Tips on maintaining sanity for the home-schooling working parent amid COVID-19
Whether you typically work from home or not, the current challenge of helping our kids with e-learning, focusing our job or business and running our household can be a reason for sporadic insanity! Here are some tips from my personal experience that I you may find helpful.
Working from home, even before COVID, can be a challenge when we have other family members in the house. When I first transitioned out of corporate and started my real estate practice, it took a long time and a lot of frustration before the new structure of working from home felt comfortable. The main challenge is (I have talked to several friends about this!) our physical presence being understood as being available. Can I get an AMEN?! This was SUCH a challenge for me. My door would get opened so often that I started getting anxious and distracted about someone even possibly APPROACHING the door. This resulted in making it hard for me to focus and concentrate on what I was working on. I went so far as to get a STOP, DO NOT DISTURB sign on my door. I knew it was working because one day, my son barged in the door and when met by my questioning face said “what? The sign wasn’t on the door”. So yeah, you may want to consider getting a similar sign. Maybe it is that our mind has been trained to pause when we see the red STOP sign. You may also consider investing in a noise-cancelling headphone.
It is KEY to create an inspiring and comfortable working space. Some of us may have dedicated space that can be optimized or better organized. For those who need to create a working space, check out these examples as inspiration. When it comes to being creative, anything goes from converting a closet to creating double duty desks. For those who use Zoom, you may use a background image if you’d like to reduce stress about what others may see. PLEASE do NOT apologize for your kids’ background noise on calls. We are all in this together. They are an extension of us and our identity. It is a reminder that we do in fact have families. And my hope is that this experience will allow us to show up as our authentic selves at work post COVID.
You may have seen the plethora of sample schedules and activity ideas for kids when as soon as schools closure was announced. For those who are planners and like structure, it gives us a sense of control and peace to create one for our kids and family. I am a planner, and I am here to tell you that there will be plenty of flexibility needed around these schedules. The first couple of weeks, we were working on completing schoolwork according to the schedule. What we found is that certain subjects take much more time to explain and complete than others. Add in kids’ attention span and your fleeting patience in the mix and flexibility becomes a necessity for survival! Now that it’s been a month since school closed, I can say that each day is very different. Some days run smoothly while other days are filled with frustration. There are days when we are working on schoolwork well into 8pm while on other days my 2nd grader will make his bed and hop on his computer all on his own before we even get up. There are days where I feel super productive and energetic while on other days I don’t start my day till 11am or even after 5pm. One thing that helped is that at breakfast we review a rundown of our day and see who has a meeting/call at what time and plan to have one parent focus on the kids around that time. The other is embracing the times when the boys create their own playtime. When e-learning first started, I would focus on sticking to their schedule. I soon found out that the energy I spend on asking them to stop fooling around and focus on their schoolwork was not helping anybody be productive and was only adding more grays in my hair. So I learned to dub this their break time. Whenever I notice that the boys gravitated towards each other and found playtime, I let them have it. I use that time to work on a few things, mostly things that don’t require total silence as they can be loud when playing.
I am not a big fan of screen time. With that said, at the core, I am more concerned about what my kids are consuming on screens and how it is affecting their health and development than anything. So, since we live in a condo AND stay-at-home orders make it challenging to go outdoors, I have invested time in identifying educational programs they can watch which means less guilt for me as a mom. One great resource is wideopenschool.org. I have also updated their schedule to reflect online live book readings from our local library as well as celebrity readings (like Michelle Obama on Mondays at the time writing this article!) and zoom meetings with their classmates. When you absolutely have to give 100% of your attention to work and kids are unable to focus on independent activity, this strategy maybe an option. Video conversations with their friends is also a good option.
Having a dedicated space for schoolwork will give them a sense of structure and routine. At the least, having a dedicated space for their e-learning electronics with a plug nearby and notebooks is a good idea. My routine consists of taking a look at my older son’s assignment’s the night before to get a feel for what materials or printouts he may need and printing worksheets for my younger one (3.5yr). It took a few days of “MAMA! I need the password!” before I created his own profile for my older one. I also showed him how to print, submit some of his assignments in google classroom and saved his credentials for the several sites and tools he uses on the browser. The name of the game is independence and self-reliance as much as possible! After breakfast, I help him understand the assignments before I go to my office and do the same before any major calls or meetings. There will still be PLENTY of questions. Most of them about “how do you spell xyz?” It is giving me a window into how he processes information and his learning style. I also leverage some of his e-learning curriculum to engage both kids. For example, I will open his Phys Ed class video and have both kids workout to it. It gives me 15 mins of time to focus on work or even fit in a mini yoga session (a new habit for me!). I have adjusted my expectations from having to submit everything perfectly the day of to making best efforts. Some days are better than others. I am reminded by a post I saw on social media which alluded to the fact that children’s social and emotional health is far more important than completing all projects perfectly. If I notice frustration with a subject, I encourage him to work on a different topic or take a break. There are other lessons he is picking up such as civic lessons from watching the daily Governor’s briefings with me. I also put snacks accessible for them which makes for less interruptions for us.
Are you one of those who actually fold and put away the laundry the same day? While that is admirable, it may be time to be flexible on how clean and put together your home will be during this time. Kids will find things to do in the house and it will be messy. I am talking about pulling couch cushions on the floor, playing dress up and leaving a trail of clothing in the hallway, you having to step on Legos more often than you would like and more. Let. It. Be. Let them find creativity indoors.
We are all managing unprecedented challenges from every direction. Be it financial, health, parenting, anxiety and more. It is important to find time to listen to yourself. Even if a half hour a day. Wake up before the kids do, take a longer shower, put on a headphone, take a walk or drive in the neighborhood, listen to your favorite podcast episode, have a video chat with a friend. One of the things I am anxious about is the idea of having to seek medical help because one of the kids are hurt. I encourage you to look into Telemedicine options from your insurance and provider to have a peace of mind in case you need to talk to a medical professional. I also worry about how this experience is affecting my kids now as well as what long-term effects it will have. I talk this out in my local moms Facebook group. The truth is, we are likely all experiencing similar concerns and it helps to gain support and solidarity around our concerns. This is also a great time to organize a virtual reunion of friends, family and colleagues and fill each other’s emotional cups.
Most of us are getting more family time than usual as a direct result of stay-at-home orders. While this is generally a good thing, especially for parents who had long commutes pre-COVID, wearing multiple hats at the same time can deplete our batteries fast. As a result, we have decided to be flexible around some of the norms we honored before. For example, family mealtime is something we value very much as it is a time us connect. Currently, however, we eat most meals together and have plenty of time as a family. Therefore, on some days, the boys eat before us and enjoy playing while my husband and I eat and connect over a meal and actually get to complete our sentences without kids needing our attention. We have family movie nights where the boys take pride in preparing the “theatre” (i.e. floor) with comfy throws and pillows. Look to see what tweaks you can make to have a better balance during the current new norm. Challenge if the values and norms you honor as a family still serve you well. Bonus-create a family tree together!
I recognize that the tips and strategies shared here may not work for all kids’ ages and family dynamics. My hope is that this article will inspire a new perspective for you to ease some of the burden and guilt as a parent in the current environment.
If you found this article helpful, feel free to share with a working parent in your sphere!