These are a few stories on how full-time working parents are dealing with social distancing and homeschooling. It’s very important to note that every family is different, so this blog is not meant to give anyone advice about “the right way” of working from home or homeschooling. I want to highlight some challenges we’re all facing these days; and discuss why flexible work hours are crucial to coping with them.
What prompted me to write this article was when a friend (who’s very loving and sweet and the best aunt, but doesn’t have kids) gave me well-intentioned advice on how we should home-school our boys while WFH. It’s easy, she assured me, they understand…Let them know the hours they can come to you for questions and when they shouldn’t interrupt! Print their daily schedule so they know what to do! Well, that sounds great, doesn’t it?
If only. I love you, friend, but you’re clueless!
To rectify the situation, I asked a couple of friends to write their stories about “Working from Homeschool”. Again, the point was not to give advice, but rather to share their way of handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are in the 5th month of COVID19 and we haven’t reached the peak yet. It doesn’t surprise me if it takes at least 3-4 months until social distancing is over and at least 12-18 months until things are “back to normal”, where people feel comfortable socializing, attending classes, riding the train, etc. That’s why it’s important for working parents to establish a routine that works for their family in their circumstances. We may very well face a similar situation again next school year. Moreover, I am pretty sure the social distancing is going to continue through this summer, when most working parents “used to” sign kids up for summer camp. Who dares to do it this year?
It might take one family a day and another a month to find a routine that works for them. So don’t feel bad if you haven’t found what works for you, yet. We’re still working on ours!:)
Here is how a few of us are WFH the pandemic way.
- Sarah and Bobby: Software engineers
- Cat: Software engineer & partner works for an electrical utility company. Cat is a well-known engineer, so I reached out to her to see how she’s managing her time these days. I completely agree with her point about things really being different. We’re not looking at this as the chance to win a “Tiger parent of the year” award!
- Ronda and Allan: Client engagement manager and investment advisor
Sarah and Bobby: Software engineers
Children: Armin (8 - 2nd grade) and Aidin (6 - kindergarten)
When I was a Sr. in college, I thought I was busy
Then I started my Masters degree while working full-time and then I thought "now I am really busy"
Then came the serious boyfriend and marriage, I laughed at my days in past, because I understood what being busy meant
Then I had babies, and worked full-time, this is seriously so busy, I had so much time when I was working and studying my Masters
Now comes COVID-19!
"Daaa Ddy - Da Deee!" - sing song, playful
Then more seriously..."Daa DEE!"
And now...all pretense of civility gone...just raw desperation: "DADDY!" bang bang bang
…2020 was the year we were finally going to have a nice, sustainable routine, or so we thought. We’d moved to the suburbs, from downtown, a couple of years ago and finally feel settled. Neither of our jobs requires travel anymore. I work at a company, Tandem, that not only values work/life balance but also support employees if they need a more flexible schedule.
Our boys, 8 and 6, are finally in the same school. We live walking distance from our house, less than 5 minutes away. They’re mostly independent in the mornings: getting breakfast, get ready for school, and heading out for school together. I leave around the same time to catch the train to Chicago for work, while Bobby works from home.
On school days, the boys get home around 3:15 pm. Bobby usually takes a break and spends time with the boys. I usually get home around 6:15 pm. The family picks me up from the Metra station and we vote on where to eat dinner. Often times we opt-in for one of our favorite local restaurants, and sometimes we cook at home. We catch up and talk about our day, sometimes squeeze in a little raiding with Pokemon Go.
The boys are in bed by 8 pm, on good nights, which gives Bobby and I some time to catch up, drink some wine, watch a movie, read a book, work on blogs or personal projects, etc. We finally had a routine and we all got some personal time too!
THEN CAME COVID-19
And Schools closing
And work from home
And social distancing ….
Thursday, March 12, 2020, we were notified that schools are closing for a week, followed by Spring Break. I notified my colleagues and CEO that I have to WFH for the duration of the school closure. The good thing is that I am very well setup for remote work. However, the difference is, I had a quiet place to work from home on Wednesdays and I was about to lose that with homeschooling.
What went through my head was: It’s just a week .. or two (hopefully).. we got this! But before we know it, we’re in week 7…
We tried many things, including, print our daily schedule and leaving notes for the boys about what to do, and when we’re busy or should not be interrupted unless necessary. It just didn’t work! It’s not easy to work full-time and teach two kids at different grade levels. This is easily three full-time jobs. Add to that daily house chores, workout, grocery shopping, now cooking most days, the list goes on. Somethings gotta give!
So how’s work/life schedule pandemic way for us these days?
We are very fortunate to have a two-story house and a finished basement that we use as a playroom / TV room. As soon as the school-closing news came out, I converted our art table in the basement to a desk. We brought an old iMac to the basement so both boys can use it for their homework. We made the basement the designated “home school”, while the main floor remained as the family area and my designated workspace remained upstairs.
For the past few days that things have gone better:
- Bobby wakes up around 6:00 am and starts his work day
- Boys wake up at 7 am and they eat breakfast
- I start my day around 8:00 am
In the mornings, boys spend time with me to give Bobby 6 uninterrupted hours. One starts on his music or reading (which doesn’t need a computer or my supervision) while the other camps in my office, next to my desk to use my personal laptop for school work that’s being assigned weekly and daily by teachers and school district. In other words, the designated “home school” and iMac in the basement idea went right out the window!
Try new things…adjust when needed solving for happiness, harmony, and flow!
