Some things I learned the hard way and others the very hard way.
On top of my head, here are my pearls of wisdom.
1. A relaxed and happy house is far better than a spotless one.
I learned this the very hard way, I suppose. I used to mop everyday and dust and clean bathrooms. That was way before I had so many children. I have learned that it is more important to learn when things can be picked up later. Those pictures in magazines you see? The perfect living room and kitchen? Pfft! NOBODY lives that way and has children! Do not set that as your goal! Now I might do a good cleaning on Fridays, but I break it into small sections through out the day. Every night we make a 30 minute tidy up that includes cleaning toys up in the living room and putting clothes away. I NEVER leave dirty dishes in the sink and always run the dishwasher. Your kids will not have memories of how clean the house was, rather they WILL remember the times you played games or watched movies instead of scrubbing the baseboards.
2. Your kids will survive just fine if they stay home.
Honestly I think it is crazy to shuffle kids to a billion activities. In this house a child must be 11 years old and able to complete chores and duties without being nagged before they can participate in any outside activity such as guitar lessons, etc. They are also allowed only ONE activity, so they must choose wisely. I did not do any of these outside activities growing up and was fine. I NEVER participated in sports as a child and yet played through High School and was a star athlete. It is a drain on a family (especially a large one) to be at practices and lessons and activities every night of the week. It's not worth the stress and your kids will be fine WITHOUT some extra activities.
Why on earth would anyone let the kids stay up late? Kids need rest and mom and dad need time alone. Period. My little kids are in bed by 8 pm. I let my two teens stay up until 9 pm, but they are in their rooms reading and drawing or downstairs watching a special show on TV. In the winter if the little ones are cranky, I put them to bed at 7 pm! Now, in the summer we stay up a little later, but not often. Late nights are reserved for vacations and special occasions. It is also imperative that mom and dad get a few hours alone to catch up or watch a movie or even just "veg." Start this routine while they are young and stick with it!
4. Successful homeschooling begins with successful discipline.
If your child will not feed the dogs when you ask them, then what makes you think they will do their math when you ask them? Again, this starts at an early age, but your kids need to know who is boss and that you mean business. We love our kids and show lots of affection, but they do have a healthy fear of disobedience and that is what you need to successfully educate them at home.
5. Your kids do not need a bunch of friends to be happy.
I know this sounds a bit harsh, but think about it for a minute. I would rather have a few close friends than a hundred not close friends. There are people who questions the fact that we do not attend a home school co-op because they see high value in the friendship aspect of such a group. My kids, as well as myself and Devin, have a few very close friends. These are life-long friends and that holds more value than surface friends.
6. Marriage first, kids second.
You and your spouse are in it for the long haul together. Do not spend so much energy on the kids that you have none left for each other. (see #2 and #3). Remember that one day your children will be grown and out of the house. It will then be just you and your spouse so make sure you are not strangers to one another. Go on dates often, even if the date is Chinese take out and a movie at home. Happy kids come from happy moms and dads.
7. Find a talent or interest and nurture it well.
Maybe you like to knit or scrapbook or even play tennis. Whatever it is, find ONE thing that you love and make sure you have some time to nurture that interest. I love to quilt and sew and knit. I will carve out a day every couple of months and take a class at the local quilt store. When Devin works late, I will plop on the couch and watch a movie and knit. Your life cannot be all CHILD related! Remember the bit about one day the kids will be gone? Go make time for yourself and your hobby.
8. Life skills are just as important as math skills.
Your child growing up and being able to cook meals from scratch, plant a garden, care for a baby, and change a tire are priceless skills. Home schooling is not just about math and writing and history. Take time to include your children in everyday activities such as cooking or building a storage shed out back. This is one of the wonderful benefits to educating at home. You have the flexibility to close the math book for a week and teach an important life skill to your youngsters.
9. When the sickness bug visits, just take the week off!
I cannot stand it when kids get sick and yet the family still tries to maintain a normal daily schedule. Seriously, if you cannot take a week off to rest and recuperate then you have a problem. The body needs rest when it is trying to fight off a cold or infections. REST. Instead of trying to do school and all of the other weekly activities, just try and allow your family the freedom to stay home and do nothing. Pajamas should be the dress code and reading books the school day. Kids can color or play on the floor, but make sure there is opportunity for naps. A cold will clear up much faster this way and you will also not be spreading germs around town. I promise that the world will still be turning if you scratch your weeks activities.
10. Patience comes with experiene.
It's a common comment from people to say, "I could never teach my kids because I am not patient." or, "You must have the patience of a Saint to have so many kids!"
Let me tell you that I am not naturally a patient person and neither are most moms of large families. I have a large amount of patience now because I have LEARNED it over the years. You will never have the stamina to run a marathon unless you practice and run, run, run. You will not learn patience to home school if you do not try. You will not learn to be patient with many kids if you do not have them and try. Do not use that "lack of patience" as your excuse. Anyone can learn patience, but you must work at it and often times pray for help.
What have you learned over the years of raising kids and home schooling?