How to Balance Being a Riding Instructor and Having Kids

This post is about balancing being a riding instructor and having a family! Once again I was inspired by a recent post in the Riding Instructors’ Forum Facebook Group asking how do coaches, trainers, barn owners, small business owners, etc. who are also parents of small children balance it all? This has actually been a big mystery to me, so reading everyone’s responses was encouraging. It reminded me of some other thoughts and since one of my (few) new year’s resolutions is to write when I’m inspired no matter what, I’ve decided to share this because I think it might be helpful to someone! So, here are some ideas!

Note: If you don’t have kids, still make sure to read the quotes at the end, I think they are helpful to everyone regarding balancing your life!

Also Note: These are not adapted to living during a pandemic 😛

How to Balance Being a Riding Instructor and Having Kids

Most of these are ideas for what to do with your kids so you can instruct, but at the end there are some other thoughts and some helpful perspective.

Childcare At Home

Your Partner

The first resort. Maybe your spouse works days and takes over the kids when you teach evenings. Maybe you drop the kids at your spouse’s work for a bit. Maybe your spouse doesn’t work weekends so you do. Just make sure that you still have family time together, and partner time together, since this could easily become just taking turns with the kids and never seeing each other!

Helpful tip: piece of advice that someone gave me about having kids went something like this: you might expect that you both do 50% of the work, but you will both feel like you are doing 75% of the work and the other is doing less, so just realize you both work hard and make sacrifices and don’t hold grudges about it. If you are both doing more than your share, than your family is overflowing!

Family

Living near family that can help watch (and wants to watch) the kids is a huge blessing! Your parents, in-laws, sisters, brothers, etc.

Helpful tip: your family may not parent the same way you do, and for the most part that’s ok, kids learn different things from different people and will have to learn to adjust to different types of people their whole lives. Be prepared to decide what parenting battles are worth it or not. Perhaps pick one to two things to be particular about and let the rest go.

Friends

Trade off watching kids with friends. If you have time at home, take your friend’s kids, and then they take your kids while you’re at the barn.

Daycare/Preschool

Small in-home daycares can be rather affordable and offer flexible hours. Preschool is usually during the morning and will work if you have morning riders. I found that daycare and preschool cost less than hiring a babysitter.

Babysitter/Nanny at home

Paying a babysitter to be at home with the kids is a good option if it fits in your budget. Depending on the person, they might be able to pick them up from school or do dinner or bed with them as well. If you find a good one, pay them well so they stick around!

Au Pair

If you have a separate living area available, provide it for free if they nanny your kids. One person includes reasonable time off and access to a car. If you have a living area at the barn, you might even be able to find someone who can do half time barn work and half time kid work.

Childcare At The Barn

Note that which ones of these you can use greatly depends on the barn you are at – if it’s your own barn, if you work for someone, if it’s a general vs. adapted riding program, etc.. At some barns it is not appropriate to have your kids around, or may be a liability to have volunteers watch them, etc..

Baby Carrier

For little babies, you can easily wear them on your body when you teach riders who are completely independent on their own horse. Newborns tend to sleep really well (and long) in carriers. When babies get older, like toddler age, they often love to be worn on your back! Alternately, have the parent of your student wear the baby, if they want some snuggles 🙂 Or even just someone who boards at the barn and has some time – often someone whose kids have all grown up will love to have some carrier napping baby snuggles for an hour.

Enclosed Play Area Nearby

Multiple people mentioned using a Play Yard or enclosed play area next to the arena with some toys where their kid  played independently while they taught. This can work well for older babies and toddlers, probably best to start around age 2. It may take some time for the child to learn to entertain themselves, but once they get used to it this is a great option.

When it gets cold and you’re teaching outdoors, this probably won’t work. One person mentioned when teaching outdoors in the cold she would put her truck by the arena and leave it running for the kids to sit in and watch a DVD.

Stroller

Some people mentioned putting their kid in a stroller by the arena or the stall you are cleaning and giving them snacks. Some kids love the stroller so if they do, take advantage of it! Some will take naps in their stroller so consider timing this as well.

Clients’ Parents and Siblings

For your young students, the parent who brought them may be able to help by watching your kids or holding your baby. If the parent brought other kids with them, your kid may play with theirs while you teach (which actually might make things easier for the parent, too). If your student is an adult, it may work for them to bring their kid/s to play with yours while they have their lesson.

Teenage Riders

You might be able to pay some younger riders at your barn to babysit at the facility while you teach. Alternately, you could barter childcare for giving them lessons.

Pony Babysitter

If you have a trustworthy pony and horse crazy little kid, you could let them “ride” in the lesson, if the client doesn’t mind them standing at your side or putzing around the whole time.

Put Them To Work

A few people recommended putting your kids to work as early as possible. Kids can actually do quite a lot, and even if they’re not really good at it yet, it keeps them entertained. Most little boys I’ve met LOVE anything to do with wheelbarrows and shoveling and dirt and rocks and so on. This may work best for when you are doing barn work instead of teaching, so they can just join in.

More Ideas

Be Honest With Your Clients

Be honest about how you plan to do things with your children and your program – things like if you are a family farm not a commercial facility, if there will be interruptions to your lessons because of your kids, if your hours will be changing, and so on. Ideally your clients would be supportive of your family, but some may fuss at the arrangement. On one hand you don’t need fussy clients and could recommend other trainers, but on the other hand you may need the income – so by being honest you will find out who is who so you can arrange your schedule with the kids accordingly.

On a related note, you may want to change your cancellation policy to ensure you still get paid for your time. Be honest that your time has become more precious and limited so others need to take your time more seriously, too. I don’t have an specific recommendations, but if you search the Facebook Riding Instructors Forum you will find lots of discussions about cancellation policies for ideas.

