Though at this point, most of us are tired of using the word ‘unprecedented’, it’s really the best way to describe the academic school year of 2020.

After schools were shuttered in March and April, challenging parents to take on the additional title of ‘teacher’ in the middle of a pandemic, the fall presents even more opportunities. Would the classrooms open? Was it safe — or silly? Would instructors and pupils be protected?

Parents around the country had tough decisions to make regarding sending their children back to school, choosing to homeschool them, or a mixture of both.

If you are still on the fence determining the best route for your family, take inspiration from these working parents on how they navigated this stressful situation:

“Try to give yourself a break.”

Vanessa Quigley, the co-founder of Chatbooks is the mom to seven kiddos — three of which are still at home. After weighing the risks of their kids’ mental health with the physical danger of the exposure to COVID-19, Vanessa and her husband Nate decided to send their children back to school. “We’ve found that the social interaction is critical for their sanity — our teenagers aren’t necessarily loving being with mom and dad all day — but also for their mental and emotional well-being, even from six feet apart,” she shared. Their school district has decided on half-days, so they will still be balancing work with childcare in the afternoons. 

For parents who are trying to do what’s best for their children, Vanessa says it’s important to be kind to yourself, and remember, no one can do it all, and no one gets it right 100 percent of the time, either. 

“Do what is best for you and your family.”

When deciding how to approach the school year with a first grader and a pre-kindergartener, Laura Maddox, the owner of Magnolia Celebrates explored many options. In the end, they decided to send their younger to a private PreK program, that’s honoring robust safety protocols, including separate air filtration systems for each class and no cross-contamination between classes. This means even the playgrounds are wiped down between outdoor playtimes. “We feel comfortable sending her there, and we also have enough money in non-refundable deposits with them from various canceled summer activities that we financially don’t think it makes sense to have her go elsewhere when they are the most stringent in protocols in the area,” she explained.

For their oldest, he’s joining a learning pod with five other first graders in the neighborhood, led by a teacher. Each week, the families will rotate who hosts at their home, so children get a change of scenery, and no parent is fully responsible for all kids, all the time. 

No matter what you decide to do for your kids, Maddox says it’s vital to stay true to what feels and works the best for your dynamic. “Weigh the options and then stick to your decision as long as it’s working for you. None of us have done this before, none of us are experts on how to make pandemic learning work or work well, but we need to move forward,” she continues. “So be flexible, malleable as you learn as you go, but find an option that works for you and your family and go for it.”

“Designate a spot for school in your home.”

Debra Griffin’s son, Bryce, is entering the eighth grade this fall in Louisville, Kentucky. The public school system in this region is offering online instruction for the first six weeks of school, and then they will evaluate opening traditional learning in-person. Griffin decided to join a group of moms who hired a STEM teacher to visit their homes once a week to help their five sons. “The boys are super into STEM, and we don’t want them to fall behind in that area,” Griffin continues. “We also want to keep them challenged and energized, and give them something to look forward to that involves socialization.”

After some trial and error, Griffin discovered the key to keeping Bryce engaged at home isn’t so different from what helps many remote professionals remain productive: designed workspaces. While Bryce is fortunate to have a computer and desk in his room, Griffins says a dining table, a guest room, etc. can work as long as it is quiet and seen as the ‘school’ area. “It’s important to follow a regular routine of waking up, getting dressed and committing to work the same hours that would be done if they were physically in school,” she adds.

“You can’t do everything — and that’s okay!”

Nora Sheils is not only the founder of Bridal Bliss and the co-founder of Rock Paper Coin, but a mom of two boys, as well. Her youngest’s preschool school has postponed their opening until November 1, but the oldest son’s schools as meant to open until the state of Oregon changed the mandates. Now, Sheils says it’s near-impossible for them to welcome kids back into the classroom. While she was prepared to allow him to return school, she will be doing distance learning until the district finds a solution. “If the school does open — fingers and toes crossed — we fully intend to send him. They are following all precautions, and we as parents and Gavin as a student are comfortable with the new normal will be,” she continues. “Gavin is very social: he misses his friends, the structure of a classroom, and I’m sure would be getting a better education with a teacher rather than at home.”

If you are still wondering how you’re going to keep all of your balls in the air, Sheils says it’s important to take heart, knowing you’re not alone. And more to the point: you can’t do everything. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone is struggling. We’ve been placed in a lose-lose situation, and all we can do is hope and pray that life returns to some sort of normal sooner rather than later,” she shares. “Emotions are running high, and this is not only difficult for us as parents, but also for our children. My family comes first, so if that means I have to stay up until the wee hours and wake up while it is still quiet, I will do that.”

“Try to be flexible — and don’t forget to breathe.”

When the school opened up for Tricia Kent’s eight-grade daughter Alexandria, parents were given three options. They could attend school as usual, with all safety precautions intact, they could do distance-learning with the same school hours, or they could do distance-learning with the occasional mandatory visit to the school for labs or tests. The Kent family decided on the latter route, so Alexandria could remain safe in the hotbed of Florida, while also seeing friends occasionally. In nine weeks, they can decide on another option, should the situation change.

How can parents cope? Kent says by breathing and taking every day as it comes. “If you work-from-home and have a bit of flexibility with your hours, try getting up earlier to get work done or staying up later at night as it may free up some of your time to help your child out if they need it,” she continues. “Also, drink lots of wine—ha!” 

“Have confidence in your choices.”

Amanda could never have predicted how sending her kindergarten to school would go. But when her son Konnor’s district explored reopening plans, they decided to launch a program called launchED. Daily, he will log-in from home during school hours for a live instruction from a teacher. Because they live in a COVID-19 hot zone, they felt it was the safest approach. Because Amanda and her husband both work remotely, they have the flexibility to support him through this transition. She challenges all parents to believe in what they think is best — and stick to it. “No matter what decisions you make regarding schooling, parenting, your career, your health, and your family—the very fact that you put a lot of thought into your choices is proof that you made the right decision,” she continues. “It gets better when you stop fighting the situation that we’re in and accept our new reality.”

“Set clear boundaries.”

As the mom to a second-grader and full-time business owner, Meghan Ely had to decide what level of risk she was comfortable with as the school year arrived. For now, their county is hosting virtual school for nine weeks after cases started rising in the area. Since Ely and her husband work remotely and have flexibility with their jobs, and their son has ADHD, being able to all be home together is preferable currently. “I felt given the circumstances, that it made more sense to commit to virtual and have a steady understanding of our day-to-day versus sending him in and running the risk of having to stop everything suddenly because of a required quarantine,” she shared. 

For others who are determining their dynamics, Ely says scheduling is an effective tool for two working parents. “If possible, set clear work hours and put boundaries around it. Because we’re in the fortunate position of being able to work from home, my husband and I have essentially set up assigned work shifts, so it’s clear who is working and when,” she continues. “While there is some level of flexibility, we do our best to stay committed to it because it helps our clients and colleagues set meetings with us.”

Originally published on The Ladders.

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