But on March 16, our life as we knew it, completely changed.
The week prior I had received an email from the school district explaining the possibility of doing school at home due to the fast growing infection rate of the Coronavirus. I thought, “ok no problem I already homeschool one of my kids, I know exactly how this goes, I know exactly what I’ll do.” I was so wrong.
I did not take into account their individual grade levels and learning requirements. My kids could not be more different from each other. I have a high schooler with an active social life, a first grader who is a dual language learner, and a fourth grader who is homeschooled. On the first day of having them all home at the same time, I made the mistake of thinking that this new reality was going to be simple, straightforward and I fully prepared a schedule for all. Halfway through the day, the stress and confusion of the situation created an unhealthy learning environment for me and the kids. I realized I wasn’t fully prepared to take on all of their individual learning styles at the same time.
Midway through my personal crisis of being overwhelmed, my high schooler stepped up to the plate and offered her assistance to help my fourth grader with his work and in turn, wanted me to help with hers. With perfect timing, my fourth grader then helped my first grader. They handled each other much better than what I was doing. They were kinder to each other and formed an even tighter bond – something that made me happy to see.
The next couple of days were not perfect but we all did our part to make the new situation work. Well into day three of schooling at home, we all agreed that managing our daily lives without a predetermined schedule works best for us. Although I received guidance from their schools about maintaining a set schedule and keeping things as normal as possible, I knew it was not the right thing for us since we are the type of family that thrives without structure. Freedom is one of the most important aspects I choose to give my kids; freedom to be themselves and freedom to create.
Now five days into the new reality, our schedule is pretty loose and everyone is expected to do their work at some point during the day just as long as it is completed.
We started this week off operating like it was going to be a temporary situation but then the governor of California announced that schools will most likely reopen after the summer break. I think this is a game changer because it gives me the chance to really pay attention to what’s truly important and not let the pressure of “school” cause family problems.
I believe that the next several months will also give me the chance to see that not completing every single assignment sent from the school really won’t hurt my children and that providing more natural learning lessons is more conducive to their success; really showing how I learn each day as an adult without going to school.
I’ve also started to consider letting go of the idea of control. From an early age we’re force fed the idea that we need to be in control. I think it’s a good idea to have some control but the truth is when I stop controlling my kids I know things will not fall apart. They will adjust and will be able to make better decisions for themselves earlier in life and understand how to respond to uncertainty like the current epidemic.
As me and my kids navigate this uncertain situation, I have also come to realize that I must be honest and truthful about the seriousness of this global pandemic but also mindful to not unnecessarily scare my kids. Whenever they express being afraid or express any type of fear about what’s going on, I give them permission to be afraid. I don’t have any experience or reference point to tell them everything is going to be ok because I just don’t know. I tell them it’s possible to be afraid and to be brave at the same time. My household operates in a very open and honest environment so it is imperative that I allow open space in our home to encourage them to ask questions and to have unfiltered dialogue. I know they have unlimited access to social media and as their mother and one of two people whom they look to for direction, I do my best to answer their questions with as much truthful information as possible. But that may not be the case for other families.
A few things I’m doing to maintain sanity and continuous learning:
DO WHAT’S BEST FOR YOUR CHILD
-I am mindful of what does and doesn’t work and I’m ok not doing exactly what the school is recommending. If something isn’t working for my kids, I let it go.
AVOID STANDARD SCHEDULES
-I try not to mirror their school’s structure especially if that is not necessary – that means being more aware of their needs so it doesn’t become something that puts more pressure on me and them.
BE AWARE OF YOUR CHILD’S NEEDS
-I try to be as open minded as possible and listen to my kids. I’m not forceful about what I think they should know and assume they don’t know something but be ready to help them if they need me.
-I think it’s important to be kind to myself and my kids. I choose my words wisely and instead of saying, “you should know that already” I say “how can I help you understand this”.
REMEMBER, YOUR KIDS HAVE FEELINGS TOO
-I don’t downplay my kids’ emotions: I remember that kids are growing up in a different world from what I did. This might be a really hard thing for them. I have a very extroverted daughter. She really needs the social part of life. Asking her, at her age, to just give that up cold turkey is a tall order. As a parent, I try not to downplay this for her. She is the type of person who loves life and walks around complimenting and giving out hugs. She leaves school and goes to dance. Life for her has always been very busy. Being ordered to stay home is hard for her.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
-This can sometimes be easier said than done but being healthy mentally and physically better helps everyone in this situation. I do my best to not take out the stress I might be feeling on my kids. If you are already in therapy, try to maintain your sessions through Skype/FaceTime, etc. Don’t forget about YOU.
-Make sure you have fun! My kids’ schools sent home so much work. Sometimes it’s just not feasible to make sure they are doing all of this work in addition to the work I have to do for my own job, as well as cook, clean and take care of everyone. Your sanity and your children’s sanity is more important than making sure ALL of this work is done. I allot time to have fun with each child and take advantage of teachable moments.Provide activities that allow them to be involved and keep them busy for some time. It doesn’t have to be educational. Let them explore and find things to do on YouTube or other sources. It will be the little things that keep a sense of balance in your home.
I think it boils down to truly knowing my kids and understanding their genuine interests, how they learn, and what information they can handle, has made the difference between whether or not my kids trust and confide in me and kids who continue to live in fear. Every parent wants to avoid the latter.
For more on LaTanya's work, see The After Math.