Mix It Up

Most people use a mix of all the childcare options to make it work. For example, you may use daycare two days, grandma two days, and your spouse one day, all in the same week. For another example, when the child is young you may use a carriers and play pen, and when she’s two and more active put her in daycare, then when she’s older she’s in school and able to come with you to the barn. And the mix will change as life changes, as partners’ jobs change, as the kids get older, as your barn and client situations change, and so on.

Frontload

Whatever options you use, set everyone up for success by “frontloading” – that means investing more time at the beginning of the endeavor so you can you back off later. Here are some examples: When teaching your child how to play by himself in the play yard, first teach him at home and start off with short lengths then built up to longer lengths until he can last a whole lesson; or the first few lessons check on him very often, then over a few lessons scale back how often you check on him. If you are putting them to work, first take time to teach them how to do it correctly so you don’t make more work for yourself later. If you have a teenager watching the kids at the barn but they are awkward with inexperience, take time with them to demonstrate how you interact with your kids and give them specific suggestions of how to do things. If your client is bringing their kid to play with yours, have a playdate outside of lesson time first so you can both supervise and set the standard of how the kids play together.

Hire Help

If you have your own facility, you may need to hire more barn hands or additional instructors for a while, in particular to make time for your family.

Use the Flexibility

Having your own barn and program may actually allow you to be more flexible than if you had a 9-5, so use it to your advantage! Schedule your clients around your child’s and family’s needs.

Bottle Feed

For babies, using the bottle will give you so much more flexibility, in particular if you work for someone else instead of having your own schedule. That way someone else can feed the baby for you instead of having to feed them every 3-4 hours.

Side note: I am awful at this – I love snuggles and hate pumping, so this was a huge factor for me not being able to continue teaching as much (ok, at all, for now).

Scale Back (for a while)

If you can financially, consider downsizing for a while. Family is important and kids aren’t little forever. Within a few years they’ll all be in school and you’ll get so many hours back to the day.

Adapt To Your Situation

Not all of these ideas will work for you. Some kids needs more supervision than others. Some people have more finances available than others. Some people get less done with their kids around. Accept what you’ve been given and adapt.

Thoughts On Balance

Here are some thoughts on achieving “balance” between work and family:

Set Clear Family Time

Set clear boundaries and specific family time. Here are some ideas:

  • Don’t teach weekends
  • Keep your lessons limited to what works for YOU (don’t be afraid to say No)
  • Don’t take calls or do work emails before ___ AM or after ___ PM – take a message and reply later during work hours
  • Less teaching hours when your family is hone – such as teaching only one or two nights a week

The 80/20 Rule

Here’s some good advice from Kristin Andrus’s Instagram account:

“I’m the queen of “good enough” and here’s why. The 80/20 rule. The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your results come from only 20% of your efforts. This reminds me of the need to focus my efforts, and work harder in the areas that matter most, while accepting it’s okay to let the smaller stuff slide. For me it’s letting almost EVERYTHING slide. If it’s not life or death, of utter importance, or in line with my family and personal goals, I delegate or drop it. My 80% efforts include kids in clean or matching clothes and shoes, a super organized house/car/life 🤪 , bathing, breakfasts and lunches, music lessons, achievements in sports, the list goes on and on. My 20% I hold close to my heart and is of deep importance. Prayer, one on one time with kids, chores, listening, making memories with my family, quality time with my husband. This list is short but powerful and I hope where my efforts produce results. What do you want to move out of your 20% that doesn’t really matter that much?”

Take a step back and figure out what deserves the focus of your effort because it’s going to give you the biggest payoff – both in your business and in your time with your family – then focus on those and let the rest go!

Balance The Week, Not The Day

Another gem of advice from Kristin Andrus, which applies to people with and without kids:

“The advice I received that day still rings true and I think of it often. I was told that balance would never come in a day and maybe not even in a week. This veteran mom and woman advised me to balance my week vs. my day and sometimes my month vs. my week. My days are so often imbalanced and can leave me feeling defeated and like I let everyone down. When I look at my week as a whole and make decisions based on imbalanced days, it helps me so much. When competitions, weekends with my husband, volunteering, or overtime with certain kids comes about, I’m reminded to make needed corrections during the week so I can find the balance in seven days not one. Not judging my day has helped the guilt and feelings of imbalance subside so much. Seeking balance will never end as will imbalanced days but hoping that week by week and month by month I can do my best and find joyful moments in the juggling and balancing of it all!”

Perspective

Lastly, so many moms of older and grown children commented that balancing instructing and family is hard, but totally worth it. Here is some perspective from these parents that I condensed, that is hopefully encouraging:

  • Finding balance is hard when the kinds are younger, but it gets easier as they get older.
  • The worry of keeping things in balance means you are being a good parent because you’re so aware of this.
  • You’ll figure it out as you go. You’ll make it work, you will manage.
  • You may feel like your kids don’t get as much time as they need from you, but because of this they will grow up smart and independent and mature.
  • Often their kids grew up to enjoy farm life and riding, either going on to ride and show with other trainers, or at least valuing hard work.
  • It take a village to raise a child. Friends and clients will take your kid and help while you do work. When your kids are grown, they will still remember your kid’s younger years.
  • When your kids are grown they may be resentful about some things, but kids blame their parents for things no matter how they’re brought up! In the end your kids will thank you for showing them what hard work looks like and for setting a good example of how to deal with clients and manage emotions.
  • “Children who witness their parents pursuing their dreams receive a great gift.”

I would love to hear your perspective! How do or did you manage raising kids and instructing or running a program? Any advice to add?

Have a great week!

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Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement! If you would like to contribute an activity or article, please contact me here, I would love to hear from you!

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