“The coronavirus pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality, new global data from UN Women suggests…
Even before the pandemic, it was estimated women were doing about three quarters of the 16 billion hours of unpaid work that are done each day around the world. In other words, before coronavirus, for every one hour of unpaid work done by men, three hours was done by women. Now that figure is higher.
“If it was more than three times as much as men before the pandemic, I assure you that number has at least doubled,” says Ms Bhatia, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia.” – Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-55016842
This is just one among numerous reports about the impact of the pandemic on women in particular.
No wonder the juggle feels even more stressful, even more imperative and even more is at stake. We are under more pressure than ever before.
We are being paid less than ever and doing even more of the work. Careers are in jeopardy. The role models we’d worked so hard to become to our daughters AND sons, gone in one fell swoop. Gender equality is just one pretty serious casualty of this pandemic.
On top of the usual juggle of work/life/kids, parents – and mothers in particular – are now juggling:
School disruption and chaos, with frequent bouts of learning at home or periods off school, in isolation.
Their own work and careers hanging in the balance, or working from home with the kids and no separation of the two.
The additional emotional toll of financial stress, the constant threat to ill health of family, friends and loved ones from the virus and the impact of social isolation and a world that looks very different from last year.
Reports like the one above – about the macro, bigger picture impact of the pandemic – are being felt at the micro, day to day level by families everywhere. And it is unsustainable.
Why Juggling Is Entirely The Wrong Approach…
Juggling implies keeping separate, distinct entities under control all at the same time…
You’ve still gotta make sure your kids are thriving at school, despite the chaos.
You’ve still gotta make sure you’re earning enough to pay your bills.
You’ve still gotta make sure your relationship is solid despite the additional stress.
You’ve still gotta make sure you’re keeping on top of the usual household and life admin duties.
In the pre-COVID way of doing things, we had boundaries enforced upon us to help keep these things separate, so we could move between them a little more easily…
The kids went to school, leaving you several hours in the day to focus on work/life/household/social stuff.
You went to work, to a place with space dedicated to you doing that job with no distractions or disturbances from the rest of your life (kids, partners, houses to clean).
You went to the shops or to the bar/pub/restaurant to get your social and fun fix.
These were clear and distinct physical boundaries to help you shift your focus from one part of your life to another, without them ever really having to mix. And now?
Now, we don’t need to put on our work clothes, step into that work ‘persona’ and head to the office. We don’t get to book the babysitter, dress up and head out, dropping the ‘mum’ vibe and swapping it for the ‘adult gagging to have some fun’ vibe.
These days we are working from home trying to stop the kids from bombing our zoom calls…
…The kids are either learning at home trying to get to grips with lessons online or not seeing their friends socially outside of the classroom and subjected to staggered start times, staggered lunch times, staggered play times and more…
…We are socialising at home through screens and on Zoom, we are eating at home, exercising at home, and shopping from home.
There’s no need to get dressed up or become someone else to fit in. There are fewer physical separations and boundaries. Everything is blending into one…
But what if that’s how it should have been all along?
What if the physical separation of different parts of our lives has been doing us a disservice? Encouraging us to separate parts of ourselves and not integrate? What if we’ve been living within these artificially created, imposed-from-outside boundaries without questioning whether they actually work best for us?
Let’s imagine a different way…
Imagine if you could show up to a work call knowing it’s ok if your kids wander into shot. And not just ok, but welcomed and encouraged.
Imagine if you could chill out about your kid’s education knowing that you’ve set things up in a way to trust they’re learning anywhere and everywhere not just when they’re at school/in an online classroom.
Imagine if you could feel connected to some of your closest friends who don’t even live in the same town as you but live halfway round the world, and yet it feels like you’re as close as you can be and that an in-person meeting, whenever it happens, will deepen and strengthen that bond but isn’t fundamental to the relationship thriving.
Imagine if you were surrounded by people – relatives, friends and colleagues – who celebrated downtime, relaxation and self care, NOT just achievement, full to do lists, productivity and getting all the things done. Who wanted deep connection and communication, not just the superficial, surface stuff.
Would that feel easier? Would the stress and impact of COVID feel more manageable and comfortable if that was all a reality?
(How) Is this possible?
At Beyond School, we talk about ending the juggle by making some key mindset shifts and then building your habits, actions and lives driven by, based upon, around and to support these shifts and new beliefs.
This may require you to do some of the deeper work. To change your mind, to change some deeply embedded beliefs…it doesn’t always happen overnight (though it can!).
These shifts include consciously choosing to believe and know…
That you are the priority. No guilt, no shame. Put yourself first. Always. You can’t give from an empty well, you must put your own life jacket and oxygen mask on first if you’re going to support others.
You can choose to be the model you want to be for your kids. Consciously. No repeating the patterns from generations past without questioning whether they still serve you and your family, or not. You can choose to model the beliefs YOU choose, not the ones handed down to you as ‘this is just the way things are’. BE the change you want to see in the world, MODEL this to your kids and those around you. They will do what you do, not what you say.
Integrate, don’t separate. Consciously create a life that allows you to – or even better, encourages and empowers you to – show up WHOLE, everywhere. No more hiding one part of your life from the other. No more juggling separate areas of your life. No more trying to keep things separate.
When you act from a place of deeply believing these three things, other things begin to shift for you. You will find tools and resources to:
Identify and hold boundaries you never could before (and didn’t even know were needed), even with the most challenging relationships in your life.
Identify, acknowledge and get YOUR needs met, at no-one else’s expense.
Identify, acknowledge and meet other peoples’ needs, but NOT at your expense.
These three things in themselves can lead to:
Better health and wellbeing; a body which serves you well rather than lets you down when you need it most.
Better relationships; nurturing, nourishing and mutually respectful and beneficial connections which enhance and lift you up rather than drag you down or keep you small.
Better sex; let’s delve into that one another time because it’s SO worth it!
Better parenting; being the kind of parent you always thought and hoped you’d be without having to compromise elsewhere.
Better finances; a healthy relationship with earning, having and spending money.
Better career options; unlimited opportunities and potential that you create yourself rather than relying on others to ‘give’ these to you.
And when you begin to surround yourself with other people doing the same, you will see another way…
You’ll start to see examples of people – of other women – who have done it/are doing it differently. They are nothing special, they have no special skills that you can’t gain, they are not doing anything that you couldn’t do, except…they have the particular mindset and a different set of beliefs that perhaps you don’t yet have. And they act from these beliefs and from this mindset, ignoring the doubts and fear and guilt and shame.
They consciously craft a life – a daily routine – that works for them and their family. There is no mad rush to get to school. There’s no skipping meals because there’s just no time. There’s no rushing from home to work to the shops, to the pub then back home again, with barely a beat in between.
This consciously chosen approach to life will…
Shake up the way you think about work and your career. You won’t be satisfied with working just to make money, but sure that’s a start.
Shake up the way you think about money and finances. You won’t be satisfied with making ‘just enough’. You want more and there is NO guilt or shame in claiming that.
Shake up the way you think about your kids, about parenting them, about educating them and about the way you are shaping their lives and what life you’re setting them up for.
Shake up the way you think about yourself, your own wellbeing and your own needs and wants.
If you want more of the same, this approach IS not for you. If you have a suspicion there’s a different way, this IS for you.
If your life isn’t panning out the way you thought it would or if you’re just marking time, treading water and you’re NOT living every single day intentionally and consciously and doing the things you want, when you want, this is for you.
Was anyone else glued to the news in horror watching the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd?
Anyone still grieving the death of Ahmaud Arbery? Breonna Taylor?
Are you still pissed about a Harvard graduate, writer, former Marvel editor, current biomedical editor for Health Science Communications, and board member of the Audubon Society who was threatened by a white woman who called the police on him for asking her to please leash her dog in Central Park?
(And if you’re not, why not?)
Perhaps you’re feeling powerless… why on earth – despite all the protests and uprisings, despite the ongoing efforts of the people around you (especially your Black friends and colleagues) – are these deaths still happening?
Grief & outrage are NOT the same as action.
And (even more) action is required.
A lot of the white people I know don’t know where to start. It feels overwhelming. Sometimes it feels scary. Intentionally dismantling a system you’ve benefited from your whole life might feel like giving up a big piece of your pie.
But, what if it could feel like making more pie for everyone?
When people begin to move ‘beyond school’ we often encourage them to step outside of the infrastructure they’ve known their whole lives and spend a period of time intentionally refusing to participate in the trappings of the system. This is called De-Schooling.
It’s a time to detox, to breathe fresh air, to think clearly and intentionally about where they are and where they SHOULD be. It’s also a time to begin thinking, learning, and re-educating ourselves in a more holistic, integrated approach to learning together. It’s a time to shift your thinking and mindset and, most importantly, your perspective.
It’s hard to see a thing clearly until you choose to step outside of it.
De-schooling Anti-Racism involves an intentional choice to step outside of Systemic Racism.
De-schooling Anti-Racism involves doing the work of asking ourselves the hard questions:
Why have we let it get to this point?
Why have we not moved against police brutality, as white people, harder and sooner?
Why have we allowed a system in which people with less power are actively murdered on the regular by people with more power?
Why do we tolerate and gloss over the myriad of micro aggressions that happen around us, daily? And that we, as white people, are still guilty of doing ourselves.
Why are we willing to raise our kids within a system that perpetuates violence and inequality without putting a stop to it, here and now?
Why are we not willing to be the change?
As the dominant power (economic, political, social and otherwise) why are WE as white people allowing this and creating an environment where it’s acceptable, or if not acceptable, at least tolerated?
