Coping with Schooling at Home While Working From Home
“How am I supposed to get my work done while I’m also expected to oversee my children’s schoolwork?” This critical question is one of the most common concerns raised by parents who are working from home. And with the schoolyear just beginning, this challenge, facing millions is both a very real and practical one.
First, some context regarding my credibility. Prior to and during my work focused on work-based relationships and workplace culture, my professional focus included evaluating students with learning challenges, and consulting with parents and schools on the best ways to help their students learn. Additionally, we homeschooled our four children over a span of 12 years.
Tips for Surviving Teaching at and Working from Home Simultaneously
Develop realistic expectations. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is trying to recreate traditional school at home: having a school desk, starting at 8:30, recess at 10, lunch at 11:45… Use the flexibility available at home to your advantage; flow with your child’s own physical rhythms (and your work demands).
On the other hand, have some structure in place. The goal is “structure with flexibility.” Generally, start the school day at the same time, have a time for breaks in the morning and afternoon. Create mental spaces for different activities. People typically pair specific environments with different tasks – so have a schoolwork area where they do their daily assignments; maybe have a different chair where they read; another table they use to do artwork.
Understand and accept that students can only study and do schoolwork for a limited time. They need breaks. Depending on the age, have them work for 15-20 minutes, then take a 10-minute break. Then go to a different type of work (math vs. reading) for the next 15-20 minutes. Having them sit at the kitchen table “until their work is done” will waste a lot of time, and create a lot of frustrations (for both of you).
Focus on developing habits, not grades. Most parents are overly concerned about grades (many of which are quite arbitrary). In “real life,” few people care about what grades you got – they care about your work habits, willingness to take responsibility, and how you work with others. Identify one or two habits your child needs to work on this fall, and focus on those.
Communicate expectations related to work. This is a difficult area because your employer has hired you to complete various tasks and responsibilities. However, the reality of the present circumstances is that many employees have had additional family and school responsibilities placed on them (without being asked). So it is important to talk with your employer or supervisor. The “with” aspect is important – you need to hear their needs and desires, and they need to hear what you are able (and possibly, not able) to do. You need to talk together to work out a plan that is acceptable for both of you (though not necessarily optimal for either of you).
Potential issues to discuss are:
- expectations about working from home and working in the office,
- your time schedule and availability,
- when it is the best time to talk,
- how to handle interruptions,
- team meetings (virtual or in person),
- communicating with colleagues and clients.
Manage interruptions realistically. As we all know, interruptions will occur while we work from home. And these will almost certainly occur more regularly while we oversee our children’s schoolwork. Here are some tips to reduce your frustration by scheduling segments of time throughout the day:
- a) when you are available to help and your focus is going to be primarily on school tasks,
- b) what time is “interrupt-able time,” where everyone is working on their own tasks, but you are available to be interrupted when needed; and
- c) which are “no interruption time” slots, when you are on a conference call or have to focus on a task.
Suggestion: think in terms of 20-30 minute segments (young students in early grades may need shorter segments for completing tasks). [As I write this, my heart especially goes out to those of you with preschool or early grade school students. Your task probably seems very daunting. Try to give yourself and your children as much grace as you can during this difficult time and focus on your successes, even when small.]
Taking Care of Yourself
You, like all of us, can only do so much. You have limits in how much time and energy you have. You can’t do it all. Yet, many of us find ourselves in situations where we feel pressure from others to be able to do everything they want and expect – from our kids, our spouse / significant other, and the school, to our boss and clients.
In these times of increased demands in our lives, something has to give. The problem is, often what “gives” is taking care of ourselves. We put our needs at the very end of the list (even when simple needs and joys have long ago gone out the window). This strategy may work for the short-term. We can tough it out with less sleep, no relaxation time, not exercising—for a week or two (maybe).
But I can tell you from the experience of working with dozens of homeschooling families, not taking care of yourself is a recipe for disaster in the long run. When mom or dad crashes, the whole family suffers. ‘Crashing’ looks different in each of us – getting depressed, becoming angry and irritable, drinking more, getting sick – but it takes us out of the game, sometimes for a long time.
So I plead with you, please do at least some minimal actions to care for yourself. If you used to run 5 times a week, try to fit in 2 a week. Don’t stay up late watching movies; go to bed. Get at least a little “me time” once a week. Keep some habits of self-care in place, even if their frequency is reduced.
Where Does This Time and Energy for Self-Care Come From?
I don’t think anyone would disagree that self-care is critical for survival. But the rubber meets the road in answering the question: “What ‘gives?’ Where do I get the time and energy? I can’t ‘not do my work.’ I have to help the kids get their schoolwork done.”
True. The answer may lie in approaching this time period as ‘survival mode.’ What has to be done for us to survive as a family? One major challenge is that none of us know how long this season will last –Thanksgiving? New Year’s? next May? A helpful strategy may be to “chunk” the time in your mind. “This is what we need to do to make it to fall break.” Or, “to Thanksgiving.” Pick a goal and work towards that date. When you reach that date, re-assess and make a new plan to work toward another future point in time or goal.
In ‘survival mode,’ certain uses of our time and energy are no longer as important as surviving. Here are just a handful of ideas. You can argue against every one, but at some point, you have to say, “Ok, I don’t like it but I guess we will have to …. (at least until Thanksgiving).”
Potential “In order to survive this time as a family, I / we can live without:”
- Cleaning the house as frequently
- Having every child in a major sport every season
- Making every meal from scratch
- Mowing the lawn as frequently
- Yoga at the studio or gym (versus at home)
- Decorating the whole house for every season and holiday
- Using nice dishes for every meal (paper plates are okay for some meals)
- Parents doing all of the cooking, dishes, laundry (have the kids help)
Be aware, there is a potentially serious pitfall present when you are in survival mode – the false hope of a perfect solution, looking for some action (or combination of steps) that will resolve all of the challenges. Sorry, the perfect solution doesn’t exist.
In trying to find the ultimate fix, many people don’t take any steps which could be helpful. This “well, it doesn’t solve everything so I shouldn’t bother to do anything” approach actually deepens our troubles. So, please do something. Don’t wait. Wonder Woman and Superman are not on their way to rescue us. But we all have resources we can lean into.
Take small steps and reassess your approach as you go. Simplify where you can, and build on what is working for you and your family and try something new when you find something that isn’t working. Work some milestones and celebrations into your short-term planning so that everyone has something to look forward to. And make sure to schedule in time for self-care. Stick together with your family, friends and colleagues and we can all make it through this challenging time.
Categories Burnout, Communication, Perseverance, Relationships, Remote Employees, Stress management, Virtual teams