What a challenging start to 2021 for parents and children. Nobody was happy with last week’s announcement that schools would resume, but not physically reopen, this week. We had already adjusted to the longer Christmas holidays, cobbling together some kind of childcare arrangements for last week, but now we face at least three weeks of supporting our children’s education from home again.
All parents need to be realistic about what they can achieve when it comes to educating their children at home. I think we also need to be kind to ourselves. Even looking at the speed of change that occurred at the end of last week as decisions about Leaving Cert students and special education students attending school were reversed reminds us how flexible and adaptive we must be. In those kinds of circumstances, just getting everyone up and dressed and cared for every day might be an achievement.
Maybe you are still aiming for your own A-grade, or H1 in uber-parenting, where you can be all things to all people. But maybe passing is enough. Just getting through the next three weeks without your relationships with your children breaking down in a series of tantrums, tirades and tears, seems to me to be achievement enough.
However, there seems to be a different energy about this round of school closures. There was a novelty to the experience last year and a certain willingness to give it a go and make the best of it. It feels harder to rekindle that energy this time around, having invested so much the last time. It also feels like there are a different set of expectations this time, too.
It seems more like parents should now be able to cope and make it all happen. “There’s an app for that” was the cry that heralded so many advances in technology to support our lives. But, you may already feel enslaved, for example, by Seesaw app notifications destined for you or your child. The stakes also, maybe, feel higher for parents themselves since this is another month missed, on top of the three or four months missed last year. You may be wondering how many months out of school is recoverable for your child?
It seems to me then, that if parents are to survive the next few weeks (and possibly educating at home right into February), they need to prioritise minding themselves. That might mean taking stock of all the competing demands, knowing that you have limited time and energy. For example, if it is clear to you that you can really only carve out one hour a day to focus exclusively on the children’s schooling, then that is all that you can do. That is something to be satisfied about, if you have done a fair review of your circumstances. If you can do more, you will do more. If you can’t, you can’t.
If, however, your work has begun to encroach on what used to be family time (as is frequently the case when we work from home), then you may need to start to put limits on that instead. Maybe your children’s education feels like an equal or more important priority now. There is never anything wrong with making decisions based on available resources. This may be the time to have important conversations with your child’s teacher and/or your employer about what is realistic for you right now.
Moreover, I’d also suggest that carving out some time, daily or weekly, that is exclusively your own time, may be a critically important allocation to help you recharge your “caring” batteries. If you feel like you are worn out from doing everything for everyone, then minding yourself might free up some capacity to be available when you are needed. This, to my mind, is critical self-care.
The first steps to minding yourself may come with addressing lifestyle issues, like eating healthily, drinking less alcohol, exercising more, getting to bed earlier or improving your sleep. It may be that you get back to pastimes like reading, listening to music, meditating, art, even making jigsaws counts as good switch-off time.
Being fairer to yourself, in terms of your attitude and thinking, might also give you the break you need. Challenging things like “all or nothing” thinking (which can lead us into unrealistic perfectionism), or times when you put yourself down may help to bring more balance. As will keeping things in perspective (avoiding catastrophising), affirming yourself for things you are doing well and being assertive (especially when you need to say “no” to taking on too much).
Self-care is not just some “wellness gimmick”. It is a real recognition that you are important and that your needs are as valid as everyone else’s. We all need to find those extra resources to meet the extra demands that having to educate our children at home are bringing.