If you’ve been Black all your life, as I have, you know that racism isn’t going away anytime soon. If you’re a white anti-racist, you may know this too, or you’re catching on fast. Every day, we all have a choice about whether we’re working against racism or overtly or tacitly supporting it. …The question is: what are we going to do about it?
-Sharon Hurley-Hall, Upping the Ante on Anti-Racism
Led by Sharon Hurley-Hall and supported by Lea Jovy-Ford, this is an online training Bootcamp for anyone committed to understanding and eradicating the damaging biases we still have that perpetuate dangerous actions and reactions towards others, based upon their skin colour.
If you’re lucky (read: Aware), it may start to become more obvious to you how riddled with assumptions, beliefs and biases you are, based upon your reactions and responses to the people you come across in life, personally and professionally. If it isn’t obvious, then this needs your attention and work.
This is about becoming a better person. And understanding that this WILL empower you to navigate your worlds (personal and professional) with more positive impact for yourself and for others, both online and off.
DURING THE BOOTCAMP, WE…
Examine the unconscious biases you still hold, that may be unconsciously, unknowingly and deeply buried and how this is perpetuating our racist culture.
Understand what being anti-racist actually means, and what impact being anti-racist will mean for your own life.
Learn how to identify anti-racism in our world, both personally and professionally, and how to address it when we see it.
Make a commitment to being actively anti-racist, in the here and now and for the long haul.
As I’m writing this, the North American world is in the midst of reeling in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmed Arbury, and Breonna Taylor. Protests and riots are filling the news and police brutality and systemic racism are topics being discussed everywhere.
In the midst of all of the things that are heartbreaking during this time, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because, while the violence is a terrible thing, the conversations it is pushing have been too long in coming and need to be had.
As parents, we worked hard to make sure that our kids had a diverse experience.
We intentionally built relationships in communities with people of every colour and of diverse lifestyles.
A large part of our desire to travel extensively with our kids was drawn from a wish for them to see and experience the world as it really is and to live in places where they were the minority as a means to developing compassionate understanding. Evenso, their white skin went with them and the privilege that is attached to it followed. There’s no avoiding that, so we talked about it. A lot. Constantly.
We didn’t (don’t) always get it right. But we have worked to grow forward together, to develop active listening skills as individuals and as a family, and to acknowledge our own biases and our experience of race as white people within the rainbow of people who inhabit the planet. It’s heartening to see my adult kids now engaging in activism and using their privilege to work towards leveling the playing field. We aren’t there yet (not by a long shot) and there is still work to be done.
This week, I wanted to put together a list of resources for parents to use in conversations with their children about systemic racism and family activism. It’s not enough just to speak the right words, we must take action and responsibility together.
If you have resources to add to this list, please send them over!
Things to Read:
This book is for adults and teens.
Written by a white lady, for white people. If you don’t yet understand the difference between racist acts vs. racism, this book will break it down for you.
It will also help you unpack the ways in which white people’s fragility when it comes to discussions of race is impeding progress. Ever said, “Not all white people…” or made a move to correct or defend your position when challenged by a conversation on race? This book is for you.
In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo does a masterful job of helping white people see whiteness as a racial issue and helping us pull that massive plank out of our own eye before pointing at others. It’s a call to cultivating the stamina and humility we need to have the really hard conversations that are necessary to advocate for change.
I highly recommend every parent read this to help frame and steer the inevitable conversations you’ll have with your kids, no matter how young.
Required reading for young adults
This is billed as “young adult” fiction, but The Hate U Give is truly required reading for anyone who wants to begin to understand what it’s like to grow up black in America.
I’ve recommended this book before. I’ll recommend it again.
READ IT. Make your teen kids read it. Talk about it. Get uncomfortable. That’s where the change starts.
How to Choose Anti-Bias Children’s Books
The Social Justice Books project, by Teaching for Change, has compiled this helpful guide for parents and teachers on how to evaluate a book for bias and how to choose books to use with your kids that are anti-bias.
If you’re not sure where to start or what you’re looking for, I highly recommend starting with this list.
They have also compiled an incredible 60 book lists of multicultural and social justice books for children, young adults, and educators.
Compiled by EmbraceRace.org this list has summaries of 31 incredible books just for kids to open conversations about race and de-colonize history. No matter what you are using to teach history, you should be intentionally adding books that are from a non-white perspective. For too long, the narrative of history has been a white, Colonialist one. This list will help you change that.
“Research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it, even though they might not understand the feelings. By age 5, white children are strongly biased towards whiteness.
To counter this bias, experts recommend acknowledging and naming race and racism with children as early and as often as possible. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression.
Beyond addressing issues of race and racism, this children’s reading list focuses on taking action. It highlights resistance, resilience and activism; and seeks to empower youth to participate in the ongoing movement for racial justice.
These books showcase the diverse ways people of all ages and races have engaged in anti-racist activism, and highlight how race intersects with other issues, such as capitalism, class and colonization. The majority of books center activists of color, whose lives and bodies have been on the front lines of racial justice work, yet whose stories often go untold.
