Like most parents, the pandemic has drastically changed my life. I have transitioned from a frazzled working mother of two to working from home while balancing a 4 year old who is home full-time for the first time in his life and a 2nd grader in virtual school.
I wouldn’t say I’m doing this successfully. Honestly, I don’t think it is possible to do this successfully. I have, however, found some things that have helped us all survive. I want to share these with hopes they bring anyone in my position a little relief – and to alleviate any guilt you may feel if you don’t think you are doing it “right”. There is no right, we are keeping our heads above water, here, people.
My 4 year old was in preschool and has been in daycare full time since he was 3 months old. I was completely clueless about what to do with him while he is home.
These are some things that have helped us.
Find your rhythm…
- I let my son sleep in as late as possible. This serves two purposes. First, sleep is important for him since he isn’t going to take a magical daycare afternoon nap. That ship sailed over a year ago. Second, this gives me the morning to myself. I exercise then I start work. I try to get any emails that require thought out during this time.
- We do some sort of “morning work”. I learned this by watching his brilliant preschool teachers. We talk about what day it is, what the date is, etc. If you want to overachieve you can find days of the week/months of the year songs on YouTube. My son isn’t into that, so this all takes about 5 minutes. I gave him a job, something I highly recommend. He is our “weather watcher”. He looks out the window and draws a picture on the whiteboard of the weather. This usually takes up a few more minutes. After these things, if he isn’t into doing more I let him free play.
- Free play. Kids this age, especially those who have been in daycare, seem to be masters at free play. I give him access to toys and he will do his own thing. Full disclosure: the TV goes on during free play. He will play and occasionally check in with the TV. If he’s tired he will lay and watch. Whatever. This is when I do some more work and/or help my older son with his virtual school.
- Schedule flexibility. Sometimes my morning routine is blown up by a 9 am meeting. Then, it’s survival mode. It’s never too late to do the morning stuff. My husband and I will work together to provide some sort of parental supervision throughout the day. We have meetings that kids can be around during and meetings that we really don’t want to have them in the background. Sometimes it doesn’t work and I have a kid in a meeting and it’s embarrassing or annoying. It is what it is.
- Overlap with school age kids. Anytime I can make my 2nd graders work fit with my preschooler I do it. For example, library is a great day because we usually watch videos of authors reading books then do an activity – already planned by a qualified teacher. Gotta love it. Also, art is a big hit around here. If little brother sees big brother doing something, it’s much easier to sell.
- Themes of the week. I have a schedule from our daycare and I use it at home. This is a hack that not everyone can do but I’m sure there’s useful crap like this online. Please find it and make yourself feel a little structured, even if you don’t do much with it. We have a Letter of the Week, a Number of the Week, a Shape and Color of the week. After our morning routine, if my son seems into it, we do a scavenger hunt in the house – find the number of the week’s value of items that start with the letter of the week. Find things that are the shape or color of the week. You get it. It gets them away from you so you can work and gives them a task. Sometimes my son gets side tracked during the scavenger hunt and BAM – free play. An important rule here: NEVER INTERRUPT FREE PLAY. If my son is entertaining himself and not harming anyone (or any cat) I let him carry on doing whatever he is doing. Seriously, don’t make things harder than they need to be.
- I am SO not a crafter. I was always truly amazed by the crafts my boys did in school, and now I am even more amazed. I try to do at least one craft a week with my 4 year old. There’s a ton of these online. We have a theme for the week and I try to plan crafts around this theme. Last week was “Land, Sea, and Air” – I had 2 activities planned and only did one during the week. Now we are fully in holiday mode and we spent two days doing a paper plate tree that hangs from the ceiling. It looks nothing like the quality work done at his school, but we did it. There’s a lot of resources out there. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Set the bar low.
- Schoolwork realness. I try to be realistic here. If I get my son to do a worksheet about the letter or number of the week this is an incredible, miraculous win for me. Worksheets are just not his jam. My older son would sit and do a puzzle, a maze, a search and find, etc, for hours. This is not who my younger son is. He will never do that. He’s never done a puzzle in his life. So, I know part of this year is trying to get him ready for Kindergarten, so I try to get him to do some worksheet or activity with letters or numbers. A realistic time spent on this “school work” is 10-15 minute a day. That is a major win.
- The one tip I have is to allow things to go undone. It does not reflect on your parenting if your child does not do his or her schoolwork. I was in school for almost two decades and am left with little respect for getting good grades or just completing things for the sake of checking a box. I don’t buy into it and don’t want my kid to either. I set realistic expectations. I want him to understand the material. I want him to practice writing. I want him to read for fun. I want him to complete his tests and do his best. I want him to complete most of his homework. I don’t require that he does it all. It isn’t worth the fight. This is a hill I am prepared to die on. I will never force my kid to write his spelling words 5 times each because he absolutely hates it and will fight me on it every week. He does well on his spelling tests so I let him skip it. For some reason, he hates music class. He hasn’t completed one music assignment all year. I ask him to play me some scales on the piano instead. I want to foster a love of learning and I want him to come out of this experience mentally well. This isn’t perfect, we still fight almost every day about getting his homework done. I just try to pick my battles.
- Get dressed every day. This goes for everyone. No jams during the day. Now, I change out of my jams into workout clothes. Not exactly getting dressed for some people, but it makes me feel accomplished. I also brush my teeth, wash my face, and put contacts in. My kids were in the routine of getting dressed and ready for school each day and I have made them continue this. I feel like our family would devolve into madness if we didn’t do this.
- Prepare the night before. I used to pack lunches the night before to feel more ready to take on the day each morning. Now, I prepare the coffee for the next morning and clean my work area. If I don’t do this I don’t want to get out of bed. I try to do the same for the kids. A neat workspace or playspace. I am not a clean person and this was a huge change from our busy work/daycare schedule.
- Allow off days. There are days when my kids don’t want to do anything. My youngest will just watch tv all day. My oldest will fight every school-related activity. They will fight each other. They will break stuff. They will scream and cry. I will yell and cry. This will happen usually once a week. I have found that I need to make a commitment to make the day after these days good days. Whatever that takes. If that means doing something “special” to snap everyone out of their funk, then so be it. Buy ice cream, have a tickle fight, be over-the-top positive and kind. I can’t allow too many awful days in a row.
One final tip – This is hard, this isn’t normal, and it’s really crappy. We are all trying our best. Keep trying and take care of yourself. Good luck out there!
For more tips, read this article too!