So you’re working on a deadline and your seven-year-old is pitching a fit in the living room about not knowing what to write in her journal and demanding your attention before she’ll start her Mathletics and whining because everything is boooo-ring and she can’t Facetime with her friend until her school work is done.
I’m sitting here writing this post as an act of solidarity with all of the parents who are also muddling through the brave new world of working full-time from home while attempting something resembling “home schooling” with your children.
Let me preface this up front by saying this: I know what a fortunate position I am in. Right here, right now, this house has two partners who are both working full-time. We are caring for one child, we have a freezer and a pantry full of food, and we have enough tucked away for a rainy day that even if it all came crashing down tomorrow we’d be fine for the time being.
These are blessings that I don’t take for granted.
But, while my gratitude for full-time work (work that I love and happen to get a paycheque for) remains boundless, it also means that neither my husband nor I have the time to be as engaged and involved with our daughter as we’d like. All those marvellous lists of resources and educational ideas for parents that are going around social media? They’re awesome, but the chances of me having time to delve into them, let alone sit down and actually interact with my child to make most of them happen, are slim to none.
I do not need any posts about “how to make baking muffins an educational activity for your child” or “how you and your child can build a backyard rocketship.” What I need are basic strategies for survival. Period.
So I’m writing my own.
Thanks to some crowd-sourced wisdom from the New West Moms Group on Facebook, I have come up with this list of strategies to help you stay sane while you pretend this is a balancing act you can actually accomplish.
Take what will help you, discard what won’t, or just swear at me from the comfort of your own home if it’ll make you feel better.
Here, for what it’s worth, are my 10 survival strategies:
1. MAKE SURE EVERYONE HAS A WORK SPACE.
Whether you have an actual “home office” or you’re working on a laptop in the living room, try to make sure everyone in the house has a defined work space – and that includes your child. Everyone needs a space where they can go to be (mostly) uninterrupted and where they can work without being distracted by others.
Be sure your children know that when you’re at your work space, you’re working and therefore not meant to be interrupted except for important questions. Offer them the same courtesy in return with their schoolwork space.
Consider making your own “Do Not Disturb” sign to hang next to you when you really need a designated amount of quiet time (for an important meeting, for instance).
No, you’ll never stop the “Moo-ooooom” questions. But the more you can provide visual cues that you are “at work” or “at school,” the more you can help your whole family separate those tasks from the “at home” hours – and the more fun it’ll be to hang out together when you’re all “at home” again in the evening.
Or, at least, you can tell yourself that. It hasn’t entirely worked for me yet, but I remain convinced that it’s a strategy that will pay off – eventually.
2. ACCEPT REALITY.
Reality #1: You’re not at your office, so your dream of uninterrupted time to focus on work is officially on hold. Indefinitely.
Reality #2: You’re not “home schooling.” You’re pinch hitting in a crisis, to the best of your ability (whatever that means for you), but unless you’re actually a teacher in real life, you’re not a teacher – and you didn’t just suddenly become one because your kid is sitting there staring expectantly at you expecting you to make this all make sense for her.
So work isn’t going to be “normal,” and neither is school. The faster you can accept both of those facts, the better off you’ll be.
Communicate with your own work team – your co-workers, your boss – and being clear about what you can and cannot achieve and when you can and cannot be available. No one (well, no one with any common sense and compassion) expects that you’ll be the exact same employee you are at the office when your child is safely ensconced at school or daycare. Everyone knows you will have some distractions and that maybe the old nine-to-five expectations are off the table right now. Talk to your team, if you need to, about how you can all help each other make this transition to working at home easier.
Even more importantly, communicate with your child’s teacher. That teacher is still guiding your child’s education, and he or she is now also struggling to navigate some very unfamiliar territory. Stay in touch. If you’re struggling to help your child, reach out. Chances are other parents are struggling, too, and the more honest we all are with the teachers in our lives, the more those teachers will be able to help us help our children.
And, above all, communicate to yourself. Repeat to yourself, as many times a day as you need to: I am not alone. We are in this together.
4. BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR HOURS.
How much of your work must be done at a certain time, and how much do you just stick to your routines because that’s how you’ve always done it? Your answer will be individual to your own situation, but, wherever possible, now’s the time to rethink the way your schedule works.
If you have a partner in the house, sit down and rethink your schedules together. Can one be the “more available” parent in the morning and one in the afternoon? Can some work get done in the evenings or on the weekends? Can you take longer lunch hours to give yourself a chance to play in the backyard or go for a walk with your child in the middle of the day? However you can free yourself up to give your child some attention and engagement during the day, it’s worth giving it a try.