The essential work of white activists is also included — to underscore that anti-racist work is not the responsibility of people of color; and exemplify the ways white allies have stood up against racial injustice. This list was curated by critical literacy organizations, The Conscious Kid and American Indians in Children’s Literature.”
Websites & Blogs to Read
The Brown Bookshelf is designed to push awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers. Our flagship initiative is 28 Days Later, a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by Black creators. You can read more about the members of The Brown Bookshelf here.
On the Latinxs in Kid Lit site you’ll find a range of books for children and young adults that highlight the Latinx experience… dive deep, there is some really good stuff here!
Their vision is to:
Engage with works about, for, and/or by Latinxs.
Offer a broad forum on Latinx children’s, MG, and YA books.
Promote literacy and the love of books within the Latinx community.
Examine the historical and contemporary state of Latinx characters.
Encourage interest in Latinx children’s, MG, and YA literature among non-Latinx readers.
Share perspectives and resources that can be of use to writers, authors, illustrators, librarians, parents, teachers, scholars, and other stakeholders in literacy and publishing.
How to talk to kids about race and books that can help is a great resource list of books for adults to advance their own learning and books for kids that will help open discussions.
21 Podcasts That Confront Racism in America
Podcasts alone won’t fix the undeniable racism, inequality, and injustice that Black Americans face, but they can deepen our understanding of the oppressive systems at work and our role in abolishing them today and every day.
Even very young kids can have conversations about race. Ours started when our not-quite-year old daughter freaked out when her godfather entered the room with his hair “out.” He always wore it in braids, but this morning, he’d brushed it out into an afro and the difference shocked her. We all laughed. He ran upstairs and put his hair “away” and then we all sat down to talk about why Poppy’s hair was different from hers. The conversations continued from there and took us around the world.
If you’re not sure where to start, turn on the news and look for current events to open the door to discussion. Or work to decolonize your bookshelf, art collection, and music repertoire. Or choose a movie the presents an experience different from your own and talk through what you observe and learn.
And, of course, begin with yourself and let your kids see you actively working to develop your anti-racist powers through listening, studying, reading, discussing, and the historic and current issues. Lead by example in deconstructing the Colonialist narrative and broadening your kids’ understanding of the world and the people in it.
This is the very best of worldschooling, folks!
Do you have a resource towards developing anti-racism as a family? Please share it! We’re collecting them for ourselves and others!
Learn with Beyond School
A weekly newsletter of learning celebration! Each week, we share something someone else has learned, something we've learned and something you might choose to learn...because learning can happen anywhere, at any time, for anyone...
How are you coping with the endless squabbles, frequent fisticuffs and constant bickering in your household during the lockdown – or is that just our family?!
Dealing with emotions can be hard at the best of times, especially in a blended family of six –add the stress of this pandemic when we’re all under the same roof with little opportunity for respite – and it’s a melting pot of high emotions and ongoing drama.
Pandemic or not, one of the most important themes we focus on when it comes to ‘educating’ our children is emotional management and regulation. Why?
Because EVERY single thing we experience in life creates a response in us – often a physical response and always an emotional response.
Sadly, so very many of us are conditioned, from early childhood, to ignore or deny these responses (feelings) and so we grow into adulthood spectacularly unaware of our own emotions and unable to express, discuss and sometimes even feel them.
We move through the world not understanding our own reactions, responses and behaviour, unable to understand others’ behaviours either, and end up repeating dysfunctional patterns, and creating or staying in dysfunctional relationships over and over again…
It doesn’t have to be like this. To us, understanding, feeling, processing and being able to manage our emotions is as fundamental as the three Rs!
So how do you help children learn about their emotions – how to feel them, how to make sense of them, and how to manage and regulate them?
1. Create Emotional Space
The beauty of emotions is that there is no right or wrong way to feel. One of the things that sets humans apart from other living things is our ability to feel with a wide range of emotions and yet our emotional literacy is at an all-time low.
Many of us find it hard to identify and name the emotion we’re feeling which makes understanding and exploration of it challenging (and change almost impossible), and so we default to patterns that aren’t always useful.
For example, anger is a key ‘displacing’ emotion – because anger often hides a wealth of deeper feelings: Hurt, grief, betrayal, rejection, abandonment…
It’s the 6 year old who kicks his sister in the stomach in anger, because underneath the anger, he’s feeling hurt and betrayed that she chose to play on her own instead of with him.
It’s the father who screams at his wife the next morning over a seemingly tiny incident, because he’s feeling hurt and rejected that she was too tired for sex last night.
How do we address and change these default reactions and patterns? Creating and holding space for feelings and emotions is the first and fundamental step.
How do you do this? By making emotions ‘ok’ in your family…
“It’s ok to feel how you feel.”
“No-one can tell you how to feel about this.”
“You are ‘allowed’ to feel exactly how you want to feel.”
“It is ok to feel.”
