So, it’s happened… Schools and nurseries are closed, and children will be at home from now until the foreseeable future. But this isn’t like the summer holidays. You didn’t have plans to do this. You’ve got a job or a business to run and now teachers are sending you these extraordinary timetables filled with stuff you never learnt when you were at school, knowing full well your kids don’t listen to anything you say anyway.
I’ve been home educating for three years while running my business from home and, even for us, this is a journey in to uncertainty. All the museums, galleries and libraries where we would spend our time are closed. Social clubs, sports activities, home ed groups and the childcare I normally use when I travel for work are cancelled for the duration (as is most of my work).
However, over the years I’ve learnt the hard way how to combine work and having a child at home full-time and I’d like to bust a few assumptions you might be making and hopefully make this all a bit more manageable for you.
I had an email the other day from a worried parent saying “How will I ensure my children continue to grow and develop?”. Don’t worry about that. You can’t actually stop them from growing and developing.
Over the coming weeks your children will learn to make a meal, use Google, tidy their room, clean the floor, understand how parents make money, watch the news, have discussions with you about what’s on their mind, form opinions of their own, become more self-sufficient and learn to entertain themselves without you ever teaching them a thing.
You may think this isn’t as important as ‘real’ education – but surely there is maths and science in making a cake, politics in watching the news and debating what they have seen, negotiation skills and creativity in making up games and social skills in getting along with siblings?
If you let them, children will show you what they are interested in. At school they have to move from one subject to another on demand (and pretend to be equally fascinated by it all in order to keep their effort grade high).
At home, they can finish that story they started writing or move on to the next page of maths problems if they’re enjoying it, or hone their painting skills because they’ve got the time to indulge their passion.
When children realise that they like learning, when they are interested in the subject they will teach themselves.
Of course, this depends what you do. If you’re a nurse or doctor you’re probably busy most of the day saving lives, but for the rest of us?
I would guess half of what you do all day is urgent and feels important, but doesn’t make a huge difference to the bottom line. You know that and it’s been frustrating you for ages. Well now you need to stop doing it. You don’t have time.
While not all managers are showing massive empathy at the moment, some are. If you have one of those take the opportunity to sift through your work and figure out what makes a real difference and what doesn’t. if it doesn’t, delegate to the floor (which means, just don’t do it).
If you are old enough to remember the power cuts of the late ‘70s, you may also remember the fun of sitting by candle light with your family playing card games or doing charades. This current situation can be awful, stressful, worrying and, ironically, boring. Or it can be an adventure.
By the time your children are 18, you’ve spent half the time you’ll ever spend with them, with them. Indulge in it now. Break the rules, stop work for two hours at 2pm and watch a movie together in your PJs, learn to play Minecraft with them, build a den in the garden, sleep in the same bed and don’t bother getting up until you all wake naturally.
I know you can’t do this every day, but this situation could go on for a while so play the long game.
You just got your commute time back. There’s little difference between a Thursday and a Saturday. The Easter holidays don’t have to be four weeks. If the house is quiet at 7am you can do some of your work then, or at 11pm if you prefer. The kids don’t have to learn between 9 and 3. They can do it at 6pm, or on a Sunday morning. You can spread the learning out so there is less to do in any particular day.
Don’t forget, children aren’t learning all day at school. In fact, some estimates suggest they don’t spend more than 90 minutes actually learning, so if you manage two hours a day you’re winning.
Anyone with children is facing this now – and companies are going to have to adapt. Your children will interrupt you at the most inconvenient moment during a conference call. While you’re hurtling through your work, they will decide they are starving (leave food out for them to help themselves or show them how to make a sandwich).
We are all going to have to get used to babies crying, dogs going nuts, cats sitting on laptops and people’s roots starting to show. That’s actually the bit I’m looking forward to – seeing more of the whole person rather than the glossy façade.
We might talk about isolation but in some ways we could get to know each other better. We could get to know our partners, children, colleague, clients and community as fellow human beings – and that might change everything forever.
Blaire has started a Facebook Group for parents, carers and guardians working from home with kids at home. You can join now. She has also created a support programme providing advice, resources, expert interviews and live group coaching sessions called Working At Home With Kids At Home. You can find out more here.
Can a system rooted in ancient philosophy really help you understand who you are?