An Unusual School Year
This quote helped me adjust when our family of four moved last year. It reminded me how constant change is and to pour my energy into what I was hoping to build, not what I’d left behind. This isn’t to say ignore the feelings of loss or sadness, but to hold my gaze on the horizon, where I’m going.
In a few weeks my kids will start the most unusual school year of their lives (well, besides last school year). Yours will too. I’ve been gnawing on ideas to make the learning at home days more organized. I learned a lot in our time “distance learning” from March - June and I’ve made a few tweaks. I write this for myself as a gameplan and share it freely as a resource. Take what resonates for you and leave the rest. This is by no means, the best way, but an offering of ideas that might seem tasty.
Warning: This does not contain printable schedules or chore charts and the like. I do adore them, but this is more of an emotional navigation (with a few concrete tips), so buckle up! *And be sure to scroll to the bottom for a link to nominate someone you love and they may win a handmade soap/lip balm gift set.*
Oh, and I’m particularly unskilled at enforcing certain rules and boundaries are my continuous life lesson - so some things that may seem super obvious to you - I’m still learning them! Please be patient with me as I navigate the uncharted waters.
I am a soapmaker and a writer who spends most of her time home with her children - even before 2020. I’ve walked the maddening path of working from home with no childcare for 5 years now. Let’s just say it’s not all rainbows and sunshine and my office door is missing a piece of the wood panel because I kicked it one day when I could not find quiet.
I have no magic answers and close to zero advice. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I can say, I’m with you! My entrepreneurial spirit has nearly withered up on many occasions. But here I am 5 years later and I’m still going. I found a way through, just as we all will this school year.
What I do not have is a boss other than myself to answer to. Having that adds a whole new level of difficulty to this scenario. I commend all parents in the paid workforce that long for the space and quiet to just simply work and are on someone else’s schedule. I also commend all parents in the unpaid workforce who have unique challenges as well. Cheers to all of us! We truly are changing the world. Let’s get to work.
Step 1: Hold the vision of unbelievable SUCCESS.
Hold the vision in your mind that this unknown stretch of time will be full of work, yet rewarding and dare I say...fun. Imagine there is no other possibility. No other outcome. Sure some days will suck, they always do, even when you don’t have to fiddle with google classroom for multiple children. But, that’s just a state or a storm and the skies always clear. It’s all weather. Breathe, adjust, stretch. You got this. We will soar together.
Consider that what is happening is not to us but for us. Please feel free to immediately exit if you hate me already. Hehe. Years of yoga helped me hold that mindset. Now it’s being tested like you wouldn’t believe. Well, I’m sure you do believe as we are living in the same wild world.
Step 2: Don’t put the learning area next to the Legos or the Barbies.
Ok, this one is really just for me. I learned that the hard way last year. No one will focus if you do this! It’s like putting a plate of chocolate next to me and telling me to eat peas. Not. Gonna. Happen.
Maybe you can rearrange the living room to carve out some new space for learning areas so you don’t have supplies all over the kitchen table like we did at times. To my husband’s dismay, I sneakily divided the living room in half with the sofa this week to clear a corner for my first grader’s school headquarters. We’ll have 3 connecting rooms, which are a bit tight, with one corporate employee exclaiming he’s “On the call!” every hour, one first grader in the connecting room and one third grader in the adjacent room. Anything above a whisper and they can all hear each other. I’m up for the challenge. I am the orchestrator of all that is possible. This will be amazing! No other option exists.
Step 3: Wake up first OR go to bed last.
I’m guessing most of you are doing this already. Let’s face it, as parents we’re quite smart and sleeping children equal peace. I’m not a night owl, so I get up as early as I can before the kids to do what I need to get my head straight for the day. It’s usually as simple as water, yoga, meditate, coffee and read/write.
What I notice is when I miss this vital time to connect with myself, it’s really difficult to give to others. If you’re a night owl or your kids go to bed early, use that time to do what fills you up.
Sometimes chores or “things” must be done at this time, and I get that. But I’m pretty strict about not using my quiet morning time for anything other than what I stated above. It’s vital. And really check in with yourself asking, “Is how I’m using this time making me feel fulfilled?” If you’re not 90% sure the answer is yes, it most likely is not. Adjust as needed.
Step 4: You do you.
If it seems like “everyone” in your school chat or facebook is holding a certain schedule or doing something that works for their family, that’s great but it doesn’t mean that it works for your family. Most of what works for us has happened by trial and error. We’ll try things on and adjust when it no longer works or simply drop it altogether. I learned much of this from watching my sister navigate. Who are your real life role models?
The only “right” way is what feels right for you and your family. Sometimes that might mean dinner in front of the tv so you can read the emails from the teachers.
And sometimes when we are too rigid with our schedule, we miss things, like opportunities for fun or to have important conversations. Those things are rarely planned but always what I seem to remember.
Step 5: Invisibility hat.
Yep, you heard me right. Invisibility hat! So, when my son was in 1st grade, his teacher had a giant The Cat in the Hat hat and he told me that when she had it on, no one could talk to her. I thought that was BRILLIANT! I’m not sure about you but I have a TON of chatter in my head. It’s not all bad either, it’s just things I dream about, things I want to write or sometimes things I need to order, meals to plan, etc. The constant influx of kid questions can make my head pop sometimes.