Once you’ve created the space to feel emotions, cultivating a space for curiosity, exploration and discussion encourages children (and adults) to learn how to verbalise and talk about their feelings…
“How does this feel for you?”
“What words would you use to describe how you feel?”
“Does it feel like …?” (The goal is to help them find the words that feel right to them, not put words in their mouth that don’t feel right to them).
“I wonder where that feeling came from…what do you think?”
“What caused/triggered that feeling?”
The more emotional literacy we help children cultivate when they’re young, the better their ability to navigate any situation life will throw at them and create deeper, more authentic and more fulfilling relationships in all areas of their life.
2. Use Sportscasting
Many adults find it tough to talk about emotions – it’s a skill we can get better at though it’s not one many of us have been encouraged to cultivate and so we find ourselves in repeating patterns…
Consider that argument you have on repeat with someone close to you; the one you can never seem to resolve and which pushes your buttons like nothing else.
Think about the person at work who you cannot bear to be around but have to work closely with, even though they may never have actually done anything ‘wrong’.
Consider the overbearing mother who just won’t let you live your own life without comment or judgment even though you’re a capable, functioning adult!
Many of these feel like unresolvable, unchangeable situations. They are not because while you have no control over other people, you have full and sole control over yourself, and that’s all you need. This is the message we give to our children, over and over.
So how you do initiate a difficult, potentially conflict-causing conversation about what might really be going on underneath the surface? By using a technique I call ‘sportcasting’.
This is a technique I’ve honed based on Janet Lansbury’s method for addressing difficult toddler behaviour.
Sportscasting is a valuable way to get underneath any unconscious, game-playing devices or indirect, passive aggressive ways of communicating because it brings out the pattern into the open, puts a name to it, and allows both parties to address what’s actually happening in the dynamic between them from a place of conscious awareness.
Being able to verbalise what might actually be going on under the surface, on behalf of someone who can’t yet express it themselves, is a powerful way to step out of that pattern, especially for children.
Why It Works
It’s hard, in the heat of a moment, to maintain a clear head, especially if you’ve been triggered. It’s also hard to hear and understand what’s actually being said when the words sometimes don’t appear to make sense or don’t match your sense of what’s actually going on.
Stepping into sportscasting mode allows you to instantly and immediately step out of the drama, get yourself into a more adult space, and observe what’s happening as a more passive onlooker, than get sucked into a back-and-forth, emotionally-charged exchange which does nobody any good.
It allows you to look beneath the surface of what’s being said, to understand what’s actually going on, and empowers you to see things from a different (their) perspective and why they’re behaving and responding as they are, because you begin to understand where it’s coming from.
How Do You Do It?
To begin sportscasting, there’s a process you can use…
Step 1: Observe and verbally reflect back your experience of their behaviour.
Step 2: Identify what triggered the behaviour in the first place.
Step 3: Identify and encourage verbal expression of the emotion/feeling being displayed.
Step 4: Provide space for discussion to take place.
The key here is to sportscast the behaviour you’re experiencing and then ask a direct question to be answered, which creates space for constructive and open dialogue instead of mudslinging or further game playing…
“It sounds like you’re really angry at me for changing this filing system; what could I have done differently to make it work better for you too?”
“It sounds like you’re frustrated by the lack of progress; is there something that’d help you to feel more ok with the process?”
“It feels like you’re really upset by something I’ve done; can you tell me what that is?”
“It feels like you really want to control what I do; can we talk about why that is and how that feels for each of us?”
3. Agree On Positive Forms of Communication
There are many ways of communicating that we learn as we grow up that keep us rooted in patterns that don’t serve us well in adulthood. These include:
We use these because they’ve either been modelled to us by our primary caregivers or because we’ve learned to use them to get our needs met when we haven’t been empowered to do it differently.
How we relate to and communicate with people is fundamental to our experience of life; none of us lives in a vacuum and yet we continue to use communication that is harmful to our relationships and our own and others’ emotional wellbeing because we’ve never been taught anything other.
In our family, we consciously and openly talk a lot about the things we value as a family when it comes to how we communicate because how we do this has an emotional impact on everyone.
To us, clear and honest communication, kindness and respect, etc. are important and so we encourage our children to use forms of communication that are:
Take ownership of their emotions
You might like to consider and explicitly agree as a family how you’d like to communicate too. This agreement can then form the basis of all your communications with each other and has everyone’s buy-in.
It doesn’t mean it will always happen (we still get name-calling, game playing and indirectness rearing their ugly heads frequently!), but an explicit and conscious agreement helps to create a new, more positive default for everyone to work towards.
There’s a wealth of opportunity to talk and learn about emotions currently – from how everyone’s feeling about the lockdown, isolation, homeschooling and home working journeys to navigating the day to day friction of sharing the same space in such close proximity.
Talking about our emotions and how everyone’s feeling – openly, honestly, directly and with positive intent – is, I believe, one of the most positive approaches we can take to helping our children (and ourselves) survive through the uncertainties of where we find ourselves currently.
