Getting through homeschooling with MS

At the beginning of January, the government announced that schools across the UK would have to close again as part of the latest national lockdown. Parents across the country shuddered at the thought of returning to homeschooling. In her latest blog, Carla talks about her own experience of homeschooling her son, whilst dealing with MS symptoms and offers some tips for being kind to yourself along the way.

As I write this, my ten-year-old is struggling to focus on his schoolwork after working solidly for at least two hours. He is whiney (possibly hangry), after refusing an earlier break, meaning I must now diffuse his energy whilst running down my own. 

In many ways, we each have comfortably slipped into our former lockdown roles as a family, respecting our boundaries, talking, finding time for each other. I’ve previously written about the positives that lockdown brought, and I stand by all I’ve said. Yet, somehow, it feels harder in winter, and under the gloom of relentless bad news.

I have meetings, appointments and tasks to fit in. My MS Duracell bunny depletes a little earlier these days, since our third national lockdown began. One major thing I lost this lockdown was time to myself. When the original lockdown began, I remember saying that my family invaded the home, meaning that pre-pandemic, I looked only after myself during the day. After lockdown, every nook and cranny were seemingly taken up with people who I now had to feed, clean up after, homeschool. 

As it happens, my son already self-isolated this term when his class interacted with a child testing positive with the virus, so in some senses, school had already prepared us for online learning. Thankfully, the school has set realistic work timeframes (a recognition that children aren’t meant to sit down for so many hours in front of a screen), however, others have not had that luxury. 

My largest concerns as a parent are finding that difficult balancing act between ensuring he does his work, giving him support, keeping an eye on activity levels (what he needs), whilst giving him his prized screen-time possessions (what he wants). 

The benefits of home-schooling for me have been seeing first-hand what he is like with one-to-one support, what he is like without it when we are busy, and how this must feel like for him when lost in a sea of children in class with varying levels of attention and needs. This has sparked a few useful conversations with the school, and some advocacy on his behalf. 

Somewhere in amongst all of this, my MS has joined in, because MS likes to do this. I’ve found myself using the default ‘MS-I’m-fine’ just so I can get through my day without explaining myself too much, as if I’m making a conscious choice between getting through each day and feeling unwell. I must pipe up and talk about it, but sometimes it’s difficult to re-bottle that genie.

I also know that my son will be okay if I’m okay

Nevertheless, I also know that my son will be okay if I’m okay, and that our ideal version of parenthood isn’t always realistic. So, here is what I have resolved to do from now on, with the mantra ‘happy parent, happy child’ in mind:

Your child

1.    Remember: you’re a parent, not a teacher – you’re not suddenly expected to know the curriculum inside out. You don’t need to find a gazillion activities for them to do. 
2.    If you’re stuck, there are a few free activities out there, including the National Marine Aquarium and Joe Wicks, Twinkl or Facebook virtual sessions. 
3.    If your kids are 8 years+, set some time boundaries or put up a sign when you’re in a meeting, and can’t be disturbed. If they’re younger, don’t feel bad about keeping them busy with the television during meetings or simply accept (like the poor parent in that now very well-known BBC interview) interruptions will happen. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve used a lot of dangling carrots (not literally, as I’ve never found vegetables to work), such as bonus allowance for screen-time, or that uneaten Christmas chocolate.
4.    Set up Zoom chats, so friends can play together.
5.    If school is setting too much work, let the school know. 
6.    Children love to know what’s coming next – routine also helps in your self-organisation.


7.    Build in time for self-care throughout the day (definitely a parental priority).
8.    If you have any support from a childcare bubble (though this may change with future restrictions), use it.
9.    When you have downtime, plan meals. Batch cook, where possible, on weekends.
10.  Don’t put yourself through more than you need to. If dishes are left in the sink overnight, or the washing left for tomorrow, it is okay. 
11.  It’s tough being in close quarters, and there is a very strong likelihood that at some point during the day, you will want to throttle each other, so if something is bothering you, talk about it and agree boundaries.
12.  If you’re taking on new projects/activities, if you can, make sure they come with built-in flexibility. 

The most important message I can convey is that you’re doing your best and trust me when I say that that’s all our children will remember. 

Carla works as a Career Coach and was diagnosed with MS in 2008. Carla often supports MSers through diagnosis and beyond. She also presents to audiences from the MS community and the MS field. Carla is the author of a blog about living, working and parenting with MS, called My MS Bully and Me.

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