Working from home is the easy bit. Over the next week, parents will have to work, teach and nurse, all at the same time.
This is where years of working from home and working around school holidays comes into its own. Who would have thought what was a sticking plaster solution to high childcare fees, lack of holidays and lack of infrastructure generally would prove to be useful training for what we are facing now?
It’s not just the working from home or the working from home with children around, hard as that is and expert as many parents have had to become in doing just that, from squeezing the most from a child’s half hour nap to being able to remain professional in the midst of total pandemonium.
I could write a book on the different strategies I have used over the years, from locking myself in the bathroom, to very dramatic hand gestures to finishing a call from the garden rapidly while watching a toddler take a potty full of poo precariously up the stairs.
Over the years, my kids have learned that when I’m on a call, it is not the time to talk in detail and loudly about their bowel habits. At times only son has sat alongside me doing his ‘work’, playing computer games.
No, it’s not the working and looking after children that is the hardest thing – it’s the working from home with children around and having to do an extra shift as a teacher and potentially nurse.
Two years ago, around this time, I pulled daughter three out of school after bullying and a lack of general support. We had half a term of me trying to homeschool her while working then half a term of ‘internet school’. It wasn’t easy, but we did get through it and she did learn stuff.
For the homeschooling part, I was inundated with homeschooling resources – homeschooling is growing every day and there are lots of local support groups, even if you just want to pick their brains on how to teach geometry.
I got daughter three to stick more or less to the curriculum, but we took it as an opportunity to open up her knowledge and to explore things she was really interested in. So she read about women in history; in English she wrote essays about bullying and overcoming it; in geography she learned about climate change.
In the current situation, teachers are likely to send work home. Older children can probably teach themselves, but it’s always a good idea to go over what they are doing before they start and when they finish. With daughter three I used to keep to the school breaks and go through lessons at those points and at the end of the day.
Daughter three, who is renowned for her organisational skills, kept a folder where she colour-coordinated all her notes according to subject. In the bits when she was reading or doing exercises and early in the morning/in the evenings when my partner arrived I worked.
Of course, it is different with younger kids and with several kids to teach of different ages. It requires some sort of a routine and action plan.
One of the big issues is getting kids to be aware that they are not on some kind of massively extended holiday so putting in a routine early on and getting them to understand why they can’t just lounge around all day is vital – if not an easy task.
Pace yourself. Get the less fun stuff done early in the day – that’s what I do for work anyway… Psychologically it works.
Get older kids to help younger siblings; get them to write diaries – this period will be looked back on in history after all. Have a pause for a film or some form of exercise, even if it’s only a few sit-ups and stretches. Exercise is important and makes them concentrate better.
The sooner you get into a routine the easier it will be and don’t feel guilty about just getting through the week however you can.
It will, of course, be even harder if you also have to administer to sick people – whether kids or adults – and harder still if you yourself get ill. The only saving grace is that every other parent will be in much the same position, with more or less support around them. What’s more, remember that self-isolation doesn’t mean total isolation so take time to keep in touch with others – that is, if you have any time left over from working, teaching and caring – and make sure everyone in the family is on board and plays their part. This is a group effort. Institute school-like rewards systems at the end of the week and make sure you include yourself in the medals!