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Single-Parent Homeschooling: An Interview with Mary Jo Tate

January 19–23, 2015   |   Vol. 122, Week 3

If you are a single parent and want to homeschool, you can do it! Join Mary Jo Tate this week on Home School Heartbeat as she shares tips and encouragement from her life as a single homeschooling mom.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need. And don’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself! Take the flight attendant’s advice: put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.”—Mary Jo Tate

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Is homeschooling possible for single parents, too? On today’s Home School Heartbeat, Mary Jo Tate, a single homeschool mom, shares tips and encouragement from her own life.

Mike Smith: This week, author and homeschooling mom Mary Jo Tate joins me. Mary Jo, welcome to the program!

Mary Jo Tate: Thanks Mike! I’m delighted to be here!

Mike: Mary Jo, being a single parent is hard enough, but homeschooling as a single parent seems like an overwhelming challenge. Is it possible?

Mary Jo: Absolutely, Mike. In fact, the growing number of single parent homeschoolers testifies that it really can be done!

Though may feel like you’re alone, don’t try to be a lone ranger. Every homeschooler needs a support network, but it’s especially crucial for single parents, because we don’t have the help and the sounding board of a spouse. Get involved in a local church and a homeschool support group. Make friends with like-minded families. And seek out wise counsel from godly advisors.

Even more important, remember that God’s grace is sufficient. He promises to be a father of the fatherless and a defender of widows. If God has called you to homeschool your children, He will provide the strength, patience, grace, resources, and time to do it. Let your family and your life be a testimony of God’s faithfulness.

Mike: Mary Jo, when you’re the primary provider and the homeschooling parent, how do you balance work with actually being there for your child?

Mary Jo: Well, Mike, when there are so many responsibilities to juggle, it’s really easy to slip into crisis management mode—to just push yourself until you can make it past one more commitment, or one more deadline. But you can’t live that way forever. You just can’t sprint through a marathon. You’ve got to find a pace that you can maintain for the long haul.

In order to do that, you have to eliminate as much as possible and prioritize the rest. Learn to say no to the good in order to say yes to the best. Be intentional and very selective about outside commitments, such as extracurricular activities. And even though it’s hard, don’t let the necessity of working crowd out precious family time.

I’ve found that the best tool for balancing a busy life is setting yearly and weekly goals in 3 categories: personal, family, and business. Dividing commitments into those areas—literally writing them down in 3 columns on a page—helps you see whether things are in balance. Just half an hour of planning every week will multiply your productivity and relieve stress and frustration.

Mike: Mary Jo, let’s talk specifically about homeschooling today. How do you set reasonable expectations for your family’s homeschool program, as a single parent?

Mary Jo: Mike, it’s really important to design a realistic educational plan that you can actually implement, rather than wasting precious time fretting over the gap between theory and practice. It’s great to teach your children together whenever possible, especially for history, literature, and science.

Encourage independent learning when your children become competent readers. Taking responsibility for their own education teaches important skills and offers the opportunity for each child to pursue his own special interest. Don’t try to do everything yourself, either. Delegate some instruction to older children, which reinforces their learning as well.

Educational videos and software can be helpful in moderation. Audio tapes or CDs can be great for reviewing math facts, history dates, and so on. And recorded books can supplement live read-aloud time. Participating in a homeschool co-op can multiply your own efforts. Set up systems and routines to keep things running smoothly.

It’s really important to find peace in the space between the ideal and reality. Your homeschool may not match your highest goals, but you can still make it work and give your children an excellent education.

Mike: Mary Jo, that’s very wise advice.

Single parents face so many demands on their time and attention. In your experience, what should they most beware of neglecting?

Mary Jo: The single parents I’ve talked with almost always neglect taking care of themselves. Of course parenting does involve sacrifice. But you simply can’t nurture, provide for, and educate your children well, if you’re always living on the edge of burn-out. Nobody blames a pregnant woman for taking care of herself—her child’s very life depends on her health. But once the child is born, the connection isn’t quite as direct and obvious.

To be able to handle all your responsibilities, you absolutely must make time for personal rest, renewal, relaxation, and even recreation. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, exercising, eating right, and drinking plenty of water.

So many of the single parents I talk with seem to need somebody’s permission to take care of themselves. If that describes you listening today, I want to officially give you permission right now: it’s not only ok, it’s essential. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need, and don’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself. Take the flight attendant’s advice: put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.

Mike: Mary Jo, you’ve given a lot of encouragement to the single parents listening. What about those around them? How can others in the church, community, or family come alongside single parents?

Mary Jo: Remember EMT: encouragement, material help, and time. First, encouragement. Pray faithfully for single parent families and offer godly, wise counsel. Praise the positive things you see in their lives, and encourage them not to become weary in doing good.

Second, offer material help. Single parent families often struggle financially, and homeschooling limits the time they can devote to earning a living. Donating cash or gift cards can make a tremendous difference, and really help relieve the burden. You can also help by sharing material things such as clothing, household items, curriculum and other books, Christmas gifts, or even firewood.

Third, give the gift of your time. Help with home repairs or car maintenance. Babysit, tutor, or mentor the children. Show hospitality by including single parents and their children in special events and holiday celebrations.

James 1:27 includes looking after widows and orphans in the definition of pure and faultless religion. Ask yourself how you can show God’s love to a single parent family today.

Mike: Mary Jo, this truly has been encouraging this week. Thanks for joining us! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mary Jo Tate

Mary Jo has been homeschooling for 18 years, the last 14 of them as a single mom. She is the author of Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms. An international editor and book coach for nearly 30 years, she also teaches homeschoolers, single moms, and work-at-home moms how to create balance between family life and home business.

Mary Jo has a heart to help, encourage, and inspire other homeschoolers—especially single moms. She reminds them, “If God has called you to homeschool your children, He will provide the strength, patience, grace, resources, and time to do it.” She desires for her life to be a testimony of God’s faithfulness. For resources and encouragement for single parents, visit www.FlourishAtHome.com.

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