Top 3 Things to Survive as an Accidental Homeschooler in a Pandemic

Heading into my Week 2 of officially homeschooling two kids, I was starting to feel confident about how things were going. My kids were slowly accepting the new routine and more importantly, to me, I was managing somehow to maintain some semblance of sanity and grounding about the whole process.

When exchanging updates with fellow parents on how it was going, I quipped:

Thing #1) Keep your expectations and standards LOW.

Some of you may have a laugh at this but I couldn’t be more adamant about how this has maintained my sanity over the last couple of weeks and admittedly something I came to learn the hard way when my son started to refuse to go to school almost 6 months ago now. When I started to delve into the idea of homeschooling I became completely overwhelmed at the idea of what it was, the hours and skills I needed to employ and the sheer determination and persistence to make it work. This was fed by my “hope” to somehow compensate for the fact that my child was no longer getting a formal education and the responsibility of him getting that solely rested on me. (Ugh, sounds heavy just saying that out loud). But here’s the kicker — which I learned by trial and error: When I prioritized the relationship with him over the outcome and productivity, learning was always a natural by-product. On the days I didn’t do this (namely became task-orientated, or in my anxiety over how much he was “behind”), no learning was to be had.

You, the reader, may also be cringing when I say “standards low”. As a former 4.0 GPA Honour Roll and Valedictorian student I couldn’t be doing more of an about face on my value for education. However let me emphasize that this doesn’t mean that I’m subscribing to accept sub-standard learning, lack of initiative or self — agency. I’ve noticed how I need not worry about any of the latter from coming to fruition when I focus on the PROCESS rather than the PRODUCT. Yes, my perfectionist tendencies are having a near panic-attack (that’s been a whole other process internally for me to let go of!) Yet time and again, I see how much more resilient my own kids are when I manage to let go of getting things right, doing it perfectly or how everyone else might be doing it. Staying curious to their own process, making space for their own path and accepting their emotional process that goes along with mistakes or frustrations has been a better investment developmentally for my kids. And grown myself up in a way I never thought possible.

However, staying curious to the process and allowing room for their own path, has NOT been possible without my own lessons in in being completely PRESENT to where I am at any given moment when I’m with them.

Thing #2) Stay in the NOW, meeting your kids exactly wherever they’re at and don’t make the now into a bigger story than what it just IS.

If that sounds a bit Eckhart Tolle it’s because it is. I laughed with him in his recent post on Youtube in which he talks about how we suffer from becoming attached to the thoughts which follow what something is. In the case with homeschooling that has looked a bit like this: one kid is screaming at me to help them with the conferencing app they’re still trying to figure out; the other kid is literally jumping off the furniture and wreaking mayhem when he’s supposed to be filling in a volcanoes worksheet and the the dog is losing his mind outside barking and trying to attack a delivery guy. The following thought ensues: “This is beyond ridiculous — this is impossible! I should just give this dog away and let the kids watch movies for the rest of the day…who am I kidding thinking I could do this???…. blah blah blah …(more self-pity tempered with self-attack)…. blah blah blah.” The scenario described is by no means pleasant. It sucks.

The suffering comes when I FOLLOW my negative thought process.

On my good days: I can zoom back and maybe even laugh a little at the sitcom nature of it. This buys me enough emotional space to think on my feet and simultaneously download another version of my daughter’s app while creatively distracting my son by pretending his dinosaurs want to learn about volcanoes and he needs to teach them (whilst giving up on the dog and letting him bark his head off — to keep social distancing from others of course).

On my bad days….well, that leads me to my last thing (and just because it’s last doesn’t mean it’s the least important — in fact it probably is the MOST important of all three of these things) here:

Thing #3) ALWAYS put the oxygen mask on YOU first.

