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Parent Wise: Do the job you can, not the job you can’t

  • Ledger-Transcript editor Tim Goodwin's daughter Sophie investigates a bunny nest she found in some tall grass while exploring the family’s property during a recent remote learning school day. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

Published: 5/14/2020 3:36:01 PM

Feeling ill-equipped for the homeschooling job that has dropped on your shoulders literally overnight? This “new normal” is enough to make us all feel ill-equipped. But maybe you’re in better shape than you think you are. Maybe it can be easier than you think.

First of all, you are not a homeschooler (unless you are). You are the facilitator of your child’s online learning. If you are fraught with fear that your child is never going to catch up, then you must become your child’s teacher. And almost guaranteed with that comes power struggles – because you are not your child’s teacher and your child knows it. But ask any homeschooler and you will likely find that aside from curriculum, much of their children’s learning comes from exploring and discovering their environment. That’s why they homeschool.

Use this time as an opportunity to see what and how your children want to learn. Children soak up what’s around them. Discover what your kids love to learn about. Create projects using what is around you. It may take time as you and your kids are all too used to the standard format, but the environment in and around your home is filled with learning opportunities that get lost in the structured school day. And read together as much as you can.

It is not your job to insure your children are academically where they should be if school were in session. You’re not a teacher (unless you are). Guide them and facilitate the work their teachers are giving. But it is not your job to teach it. The frustration that comes from you feeling inadequate as a teacher together with your child’s fury over you telling him how to do it is just not worth it.

Now is the optimal time to work on your connection with your children. This is time to grow your relationships. To let go of all you think you have to do as a teacher and learn to spend more Being Time. Strangely for most it’s much easier to teach and direct children than simply be with them. You likely spend your time focused on your child’s future rather than present in the moment. After hearing this, one mother said to me, “I need to stop raising a citizen and just play with my eight year old.”

Have conversations with your kids. Share your frustrations, your exhaustion, how hard it is to help them keep up with school as well as their spirits when it’s hard for you. Talk about how difficult it is for you to adjust to working from home. Talk about how you all miss being with your friends and how isolating it feels to be cut off from them. Don’t think you have to keep your stress and frustration over this “new normal” from your kids. A new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests children see right through the deception of their parents’ withheld emotions. They reflect that and feel stressed in return. The advice of the study is to share your feelings – be emotionally authentic with your kids – within reason in order for them to feel connected.

Make a list with your kids of all the things that totally suck about this COVID pandemic. Then make another list of all the little silver linings that appear from time to time. Compare lists. Which is longer?

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to maintain relationship with your kids all along the way. Do not let fighting and power struggles get in the way. A connected relationship is the #1 preventive measure against anything you fear in your child’s future. When you have this, your influence remains more important than peers – and your kids will even like you.

The hardest job of all is being a parent and knowing that you do not have the answers and you cannot control the outcome of anything – especially your children’s lives. The hardest part is learning to let go.

I read recently, “It’s what you do with what you can control that really shapes your children.” When you try to be someone you’re not and don’t want to be, you will deplete yourself, do a poor job, and fail. So give up the jobs you don’t do well and put your efforts toward being the parent your child needs.

If you believe it’s up to you to do it all, you can only fail. Control what you can – yourself, your thinking, and the choices you make – and let go of the rest.

Because you’ve already parented for a number of years, you’ve lived with less sleep than any human should, you’ve had to clean disgusting messes off your kitchen floor, you’ve had to play characters you care nothing about, you’ve had to juggle 20 things at once and get interrupted even in the bathroom. You are enormously flexible and have risen to occasions you never thought possible. Here’s another one. You’ve got this.

We learn a lot about ourselves and our capabilities in a crisis. We live hour by hour. Don’t try to think about what you have to do two hours from now. You have no idea.

Bonnie Harris, MS Ed, director of Connective Parenting, is a child behavior and parenting specialist. Her two books are When Your Kids Push Your Buttons and Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live (Toadstool and Amazon). Bonnie offers individual parent counseling, parenting workshops, professional trainings and speaking engagements internationally. Bonnie founded The Parent Guidance Center, now The River Center, in Peterborough where she teaches. To set up an in-person or online coaching session, email her at bh@bonnieharris.com. You can sign up for her email newsletter on her website bonnieharris.com.


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