The Pandemic Balancing Act: Juggling Parenting, Teaching, and Work is a Challenge for Families

May 29, 2020
By: Nancy Sheehan

Are you feeling extra stressed these days working from home and trying to help your kids with their schoolwork at the same time? You’re not alone. Even education professionals find this pandemic-spawned balancing act to be a challenge.

Pam Hollander, Ph.D., associate professor of education, knows what it’s like. As a working educator and a parent of a 10-year-old and 17-year-old, she tries to help her children participate in online learning while she also does her own work online.

“It’s tough trying to balance helping my children and doing my own work,” says Hollander, who has been working remotely since March along with most faculty and staff. “On the face of it, we all have found our own spaces and my children can be very engrossed in their own work. But my 10-year-old son’s work doesn’t last all day—as it shouldn’t—so there are times when he is looking for one of us, struggling to figure out what to do with his time if the rest of us are still working.”

Similarly, her 17-year-old daughter is often working independently for hours, but then there are times when she wants Hollander to take a walk with her or just talk. “So, although I work as much as I can, I feel, like I’m sure many parents do, that I need to take time out from my work to spend time with my children when they need me. After all, my children do not get to talk with or play with their friends, who they used to see every day.”

Stuck-at-home activities have ranged from the fruitful to the divertingly frivolous, she says. “I’ve played Mastermind, made cookies, watched episodes of the new Mindy Kaling show on Netflix, and taken walks in the middle of the day with my kids, and sometimes I’m able to appreciate how good this probably is for me too. Other times, I am thinking about things I need to get done.”

The remote learning experience is as demanding for teachers as it is for families, says Audrey Ratliff ’19, who teaches second-grade English Language Arts and Social Studies at May Street School. “I’m working harder than I ever have,” she says.

Throughout the day, the students submit online writing, projects, interviews, videos, and other assignments. Ratliff tries to give feedback to each student daily, using the virtual meeting platforms that have recently become such a big part of our lives.

“I try to meet with the students daily on Google Meet, where I am able to virtually see their smiling faces and personalities that I miss so much,” she says. “I spend a large portion of my day simply checking in on families and making sure they are doing well during these hard times. Sometimes a text, call, email, or a listening ear is all the families need.”

If Ratliff could gather all the parents of her students together and give them advice on how to best help out in this situation, what would she say?

“I would tell them ‘You’re doing enough. Just be there,’” she says. “Most of these families are still working full time while taking on the role of teacher. That in and of itself is beyond admirable. Reach out to your student’s teacher if you are struggling, or if the material isn’t making sense. If you didn’t have time to help your student today, I understand. You are doing enough. We are beyond happy to help. If I can take the load off for one parent and help a student, that’s a success to me.”

Hollander also offers some tips for parents seeking to strike a balance between work and restorative recreation for their children. “Depending on the age of their children and their situation, people may have more or less time to focus on their children’s online work, but even if their child is pretty independent, a few ‘specials’ could be incorporated into that independent schedule,” she says.

Here are a few motivational ideas she likes as an educator and as a parent:

  1. Spirit Week: How about a week where your child and some classmates or friends check in before working, or even while doing work, for “Crazy Hat Day,” “Backwards Day,” “Stuffy Day,” “Pajama Day,” or “Costume Day”?
  2. Break dancing: Holander says taking breaks from independent schoolwork every half hour is about right. Why not look for some good kid-friendly physically active videos like videos you can do karate, stretching, jumping jacks, dance, or tai chi to and do one every half hour or every other half hour?
  3. Virtual guests: Pool your resources to expose children to cool subjects and jobs. Have your friend or classmate’s parent who has a cool job or hobby do an educational guest presentation to a bunch of classmates or friends online.
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