Nothing brings out the ultra-competitive side of parenting like a killer virus forcing us to homeschool. Amanda Cassidy on the one-upmanship that surrounds education at home
We all need a little routine in our lives. On that, we can agree. But when the schools and offices closed and we all ended up stuck in a work-homework bubble of hell, little did we think that it would be Mary on the school's WhatsApp group that would finally set us over the edge.
"Martha (8) is doing 3 hours of schoolwork in the morning, a break for yoga, then lunch and then we are doing the life-cycle of a frog, a project on the Aztecs, an audiobook, a HIIT class and an essay on being grateful."
Other communications from parents include a detailed, color-coded timetable from one poor soul with every hour of the day tied up with categories like Buildings Around Me, Making a Sock Puppet, Flash Cards, Word of the Day and The Capacity of Containers.
And these are for 7-9-year-olds.
Apps and links and websites are being flung around like homeschooling confetti and it is creating pressure on parents also struggling to work, to mind elderly parents, to mind younger children and to take the time to scream into a pillow as we survive the current isolation hell.
"I see all these pictures on Instagram of other mums doing stretch and grow classes with their kids in the sunshine and I'm upstairs struggling to finish a project while my partner tries to also work and look after the children," explains one friend.
Another points out that although her work is productive, she is unmotivated, distracted by other home obligations and the thoughts of having to design an education programme around the children is simply too much.
"I'm overwhelmed. So many of us have been catapulted into a situation where we are trying to work in pretty difficult circumstances and the supermum brigade are out in force making us feel pretty shitty," she says tearily.
One parent even has a bell and she sticks to the little and big break times for her children to "keep their routine".
Maria Steen, the controversial Irish conservative campaigner gave the WhatsApp groups some extra fodder after her explainer piece in the Irish Times on homeschooling.
"For things to run smoothly at home with a full house all day, it is important to keep things as normal and regular as possible," she wrote.
"Resist the urge to stay in your PJs; dress, shower and, if you wear makeup, put it on. These things are important psychologically if you are at home all day."
(Bite me, texted a friend with a link to the article.)
Steen went on to point out to parents to "try to put your phone away so that you aren’t distracted with every WhatsApp from the parents’ group chat" and try to "enjoy it" because "love goes a long way."
In fairness to her, she also gave some excellent pointers on how to stay motivated when your children are not cooperating.
But the problem here is that to really embrace homeschooling, you need not to have a high pressured job you still have to do 8 hours a day. These articles seem only geared towards parents who are not working full-time at the same time.
"Shoo!" we tell our little ones as we frantically tip-tap at our computers from the kitchen table. "Find some fun."
Our children's schools have communicated with us that there is no obligation on parents to go to great lengths to educate children while the coronavirus pandemic emergency continues. They've given school work suggestions and many other schools have online schooling for children to take the pressure off working parents and RTÉ Home School Hub is a godsend.
And then there is the refreshing cohort of realistic parents — those who understand that being bored feeds the imagination. The ones that don't need 10 different apps or screens to keep their children amused every second of the day.
Our household falls into this category
"Shoo!" we tell our little ones as we frantically tip-tap at our computers from the kitchen table. "Find some fun." And they do.
There is a freedom in being proactive when it comes to keeping busy — that in itself is a lesson for children.
We try to get them to do a little of the schoolwork on weekdays — our aim is to differentiate between the weekdays and the weekend. For our own sanity.
We also do it to keep the work fresh in their minds, to change their scenery, to break up the day.
We don't plan their every move. Not now and not before. Not because we are bad, uncaring parents, but because children need to be guided, not managed. There is a freedom in being proactive when it comes to keeping busy — that in itself is a lesson for children.
They will fly to Disneyland on the trampoline and then decide to create a shop out of old toys. That leads to movie-making, a quick trip in for snacks (because some things never change) and then off again to build a LEGO hotel.
If we schedule them to within an inch, they don't have the freedom to improvise. That's what we are learning from this.
And the ones who put up their eye-wateringly detailed homeschooling plans to show off to the others just make me feel sorry for them when they try to implement it day in and day out.
Now, (*checks watch) time to go scream into that pillow.
Image via Unsplash.com