For years, many of us have been sheltered from our kids’ worst days and academic frustrations. Now it’s front and center in our lives, draining us when we feel our buckets of sanity have long ran dry. Social media posts attempt to lighten the mood – with some new homeschool teachers remarking that 2020 was when they “learned how much liquor it takes to be a parent,” or admitting they never imagined “teaching elementary school math” would be the hardest part of battling a global pandemic. Other parents counted barefoot trampoline jumping as a great day of school, LEGOS as an acceptable extracurricular activity, and children hiding from their responsibilities behind locked bedroom doors as a win.
We don’t have to tell you that juggling homeschooling on top of every other household responsibility can feel like the dam’s levy blowing out. Yet, beneath your frustration, there is a beauty to sharing this fleeting time with your children. There is an opportunity to connect with your children as they learn and grow, to be the fly on the wall of their classroom experience, and to demonstrate how to exude grace under pressure even when it feels impossible.
If you’re having trouble seeing the silver lining and your day’s gone off the rails, consider a few of these ways to reconnect and ensure the day isn’t a total loss.
Give the gift of patience and surrender to the chaos. The day might be slower, messier, or less productive than you imagined, but it’s your child’s day, too. Patience can be the most meaningful gift you give. If you catch yourself dictating, slow yourself and trust your child’s burgeoning autonomy. Far too often, we jump in to solve problems, robbing our children of their ability to make mistakes, learn, and grow. As their confidence swells, so will the effectiveness of your days. Be fully present – making eye contact, truly listening, and asking questions about how your child would like to structure the day. Having a written schedule and sticker reward system can help your child see what to expect for the day and feel accomplished – but be sure to provide wiggle room for your child to choose the order.
Take a field trip. A change of scenery can be a real game-changer. Simply getting outside and into nature, no matter the weather, refreshes the mind and body. Study the changing leaves, count the acorns you find, try to guess which type of bird is singing. Walking leisurely, side by side, allows space for meaningful conversation. You can try asking an open-ended question and listening quietly to your child’s response, rather than lecturing or overriding their views. If possible, you may opt to visit the zoo, a local museum, or an apple-picking farm for your change of scenery.
Throw in the towel and make it a life skills day. Some days feel like trying to fit a square peg through a round hole. There are seven days in a homeschool week and enough flexibility built in that you can take extra time to catch up on the lessons when emotions aren’t running so high. Instead, take that anxious energy and apply it to scrubbing the floors, washing the car, tackling the laundry, sweeping out the garage, grooming the dog, organizing clothes for donation, and decluttering the toys. Save that batch of homemade cookies whipped up together as the sweet reward for a busy day of contributing to the household.
Reward perseverance with a moment of bliss. “If we can just get through this one task,” you might begin – and finish off by suggesting a feel-good activity you know your child will enjoy. For some kids, it could be an ice cream sundae or a movie night with popcorn. For others, it might be a warm bath or a tea party. Your family might enjoy playing a board game to unwind, building LEGOS and puzzles, or painting and crafting. It could be as simple as a piggyback ride, a wrestling match, a scavenger hunt, or a family dance party. In your downtime, make a list of high-value rewards to fall back upon for those difficult days.
Make time for one-on-one. One-on-one time doesn’t have to expend a lot of creativity or energy. When your child grows up, it will be the simple moments they remember with great fondness. Devote extra minutes for bedtime snuggling. Tell stories about your childhood or recall your favorite family memories while flipping through a photo album. Read your child’s favorite book. Imagine a homespun story, alternating every other line with your child or asking questions in a “choose your own adventure” style to encourage active participation.
Apologize and teach humility. Recognizing and owning your mistakes is a more powerful lesson than perfection. We are all lifelong learners. Letting your child see this fallible self can reassure your child about his or her own vulnerabilities and shows there is a path to redemption after a setback. Apologize gently and ask your child for advice on what you could have done differently in that moment. You may be surprised by a child’s capacity for wisdom!
A homeschool implosion doesn’t have to damage your relationship. As one four-year-old put it: “You can just take that part of your day and garbage it.” Staying connected with your child throughout their formative years and through adolescence requires the patience of the saint, commitment, and an open mind, but it is well worth the effort. One day, you’ll find your child is not just your progeny – but a true friend who reflects back all the kindness you’ve poured in over the years.