My lunch time starts at 12:15, after our company stand-up. This is the time that boys wrap up what they could get done for the day. I make lunch for the boys and update Bobby on the school work progress. Bobby takes over around 1 pm. He’s definitely the fun and playful parent between us! This is the time I have uninterrupted time to get my work done while Bobby and the boys either play outside or get house chores done, and “sometimes” they get a little more school work done! (Bobby’s edit: Their time with me is real-world adventure time!)
I usually stop by 6 pm and join the family for dinner and family time.
- Boys head to bed around 8 - 8:30 pm
- Bobby goes to bed by 9:30 pm
- I finish my work for the time lost in the morning. I try to tidy around then spend a little time reading or writing to unwind, heading to bed around midnight.
And this is finally what’s “working” for us after weeks of trying…
What are we still struggling with?
- Even though we’re settling with our pandemic schedule, things are still very scary for the boys:
- This year, Aidin made a couple of great friends and they live close by. It’s so great to see their friendships blossom. He’s at the age that understands social interactions and he loves it. Until a couple of months ago, we were teaching him to shake hands, have play dates, etc, now we have to suddenly revert all those and tell him not to shake hands, we can’t have play dates, and you have to stay 6 feet away from other people…
- Armin was very scared for the first couple of weeks. The reality of school closing, no more playing in the park, no going to music class, recital and Suzuki guitar graduation cancellation… it was very hard for him to understand. He often asked if we were going to die. But he’s doing much better now. He
- learned to cook a couple of things (eggs and mac & Cheese). Boys love making us breakfast in bed on weekends
- is making his own Hurdy Gurdy
- is practicing playing guitar…on his head!
- Due to the current schedule, Bobby and I get hardly any time together during the weekdays :(
- Our weekends are at least 50% catching up on either work or house chores!
Too little about this checks the “long-term sustainable pace” box for us. But, if there’s one thing that’s been making the last few days feel great, it’s that we decided to be, first and foremost, kind to one another. For example, dinner was a frequent source of stress for us. The boys not eating used to result in one or more time outs. Now, we’re simply setting a time when “the house restaurant closes” at lunch and dinner time. What they haven’t finished gets saved as “a to-go box”, and we move on.
We need to be around one another every day for nearly the entire day…we need to be getting along in order to make this livable!
Partner: Works for an electrical utility company and still has to travel
Children: Ray (7)
In some ways, I am really lucky. My employer supports work from home, and they have even introduced new guidelines to support parents balancing work and childcare responsibilities. For example, it’s suggested meetings start five minutes after the hour and conclude five minutes before the top of the next hour in order to provide parents with the chance to check in on the kiddos. This is helpful for me because I am home alone with my son. My partner works for an electrical utility company, and apparently people still need electricity even during isolation. He has been traveling all over the state. It’s stressful being home alone, and of course, my son and I worry about Dad traveling and not being able to isolate.
We are settling into a little bit of routine at home. I wake up at 4:30 am to catch up on work and to-dos. When my son wakes up, I fix him breakfast and he writes in his journal. I usually have some materials prepared based on whatever questions he asked me the day before. For example, one day he asked me about dirigibles and the next day I had pulled together some things for him like information on the Hindenburg, some related math problems, etc. Then I go out to the office we have out in our rec room. It’s separate from the rest of the house, and I consider that a huge advantage. Based on the advice of Devorah Heitner, I don’t let Ray play video games until the afternoon, but I let him do basically anything else eg. slip n slide, play in the treehouse, bake, whatever. His grandma usually video calls him sometime after 1 pm, and they have been learning to play Animal Crossing together. They’ve been reading a day by day guide together and trying to work through the things in that guide. At about 5 pm, I wrap up work. We eat dinner and clean up the house. Before bed, we’ve been watching His Dark Materials. Even though my partner isn’t home, watching a streaming TV show is an activity he can do with us.
Overall, I am just trying to be realistic. I am not trying to go about work and school the same way we did before. We are all in this together. We should be gentle with ourselves and with each other.
Ronda: Client engagement manager
Partner: Investment advisor
Children: 2 teenagers
My “work from home with kids”is much different than many of those who are managing younger children. I have teenagers and while I don’t have to entertain them, it would be insensitive to not acknowledge the emotional toll this is taking on everyone.
I have two high school daughters whose schools were ready for e-learning from the beginning. For the first week or two, we were on top of things. This was a new adventure! It was very nice to not have to get up at 6 am to catch the school bus and do drop offs. My kids are teenagers so they don’t require a lot of help with work, just the occasional nudge. We were well stocked with food and toilet paper.
I love to plan! I am in my happy place when I get to be a little creative and handle figuring out new logistics. So the moment I heard we might be working from home and e-learning, I figured out all four members of our households working location, ordered a foldable desk. My husband is an Investment Advisor who is on the phone all day and is pretty loud, so he got the space with the closed door. I’m on video calls a lot so I made sure I had decent lighting :-). I created a gym in the garage by buying flooring and moving some mostly unused weights, bands and yoga mats there. I planned a schedule that includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and workouts. That was the easy part. After all I’m a Product Manager for a software company. This is what I do!
As time has passed it is getting tougher to be positive. There is no hiding the truth from them. They read the news and see data. It’s scary. The uncertainty of my oldest’s Senior Year makes us both sad. Prom? Graduation Ceremony? My youngest is an athlete and her volleyball season has been put on hold. As a mom, I want to assure them that it will all be fine. All I can do is keep going out to work on their driving skills and taking time to watch our favorite TV shows together and not tell them that they should “just be happy they have it so good”. Time is what we have with them now and if you have younger kids, I promise you that it will be gone before you know it. Even if it does seem like this will never end.
If you would like to share your story, send me a message via firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks very much to those who’ve contributed so far. And thank you, kind reader. Be well!