“I can’t do this. My kids are losing it. I’m not a teacher. I can’t wait until it’s Saturday.”
I stared back at this mom of three elementary-aged kids, standing 6+ feet from me. She was frustrated. Overwhelmed. Merely surviving. I responded, “It is Saturday.”
“No it’s not, it’s Friday.”
After a few back and forths, I said, “You’re the adult in the house. It can be any day you want it to be. Today is Saturday.” After a moment, she declared, “Happy Saturday.”
Are you a parent who, on top of everything else, has recently become your kids’ teacher? Are you wishing everyday is Saturday? You’re not alone.
We are all adjusting to so many changes in schedules and routines. I hear parents lament how they suck as teachers as they enviously look at homeschool parents who appear to be crushing it. For all the parents of school-aged kids who are new to this, let me be clear—this isn’t homeschool.
Homeschooling is when you pick the curriculum and a schedule that works best for your family, while often involving help from co-ops, other homeschool parents, and field trips (remember leaving the house?). And homeschoolers have resources. When schools were quickly closed, parents didn’t have time to get all the extra tools that help make learning hands-on and fun. In most cases, parents didn’t even know what purchases would be helpful if they had been permitted to go shopping. This is not homeschooling.
It’s challenging, and we must give ourselves grace. As a follower of Jesus, I’m trying to live my life like he did. Jesus offered everyone grace—whether they had it all together or were a thief or a murderer. However well or terrible you feel you’re doing at this—He has grace for you every single day however long this lasts.
Parents, we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances we’ve been handed. I believe it’s not just about surviving. We can thrive. We just might need to change our mindset and re-evaluate our goals. Here are some things to consider:
- Prioritize mental health: Be attentive to your child’s needs and stressors, and your own. Kids who grow in resilience and flexibility during this time will benefit from these strengths for their entire life. Learning multiplication tables a few months later than scheduled won’t have much, if any, impact long term. If a meltdown seems imminent, take a break, grab a snack, or FaceTime a friend. If you feel that you’re on the verge of a breakdown, give your kids some screen time or send them to the backyard or porch.
- Build routines with breaks and flexibility: Kids need predictability. So create a schedule with breaks included. But don’t hold that schedule too tightly. You know your kids. Consider what you need too. There’s so much we can’t control right now, but this, we can.
- Say no to fear and comparison and receive help: Some parents have expressed concern that their kid will become so far behind they won’t catch up. Look around - very few kids are receiving the level of instruction and training they received in the classroom. Do the best you can and partner with your child’s teacher.
- Phone a friend: Physical distance does not have to mean isolation. I’ve talked to so many parents who have shared the one thing that really helped them chill out regarding school work was to talk to a friend who reminded them we’re all doing the best we can. This is hard, but it will pass, and we can be stronger and more united on the other side.
- Go easier on yourself. Teachers even struggle too. Many teachers, professionally trained to teach kids, are also struggling to teach their own kids. We’re at home, not at school, so we can’t have the same expectations as in a school setting. Parenting is a full time job, and so is teaching. And some parents are also doing their job that provides a paycheck from home, too. Do the best you can and give yourself, your kids and their teachers, some grace.
- Advocate for your child’s teacher: Your child’s teacher is an authority in their life. Model what it looks like to respect and submit to their authority. If it’s too much work and your kid is stressed out, before complaining on social media or telling your kid how ridiculous the assignment is, contact the teacher. One teacher shared, “We don’t know it isn’t working unless someone tells us!” Openly communicate. Teachers are figuring this out too. Every teacher I’ve talked to has emphasized the importance of flexibility and meeting the individual needs of kids. Another teacher tells her parents, “If it helps, do the work. If it adds stress, ditch it.” Though, before you “ditch it,” work with your child’s teacher to make sure you’re on the same page.
- Get out of the “classroom:” Some of the best learning takes place out of the classroom. All kinds of skills, including critical thinking and problem solving, can be learned in the kitchen, climbing trees, or even doing projects around the house. Read a book on the porch swing, dig up worms in the garden or lay on the grass and watch the stars come out at night. Come up with a skill your kids want to learn like laundry, gardening, or scrambling eggs, and make a plan to train them.
- Have fun: One dad goes into another room every morning and does the morning announcements by shouting into the “classroom” the lunch options, special events, and goals for the day. Let your kids assume some leadership roles, have older siblings teach the younger kids, or create lessons for art class or gym, or lead a field trip to the back yard or around the block.
- Do for others: Build in time to serve others during the day. Take in a neighbors’ trash cans on garbage day or write notes to neighbors who can’t get out of their homes.
- Take a snow day or early dismissal: You’re in charge, so you don’t need snow to take a day off from school. Or do a little more work throughout the week and create a four day school week. Call a surprise early dismissal and do something fun or go and bless a neighbor, from 6 feet away, of course.
At some time in the future, schools will reopen, parents will return to more typical routines, and teachers will be back in the classroom. Parents, this is a unique opportunity to spend time doing things with our kids that our schedules prohibited in the past. And maybe those things revolve more around climbing trees and baking cookies than spelling words and worksheets. You’ve already proven you can teach your kids. While teaching math or American History may not be your strength, look at what you’ve already taught your kids—kindness, how to tie their shoe, sharing, how to eat with a fork, so—have a great Saturday!
A big thank you to four of my favorite educators Jon, Angela, Casey, and Rachel, for their invaluable feedback and ideas in writing this article. We can do this.