And if that way fails? Then try something different. These days life is all about different. Go with it, and see what kind of new “normal” you can create for your own family in a world where nothing is normal at all.
5. SET UP A SCHEDULE.
Whether you’re the kind of person who likes to map out your day down to the minute or the kind who likes to go with the flow, everyone – especially the small humans in the house – will benefit from some kind of routine.
Decide how your household’s “schedule” is going to work. Whether it’s a list of tasks that can be accomplished in any order (which is how we like it), or whether it’s a specific hourly plan, commit that plan to paper and post it in a place where you can all see it.
My daughter’s in Grade 2; I know that her academic future won’t be irredeemably altered if she fails to complete her journal writing or her two tasks in Mathletics today. But having those expectations written down on a task list helps her, because she can take her checklist and run with it while I do my own work (and, yes, answer the inevitable questions that arise while she’s working).
Another help for us? Build rewards into your schedule to keep everyone motivated. For my kidlet, it’s earning extra screen time by finishing academic, creative and household tasks. For me, it’s sitting down with a glass of Naramata rosé and a satisfying murder mystery novel to end my evening.
6. KEEP EVERYONE FED.
Snacks, snacks and more snacks. Make sure your day, and your child’s, includes food.
It seems like a foolish thing to say, but it’s amazing to me how often I can “forget” to eat when I get engrossed in something work-related. And if you have a child who, like mine, suffers from a bad case of the hangries when food doesn’t arrive on time, you want to be prepared.
However you choose to provide that food is up to you. Maybe your household works best with specific snack items set out in easy-to-reach bins for the kids so they can grab their own food when they need it. Maybe you’re more of a fridge free-for-all family or a formal-sit-down-meal household. Whatever your style, just keep everyone nourished and hydrated.
And then do it all again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. And the one after that.
7. GET OUTDOORS AND GET MOVING.
Your child needs fresh air, and so do you. And, here on the West Coast, we’ve been blessed by the arrival of spring in all its cherry-blossom-and-magnolia-tree glory. So get outside, every day. Twice a day if you can. Whether that means taking a longer lunch to get outdoors together, going for an early-morning jog or taking to your neighbourhood streets for an after-work stroll, make sure you get out and give yourselves that brain break.
And get moving. Crank the tunes and throw yourselves a dance party, search out some yoga on YouTube, or whatever it takes to work out your body and shake off some stress. Heck, just run laps around the yard or the living room if it helps.
Tire out all the bodies in your house, and hopefully all the minds will sleep better.
8. RELAX SCREEN TIME RIGIDITY.
I know, I know, you have screen time limits for a reason, and so do I. But we can all allow ourselves to relax those limits – at least a little - right about now.
If you absolutely need your child to stay out of your hair while you’re in a Zoom meeting, or you have two hard hours of work to complete on a tight deadline, then maybe a movie on the TV or a half-hour of precious games on the iPad will be the solution to buy you the time you require.
If your child is a bookworm who loves reading more than screen time, then embrace the magical unicorn that you are raising and let her go to town on books instead. But for the rest of us mortals? Screen time may be just the break we need.
Seriously, just start laughing now, because it’s all crazy, and someday it’ll have to be funny because if it’s not funny you’ll just start crying and you might not stop.
So find the funny side, fast. And if you can’t find the funny side in your daughter’s attempt to dress the cats in Easter outfits or in your own attempts to produce home baking, then turn to the experts and put on your favourite funny TV show or podcast, or seek out some comedy on YouTube. Or something. Anything to get the giggles going.
Embrace this new life you are leading, in all its bizarre gloriousness, and laugh. And, yes, laughter tinged with overtired maniacal hysteria is still laughter.
10. ALLOW YOURSELF THE GRACE TO BE IMPERFECT.
You’re going to suck at this sometimes. Probably even a lot of the time. You’re going to be stressed, frazzled and emotional. You may lose your patience with your child, forget to return a phone call, or not remember what day it is. And you may do all of those things with or without a shower, with or without clean hair, and with or without pants.
You are not in fact an incurable mess. You are just a human being, navigating what is undoubtedly the strangest time in your personal history. It’s OK if that contact has to wait a few hours for an email, or if your child does not in fact finish her two tasks in Mathletics today.
Her future and yours do not depend upon perfection. They depend only upon you showing up and doing your best, whatever that looks like today.
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. And if you see a frazzled-looking mom with her unwashed hair in a messy ponytail wearing the same leggings she’s been wearing for a week and dragging a whining blonde seven-year-old around the neighbourhood for a walk, that’s probably me.
Feel free to say hi. I’ll say hi back, and I promise I’ll even smile.
We may or may not actually have this whole situation in hand. But whatever happens, remember: we’re all in this together.