Today, if you scroll through your Facebook or Instagram feed, you’ll see dozens of learning resources being shared by parents around the world. You’ll also see twice as many memes playfully outlining a very real desperation. It hasn’t taken long for a feeling of dread among parents to settle in that, no, school isn’t starting soon.
If you are a parent who has suddenly been tasked to work from home with children as rather thoughtless coworkers, you aren’t alone. My own work as an online teacher and therapist has been punctuated by four homeschooled colleagues over the past five years. I chose this path, but if you’re reading this, working from home with children was probably not part of your plan.
It appears that our current situation with COVID-19 is one that will temporarily be our new normal. Coping with the feelings that this uninvited shift has brought into our lives has become necessary. Here are my suggestions for surviving what, at the moment, may feel like a catastrophe.
Realize that your feelings are valid and shared by a multitude of parents
I can’t stress the importance of this enough. We all have more questions than answers about where this pandemic will leave us as a global community. Stress is a normal, protective response to an abnormal situation. However, we each have a responsibility to work on relieving our stress in healthy ways that lessen the potential negative impact on our children. This is a perfect time to learn to practice self-care. Take walks as a family, practice hourly deep breathing exercises, start new hobby or plant a garden.
Don’t try to “homeschool”
If your children have been in a traditional school environment, they are conditioned to be guided through each moment of the school day. Many homeschoolers who pull their children from traditional schools observe a practice called de-schooling for several months before finding a homeschooling routine and curriculum that works for their family. During de-schooling, families allow their children to read, play, explore the outdoors and generally shed their child’s expectation of being given tasks to fill every moment.
Constantly tasking children is necessary in traditional schools to manage large numbers of children. Attempting to re-create a traditional school environment at home is unnecessary and can cause undue anxiety. Some of you may have seen beautiful examples of schedules circulating online, but the secret is that most homeschoolers use schedules as a loose guideline at best. Rest in the knowledge that your child’s school will eventually provide guidance about what they want your child to complete for the remainder of the year. Teachers and administrators are hard at work behind the scenes preparing to teach your child from a distance.
Pretend it’s summer
Most of you likely maintain some measure of learning in your child’s environment during summer breaks. Do this now! Provide abundant supplies for crafting and outdoor play. Save your cardboard boxes for forts. Utilize websites that provide practice with academics, but don’t feel that you need to teach new lessons. Unless you have very small children, you probably don’t follow your children around providing entertainment through every summer day. Don’t feel that you need to do that now.
Teach life skills
Our hectic schedules have left many of today’s youth with dismal “adulting” skills. This is a perfect opportunity to help your child learn valuable skills that are difficult to make time for when life is moving at full speed. Look for guidance online about what chores are reasonable at each age and implement them in your home. Remember not to expect perfection – learning new skills take time and patience. Task older children to help younger siblings with reading, building with Lego, doing science experiments and cooking a meal. Not only will this benefit your children, it will free precious time for you to do your own work.
Limit screen time
I won’t preach about this because you’ve heard it before, and I believe that screens can be useful. But how useful is a tool if it’s overused and worn out? Reserve screens for educational materials and the occasional, emergency Netflix marathon.
Communicate with your partner
When stress runs high, communication tends to run low. If you have a partner, this is the time to have consistent, honest talks about what each of you needs. Remember that effective communication happens with both parties are calm. If you feel that your partnership could be running more smoothly, approach your partner at a time when you are not arguing and you both have your needs met (working through problems isn’t easy when hungry and tired). Use “I” statements to clearly and honestly express your needs without casting blame. “I feel overwhelmed when I don’t have time to get my work done” is infinitely more effective than “You don’t help with the kids, so I can’t get any work done”.
There is no magic answer to how work should be divided in a home, but if you are both working from home, it makes sense to set times during each day that one of you is working and the other is spending time with the kids. If one of you works outside of the home, the home-based partner should reasonably expect the other to take over with the kids when home.
This pandemic is creating an enormous financial burden for families all over the world. Financial survival is going to take teamwork. If you don’t have a life partner, consider partnering on some things with a friend in a similar situation to ease at least some of the burden.
If you have an infant or toddler, surrender
Parents of very young children, this is the time to wave the white flag at anything resembling perfection. Forgive yourself for a messy home and endless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Enjoy these days of extra snuggles, readings of Goodnight Moon and observations of bugs in the garden. It will be more important for you than parents of older kids to trade off with a partner for work time.
All you can do is your best. Work out what works for you, your partner and your family and don’t compare your productivity to others.
Johanna England Chavez is a expat nomad. She spends 7 months of the year living in the US and the other 5 months travelling the world with her 4 children who she homeschools while working as a therapist. She also teaches online psychoeducational courses for children.