How can working parents best face up to the potential issues raised by coronavirus?
What happens if the schools and nurseries close during the coronavirus outbreak, and for a long time? What are your options if your usual back-up or your first line support is grandparents? What happens if you don’t have the money to pay for nannies or babysitters if you have to work from home? And how do you support elderly relatives if you and your kids are still at risk of exposure to the virus? These are the questions many people are debating this week as it looks likely that older people will be asked to self isolate for potentially months in the next days.
The coronavirus is going to put enormous demands on society generally and it is very clear that everyone will have to alter their behaviour and look out for each other in the coming weeks/months.
When it comes to parents who are working from home, there are several logistical issues. If the schools/nurseries are still open, but you are in self isolation how do you drop and pick up your kids? It will come down to neighbours, friends and school connections. Ask your school/nurseries if they know of anyone organising anything, start organising class whatsapp groups if you aren’t on one already, get connected.
If you have to homeschool your kids and work: be under no illusions that this is hard. It will depend on your children’s ages, the number of children you have, your children’s need for support, whether there are two parents at home who can alternate duties etc. Older kids can help younger ones with peer learning. Much information is available online, including links to home schooling support groups, and your children’s school will probably organise for work to be sent over. But what if you don’t have sufficient laptops? You may have to do things in shifts or, again, collaborate with friends and neighbours. Community is going to come into its own.
It is very difficult to homeschool while simultaneously working so you are likely to have to do shifts, working around homeschooling. There may be work you can set your child which frees you up to do some of your own work – tasks like reading comprehensions, etc. Once you have explained the basics, they can do some exercises on their own and then you can go through them with them, for instance. This may be difficult the older your children are, but hopefully their teachers will send links to online resources.
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For people with toddlers and babies: working while juggling childcare is extremely difficult. Many women who start their own businesses from home do it, but it involves taking advantage of any sleep or down times to do work and working odd hours around childcare eg early mornings and late evenings, although you don’t want to overdo this as sleep is vital for health. You will find yourself getting very good at focusing very quickly and getting a lot done in a very short time period. Use the time when kids are sleeping/glued to a film [do NOT feel guilty about the latter] to get the tasks which require most mental concentration done. Things like checking emails can be done more easily with children around. For calls, use the mute button judiciously and see if you can get someone in to help out.
Generally, the more you can club together with other parents in the same boat – if they don’t have the virus – the easier it will be. That means organising informal childcare or school run networks with a couple of friends. Again connecting with other parents is key. Everyone is going to be in this together. You can’t get financial support for informal childcare eg tax credits, etc – and money should not change hands for younger kids. Ofsted rules state that friends cannot gain a reward for looking after a child aged under eight for more than two hours outside their home without being registered. A friend will, however, not need to be registered if the children are all aged over eight, if they are looking after the children in their own home or if the care is for less than two hours a day.
All of the above requires good powers of organisation so strategising ahead is a good idea.
For elderly relatives, it is important to ensure they have enough food [ordering online well ahead of need as online ordering slots may get full] and to keep in regular contact. If they live nearby, you can deliver food and check they are okay, maintaining your distance to ensure they are not infected [see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_distancing]. There may also be local volunteers you or they can contact via the council or other bodies, such as Age UK. Try and organise some sort of local back-up if you don’t live nearby as well as access to information in case things change and health service helplines are overwhelmed. This will also give you peace of mind.