Working parents share their back-to-school concerns

Misha McClure works with her son during virtual learning.

Working parents with K-12-aged children lead a challenging existence in the most normal of times. But normal times, these are not. And with schools opening up, and over 850 campuses nationwide already reporting COVID cases, parents are being asked to navigate choppy waters that include employment obligations, monitoring their students’ educational progress, toddler childcare, keeping their children and themselves COVID-free, and more.

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“The biggest challenge is the expectation to chime in and assist my students while I have work to manage from home as well,” said Pamela Gray, an HR director and mother of two sons. “My high school son, Marshall, is fine, but it’s unrealistic to expect younger students like my son Matthew (5th grade) to get real-time assistance from parents throughout the day.” