Your kids’ schools are closed indefinitely. Your work has gone fully remote. Now that you’re all in the house, how will you manage to keep it all together?
This is a challenging and unprecedented situation to be sure. But many homeschool parents have balanced working from home and have developed some basic coping mechanisms to help — I’m one of them. While everyone’s experience with homeschooling is different, these are some of the lessons I and other homeschoolers have learned to help navigate the anxiety and stress of trying to meet everyone’s needs during the transition to homeschooling while working from home.
First things first — take a deep breath. This is a challenging time, and you’re going to be pushed in ways you probably have never been before. Don’t start rushing around without a plan; you will burn yourself out.
Next, come up with a realistic, flexible plan. While there is a lot you don’t know, and can’t plan for, there is a lot more you can control, starting with your own expectations.
Steps for Building a Plan
Set realistic expectations for yourself and your kids.
You are not going to be as productive as you would be if you were working from home without the kids being around, much less working in the office. Reset your expectations with your boss and yourself if you haven’t already. Make a conscious decision to pause on anything that can wait until after the crisis is over.
Recognize that you’re not going to be able to reproduce the structure of school at home. You’re in a completely different environment now. Just know that it’s OK if what you’re doing at home doesn’t look exactly like school.
And remember that your kids never stop learning, even if they’re doing “nothing.” Humans are innately curious and always trying to understand and figure out things around them. During this time, it’s important to realize that learning and teaching are two different things. And even if no one is teaching your kid, remember that they are always learning. They can’t stop.
Carve out 2–3 hour blocks of time where you can focus on work.
The idea here is quality, not quantity, of time. Maybe your block is only an hour, but if it’s a completely heads down, focused hour, that’s great. The ideal time to block out is when kids are sleeping. Remember when they were babies, and the advice was to nap when they napped? This is completely the opposite situation.
It’s OK if you can’t carve out a completely focused block (e.g., kids are always awake when you are). But create that block anyway and set the expectation for yourself that you’re going to put your work as the top priority during that block — and give your kids freedom and responsibility to entertain themselves in a non-destructive way (!) while you’re in your focused work zone. You will make the kids the priority during other blocks of time.
It’s realistic to get 1 of these blocks in per work day. You’ll still be able to do work at other times during the day, but it will be during distracted blocks. That’s totally OK. Just try to push all your meetings and calls into the focused block.
Make sure you have somewhere to get your work done during your focused work blocks with minimal distractions.
If you don’t have a separate room, create separation with headphones and/or visual cues like room dividers, plants, furniture, etc. Put up a sign that says “Do Not Disturb” or “Shhh! Parent Working!” right above your work area if you need to. Just make it clear that this is a (hopefully) no interruption zone.
Make sure your kids have somewhere to do their thing.
This can be a seat at the dining table, a corner of the living room, or even their bed. Some kids want/need a formal desk setup; that’s fine if they want that, but don’t push kids who are resistant to sitting at desks. That is not a battle worth fighting right now.
Create rhythms and routines vs hour-by-hour schedules.
Hour-by-hour schedules work in school or in offices, but not so well at home in the absence of external time pressures. Instead, think about blocks of time — focus time, collaborative time, free time. This gives you flexibility to adapt and respond while also providing some of the comforts of predictability and routine.
Here’s an example of how a day of working from home while homeschooling might look:
Triage and prioritize.
If your school is requiring assignments to be completed, don’t ignore them. But also give your kid and yourself a lot of grace if they don’t get everything done, or only partially done. If you find yourself getting into arguments about doing the work, let it go. Your kid — along with many of their classmates who also probably won’t get everything done — will sort it out when they go back to school.
Bottom line — prioritize maintaining your and your kids’ mental health at this time. This is an anxiety-filled, unsettling time for adults and kids. Pick your battles about what’s most important right now.
You and your kids will get through this. You’re stronger than you think.