We’re not talking just about in emergency situations — it applies too in the midst of homeschooling your kids at home (AND while you’re still trying to work from home AND somehow also look after yourself.) When my son was refusing school and exhibiting extreme aggression from anxiety, I learned the hard way that without taking care of my own needs I was NOT able to be the mother that he needed me to be nor did I have the ongoing patience and stamina that was required to hold space for him day in and day out. I put myself on the road to burnout. Until I began to make time for my own emotional needs (eg. with my own therapy sessions) or even basic needs (eg. showering or exercise) it wasn’t possible to sustain being the steady patient presence that my son desperately needed.

Fast forward to today and I recognize that same impending doom of overwhelm whilst homeschooling TWO kids now. Today it actually hit me by surprise — after the crazy morning as described above (with kudos for finding my way through that, sanity intact, kids and dog still alive) — I meant to take a “break’ from the kids when my husband returned home from work late afternoon. But my daughter insisted to make marshmallows for our weekly bonfire tomorrow and I thought I could do this while simultaneously starting dinner. I should have taken the break.

Burners going, sugar spluttering on the stove, mixer screaming and food processor whirring, I wave at the pot of water on the stove (meant to be a double boiler) and signal my daughter to put the bowl of dissolved gelatin on it. I don’t see her dump the entire contents of the bowl into the simmering pot of undetermined amount of water — now diluting the gelatin and essentially ruining the marshmallow mix. I gasp; I see the look of alarm in her eyes and blurt out ,”I should’ve been watching you — this is my bad”, run to the bathroom and collapse on the floor in howling sobs.

Mini-breakdown* ensues -very similar to the one I had on my really bad days with my son several months back. This is what happens when I forget to put the oxygen mask on first. Taking that break would’ve been doing just that. But a curious thing happens in the middle of it.

*Taking a break instead of staying with the kids would have been one way of putting on the oxygen mask but since I was past that point, the kindest thing to do in that moment is to accept where I am (see Thing #2)

Suddenly, I realize how grateful I am to be CRYING and to finally be letting out tears — not for the ruined marshmallows (well, okay, partly for them, as I realized I wouldn’t be able to find gelatin on the cleaned-out grocery store shelves any time soon to make more) but really started to cry (blessed tears of futility) for EVERYTHING happening: for the insanity of the situation we find ourselves in as parents, for the losses and changes we’ve endured in one short month; for my worry and fear for my family that are here and abroad — some frontline workers as nurses and in the epicentre of the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the US; even tears for the reports of mass-graves in New York , and even for the people who are grieving deaths, not just from Covid-19 but natural or other causes too, but the families left behind can’t actually gather to mourn together.

Lastly I wailed and sobbed for the parents and children out there who would find themselves in the same place as me and feel totally lost, discouraged and even traumatized in their own way struggling to survive each day, lacking the resources to get support or help.

Hence my resolve to offer a parenting support group has been thus strengthened. I happened to be well-resourced emotionally for my crisis with my son and I would not have survived, nor learned the many important lessons I’ve learned without support for my own emotional process. As promised from a previous post — I am offering a FREE 2 hour online introductory session to Parenting in a Pandemic on Wednesday, April 29th, 6:30–8:30pm. This will be a “taster” for the upcoming six week therapeutic support group commencing May 6, 2020. The goal of the intro and the actual support group is to gain both psycho-educational information on parenting during this unprecedented time AND emotional therapeutic support for you as parents. Co-facilitated by my dear colleague, Mia Logie, RTC, we aim to provide parenting insight and a safe space for your emotional needs so that you will not only SURVIVE these next coming months as a family — but actually THRIVE. Please click HERE to register for the FREE Intro Session.

Lastly I am also offering free 30 min chats* for parents needing to vent or take emotional space for themselves and of course offer I also offer one-on-one parent consulting and/or therapeutic counselling sessions ONLINE**.

We may be apart — but we need not feel alone in all this. It’s together, we’ll make it through.

*one time only offer. Phone or Online chat available

**financial assistance considered upon request

Originally published at http://vibrantconnections.ca on April 15, 2020.

A Registered Therapeutic Counsellor, Mom, Wife, Sister, Daughter, Friend, Seeker and HUMAN.

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