Since 2021 is here and it has brought with it lots of hopes, wishes and expectations. let’s look back at 2020 and see the ‘good side’ of this pandemic. Well, we got so much more family time, we got time to learn new skills, we got time to indulge in our hobbies. #DalgonaCoffee, anyone? And perhaps a lot of good things happened in some way or the other.
But have you seen anyone talk about the stress, anxiety and pressure that has crept into our lives since the beginning of the pandemic? And a very prominent contributor to this stress has been virtual/online school and academic classes of children!
Balancing Work Life & Online Classes
In our family, we strongly follow co-parenting in every aspect of parenting. However, when it comes to studies, as a mother I have always been the front face. But since the schools were shut and classes were to be conducted virtually, just overnight we parents were expected to be teachers for children. As a working mother, I have witnessed days of complete mental burn out. The pressure primarily was multifold because of juggling between professional commitments and being around for online classes of our kids. My responsibilities have increased exponentially. The office expects me to be available at work from 9 am onwards and now there are added responsibilities of online classes, managing kids’ schedules and assignments.
A typical morning scene at our home would be like this:
I am multitasking with my laptop in one hand trying to manage work along with supervising and attending the class with my kindergarteners, who are on my phone. The moment I get busy in my work, they would lose attention, get distracted and run around.
Most of the times I felt exhausted trying to catch up on multiple emails, notifications from the school and proctoring on their assignments. There was so much to tend to that I felt like I was losing it all.
There was a point where it was too stressful and beyond my control. Apart from managing housework and office work, now there was an additional burden of tending to the online classes and virtual school.
As a parent, we always try to stay engaged with our child’s education and school life. We ask how their day went. We help with homework. We keep an eye on our child’s grades. We stay in touch with their teachers. But this time, what is new for all of us is the level of engagement required to keep the child’s education on track during the COVID-19 pandemic, and all this, along with having children physically around us 24×7!
Virtual School & Working Parents: Ways To Make It Work
With my experience of the past few months, I have realised that making virtual learning work along with professional work-life requires balance, patience, and flexibility. And here are a few tips and ways to make things easier in your family’s daily life.
1. Let Go Of Perfectionism
This is most crucial if you probably hold yourself to high standards of performance at work and at home. Take this as an opportunity to practise loosening your grip on these expectations. Maybe your children get a little more screen time than usual. Maybe your house is a mess behind you on camera during a video call. Maybe you rethink your expectations of the people who report to you. Look at this as a chance to re-evaluate what really matters and to let go of over-performing in less important areas. And perhaps this prioritization will be a new skill you can bring with you once things return to normal, I mean, “new normal”.
2. Be Upfront With Your Manager
In the first place, if you’re in this dilemma of how to juggle work and online classes, I would suggest it is better to talk it out with your manager/ team. Do not assume that they would understand the scenario.
In my case, I made it clear to the team that I cannot be available for calls between 10 am -12 pm because of my kids’ classes. The solution – work at flexible hours. So I place all those calls when my kids are napping or during early evenings.
Being upfront about your concerns and maintaining an open dialogue throughout your child’s virtual learning experience can help set realistic expectations and reduce stress.
3. Try & Maintain A Structured Routine
Our children are used to having a routine when it comes to school. Even though it may seem that virtual learning comes with the benefit of extra flexibility, a set schedule and structure will help your child stay on track.
When it comes to planning your family’s virtual school routine, stick to the basics. Schedule designated times for:
- Waking up and eating breakfast
- Being ‘ready to go’
- Logging on
- Breaking for lunch
- Working on offline work
- Relaxing or playtime
- Completing homework
Once a virtual school routine is set, make sure your child knows what he or she needs to be doing and when. One way to do this is to write the schedule on a whiteboard and place it near where he or she will be taking virtual classes. You can also set reminders on your phone (works best for me) to keep you on track with the plan.
4. Be Prepared For Interruptions
Let’s accept it, while preparation and planning is the key, interruptions and failures are bound to happen! With children, especially less than 7-year-old, each day is different. It is better to not let frustration take over in the heat of the moment, but keep ‘Plan b’ at hand instead.
To help limit interruptions during your work day, try the following:
- Set up a dedicated learning space with all the supplies and equipment your child needs
- Make sure your Wi-Fi can handle the extra demand for virtual learning, especially if you also plan to take conference calls
- Make sure your child knows how to log on or at least mute-unmute
- Get to know how/when attendance is counted and when your child will be offline
- Prepare snacks and lunches ahead of time
- Keep the timetable handy for quick reference for a water break or any special class that needs a separate login
- Check on your child during your scheduled work breaks (you should be taking breaks anyway!)
Even the best laid plans can fall short when it comes to weeks or months of facilitating virtual learning. The best way to handle and limit interruptions is to accept that they are inevitable and plan ahead as much as you can.
When interruptions absolutely need to be limited or eliminated altogether, you may benefit from putting a ‘no interruption zone’ in place, such as moving into a room, closing the door and asking your child to slip a note under the door or text you if he or she needs something urgently.
5. If Possible, Leverage Your Support System
Asking for help is never easy, but now is the time to call in those favours or invest in planning tools. If you’re parenting in a two-parent household and you’re both working from home, divvy up your workday. Maybe you are ‘on-call’ to help your kid in the mornings, and your partner takes over after lunch. The best support system in these times is the one that lives under your roof, so make sure you’re talking about how to effectively co-parent while your child is virtual learning.
6. But At The End, Take Care Of Yourself, Too
Your child’s education and happiness are huge priorities, but so is your own mental health and wellness. While your instinct may be to throw yourself completely into your child’s virtual school routine, don’t let your own work and personal needs suffer. Set aside time to relax, reward yourself for somehow handling it all, and make sure to find quality time to spend with your family that’s not just all about school.
Let me know what has been your saviour till now when it comes to juggling work from home with kids attending online classes.