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Combining working from home with homeschooling: 5 guiding principles


April 22, 2020

Homeschooling plus working from home equals compromise

Kids kicking the s**t out of each other (never mind the house), incessant demands for food, endless meal prep, tidying, cleaning and laundry on repeat. And a homeschool syllabus to teach. Oh, and why not chuck in some work deadlines too? Sound familiar?

There’s no doubt that combining homeschooling and working from home is seriously tricky. And there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to navigating it. But I think there are five things that will be true for most people in this new lockdown reality:

  • Exercise and fresh air are essential
  • Screen time is necessary
  • Some semblance of routine is advisable
  • The ramping-up of domestic drudgery is unavoidable
  • Impact on your work capacity is inevitable

To get through this, compromise is needed. Something's got to give. Make that two things: the homeschooling timetable and how, when and where you work (what Hoxby calls workstyle).

Realistically, it’s not going to be possible to replicate a full curriculum during this period, so give yourself permission to accept this. Nor will it be possible to over-promise or over-deliver when it comes to work, so be honest with yourself (and your boss) and don’t attempt to.

Ideas for combining homeschooling and working from home

As difficult and downright frightening as these circumstances are, I think the lockdown is also an opportunity. This is a chance for parents and kids to learn from each other, to deepen our bond and usher in some habits and principles that could help our family units to thrive, long after this pandemic has passed.

Here are my five guiding principles for finding a way through our new homeschooling/working from home reality.

#1 ‘Fill your cup’ and look after yourself

As parents, we often put our own needs last, but in order to be emotionally available for our families, we have to make sure we prioritise ourselves at some point every day. A little bit of self-care is nothing to feel guilty about. In fact now more than ever, it’s mandatory.

Fielding the emotional and practical demands of children can be mentally and physically exhausting on a good day. It can feel suffocating to be so relentlessly put-upon, especially at a time when many children will be even more emotionally needy than usual.

Add financial insecurity, open-ended school closures, reduced scope for outdoor play, fewer opportunities for socialisation and creativity, and cramped living conditions, and everyone’s stress levels spike.

You must ‘fill your cup’ in order to be there for your family. Each day, do at least one thing for yourself, whether it’s an online workout, a brisk walk, a moment of meditation, a phone call with a friend, a deep hot bath in the evening. Even better, all of the above. Being kind to yourself will give you the strength to stay calm.

Remember, if your cup runs dry, you’ll have no emotional energy left to give to others.

#2 Shift your day

Hands up if an extra 12 hours a week of pure unadulterated work time would massively improve your productivity (never mind your anxiety levels and your patience with the kids). Thought so.

But how? Well, there’s a catch, it’s not exactly extra time, more like reallocated time. Those 12 glorious hours a week are yours for the taking if you’re prepared to shift your day and recalibrate when you work. So, for example, assuming the kids surface around 7am, if you can get up before 5am, you stand to gain about two hours a day of completely uninterrupted headspace.

Of course, when you fit in those extra hours may depend on when you’re at your best. You can snatch moments during the day and pack work into the evenings too. I favour mornings, because after a day of child-wrangling, by the time I’ve put them in bed and tidied the debris, it can feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

Of course, gaining two hours at the start of each day is going to mean losing two hours at the end of each day (if you still want enough sleep). Under normal circumstances, this could herald a serious curtailment of your lifestyle. But herein lies the silver lining of social isolation – all FOMO has been extinguished. Covid-19 has stifled our social lives – so you have to ask yourself, is an early night really going to feel like that much of a loss?

Even if you don’t have a deadline to hit, those extra hours could give you the bit of ‘you time’ you’re missing. Just imagine the luxury of a dawn meditation, gentle yoga practice, or contemplative coffee (a literal and metaphorical ‘fill your cup’ moment).

#3 Empower the kids

In these extraordinary circumstances, teamwork is integral to household harmony – everyone needs to play their part.

One way to motivate kids and help them feel part of the team is to involve them in some of the decision-making and give them choices: Hide-and-seek indoors or Swingball outside? Reading or handwriting practice? Simple concessions like these will help encourage a sense of ownership and a collaborative atmosphere.

You could also ask the kids for input on the homeschooling schedule and review it every day with them until you’re all in agreement that it works well. Try to make some of the play and learning a two-way street and don’t be so wedded to your schedule that you fail to hear what’s going on around you.

Allowing children autonomy and independence encourages them to be engaged and motivated learners. So you could even go a step further and give your kids a chance to be the teacher.

For example, suggest they become an expert on a topic of their choice and then ask them to give you (or their siblings) a lesson about it. You’ll need to help them get set up to research the topic, but once they’re armed with some facts and inspiration, they should be able to go off and complete a little bit of age-appropriate independent work.

And the kids could give you a helping hand too. If you’re cooking, cleaning, gardening, doing laundry, paying bills online or doing administrative work, the children can help. Put the effort in at the start to explain and demonstrate how things are done and slowly but surely your children will learn to take an active role in keeping the household running smoothly. Welcome to the school of life, kids.

#4 Embrace proximity

What do you do about the fact the kids always seem to be under your feet? Well, as much as you might feel like barricading yourself in a cupboard, right now we have no choice but to embrace proximity.

Make the kids feel included in this working-from-home malarkey. For example, by setting them up with some school work alongside you at the kitchen table. You could also offer constructive screen time opportunities while you’re tapping away on your laptop. Or perhaps suggest the older ones video call a friend and draw portraits of each other.

While it’s not possible to completely avoid interruptions to your work, there are ways in which to lessen the chances of having a bum-wipe request broadcast over your video meeting. So set the kids up with an activity (and a plan B) before you start. And don’t forget to lavish praise on them whenever they try hard to respect your working time.

#5 Don’t aim for perfection

I’d like to end with a little reminder that these are extraordinary times and all you can do in them is your best. Don’t compare yourself to others and remember, it doesn’t benefit anyone to aspire to ‘perfection’.

British paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the phrase ‘good enough parent’ after his extensive studies showed that babies and children actually benefited when their primary caretakers failed them in ‘tolerable’ ways on a regular basis. This helps them build the resilience they need to live in an imperfect world.

There will be good days and there will be not-so-good days, both for us and for our kids – and that’s just life, coronavirus or not.

Alex Ashcroft is an editorial consultant and part of the Hoxby community.

Read our ideas for looking after your mental health while remote working during the coronavirus pandemic.

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