Lately, I’m finding out that being a homeschool mom is quite like working as a server in a restaurant. And it’s not because I’m endlessly serving food to my children, though some days it feels that way.
In my past life, well, all through college and until my now 4 year old son was born, I worked in a casual dining restaurant. It was a good ten years: I started out as a hostess and moved into serving (being a waitress), and even moved to the counter (bartender) and did takeout, then working up to shift leader (which was basically a manager who was paid hourly).
I did it ALL during my tenure there, and I loved my job. I loved how quick paced it was and the regular customers who came in and asked for me. I loved the people with whom I worked. During these years I had moved a few times and was grateful to find a second family in each location.
Columbus, Dallas, and this little New England state were all homes where I worked with some amazing people. There was always a sense of teamwork. Everyone helped one another and supported one another.
The primary duties of a server included the obvious tasks of taking orders and delivering food to guests dining in the restaurant. As a server we also have what’s called “sidework.” These are the behind the scene duties that had to be done to make sure the shift was running well.
Tasks like bringing bread to the front, bringing racks of glasses to the drink station, brewing iced tea and coffee, and communicating to the kitchen when the soup was low were things done during the shift.
There was also opening and closing sidework. These were the things we did to set ourselves up for success.
Making sure the drink station was ready and lemons were cut was part of the opening duties. Restocking and cleaning things from the tables and computer terminals were part of closing sidework. We also needed to “check out” by counting our cash and settling up with what we owed the restaurant and how much we needed to “tip out” to the bussers and bartenders.
There was always something to be done (unless it was a Monday afternoon, when it was super slow in the restaurant, ha!).
In the job of the homeschool mom, there is always something to do. We have the primary tasks of taking care of our children and educating them.
Then we have our sidework: during lessons we are pausing to keep the toddler out of trouble, we help our older students stay on task with their individual assignments, and we are setting up the next lesson so we can seamlessly move on without losing focus.
Our “opening sidework” includes making sure we know which lessons to do and what order to do them in for the day, we are setting ourselves up for success by ensuring all of our materials are ready for the day.
The “closing sidework” is helping to clean up from the day, putting away materials, sharpening pencils, and reflecting upon the day.
There are so many different jobs and tasks we as homeschool moms are responsible to accomplish in a given day. In addition to the schooling, we feed our families, care for our husbands, we keep the house neat and tidy, we help budget, we plan outings or field trips for enrichment, we parent our children (disciple and discipline), and I could go on.
We moms also have other responsibilities when we volunteer in ministry or when we join a co-op or when we have family members who rely on us because of declining health. There is never a lack of something to do in the life of a homeschool mom.
Thinking back to my server days, they were mostly good days, there were a lot of great days too, but some pretty rough ones as well. At times it seemed the rough days came for weeks at a time. Sometimes, it was just mixed in with the good and great days.
I noticed two things when the rough days didn’t seem to end.
- I was lacking confidence.
- I was not set up for success.
Confidence is a funny thing. It comes and goes with me, even now. I have this saying when I’m cooking that if I “cook with confidence” then the meal will almost always come out tasty. If I happen to be in a mood where I just don’t feel like cooking, it shows in what I’m making.
Same with other areas of life: when I dress in “real” clothes as opposed to sweats and the like, I feel better, I feel more confident, and it shows.
Or when I’m telling my seven year old a story to help her understand something, when I do it with confidence – even when I don’t really know what I’m doing – then she takes to what I’m saying.
Confidence is a head game and needs to stay in check, losing confidence in yourself is a shortcut to inactivity and slothiness – I think I just made up a word. Prayer and simple actions/tasks completed usually keep my confidence from hiding.
Setting yourself up for success is such a huge deal when it comes to working in the restaurant. If it’s a busy night and servers aren’t “prebussing” or clearing their tables of unused dishware while the guests are dining, things can get out of hand pretty quickly.
Let’s say several servers bring out new drinks for their guests but neglect to take away the used glassware. Then there are not enough glasses at the drink station. Servers have to go to the back for clean glasses, using up precious time that they should be using to make their drinks. Then if the glasses come directly out of the dishwasher, they have HOT glasses, and putting a cold drink into a hot glass is a big no no. You are guaranteed to have broken glasses, then you’re running out of glasses because you simply don’t have enough.
This is a vicious cycle that keeps the servers scrambling to catch up and soon enough turns into a domino effect where other aspects of taking care of their guests suffer.
This type of thing is the makings of a ROUGH day.
Simply if one thing is missed, if one thing is not set up, then you’re rushing around trying to put out fires.
Some things are out of your control, like the days waiting for the managers to order more glassware to ensure your busy shifts are set up with enough glasses to handle the number of tables coming through the door. Or in your homeschool, when a child suddenly becomes ill, all over the carpet…
But most things in your homeschool are controllable. Setting yourself up for success is key.
How many times have you sat down to do the math lesson, open up the manual and find you need to get out the counters? So, you have to get up go over to where they are kept, get them out, and once you’re back at the table your child has gone to “sharpen their pencil?”
Or you begin reading one of the books assigned for your student to narrate and as soon as she starts narrating her little brother comes to interrupt and ask “what can I do?” You quickly pull out the play-doh and come back to hear your daughter narrate, but, she lost it, she “can’t remember anything.”
Just like in the restaurant when you need to set up you and your team for success, readying everything for the shift… you need to set up your homeschool and children for success. You need to go through that mental (or written) checklist to determine if everything is ready for the day.
Then you need to be thinking a few steps ahead doing your “sidework” to make sure the day continues to run smoothly.
As a former server, I’ve realized that the duties in the restaurant are just little habits put into place. Once you’ve been working for a few weeks the sidework comes naturally. It’s easy to recognize when things are running low or missing, so you restock them. You can feel the rhythm of the day and know when certain things can be done.
As a homeschool mom, I have little habits in place throughout my day to help keep us on track to help the day run smoothly. Habits like using a planner to know what lessons to do, or having a morning meeting, or doing poetry during snack time are all different things in place to set us up for a successful homeschool day.
How do you set up your homeschool day for success?