Full disclosure: I do not have a master’s degree in education. I am not a teacher, a coach, a psychologist, a nurse or an IT professional. Yet, like many others who are fortunate enough to call themselves parents, I step in and try to fill those roles occasionally for Bridget, my 6-year-old daughter.
During these days of school closings and stay-at-home orders imposed by COVID-19 fears, occasionally has become always. And the idea that I must be all of those people is accompanied by a certain degree of anxiety, sleeplessness and insecurity. Will I do a good job? What am I doing wrong? How can I improve on that tomorrow? Will I be able to get any work done with her being out of school?
The classic parenting book “Positive Discipline” by Jane Nelsen is a great resource but, let’s face it, remembering all its lessons can be extremely difficult in the heat of battle.
For single parents like me, the challenges are multiplied. Being the only person responsible for paying bills, wiping noses, cooking and cleaning, doing laundry, landscaping and home maintenance can be taxing. The days can roll by pretty darn fast.
Having children suddenly out of school for an extended period presents a number of difficulties, even for those who are fortunate enough to be stay-at-home parents. It is not ideal for the children to get a break from the daily routine of school and the guidance from the professionals there. Personally, I would rather just be responsible for making sure my daughter has fun, furthers her education outside of school, learns new sports, and finds new books at the library.
Finding time to help with her new responsibilities in the online classroom isn’t always easy. As a freelance writer, having a comfortable, quiet place to work is essential for my concentration. Without it, everything takes twice as long. The fact that writers like Hemingway and Bukowski and Fitzgerald and Thompson were able to do what they did despite their problems with drugs and alcohol never ceases to amaze me, but I digress.
Tackling work responsibilities from home while being responsible for serving the educational and emotional needs of a child can feel impossible at times, and I know I am not the only one facing that right now. For those who are suddenly unemployed due to a temporary slowdown or a business closure, there is another layer of tension.
Trying to put on a happy face while managing the stress of paying bills is something I fail at miserably sometimes. I can’t just say no to a client because it could affect how often we eat. But is that what’s best for my daughter? It is heartbreaking when I tell her I can’t play or do anything else because I have to work so we can have money, so we can go to the grocery store.
As I wrote to her teacher recently, the learning applications our children are being forced to navigate should not require so much parental involvement. Having to act as a teacher/IT expert is a huge disruption, and something I’m woefully unqualified to do. Modern technology is great — until it isn’t. Helping my daughter install and understand the nuances of the various online applications she must use has been a trickier proposition than I would care to admit. Truthfully, it’s been a frustrating exercise and has eaten up hours in the day that I don’t have.
However, I’m impressed by the options students have these days. Applications and learning-based games such as Reflex math, Raz-Kids, Seesaw, PBS Kids and the online public library are incredible resources that were barely even dreamed about when I was a kid, and I often wonder what our world would be like if the technology had been around sooner. This gives me hope for the future, since our kids are the next generation of superstars.
Certainly, on some days I am not the dad I want to be. I often fall short in my new roles. I hope our amazing teachers will soon be back in the classroom, doing what they do best. To say they are an extremely dedicated, overworked and underpaid segment is an understatement — an idea that is reinforced each time school is not in session.
Another idea that alleviates some of the anxiety is, in the grand scheme of things, regressing at school is not the worst possible outcome. There is no need to get mad at a child for not wanting to do their reading or follow a schedule. Their incredible teachers will quickly find a way to course correct and get them where they need to be.
The feelings that our children are experiencing during this time will stay with them through the years, much more than lessons or academics. Being available to serve their mental and emotional needs is the most important thing we can do.
I hope this simple idea will serve as a beacon and guidepost, or at least an anxiety-reliever, to other parents who are struggling to be the best possible version of themselves for their kids.