddenly what was once a comfort is now a rut. You feel stuck in a day that bleeds over and resembles the next. Whether it’s putting on a nice shirt or setting a time to be done with school and work, find something that separates the time spent in your home.

Maybe go for a walk after lessons are finished so you can all walk in the front door as though you’re coming home. Encourage your partner to pack away their technology that keeps them tethered to their work when finished. Put a tie on over pajamas, open the curtains, or ring a bell.

Wriggle in at least one small gesture that signals the end of the work day and begins official family time. 

When in Doubt, Step Aside

I’ve been working from home and homeschooling for years. I don’t have a schedule, but I have established a routine the works. I’m used to switching between medieval medicine texts and watercolors. My husband (and maybe your partner, too) is the newbie. They’re stepping into what is, essentially, our world.

The temptation is great to puff our chests and declare that we were here first, forcing our partners to find an unused corner to set up an office. But really, our homeschool will survive if we put off a subject for a few hours or move to a different room.

It’s our spouses who are thrown for the biggest loop, who have the harder task in learning how to suddenly do their work in a way they never have before. We’re used to the din of children, but your partner is not, especially while trying to work. We’re used to grazing on snacks or having lunch whenever we feel like it, but my husband is accustomed to a set lunch hour.

The person experiencing the greatest change is the person who should be given the most grace. 

When tempers flare and you start toying with the idea of spousal distancing, remember that it’s a lot harder to change the way your job is done than it is to simply change where or when it’s done. I can step aside so my husband can use a room or computer, because our homeschool is far more flexible and I’m not getting paid to do it. 

We’re all under stress, experiencing situations and thoughts and news cycles we never imagined before. Change can be scary and frustrating. But by talking about and managing expectations, creating and sticking to a schedule, and extending grace to the partner most affected, you can get through this time without sacrificing your children's education, your partner’s job, or your relationship. 

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About the Author

Jennifer VailJennifer Vail proudly lives in the great state of Texas with her very handsome husband and three very funny children. All three kids are educated in three very different ways according to their very different needs, which is exhausting but fulfilling. Jen's hobbies include naps, 90's pop culture, Netflix binges, buying books with the best of intentions to read them all, photography, and extroverting. She holds a degree in counseling but has found her calling by writing for and spending time with families of differently-wired, outlier kids—the square pegs of the round world.

She stays up way too late and drinks way too much caffeine, but has no intention of changing either. She is the community manager and contributing author at Raising Lifelong Learners where she writes about homeschooling gifted, anxious, and otherwise different kiddos, but also rambles at This Undeserved Life from time to time. She feels compelled to mention that she still very much loves the Backstreet Boys and rarely folds her laundry.