Q: How do I balance homeschool and work life?

5 min

As if transitioning to working from home wasn’t enough. Let’s throw in some kids that are now homeschooled…and GO! It’s tough, we get it. You’re totally not alone in this.

Dear Ellie,

Currently my kids are being homeschooled. I would like some advice on how to balance home school with working.

Please help!

~ Working Mom in Minnesota

Jay, today’s Dear Ellie columnist, helps us remember what it’s all about:

Hey there Super Mom,

Laser answer: Take pressure off wherever you can, and for many of us, that begins by starting to take the pressure off of ourselves.

But, boy, that’s a tough question! I feel like it would be easier to tell you how we can achieve world peace than balancing this circus. Most of the parents I know feel that this time frame represents one of the most challenging and testing eras of their lives.

So let’s start there. This is hard. Real hard. Let’s not treat this situation we’ve been thrown into like some minor challenge. Let’s stop pretending like this is some test where we have to prove how courageous we are and that we need to “beat” this thing.

Literally every single parent I know has had one, if not multiple, breakdowns over the last year. And if you happen to be going through one right now, that’s ok. It’s ok to be broken.

Think about it for a minute. Reflect on how many people you know have suffered a breakdown during this period? I think part of the reason why balancing homeschooling and parenting is so hard, is that we’re treating this new world as if it’s in adjustment, an uncomfortable shift from how we used to live. It’s not.

It’s a whole new game. It’s a war. And some parents are in for the fight of their lives.

I get that I am making some broad generalizations here. My perspective and my advice today is not one-size-fits-all. I recognize that some families are doing quite well during the pandemic and that working from home and homeschooling has actually made their lives easier. This article is not for them. This article is for the families who are struggling.

So with that context, here’s my daunting advice on homeschooling and working from home: throw out all the rule books. We’re in a brave new world. If you’re struggling, look at your expectations. Are you fighting reality? My suspicion is that you’re carrying over the expectations of the old world into pandemic time. That ain’t gonna work.

As any parent knows, we could easily write a book on this topic (and ironically, I am), but the reality is that there’s only so much we can explore in one article. I’m offering a change in perspective; my invitation is to try it on, and if it feels like relief to you, then it’s probably the right answer.

Are you open to lowering your expectations? Our prior lives were often about optimizing. This year is not about optimizing. This year is about surviving while keeping your family intact and honoring your mental health to the best of your abilities. Don’t lose sight of the fact that in one form or another, we will never go back to life as we knew it; all of us have changed somehow, and our structures and values have changed as well. So what’s the use in getting dragged down by the old rules?! It’s time to create your own.

What does that mean in application? It means re-evaluating every time obligating and aspect of your life and paring it down to the bare minimum. Doing only what absolutely needs to be done.

That’s your new baseline.

You heard it here first: This is the year it’s just fine if your kid gets a C in school. Like I said, this year is not about optimizing. It’s my belief that as the leaders and role models of our families, as parents, our highest calling during this time should be in doing whatever needs to be done to create a safe, stable, and supportive container for the mental and emotional wellbeing of our children. What we have working against us are all of these unrealistic societal expectations around the “shoulds” of perfect parenting, while we simultaneously pursue professional and business growth.  It’s a recipe for disaster, and that’s exactly where many of us are right now.  So let go a little….

Think about it: we will intensely remember the struggle and despair of this past year for the rest of our lives.  People will be on barstools 40 years from now will be beginning faux nostalgic conversations with “I remember back in 2020…..”  If there’s ever been a year to stop trading illusions for our mental wellbeing, this is the year.  I don’t mean we should no longer try; by “illusions” I mean all of those things that we chase in the world that are bullshit, but we do it anyway–status, prestige, money, rank, etc.  Loosen your grip on them, even if only for a little bit.

I think we can all agree that the older we get, the more we realize the importance of learning emotional intelligence and mental well-being. Unburden yourself from society’s expectations. There’s lots of different types of learning.  My advice is to focus on what your children are learning about mental health: how to soothe and love themselves, and how to navigate their emotions as they move through life. 

What’s the best way to teach this? Model it.  And feel good about doing it. These are skills that all parents need more for themselves.  In practicing self-love over chasing achievement, we heal ourselves, we reduce the intensity of this time, and we serve our children on the one hand, by not hurting them via introducing additional pressures during this time, and on the other hand by teaching them the life skills not often taught in school.

If you’re lucky enough to have a grandparent in your life, or an elder you admire ask them what they would recommend you focus on during this time.  I’d also recommend meditating, and asking your future self what he or she thinks is the most important thing you need to focus on at this time.  Whatever you hear, that’s your answer.

I know you don’t need any more demands placed on you, but we need to own that our mental health is our responsibility.  If you’re struggling, the heaviness and sense of overwhelm is deeply exacerbated by the isolation.  Reach out to your fellow parents.  They understand you.  And yeah, I know you have a lot on your plate, but you gotta make the time.  This is the whole oxygen mask concept.  Make sure you connect.  (And I feel this is especially true for those stoics out there that are fine until they’re not).  Do it as an act of self-love that pays dividends to your children.   

Until the next time, I see you.  You’re doing a good job.  Although you might feel like you’re underperforming at work right now, know that your love, forgiveness of self, and fortitude is teaching your children all they need to know right now.  

And that’s something they might not have learned in school.

Much love,

Ellie + Jay

Jay Rooke

Jay doesn’t fit neatly into any category — he’s an entrepreneur, an “idea guy,” and a crazy creative father of twins that is woo-woo and spiritual, but still grounded in practical solutions. Think East Coast pragmatic meets West Coast progressive.


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