The other night my husband innocently said to me, “You know, if this lockdown really goes on into next school year, we’re going to have to get more serious about homeschooling.” I don’t remember if I said anything right away, but I do remember a twitchy sensation in my left eyelid and a feeling that my head might actually explode in that moment.
Reading the news on your phone for too long causes stress, fear, and anxiety. You can’t watch the news on your TV because you don’t want your kid to start feeling that same anxiety. Emails from your child’s school about distance learning are long and overwhelming. And every time you open your Facebook or Instagram feed, you see someone who has perfected the art of looking perfect as they laugh and do an educational project with their kid, in their perfectly clean and organized home. And, of course, they’re remembering to eat healthy and exercise all the while. Or maybe it’s the posts by your childless friends that get to you. The ones where they’re complaining about the luxury of having so much time that they don’t know what to do with it (a luxury you haven’t known for many years). It’s enough to make anyone more than a little on edge.
Working parents have always had a full plate in front of them. With no clear end to the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, now it’s more like a heaping mountain covering a whole table and, yeah, maybe there used to be a plate under there somewhere but that seems sort of beside the point at this stage. But this doesn’t mean that there’s no hope. These times are unprecedented, but in an odd sort of way, I feel like I’ve been here before. In a funny sort of way, the feelings I’ve had during this lockdown period bear a lot of similarities to the period of time when we brought a newborn baby home several years ago. Everything was different. My old ways of doing things and my clever workarounds didn’t work anymore. As a family, we had to learn new ways of doing things. And we sometimes had to rely on each other more than we were used to, rather than just barreling through and doing everything individually. We learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses, capitalizing on the strengths and allowing those to fill the gaps where the weaknesses were. God knows it wasn’t easy. The good news? We survived those times and came out on the other side. Hell, some of us parents did more than survive, we thrived. Crazily enough, we went back for more and did it a few more times!
I’m not saying that anybody wants this pandemic to go on even one second longer than it has to, of course. But I want to remind parents that they’ve been in tough spots before—every parent has. Remember how that felt, and tap into that version of yourself that got through the hard days and nights. Remember all those wise friends and relatives who said, “No one knows your baby better than you do,” and “As a parent you’ll make mistakes, but you can always course-correct.” These are the adages to keep close to your heart now.
Remember this when you’re stressed about homeschooling because you’ve had no training whatsoever as a teacher. Remember this when you and your spouse both have urgent work projects that are overdue and you child just isn’t in the mood to sit quietly and play with toys or watch a movie. And most of all, remember those things that people told you when you were a new parent. Things like “What works for one family will not necessarily work for another,” and “Every kid is different.” In a way, we’re all new parents again, finding our way, learning new ways of living all over again. Yes, it’s daunting, but we’ve been through this before.
Bearing all this in mind, here are some tips and strategies for dealing with the present crisis. Everyone’s circumstances are unique, so find what’s useful and ignore the rest. Only you know what is right for you and your family.
1. Chose what works best in your home: a routine or a schedule. In COVID-19 either can work. As much we may hate to admit it, just about everybody needs to have some kind of routine or schedule to their daily lives. Otherwise it’s just complete chaos (life with kids leans toward the chaotic on a good day anyway).
Sample Routine for those who value flexibility:
Wake up time (varies)
Get dressed sometime before lunch, when convenient
2-3 hours school time sometime before lunch (broken into shorter chunks if needed)
1-2 hours screen-time before lunch
1-2 hours exercise/outdoor time as needed
1-2 snacks as needed
Midday (roughly between 11am and 1pm):
Lunch time (depends when hungry) and non-screen free time
1-2 hours chore time
1-2 hours exercise/outdoor time as needed
1-2 hours screen time/free time
1-2 snacks as needed
Evening (roughly between 4:00pm-7:30pm):
Dinner time (includes helping w/prep and cleanup)
1-2 hours screen time/free time/non-screen time
Roughly 1 hour bed time routine (bath or wash-up, and books)
Lights out approximately 7:30pm
Sample Schedule for those who thrive on strict timelines:
7:00am-8:30am wake-up time, breakfast time, get dressed
8:30am-10:00 school time part 1
10:00am-10:30am snack time and mini outdoor/exercise time
10:30am-11:45am school time part 2
11:45-1:00pm lunch time and non-screen free time
1:00pm-2:15pm screen time/free time
2:15pm-3:00pm chore time
3:00pm-3:15pm snack time
3:15pm-4:30pm outdoor/exercise time
4:30pm-6:30pm dinner time (includes helping w/prep and cleanup) and screen time/free time
6:30pm-7:30pm bed time routine (bath or wash-up, and books) and lights out at 7:30pm
*Remember that parents need to adjust their expectations when it comes to screen time during COVID-19. Experts suggest offsetting the increase in screen time with increases in “healthy” activities to keep things in balance for kids.1
2. Split the day. Both you and your spouse need to work for several hours undisturbed? Give each other that time. While one works (in a locked room if necessary!) the other surrenders to the kids and the mess (or whatever is going on that day). Kids generally get up early but go to bed relatively early too. So, plan your day around your child’s waking hours. Say your child gets up at 6am and falls asleep at 8pm. That’s 14 hours, or 6.5 hours uninterrupted per parent. Adjust the split as needed, prioritizing the most urgent work for you and your spouse.
3. Toss out or delegate the homeschooling tasks that fill you with dread. I’m talking about the ones you feel you are “supposed” to do or that you “should be” doing. Have a friend or relative who is good with numbers? Set up a zoom meeting where your child can get some facetime with someone other than their immediate family. Keep it fun and light. Sometimes our best learning experiences (with or without a pandemic) happen outside the classroom, with a special person we don’t get to see every day.
4. Create a chart with some flexible options for your child to use for homeschooling like the sample below. They can fit in other activities like screen-time, exercise, or chores between their school items. Checking items off themselves each day and deciding what to do when will empower them and make them more proactive. Make each day a different color as a way of distinguishing one from the next. Lastly, place the chart inside a plastic sheet protector, so you can check off with a dry erase marker and wipe it clean at the end of each week for re-use.
5. Take the time to mark the weekend as different and break the routine. Weekends may seem meaningless now that most of us are home fulltime, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Have a movie marathon, wear pajamas all day, eat lots of junk food, have a sleepover in the living room, swap bedrooms for a weekend, whatever you can think of to break the monotony. Kids get a kick out of seeing a different side of their parents, you ‹know, the “fun you” that existed before you had children.
Authors: Missy Crawford, Dr. Cynthia Fischer and Heather Cocozza, PMP, CPO
1 Randy Kulman, Ph.D., “5 Tips to Manage Screen Time During Quarantine,” Psychology Today, April 15, 2020: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/screen-play/202004/5-tips-manage-screen-time-during-quarantine.