Are You Busy?

A while back (I originally wrote “recently,” but this has been sitting in my drafts folder since last spring) A Homeschool Mom posted about those who think that since homeschoolers aren’t employed outside the home, we can easily drop everything and entertain (either 3D or via telephone) — or who don’t realize that entertaining in the middle of the day might require us to drop something we already had scheduled.

Drop-Ins are intrusive.  Before Alexander Graham Bell’s invention changed history, people “went calling” — they’d drop in to visit with people.  That’s not how our society works anymore, and it’s considered appropriate to phone first, not just drop in.  Those who don’t call first generally feel that they know you well enough that they’re exceptions to social norms, which can make it even harder to know how to handle it when they stop by and upset your beautiful routine.

First, recognize that sometimes drop-ins are God-given opportunities to minister to someone.  I say this is first because 1) the Lord’s work should come first, and 2) my tendency is to want to stick to the schedule and make sure everything gets done and I do NOT like it when people mess up my routine.  People matter, though, and their needs come first.  I once was so concerned with my schedule that I didn’t recognize a little girl’s plea for help.  It haunts me to this day.  Now I strive for balance.  The routine is there because it helps us accomplish our goals, but it’s not the end of the world if things get disrupted occasionally.

Second, protect your family’s time.  Grandparents, other relatives, close friends, and pastors are the worst offenders, and they’re probably not trying to be offensive.  It can be hard to tell them to quit dropping in unannounced.

  • Posting a schedule on the wall can help.  It is a visual notice to visitors that there is something you are supposed to be doing.  My favorite way to post a schedule is on bright-colored poster board.  Use a permanent marker to draw lines on a large piece of poster board, then cover the entire thing with clear contact paper.  Next set up a table in a Word document and carefully size the cells to fit the boxes on the contact-paper-covered poster board.  Tasks for every individual are typed into the cells (with cute pictures), then the document is printed and the tasks carefully cut up into little slips of paper that fit perfectly on the poster board.  Double-back tape (or roll up a piece of regular tape) goes on the back of every task, and then the little slips of paper can easily be affixed to the poster board (and removed to get shuffled around when necessary).  Hanging this on the wall where it is clearly visible to anyone who visits can cut down on drop-ins.
  • Extending an invitation to get together at a specific time can make people realize that you have a schedule that should be respected.  Phone your parents and say, “Dad, we should be done with our schoolwork by 1:30, and wondered if you’d like to come by for a visit Tuesday afternoon?”  Without saying so, you’ve also implied, “…and don’t just drop by any other time because we’ll be busy.”
  • Put people to work.  Anyone who’s a good enough friend to drop in without checking with  you first is a good enough friend to pitch in and help.  Some people will be delighted to help you, others will stop coming to visit.  Either way, the problem is solved.

Phone Calls can be intrusive.  When kids are toddlers, they need 100% of your attention.  Toddlers can drown or set the house on fire — or get into less dangerous mischief — if mom is on the phone.  As children get older, they’re more able to handle you dividing your attention, but they still feel (rightly so) neglected if you’re talking to a friend instead of teaching them.

  • Years ago I had a friend who did not take phone calls before lunch.  Her answering machine would pick up with, “We are in school until 1:00.  If you leave a message, I’ll call you back this afternoon.”  Since I thought that part of the beauty of homeschooling was the ability to take advantage of opportunities that came up while everyone else was stuck in a school building, I found her approach highly inflexible.  However, I also recognized that she was doing what worked for her family (another beauty of homeschooling), and quit trying to call her before lunch.  If you make a policy of not answering your phone while you’re trying to get schoolwork done, people will learn not to call when you’re unavailable.
  • Caller-ID is a wonderful invention.  Some people are known yakkers, so I never answer when they call.  Other people only call if it’s important, so I always answer if it’s them.  When I field calls throughout the day, it models for my children the ability to handle interruptions and still get things accomplished.

Volunteer requests can be another intrusion.  After all, if you’re at home, you must be available, right?  IMO, this is easier to handle than drop-in relatives.  Said with a smile, “I have a job, and I work at it; I just don’t get a paycheck for what I do,” is quite effective. Or, occasionally (usually at church) someone will ask if I’m busy, to which I respond, “No. I sit on the couch and eat bon-bons all day.” That always gets a laugh and they realize how packed my days must be.

A word about daytime Bible studies…  “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m not available,” is a perfectly acceptable response to any invitation.  When you start giving reasons/excuses that you can’t participate, then the person extending the invitation might look for ways to counter (we have childcare, so-and-so homeschools and she can come, your kids are welcome, too…).  If you don’t give a reason, then there’s nothing to counter. You are not available. Period.

However you choose to handle interruptions, it is important that you do handle them purposefully.  Don’t just slide through the days buffeted by circumstances. Determine your priorities and develop strategies to protect your teaching time.  Learn to recognize the types of things that disrupt your routine, then find a method of minimizing those disruptions 🙂

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