A mother has been struggling to juggle working from home with virtual learning for her five-year-old. Here she asks parenting coach Megan Leahy for some advice:
Q: How do we get through virtual schooling? I feel like instead of bringing out the best in me, this pandemic has brought out the worst. Our rising kindergartner's day care closed in March, and during the months he was home, we struggled mightily, and no one was happy.
As we head into the new school year, which he is doing virtually for the time being, I find myself wondering, with all seriousness, how we are going to get through this without ruining relationships and souring him on learning, while also maintaining some semblance of mental well-being.
We are so fortunate to have our jobs and to be in the position to do them from home, yet it still seems impossible. What advice do you have? We have no end date, and the constant concern that we might not come out of this all right consumes me. Help!
A: To begin, I love how you wrote, "instead of bringing out the best in me," like there is an assumption that every other parent out there has somehow been improved by the pandemic. So, I will disabuse you of your assumptions: Many, many parents feel that the worst has been brought out in them, too. You are not alone.
Before I read your note, I was reading the Tilt Parenting Facebook page (facebook.com/tiltparenting). This page, based on Debbie Reber's work, is dedicated to parents who are parenting children with all kinds of needs, exceptionalities and neurological differences, and each parent on the page is on a different journey, even when times are not fraught. One parent expressed thoughts similar to yours, which I'm paraphrasing: "In-school learning is miserable. Virtual learning is miserable. We are miserable, and this isn't working! What should we do?"
I was impressed by the responses, because many of the parents have decided to let this year "slide" or to do whatever works for their families. Some opted out of school completely and chose to "unschool" for the year (unschoolers.org). Some chose a home-school curriculum that meshed best with their child's personality. And some said they decided that this was a "gap year," meaning that learning will happen, but they aren't going to kill themselves for it.
These choices weren't as remarkable as the tone of the posts. There was a feeling of freedom and even, dare I say it, optimism in some of these parents. They didn't seem all that happy about the situation the world is in, but they took control, and this allowed them to relax.
Of course you're working, as you mentioned. So first off, assess what your work needs are, how your hours will be split with your partner and how you will fill in the gaps.
Rather than give you list after list of more tasks you can take on, more concerns you can clutter your mind with or more websites you can peruse (and not use), I will give you this clear homework: How do you want autumn to feel? Don't go further than that. How do you want to feel? How do you want your child to feel? Drop your need to make sure that your child learns certain concepts or that you get to every Zoom call for his school. Instead, what routine can you create that brings you the feelings that work for your family? There will be sacrifices, but aim for a little better than "souring" and misery.
As you assess your feelings and create a (dare I say it, joyful) routine, here are a couple of points that benefit all kindergarten-age children:
- Exercise, exercise, exercise. A tired child is a happy child. Google ways to get your kiddo moving during quarantine, and use what works for you. Frequent movement is key.
- Watch the screen time. Five- and 6-year-olds can easily get wired and tired, leading to all kinds of awful behaviours. Strategize the screen time so that it syncs up to your work schedule, and go for slow television, such as "Sesame Street," whenever possible.
- Front-load the good calories. Don't push dinner to be the "great meal."
- Read, read and read some more. I've mentioned this before, but I love the Jambo Book Club (jambobooks.com), and I would strongly recommend it for your kindergartner.
- Embrace imaginative play. Collect the boxes in the house and get creating. A quick Google search can give you everything you need. See what matches your family.
- When in doubt, go outside. Nature does a world of good.
Megan Leahy is a parent coach and the author of "Parenting Outside the Lines"