It’s possible you could even see this time as an opportunity to address some of the longstanding patterns that may be highlighted when you’re so ‘close’ to your loved ones for the foreseeable future…as a truly valuable opportunity to thrive during the pandemic, and beyond.
I just scrolled past this in my Twitter feed today. It’s one of many, many tweets sharing the realities of working from home, with the kids at home all day, every day.
I’ve worked from home, running a variety of my own ventures 100% online, for well over a decade. I’ve been homeschooling my kids – the eldest is now 10 – for about the same amount of time too. It has NOT been a walk in the park!
For half of that decade, I had my (now ex) husband helping out with childcare, household stuff and homeschooling. Now I’m a single parent and though we co-parent and share the children for around half a week each, I still have to earn a full-time living in part-time hours. It is still NOT a walk in the park.
And now, we’ve got this. The Covid-19 virus. Forcing us ALL to stay at home, working and educating on the fly – no group activities, no play dates, no day trips. Nothing. It is definitely NOT a walk in the park for any of us.
This is CRISIS-schooling, CRISIS-working and CRISIS-living. It is not homeschooling, remote work or location independent living, as those of us who’ve CONSCIOUSLY chosen to do this have ever known it.
It’s stressful, anxiety-inducing and taps into many of our insecurities leaving us fearful, grieving and angry.
And if we’re fortunate, we still have jobs to do or businesses to run and somehow have to do this, while homeschooling the kids and staying sane during a global lockdown.
I’ve had a less steep learning curve than most so here’s what I’ve found is working for me…
Identify YOUR Needs & Natural Rhythms
Women, in particular, find this hard. We are so used to slaving to others’ needs (it’s what society has conditioned us to do) that the concept of considering our own needs first (yes, first!) is almost anathema. I would urge you to start re-thinking this!
You, right now, are likely your children’s primary and only role model. Do you want to give them the message that it isn’t ok to prioritise themselves? That they need to consider others before their own? Please understand, this does not have to mean meeting your needs at anyone else’s expense; it does however mean recognising and meeting YOUR needs too!
You can’t give what you don’t have, and right now our kids need us to have and give!
How do you do this?
1. Pay attention to & honour your own patterns – your energy, circadian (sleep/wake) and productive patterns.
One of the benefits of being at home currently is that you are less likely to be tied to a specific schedule of 7am Wake & get up > 7.30am Breakfast > 8-9am commute > 9-5pm Work/School > 5-6pm Commute > 7pm Dinner > 9pm+ bed. Your schedule is likely subject to far more flex than the rigid routines of the office and school.
It may take a few weeks to identify what your natural rhythms are; you’ve been following a prescribed rhythm for so long now…
It helps to practice good sleep hygiene habits and, if you can during the lockdown, get out into the fresh air and some sunshine.
Eat when you’re hungry, not just because it’s time for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Exercise when you feel most energised and strong, not just because it’s early in the morning/after work and you’re conditioned to squeezing in a workout then.
2. Use this knowledge to your benefit (and your children’s)
Plan intense, focused work that needs more concentration at a time when you and your children are more suited to it; and plan easier work when you’re not so on top form. So if you and your kids experience a post lunch, mid-afternoon slump, take a nap instead of scheduling in some intense work requiring good concentration.
This is such a great opportunity to begin to pay more attention to your own natural rhythms and encourage your children to pay more attention to theirs too, then work your plan and schedule around these, instead of slaving to one that doesn’t actually work for you.
Fill Up Their Wells With Focus
We are so used to multi-tasking and dividing our attention between tasks, kids, and more. Now’s a great time to practise giving your focused attention to one thing at a time, then releasing that focus for a while. It’s a bit like weight training – focus, then release, focus, then release.
So, if you’re doing an activity with the kids, instead of trying to multi-task, check your emails AND help your kids, switch off the emails and give them your FULL and SOLE attention. This could be for a 30-40-minute block, after which you can release that dedicated focus.
This fills up their wells with your undivided attention; it lets them know they’re important and that your focus is theirs and theirs alone, and will often result in you being able to find a window of time afterwards where they’re happy doing their own thing for a bit because they’ve had their well filled by you, leaving you to switch focus.
Keep Your Promises & Boundaries
“Just give me 5 more minutes, sweetheart”.
If you hear yourself repeating this over and over, stop. Otherwise, it’ll go on and on and one of you will lose your temper. Depending upon their age, children often don’t really understand the concept of time very well and a 5 minute promise that stretches into half an hour or more does nothing to help this!
Children LOVE and thrive on boundaries. Give them a firm and easy-to-understand boundary around time:
“When that big hand gets to X, I’ll come and help you”.
Again, depending upon their age, that may be a window of 5 to 30 minutes! And if they’re really young you may need to physically point it out (or set a timer on your phone that they can see and watch counting down).
This technique works really well with my own children because they know that their request and needs will be met at a specific time, instead of an unknown “in 5 minutes” which goes on and on, indefinitely.