Enter the invisibility hat. Of course, this must be used with discretion and you can’t wear it too much or else it won’t work properly. Choose something large and loud that can be seen. I’m thinking I’ll do a headband with a bow - you must be able to see it from all angles so they can’t sneak up and say they didn’t see it.
Step 6: Smile and stick to the plan.
Make a plan, whether it be weekly, daily, whatever works for you. As the days unfold and inevitably challenge your color coded plan for success, smile, stick to the plan and flow. The trick here is that part of the plan must always include changing the plan. Eeek! That hurts. Smile anyway. Adjust. Flow.
For me, sometimes having a plan, even if I know in my heart of hearts it will not happen that way, can be grounding.
Step 7: Choose at least one expert.
Parenting is hard. It’s also the best. Now with so many new challenges it’s truly a great time to harness some resources. There are A LOT of amazing parent resources. Some are encouraging. Some help us understand how our children’s brains grow so we can meet them where they are and some offer communities of connection.
One thing that has worked really well for me is to read parenting books or learn parenting lessons that resonate with me when times are not so challenging so that when we do get in the red zone, there are established resources to pull from. It doesn’t always happen so perfectly, but it has been helpful to attempt to do that. When discussing baby and toddler sleep at breastfeeding meetings, one of my fellow leaders used to always say, "The middle of the night is not the time to come up with the new bedtime routine." Genius.
In no particular order, here are some of my personal favorite parenting resources that I highly recommend:
- Carrie Contey, PhD - Carrie was one of my first parenting resources that I put in my back pocket and I have no idea how I came across her work years ago. Some of the best information I learned from her was regarding brain states in our children and how to parent when we see our kids in each different state. She gave me tangible tips as simple as getting at or below eye level to speak to a child in distress so they don’t feel threatened and you can work toward connection. Remember, we are mammals after all! She is simply giddy over child development, sharing resources about growth and development while being a cheerleader and supporter who marvels at the work parents do daily. Her emails are so inspiring and so brief - just what busy parents need!
- Dr. Dan Siegel - I learned about Dr. Siegel through Carrie Contey’s work. Together with Tina Paine Bryson, PhD he wrote, The Power of Showing Up. It is so accessible and useful. If you're not up for the whole book, definitely download the "Refrigerator Sheet" and give it a skim. It's a concise summary of all the juicy details from the book. My biggest takeaway from his book was the reminder that even when we as parents make mistakes or behave in ways we didn’t want to, making amends and reconnecting soon after builds resilience and can actually make the relationship with your child stronger. Like, “Hey look at us, we had a huge challenge and we made it through!” That was something I really needed to hear because I feel really bad after I get in fights with my kiddos.
- Zen Parenting Radio - A couple based out of the Chicago area who has produced quality content for years. Their podcasts are so rich and informative and their speakers are diverse and will truly expand your mind. I LOVE the books they discuss. I’ve traveled to Chicago to attend their parenting conference twice and I’m so grateful for their ability to share information in a digestible way. They are pretty funny too.
- Dr. John Duffy - I actually met Dr. John Duffy at the Zen Parenting Conferences. He gives off that old friend vibe. He’s a teen psychologist who is goofy, hilarious and truly brilliant. The first time I saw him speak he got on stage and admitted he was unprepared because his teen son wanted to jam on the guitar last night when he was about to prepare his speech. He chose the jam session. Everyone in the crowd cheered because he was a living example of presence as a parent. And that’s the main thing I remember years later from his speech. His ability to connect with his audience is refreshing and I adore the content he puts out because it’s so obvious that it radiates from his heart.
- VIA Institute - In order to provide for others it’s important to meet our needs first. Before we can even do that, we must know what they are. I love this free assessment that helps us understand our character strengths. I found my top 5 to be very similar to my personal needs for general life satisfaction. Two of mine are Love and Appreciation of Beauty and Curiosity. When I find ways to express my appreciation of beauty and feed my curiosity, I feel so centered. When I don't, well, let's just say you don't want to be around me. (Ironic sidebar is that when I don't make space to express how beautiful things are, I get ugly. Ha!) I encourage all of us to find ways to factor in our top 5 so that we can parent from a centered place. Go for it! If we can’t really see ourselves, how can we truly see our children?
And for added fun, please use the link below to nominate someone you admire who is parenting during this time - maybe it’s your partner, your friend, your brother, sister, your kid’s coach or your neighbor. Every parent counts! Tell me what it is about them right now, in this unique moment in time that you admire and they will be entered to win a handmade, natural soap and lip balm gift set from me!
We are all dancing at, what they call in yoga, our edge. That place where we are approaching our limit. It can be painful so we need to stretch slowly, sometimes modify the movement. Sometimes just hold it and tremble. The place where we quietly learn what we’re made of. What is ours to do and perhaps what is ours to put down and walk away from. For me, the edge is scary and juicy. It’s that beautiful paradox, where all the amazing pieces of life appear but we need to put in the energy and the real work to bring them into focus.
Sending much love,