As I’m sitting in my living room writing this article, my 9-year-old son is in the next room working on his laptop after a video conference call with his 3rd grade teacher. He’s already had one meltdown, and my husband had to stop working to help him out.
In another part of my house, my 11-year-old son is on a video call with his math teacher because he can’t figure out how to submit assignments on Google Classroom. And my daughter is in her room on her first of two or three Zoom meetings for the day.
My husband, a special education teacher, will spend his day creating video lessons and fielding emails from parents.
Our youngest son will need constant help refocusing on his school work. He can go anywhere from 5-10 minutes before he gets distracted and asks about snacks or video games. On a rough day, he’ll get frustrated and teary-eyed because third graders aren’t meant for this new version of school.
Since I started writing, he’s interrupted me 12 times with questions about Hulk, axolotls, and if he can eat some leftover Easter candy.
Because of the pandemic, this is our new normal, and this is probably your new normal too.
None of us were prepared for this. We weren’t prepared for online learning, working, and parenting all at once. Nor were we prepared for the emotional toll it would take on every single member of our families.
I honestly love being at home, but I have cried so many times in the past few weeks. I’ve heard the same thing from most of my friends. We’re posting memes on Facebook to try and make light of the situation and half joking with each other about day-drinking, but the reality is that we’re overwhelmed.
So where do we go from here? What can we do to make this working-teaching-parenting time easier?
Unfortunately, you can’t just flip a switch to make this better. But humans are resilient, and I’m choosing to believe that we can learn to cope and adapt.
I’m not going to pretend I have this figured out, but I do want to share a few things that have made this weird new place slightly more tolerable. These are things I’ve learned from friends, from other articles like this, and things I didn’t know existed inside of myself.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
During the first week of online learning, my 6th grader was spending close to seven hours a day on his work. It felt like too much, but I had no clue if this was expected or not. I eventually reached out to his teachers and found out that three hours or so was the expectation, not seven.
I also emailed back and forth with my daughter’s AP chemistry teacher about some assignments that appeared to be new material (our school district released a “no new material” policy). However, her teacher informed me that AP standards were different – new material was okay, but there wouldn’t be summative grades.
The point is, you have to reach out to find out what’s expected right now. It’s an extra task, but it can relieve some pressure.
The same goes for your work. You just don’t have as many opportunities to talk to your coworkers or boss when you’re working remotely. It’s on you to open a line of communication when you have a question or are confused.
I get self-conscious and feel like I’m bugging people with emails like, “What did you mean by _____?” But in our current situation, everyone is sending those emails.
It’s okay to ask for more clarification, and it’s okay to admit that you’re confused by something.
It’s also okay to tell your boss that the baby normally goes down for a nap at 1pm, and that afternoon meetings would be much easier than morning ones.
Because your employer and teachers weren’t prepared for this, they will have to make some adjustments as they go. Reaching out lets them know what is and isn’t working, and it will help everyone find a better way to work together.
Triage your day.
You are going to have a lot of things on your plate, but the reality is that you’re not going to get to every single thing, and that’s okay.
Your day will not fall apart if everyone isn’t working on school work by 8am. It will be okay if lunch isn’t promptly on the table at noon. And I promise it’s okay if your kids go to be a little later than normal.
Rather than forcing every aspect of working, parenting, and teaching into a strict schedule, assign degrees of urgency to different tasks.
For example, a work call with your boss might be more important than helping your kid get on their class Zoom call. Their teacher will understand because they’re also trying to balance it all.
At the same time, you can ask teachers about which assignments have the highest priority, and don’t stress about the rest of the work.
I had a friend tell me that she was only having her kids do one or two school assignments per day. She asked teachers to email her about which assignments were necessary and admitted that was all she could manage to keep her own mental health in check. That’s valid, and I’m proud of her for respecting her limits.
Keep a routine.
