“How to handle home learning without losing your mind” by Jill Robbins: Drink wine in your closet and cry. The end.
I’m kidding. Kind of. No really, I’m kidding.
I think a little piece of my mind left to never be seen again when I first heard the term “remote learning” back in March. And seriously, if there’s anything this pandemic has brought us is a bunch of strange new phrases we totally want to ditch from our vocabulary, like social distance and new normal.
We are all struggling.
But, the truth is this is a new normal and we’re all stumbling through this looking to each other for the reassurance. “Am I doing this even a little bit right?” we ask ourselves and sometimes each other. When it comes to how to handle home learning, I’m honestly not sure if I am handling this any better than the next mom out there but I’m hoping that the things I do know can help someone else and make them feel less alone.
When our kids started remote learning earlier this year, we thought it would just be for a little while…and then a little while longer. And then a little while longer became the rest of the school year. When knew we’d have to begin the new school year learning at home again, I told myself things like “It will be different” and “I will be better at this.”
Truth time? I don’t think I’m particularly good at this remote learning thing and sometimes, I think I straight up suck at it. But I’m better than I was and that’s what I keep telling myself. Even though I tell myself “I can’t do this anymore” multiple times a day, the truth is that I am a little bit better at this than I was. And, I keep telling myself that counts.
Many of you have had experience working remotely in one-off, unplanned situations. However, working at home day in and day out for an undetermined amount of time while also caring for (and in some cases, teaching) kids at home is a major struggle. Add a second working spouse or partner also working at home to this mix and you have a recipe for chaos. Ask me how I know this – HA!
While I don’t have a magic balm to make it all easier, I do have some input on creating better routines and habits that can help you make a plan for how to handle home learning. It may make some of this a little bit easier, some of the time. Because face it – this is all hard.
1. When possible, keep things flexible
“Flexibility is the key” is often a frustrating platitude and I know that flexibility is often easier said than done. However, when you do have the ability, consider getting creative with your work schedule to base your hours around your kids’ schedules.
This can work in a variety of ways. For example, if you’re an early morning person or a night owl, or you are used to commuting a long way, consider working on projects during these times when kids are usually sleeping or having down time.
For our family, this means that I get more of my work done in the evenings after my kids are done with their school work and that my kids will often have downtime during their regular school hours if they’re waiting on my husband to be available to help them. We’ve divide responsibility for different subjects and it works best for our family not to cross those dividing lines since my husband and I have different knowledge backgrounds and styles.
Sometimes, getting flexible will require some asking, and don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers or teachers to bend. The answer might not always be yes but it won’t be a yes if the question isn’t asked. This is the age of barking dogs in the background on work calls and seeing a baby on someone’s lap during a Zoom meeting isn’t a big deal.
You might also like: A letter to my pre-pandemic self
2. Establish a kid-free zone
There will be times when you need to hunker down and complete work items free from distractions, which is why it is important to establish an area of the house where you can separate yourself from your family. I know this probably isn’t practical or possible for every household but if you can carve out a space that your kids don’t feel comfortable in – even if it’s a closet – it might help you to focus when you really need to.
Points if you can also keep this area free from distractions such as dirty laundry and other messes. Keeping the area clean and organized will keep you from wanting to disengage from work to complete other tasks. I really believe environment matters, and although everything about this season of our lives is challenging, I have noticed a difference when I keep our work and school areas organized.
3. Clearly communicate with your family
If you have a partner who is also working from home and sharing kid duties with you, it is crucial to communicate the times you can and cannot help out during the day. Setting these expectations will allow for a much smoother daily routine. And, refer to number one.
It is also important to communicate with your children if they are old enough. Set expectations for when there will be breaks in your day that you can check-in, whether it be a quick snack break, lunch, or even hourly check-ins.
My kids are old enough to understand that a closed office door means mom or dad is on a call (or hiding out and playing games on our phone and pretending to be busy) but they’re 10. This is probably more difficult for younger kids or kids who aren’t as independent.
And, having ground rules and consequences has worked out for us, too. My kids are usually good about staying out of the office area but I had to explain to a work client why it sounded like I was calling from a rave – my kids were having a very aggressive game of Just Dance outside the door.
4. Utilize special toys and screen time during work hours
You have to do what you have to do to get your work done and get through the day without someone crying or yelling. Set aside designated toys and other gadgets, as well as movies or TV shows, to be used when you need to focus-in during the day. This will give your kids something to look forward to and will allow for some distraction-free work time.
5. Try not to overwork
During this time, it can be easy to feel like we need to push ourselves to work extra hours, but the reality is that taking the time to unplug and reset each day is critical to success as a parent and an employee. This is easier said than done and we definitely don’t have this balance down perfectly but try and keep self care and your mental health a priority.
Find a way every day to be kind to yourself. Write it down if you have to.
6. The first rule of how to handle home learning: Keep your sense of humor
And, if you don’t have a good sense of humor, now is a real good time to get one. You’re going to look back on this someday and laugh. Maybe. Picturing my family sitting around the Thanksgiving table 10 years from now and hearing one of my kids say “Hey, remember that time mom flipped out because she couldn’t edit Google slides?” and we’ll all chuckle.
Even if it’s hard to keep a sense of humor about what doesn’t seem funny, try to remember that keeping our families healthy and together are the most important things and that none of the stuff we’re dealing with now is going to matter as much in a year or five years. And, if you can’t laugh at the situation you’re in, regularly check in to sites that make you smile. A couple of my favorites are Hedger Humor and Fowl Language.
7. Let some things go
I went from being home all day and having a quiet house to get my work done to sharing my space with two noisy 10-year-olds and my husband, who is now working from home. My husband is an aggressive keyboarder and although he’s getting better at respecting my space and my need for quiet while I’m writing, he’s not used to tiptoeing around and being quiet during his workday. Everything is different and on our very best days, none of us are operating at peak productivity.
My house isn’t as clean. My laundry piles up. I’m not as put together and neither are our kids. If I’m on day four of an unwashed messy bun, so what? If my kids are wearing a too-small tee shirt they got out of that bag of clothes I keep meaning to drop off at the donation station? Oh well. The bar is lower in a lot of areas. I still start my months, my weeks, and my days with a to-do list but I’m a lot kinder to myself when – not usually – if things don’t get done.