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A parent’s survival guide for at-home learning

By Maggie Brown | August 20, 2020 | 4 min read | Healthy Lifestyle, Coronavirus

Mom works on laptop next to son

Parents, it’s okay to admit it if you’re struggling.

My kids started back to school on Aug. 5. As with most public schools in North Carolina, they are remote for at least the first nine weeks due to COVID-19. At the time of this writing, they have been in “school” for 10 days. And let me be honest with you guys, it’s been hard.

School feels vastly more organized than this spring, when we were thrust headfirst into this situation. I’m thankful for that. Their teachers are smart and engaging, and the curriculum is rich, so I’m also grateful for that. My kindergartner has been enjoying her virtual “Circle Time” each morning and adorably raises her hand to answer questions. Everyone from school administrators to teachers to parents to students are all doing our best.

But it’s still been hard.

I’m in a constant state of multi-tasking. I’m afraid of forgetting a Zoom meeting. I’m afraid I’ll have to hand-hold my son through his multiple hours of schoolwork every day. I’m afraid that my daughter will fall behind academically and socially, being the first COVID kindergarten class. I’m afraid of falling behind at work. And I’m afraid that all of this will have a lasting effect on all of us.

Which it will.

But it doesn’t have to be a negative effect. It can be filled with those tiny silver threads (not linings) that people have been talking about throughout COVID. I think it just may take me another few weeks to figure those out. Or maybe longer. I’ll keep you posted.

I also know that I’m one of the lucky ones who still has a job and a roof and my health, support systems, and the ability to pay for afternoon childcare for my kindergartner. I am aware of my privilege. Yet this is still hard. I want all of you to know – it’s okay to say it out loud if you’re struggling.

I have had a little bit of a head start on this journey as my kids are at a charter school and started two weeks before our local public school systems. I’ve put a lot of thought into what kind of advice I could give my fellow parents about this experience. Here goes.

Little girl doing virtual school on her laptop
little boy at virtual school workstation

First, give yourself grace.

And give your kids grace. Things will not go smoothly on day one, or even for a few weeks. There may be technical glitches. You may miss a Zoom call (or three). You may get frustrated and want to lock yourself in your room and scream and cry. You may look at your fifth grader’s math assignment and break out into a cold sweat. And that’s okay. This is elementary school (or middle or high school) and not the Hunger Games. Or, actually maybe it is – with the ultimate goal of just getting through the day. Bonus points for anything else. And remember that millions of American parents of school-age kids are dealing with the same or similar situation.

Set a (realistic) routine.

I have diagnosed ADD, and time management and routine have never been my strong suit. The color-coded charts that people were posting on social media in the spring may have worked for them, but they just made me feel anxious. So my routine is simple: Try and wake up at the same time every day, walk the dog, eat breakfast, and get the kids started on their school work. After this, it gets a little wonky. I haven’t quite figured out yet how to be in three places at once (with my daughter, with my son, and in front of my work laptop), so I’ll get back to you on that.

One thing that has helped me as I attempt to multi-task: I have multiple reminders set for the kids’ Zoom calls (on my work calendar, personal calendar, smart watch, and smart speakers).

Talk to your boss.

My manager has similar-aged kids and is going through this also, so she gets it. Before school started, I presented a schedule to my boss that showed that I could still work roughly the same number of hours per week, but that it’d shift slightly. That schedule has proved to be a bit too idealistic, so we’ll revisit it in our next one-on-one conversation.

Point is – if you’re a working parent, keep the lines of communication open and honest. If you can’t get something done during normal working hours, ask for flexibility and understanding, and get it done when you can. Ask for temporarily reduced hours, if needed.

You may also want to ask your manager about mental health resources your company provides. At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, we have an Employee Assistance Program. That means we can talk to a counselor for free about anything that’s causing stress. Many companies offer similar programs, so talk to your boss about what’s available to you.

Ask for help.

Ask for help in any way, shape or form that you can get it. For me, it’s sending my daughter to daycare in the afternoons and having a math tutor for my son twice a week (who happens to be my nephew who is tutoring for free, bless him). I’ve looked into additional options, but they all come with some extra level of expense, inconvenience, and risk. Some organizations (such as the YMCA) are offering virtual learning assistance. Find what works for your budget, schedule and comfort level, and go for it.

Take care of yourself.

It sounds cliché to say to put your own oxygen mask on first, but I just said it anyway. You have to take care of yourself if you’re going to be able to deal with the stress of remote school and everything else on your plate.

We joke about how Mommy Needs Her Wine and how we’ve all gained the “COVID 15” from eating snacks all day. But now is the time to take a hard, honest look at your exercise, diet, drinking and sleeping habits and if they’re serving you well. If they’re not, make small, realistic changes. Start therapy, virtually, if you need to. Don’t feel guilty for putting yourself first now and again – you have to.

So that, my friends, is my two cents, from someone who’s been on this virtual school journey for a few weeks. Good luck to you all. I’d love to hear your ideas. Email me at