Routines make people, especially kids, feel safe and secure. But it’s really easy to confuse routines with schedules. Schedules are generally a rigid and timed list of tasks, whereas routines are the order in which you do things.
A schedule is sitting down to work at 8am, but a routine is sitting down to work after you’ve sat and had your morning coffee.
Here’s why this is important right now: you and your kids had a routine for doing things before stay-at-home orders were issued, and a routine will give you all some sense of normalcy. No one got up and immediately started working. There was breakfast, maybe your kids played for a bit, then you took them to school before driving to work.
It can be really helpful to somehow mimic your old routine, or create an entirely new one. It helps you all enter and leave your work day. Maybe instead of your morning drive, you and your kids go for a short walk. That would be a great end of the day routine too.
My husband and I have started ending our work days with a short walk down the block, and we’re letting the kids start their day with breakfast in front of the TV. So far, it’s working.
Stop being so hard on yourself.
For our generation of parents, it feels like our parenting ability is measured in how much screen time we allow our kids. Your kid spends more than the recommended amount of time in front of the TV or iPad and you’re demonized for not being creative or caring enough of a parent.
I’ve always hated that mindset, but now I hate it even more. It’s been so ingrained in our minds that too much screen time means we’re failing our kids, even during a global pandemic.
The same mindset goes for bedtimes and food choices. We’ve been told there is a right and wrong way of doing things, and we’re beating ourselves up if we don’t follow those rules.
Stop. That. Now.
We’re in survival mode, and you are doing your best. If it takes a dozen cookies and three hours straight of Minecraft for your kids to be distracted enough to let you work, that’s okay.
Giving yourself the mental space to work is not going to break your child.
Give in to the crazy.
I adopted this mantra shortly after giving birth to our third child. My husband had just gone back to work, and I was responsible for getting our daughter to school and managing a newborn and three year old at home.
It was insanely chaotic. The living room was constantly covered with toys and blankets and diapers. I was painfully exhausted and always covered in different bodily fluids.
There was one day when the baby was crying and the three year old kept squealing and spinning in circles until he was so dizzy that he fell over. It was driving me crazy, and I was ready to scream or lock myself in the bathroom. But something else happened… I gave in.
I picked up the baby and started spinning around with the three year old. The baby stopped crying and the rest of us were laughing. For some reason it was this profound teaching moment for me. I had been working so hard to maintain order and forgot that letting go could feel really good.
These days it’s dancing around the living room, which feels extra crazy because I’m on crutches (I broke my leg last month). I’m pretty sure the neighbors can see me, but I’ve stopped caring.
I’m not sure how this will help you balance working and parenting and teaching from home, but I’ve had to constantly remind myself that giving in feels better than losing your s**t.
If you can, find some joy in this new lifestyle.
The pandemic has forced us to live an extreme version of the work-from-home lifestyle. Many people laud it because it’s pretty awesome under normal circumstances. Work from wherever you want, take breaks when you want, see your friends more, and enjoy the outdoors!
Now, working from home is part of staying healthy and flattening the curve. The necessity has taken the fun out of it and introduced a lot of stress.
I’m feeling this a lot right now. I was used to meeting my friends for coffee or lunch and working alone in the quiet peace of my house. None of that is possible right now, and I’m missing it like crazy.
But, a coworker said something to me that has helped me reframe what the work-at-home lifestyle currently means. She said that she was so happy to see her kids again, and it hit me really hard.
She was right. I rarely saw my kids before all of this happened.
Pre-pandemic, my teenager was out of the house 95% of the time, and the younger two had a growing social calendar and extracurriculars. Now we’re all hanging out together at home, and we can do things like eat lunch outside and take a break from work to go for a walk.
I miss my normal work-from-home life, but I forgot how much I missed my kids.
Please don’t think it’s all sunshine and rainbows over here. I lost it yesterday over something really minor and started crying. My youngest has asked me about 100 more questions since starting this article, and I might scream.
But choosing to find small amounts of joy is how I’m coping.
How are you doing right now?