As August approaches, I’ve been waking up at night, worrying about how my family will manage working and schooling from home — indefinitely, during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sometimes the fear grips me at random moments in the middle of the day and I want to talk about it, but the family isn’t there yet. Nobody wants to admit out loud that this is happening.
To say I’m not alone is a colossal understatement. Earlier this month, many friends shared this story from The New York Times: “In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both.” I couldn’t bear to read it until recently and, when I did, it confirmed what I already new. This is going to be hard.
What about when your job is running your own business?
I don’t have answers. But I’m forming some ideas for how my husband and I will tackle working from home — him for a large international company and me in my public relations business — with our daughters schooling from home.
I’m grateful Lucy and Penny are rising eighth and sixth graders as they are old enough to be somewhat self sufficient, but still they’re kids. For those of you with businesses to run and middle schoolers’ education to oversee, I hope these ideas help or spark even better ones.
1. Hire a homework coach.
Last year, we hired a homework coach for our then seventh-grader. I didn’t know such people existed, but they do, and are sometimes called executive skills coaches or homework tutors. Ask your friends, teachers and pediatrician; someone will know one. Anyhow, Lucy is super smart and loves learning — on her terms. She can tell you all about different countries’ extradition laws (should I be worried?), but she can’t be counted on to keep up with her math homework or turn in an essay for language arts. It’s maddening.
A child psychologist spent time with Lucy and confirmed what we already knew: She doesn’t have great executive functioning skills. She can’t plan out an assignment, stick to it and see it to completion. We hired a homework coach who helped Lucy get organized and stay on top of her work. It was working well when Lucy was still in school, but kind of fell apart during the remote learning in the spring. We’re going to start this year of remote learning with a homework coach for Lucy from the start. It will be worth it for the year ahead — and executive functioning skills are life skills.
2. Hold a weekly family meeting and daily check-ins.
My family is not good at many rituals or consistency. We are not the parents who have a chalkboard or white board installed in the kitchen with everyone’s schedule and assignments on it. I just kind of assume everyone will get their work done, and this has had mixed results.
I know we need to step it up with weekly family meetings and daily check-ins. And they need to be at consistent times. Starting soon, before school actually starts, we’re going to start having family a weekly family meeting right after online church service ends on Sunday. We have been faithful in gathering as a family for virtual Mass, so this seems like a great time to meet about what’s ahead for the week. Who has what due and when? When are Mom and Dad in important meetings and when can they be bothered? How is everyone feeling? What are we worried about in the week ahead? What are we looking forward to? Who’s doing which chores (because we have to run the house, too)? What are some opportunities to see friends in a safe way?
As for daily check-ins, we’ll do these right after dinner, because we do eat nightly as a family. Jeff and I aren’t going to remember to check the kids’ online grades and school progress on our own. Each night I want them to show us what they did, what work they have outstanding and what grades they have received. Nightly might sound overwhelming, but I think it’s what we need to develop good distant learning habits from the start. The thought of either one of my girls falling behind and not knowing how to help them feels even more overwhelming.
3. Take the children to work.
I got this idea from a friend who is a psychologist who runs a practice with several other doctors. Back in the spring, she and her colleagues started rotating who came into the mostly empty office to see patients. Each time it was her turn to come in, she’d bring one of her three children. Her kid would sit in an empty room and get school work done in a place that was quieter than home. Her kids quickly discovered added perks: a full array of drinks and snacks and even lunch ordered in.
I don’t know exactly how I am going to do this when work and school and family are all existing at home all the time. But on days when my kids don’t have online instruction, I plan to switch off having them co-work with me in my two-room home office. I’m thinking there will be snacks, rights to choose the streaming music, yoga breaks and other surprises like lunch ordered in.
Having a plan always makes me feel better. Hopefully I can sleep better, too.
I still don’t have the answers. I don’t know how this will go or what will work. It’s going to be a year of learning — for all of us.