Student Parents: Balancing School, Work, & Child Care During COVID-19
Working From Home With Kids
With schools and child care facilities shutting down or moving to online instruction due to COVID-19, working from home with kids has become a daily struggle for parents. Add in working toward a certification program or online classes of your own, and you’ve got a jam-packed schedule and a recipe for burnout.
If you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day or there’s simply no way you can get everything done, don’t worry; you’re not alone in this struggle. While there may not be a perfect solution to excel in your new hybrid role of student, full-time educator, and employee, here are some tips to navigate these uncharted waters and survive this time at home with your kids.
Tips for Homeschooling and Working Full-Time
Working a full 40-hour work week and homeschooling kids is something most parents aren’t trained or equipped to do. Even experienced project managers have to learn how to manage their home and their kids, plus working in study time of their own. One of the first things you should do is shift your mindset. This means you need to redefine what success looks like and restructure your schedule to save your sanity.
At Home With Kids? Ditch Your Expectations
What does a typical work day look like for you? Depending on your industry, you likely have a mix of meetings and heads-down work time. With the kids at home, you have to expect that your productivity is going to decrease. You may get some work in while the kids are occupied with an assignment or lesson plan, but what about the downtime between classroom instruction, or when they want a snack, your attention, or are simply just bored?
If you have younger kids who require more supervision, you can expect your normal work day to go by the wayside. With all of these distractions, you need to make sure you reset your own expectations of productivity and ensure that you communicate this to your team(s) and your manager.
Set up a video meeting with your boss. Let them know what’s going on at home, when you’re able to work, and what you’re able to do. Which tasks can you delegate to another employee or team? What times are you available during the day for conference calls or Zoom meetings? Are there any internal meetings you can shift to work around your kids and/or partner’s schedule? You may be able to find a system that works for you, but you need to communicate with your team members so they understand how your work day and workload will change during stay-at-home orders.
These same principles apply to your degree or certification program. What is feasible for you right now in your current situation? You may have had a couple of hours to study each night in the past, and now that time may be carved in half. You may also want to try breaking your study time up into smaller chunks. While you may prefer dedicated time to complete your assignments, right now you may have to settle for completing your school work in periodic intervals. While this may not be your ideal method of study, it’s better than completely falling behind during this stressful time.
Develop a Work-From-Home Schedule
With the kids home and one or both parents managing their school schedule, you will likely need to ditch the normal 9-to-5 workday. While there will inevitably be some unforeseen circumstances, try to establish some level of normalcy by developing a consistent work-from-home schedule and carving out any remaining time to study. Establishing a routine can also give your child consistency and security.
If you’re taking college courses or are enrolled in a certificate program, this will also affect when you can get your school work done. Talk to an administrator about class schedules and assignments. They may be able to help you come up with a solution, as many full-time working parents are in the same boat.
Maybe you have the kids for an hour in the morning while your husband or wife tackles the mission critical items on his or her to-do list. After that, switch so you can have some peace and quiet for your meetings or to tackle your workload. Can one of you take a break in the afternoon to take the kids outside and give them time to burn off some energy? Don’t just play it by ear each day; work this into your schedule.
When do your kids have classroom sessions? If they can handle those without your help, that may give you some additional time to be productive. As much as you may want to avoid working late nights and weekends, it may be a temporary requirement to make up anything you’re not able to tackle during the work week, or devote this time to completing coursework.
Single parents face the added challenge of completing work and helping kids with their schoolwork on their own. This is when you really need to communicate with your manager and teams about what’s feasible. If your kids are old enough, talk to them about how they can help you by giving you some quiet time when you need it. Reassure them that you will spend time with them after you complete your work. For younger kids, squeeze in work time during naps or find age-appropriate activities that allow you to work for short periods of time. The same method won’t work for every parent and kid, so you’ll have to be flexible and figure out what works best for you.
Rethink Screen Time Rules While Working From Home With Kids
While the American Pediatric Association offers guidelines on screen time for kids, these recommendations were written in a pre-pandemic world. If you need to hand your kid your iPad so you can get through a 30-minute conference call or get an assignment for your online class done with no tears or screams, cut yourself some slack.
What other parenting “rules” can you modify right now to make things a little easier on yourself? Maybe you let your child play a game or do an activity they enjoy in exchange for some quiet time. You do not have to ditch all of your parenting principles, but are there small compromises you can make that will serve as temporary solutions?
Remember, right now you’re in survival mode. Do what you can to keep the peace and keep the kids safe. Throw out your ideas of perfectionism; you’re doing the best you can in a no-win situation.
Ask for Help
While child care options may be limited during social distancing, who can you lean on for help and support during this time? Be honest and communicative with your partner so you’re both aware of what the other person can handle, what you each may be struggling with, and how you can help one another. Are there any family members who can help watch the kids during work hours or while you get your own coursework done? Do you have any team members who can help you manage your workload or take anything off your plate? Now isn’t the time to be prideful; ask for help when you need it.
Remember You’re Not Alone
As much as you’d like to keep up appearances that you can flawlessly manage your education, working from home with kids, and your kids’ schoolwork, understand that you simply cannot do all of these jobs perfectly, and you’re not in this alone.
As of mid March, 32.5 million public school students are now at home during the work day. So, instead of being embarrassed the next time your son or daughter bursts in during a Zoom call, be open with meeting attendees and ask if you can turn your camera off to minimize distractions. Chances are, someone else on the line is dealing with a similar situation, and you may be able to embrace a moment of parenting solidarity.
Give Yourself a Break
Even with a consistent routine and a work-from-home schedule, there will be days where you feel burnt out and like you simply can’t do it all. While you may try your best to not take your frustrations out on your children, there may be times where you lose your temper or raise your voice. Although you may be using weekend time to study or get work done, don’t forget to also plan some family time to enjoy each other’s company. At the end of the day, remember: you love each other and you’re all on the same team.
COVID-19 has created many new challenges for student parents. The online programs from National University were created with remote learners in mind. Reputable instructors can help support you during this time as you work towards your degree while working from home with kids. Talk to your professor or an advisor about the best way to continue your studies during this time. For more information and helpful tips, check out our resources page.
Although no one can say for sure when shelter-in-place orders will be lifted, one day you’ll look back on this time and realize you made it through and completed your degree, one imperfect day at a time.