Integration, not Balance or Separation
Jenn and I have both been banging the work-life integration drum for a while now; when you work from home with kids around, there is very little balance or separation!
Unless you have the luxury of at-home childcare and a lockable office or a separate wing of your mansion, you can’t easily secret yourself away to focus on work for hours a day. At least I can’t, in an open-plan living space in a pretty small house. So separation isn’t always physically possible. And work-life balance… what exactly is that anyway?
Let’s just admit it; currently there is no work-life separation or balance, and integration is all we have.
Over the years, I’ve had to say “Could you just hang on a minute, I just need to go and wipe my son’s bottom” on conference or coaching calls one too many times for comfort. But this is now our reality – and work and life are pretty much all rolled into one for the foreseeable future. Let’s embrace rather than resist it…
Parents: “I have to apologize, but my toddler may interrupt this meeting at some point…”
Me: Let’s save the last 10 minutes and invite them in ☺️
We need to normalize the fact that work and life are now one and the same. No apologies necessary.
Jenn wrote a brilliant piece on how to get kids to do chores (cheerfully). I’ve tweaked my approach to emphasise this more with my own children and focus them on the aspect of learning new skills and enabling them to do stuff many adults still can’t do, and have seen just how empowering my children are finding it – learning how to cook all their meals, keep the house clean and tidy, and contribute to the running of a household. It’s brilliant!
The same approach can work for your work too… instead of keeping them away, include them. Talk to them about your work and consider setting them an age-appropriate task or challenge for them to complete; all the better if it actually helps you out! For example:
Show them how to use image creation tools like Canva or Picmonkey. I upload a selfie photo for my 6 year old and he can spend a good half hour, adding filters, devil horns and scary backgrounds.
Ask their opinion on a question or challenge you’re facing; you may be surprised by how their simplistic, uncluttered thinking can sometimes cut through your own over-thinking to the core issue and a simple solution.
If they’re old enough, consider a gentle introduction to social media; my daughter is on Instagram and is a genius at it. She watches, experiments, engages, connects – although I’m a business strategist, she’s needed absolutely zero input from me and it’s inspiring to watch her.
This is a great opportunity to talk to your children about what you actually do for work; most of the time our kids have NO idea what we do or how we earn a living and the world of work remains a mystery until they’re throw in at the deep end with their first job. This is a chance to show them what ‘work’ actually looks like – at least for the meantime.
And if the changes we’re currently experiencing have a lasting impact on the world of work they’ll be going into – as we suspect they might – what better way to prepare them than for them to be experiencing it now, and learning how to do it while you learn a whole new approach too?
One of the big opportunities, but also one of the biggest struggles, in having kids home all the time is getting the housework done. Having more time at home together means that we have the freedom to teach our children about real life, through real life. Now is the time to pick up some of the slack around life skills that gets overlooked when kids are in school.
I used to be surprised when new families we’d met would ask some version of the following question: “How do you get your kids to…cook, clean, play together, do laundry, shovel the deck, unload the dishwasher?”…Pick a skill!
I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t know how we got them to do it. It seemed like they were just born doing those things and liking it. It came naturally to my children, as it had come naturally to me as a child. Didn’t other children do the same? Evidently not.
So, I became a student of other families.
Sure enough, Mom was doing all the work. The kids were often grumpy and discontent with their stuff, their siblings, with life in general. The kids thought my kids were WEIRD for doing all of the things they did. The parents thought we were WEIRD for making/letting them. I admit it, we’re weird, but we like it, and our kids like it.
But the question remained, “HOW did we get our kids to work and be happy working?”
After thinking through all of the tricks and training tips we had for teaching different skills it occurred to me that it really was none of these things.
It wasn’t about charts or cards or incentives or any of that. It was about attitude.
Kids want to be wanted…
They want to be needed. They want to be loved and admired for their prowess in a variety of arenas. They want to be the best at something. They want to climb mountains and conquer uncharted lands and do things that no one else that they know who is their age can do. Just like we grown ups.
This is what causes our children to work and like it.
Our two year olds proudly put away forks and scream bloody murder if anyone else tries to do it for them. Our ten year old daughter matter of factly served baked salmon, steamed asparagus, fluffy rice, salad and bread that she had prepared, from start to finish, completely by herself to guests around our table. Of course she should cook, it was her night. She beamed proudly when the guests exclaim over her accomplishments. She knew that she was doing something important, and she was justly proud of her accomplishment as any hostess three times her age.
When Ezra was four, every morning he hollered after me to, “WAIT Mama! You CAN’T do laundry without me!!”
And so I couldn’t. He believed that he was the only one who could push the three buttons in the correct order to start the morning’s wash, probably because he couldn’t remember ever seeing anyone else do it. Laundry is HIS job.
I remember one winter when snow was thick and frequent. One particular day we’d had a thick snowfall. Lots of it. As another foot or so roared down off of the roof and crashed onto the deck Gabe leaned around the corner and peered out the door to survey the damage. “That’d be my job!” , he announced, before heading out the door to clear it off, knowing our friends were arriving that day.
Later that afternoon, as we Mamas sipped tea and visited, Gabe and his eight year old friend came up the stairs and plopped six neatly pressed and folded napkins on the table, “Here Mom, we ironed these, I taught James how”. And so he had. Isn’t it completely normal for one eight year old to teach another how to iron cloth napkins on a snowy afternoon when they’re sick of playing outside?
So what’s the point?
That my kids can do great stuff? No, of course not. They aren’t doing anything special. We all have to learn to cook and clean and do laundry.
The point is that kids CAN do things and SHOULD do things and WANT to do things…even if they don’t act like they do.
They want to matter. They want to accomplish things and be proud of their accomplishments. Why not channel that enthusiasm and drive to conquer things into chopping and stacking a huge pile of wood?
Just like we as adults get pleasure from giving to others and contributing to society, our children want to give back and feel like who they are and what they think, feel and do MATTERS in their world. What is their world? The four walls of your house.
A good friend of mine who came late to the idea of training life skills put it this way:
“I was doing everything for them because I thought that’s what a good mother should do. But now, the house runs so much more smoothly and they actually LIKE working for the family, they’re proud of it!”
Of course they are!!
Training kids to work isn’t rocket science…
There are a million books and charts and systems out there to help get you started. But you don’t really need them.
All you need to do is change the attitude in your home toward work.
There is no faster way to motivate a kid to work than to casually mention, within ear shot of the kid, to some adult visiting your home, “You should see what Gabe did, that big pile of wood over there, he moved it ALL by himself. He’s becoming quite a self sufficient guy! I can’t imagine how we got by without him!”
Or mention to the dinner guests on Monday night, “The bathroom is the second door on the right, it’s very clean, Elisha is the best bathroom cleaner we have!”
Justified praise, praise they’ve earned for a job well done, is the best motivator.
Strategies for Success in Developing Work Ethic in Kids
Set times for things…
In our house, we had set blocks of time (5 to 15 minutes) four times a day for “housework.” In the mornings we did the big things, like toilets, trash cans, or a closet. At noon we did a “ten second tidy” of bedrooms. Before dinner we did a “ten second tidy” of common spaces. After dinner we cleaned the kitchen for the day and did any remaining tasks.
Working together for set periods of time makes it more fun.
The 10 second tidy…
Set an alarm for ONE MINUTE (or two minutes) and give the space you are in the fastest tidy up job you can swing. RUN from room to room to return things to their places. Vacuum on warp speed. Fold blankets like it’s an Olympic race.
Give each kid a jurisdiction, perhaps for the day, the week, the month, whatever works for your family. Make sure everyone knows who is responsible for what and then praise or hold accountable as necessary for the status of their jurisdictions.
The fastest way to make a kid hate work is to make them feel like they’re the only person being “made to” work. Always work with your kids and model the type of job you want done and the attitude you want it done with.
The attitude is half of the job…
There were times when my kids struggled with their attitudes around their work (I struggle with mine sometimes!) I can’t tell you the number of times that we had the discussion over the two parts of a job:
The task itself (proficiency)
There were many times when a certain child was sent back to sweep the stairs again, because, while the stairs were clean, the attitude was not. If a toilet is cleaned with slamming and stomping, it is not clean.
Attitude is everything. Anyone can strong arm a kid into doing a particular job and fighting the entire way. Helping a child learn to work with cheerfulness, THAT is the real victory. Put some elbow grease into this one. It pays off in the teen years especially!
Make sure all kids are learning all the jobs by rotating the tasks. Our task chart rotated daily, so that no one got too bored and no one felt like they were getting slammed with the “bad job” for long periods of time.
If you’ve got little kids who are just learning and aren’t “great” at a particular job, layer them in between older people on the same job who will make sure that a whole week doesn’t pass with a substandard outcome :).
My friend Melissa used to say this, about a million times a day, to her kids. I stole it. But this is not about the kids. This is about YOU. YOU need to “choose cheerful” in teaching kids to work and working alongside them. They will never learn to work cheerfully if you don’t.
If you frame the work as something that has to be “gotten through” they will pick that up. Instead, frame work as the ability to serve people you live with and love, a way to build community, and a way to exhibit the habit of careful stewardship. We want to take care of what we have!
It’s especially important to choose cheerful when the kids are NOT.
Try This: Don’t MAKE them work, LET them work. Not FOR you, but WITH you.
Develop team spirit. Conquer the big, hard things. Create Olympic events out of the little, mundane things. Work is a happy part of daily life. A way to give back to the community and develop self worth, or at least it should be.
Take advantage of this time you have together at home to think through where your kids can up their games in contributing to housework and where you can teach them how to do the next big thing. Home care lessons are vital “adulting” skills for later!