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Parent teaching youth with books

By Erin Wallace, Chief Communications Officer at Mental Health America

Oof. Where to begin? When I was asked if I could write this blog, my first reaction was “not without cursing.” To say it’s been hard is an enormous understatement. My two boys (2nd and 3rd graders) have been home for 12 days now – and their school here in Virginia is now closed through the end of the school year. My husband, who works an intense job for an international corporation, can count on one hand the days he has ever worked from home. Thankfully, I am used to working from home a few days a week – but oh my, not with my children and spouse under foot.

That said, while this situation is certainly unprecedented and stressful – we recognize that in our case, we come at it from an obvious point of privilege: Our jobs our secure. We have health insurance and the internet and a fridge full of food. We are currently healthy and crossing our fingers we all stay that way. So, while adjusting to working from home while simultaneously becoming teachers for our kids has been incredibly tricky, we know there are many, many people out there dealing with much worse.

So, I definitely don’t have all the answers. But here is what we’ve learned:

First, we are taking all of this one day at a time. My husband and I check in each night, lay out our work schedules for the following day, and come up with a plan of attack. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But we have simply agreed to do our best and adjust as we can.

As far as the kids’ education - as soon as schools started to close, social media blew up with advice from parents and teachers everywhere about structure and schedules and how to keep your kids on track. It was, in a word, overwhelming. I am a lot of things, but cut out to be a grade-school teacher? Nope. Also - how do you create structure at home with two very active and loud boys while both parents are attempting to work full-time, just a few feet away? With some serious flexibility, that’s how.

So, while we do have a school schedule for the kids and tag-team supervision, we are also letting them sleep in, stay in their pajamas all day if they want, and stay up later than usual. Soon, the school will be stepping in with distance learning, but how effective that will be is yet to be determined. We are also relying heavily on technology. Yes, we have worksheets and books – but sometimes science class is a video on cheetahs or the ocean. Homeschool Pop on YouTube has come in handy for math, history and music lessons. And some days we just throw up our hands and let them play Nintendo all day.

We also recognized quickly that before their education and our busy jobs – we needed to take care of not just our physical health but our mental health. My anxiety about all of this has been through the roof, and my husband is stressed out on the best of days. So, we’ve been paying extra attention to our sleep, our nutrition, practicing self-care, and carving out time to exercise. MHA has compiled some resources for parents and caregivers that have helped us talk about COVID-19 and ensure we are taking care of the kids’ overall mental health as well.

Finally, we are doing our best to look at the positive and to take the opportunity for family time, that under normal circumstances would be impossible with our schedules. So, while it is stressful – and only week 2 – we are trying to incorporate as much fun as we can to create family memories. We are doing daily bike rides, coloring together, having dance parties, watching movies, and challenging each other on Mario Kart.

Along with the rest of the world, we just have to wait and see what happens. But we are remembering to breathe, to give ourselves some grace, and to remember that the kids are alright. We will get through this.