When I heard the news that schools across the state would be shutting down, my first reaction was to share all the “noooooooo!” GIFs with my girlfriends who, like me, would be spending the next two weeks educating our kids from home. Of course I love my kids, and I fully support the state’s effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. But I also felt utterly unprepared to take responsibility for their educations, and stressed about how I would work from home and care for them simultaneously. But as we stumbled our way through week one of homeschooling, I’ve learned some lessons about how to make all of this more manageable.
Don’t compare yourself to others
Some of my Facebook friends seem to have transformed their dining rooms into Montessori classrooms overnight. As I scrolled through my feed and I was instantly convinced that I was failing at homeschooling. Where did all these colorful learning materials appear from?? Are they really managing to follow that perfectly organized daily schedule?? But I’ve figured out that comparing myself to other parents isn’t serving me. Every newly formed “homeschool” will look different, and that’s okay. We are dealing with different strengths as parents, and there’s no single right way to keep our kids learning.
Have a plan but keep it loose
I’ve found that for my own sanity and to help give the kids some semblance of routine and clear expectations, it helps to go into the day with a plan. But one of the silver linings of this thrown together homeschooling is that we are not tied to any particular curriculum or lesson plan. We have the freedom to take the day in new directions. Thursday I thought we’d make paper cutouts of the solar system, but my son wanted to make a volcano instead. Why not? If the changes in our learning plan are being driven by my kids’ interests, I have to imagine it will only make them more engaged.
I cannot replicate my kid’s classroom
I quickly realized there was no way I could – in my house, with a 6 ½ and 3 ½ year old, while working from home – recreate my son’s daily experience in first grade. But frankly, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The push for early academics and focus on standardized testing in this country has eroded time outside and for unstructured play, to the detriment of kids’ mental health and overall wellbeing. So I’m taking this opportunity to set a different balance for them between academics and running around in the fresh air, between book learning and experiential learning.
Make housework a family affair
Despite knowing the long term benefits of having chores during childhood, my husband and I just haven’t done a great job of assigning them with any consistency. Now that we have an extra seven hours of togetherness on our hands each day, it’s the perfect opportunity to get serious about chores. Monday I dumped out a load of laundry onto my bed and taught the kids how to fold, and Tuesday I had my 6-year-old running the vacuum. It’s a win-win; my workload is more manageable, and my kids are gaining practical skills, learning to pitch in, and building independence that will (hopefully) help keep them from becoming helpless adolescents.
Make it memorable
In this time of uncertainty and isolation, it can be an uphill battle to help our kids stay hopeful and positive. I’ve tried to incorporate one special activity into every day, and embrace this time as an opportunity to make memories. Monday we hiked and watched trains crossing the bridge over the Potomac River. Wednesday we made s’mores in the firepit. Friday we finally busted out the kite that my son has been asking to try for ages. I want my kids to have happy memories associated with this time to counter the fear and disappointment that we’re all dealing with.
As much as I’m trying to stay present with my kids, the group-chat with my girlfriends is the lifeline to the outside world that is keeping me sane right now. We are all in this together, stressed, exhausted, wondering how long this will last, and trying to keep our kids happy and healthy. My friends and I share ideas, vent, commiserate, trade memes, and generally have each other’s backs in the midst of uncertainty and chaos.
Give Yourself Grace
All the moms I know have felt a daily struggle since *well before* the corona outbreak to keep all the balls in the air at the same time. We feel guilty if our houses are a wreck, but guilty if we ignore our kids’ pleas to play Uno while we unload the dishwasher. We feel guilty if we aren’t staying in shape, but guilty if our kids are going full Lord of the Flies while we try to run on the treadmill. And so on and so on. Add to that the responsibility for our kids’ education, often spanning multiple ages/grade levels, without any library visits or playdates, and it’s a recipe for anxiety, exhaustion, and feelings of inadequacy. We can’t beat ourselves up for whatever slips during this time. We need to show ourselves the same kindness and understanding that we give daily to others. On that note…
Carve out time and space for self-care
When we’re already struggling to keep our heads above water, self-care can seem like an impossible luxury. But we need it now more than ever. Self-care will look different for everyone. It might take the form of going for a run to get some fresh air and clear our heads, or sitting upstairs drinking wine and eating Doritos while our partner takes full responsibility for the kids. This is the time to be vocal with our partners about what we need and persistent in making sure those needs are met.
While I never would have wished for these circumstances – the suffering and death that this virus has caused worldwide are absolutely heartbreaking – there are silver linings to be found. Freed from the rushing around and obligations, we’re left with the gift of quality time together and simple pleasures. My kids and I planted flower seeds and weeded the garden. We’ve gone on long walks, stopping to admire some cool-looking moss or the tiniest of wildflowers. We’ve watched the birds in the back yard, made art, had picnics and thrown rocks in the creek. The stress and struggles are real, but a shift in perspective can be hugely powerful.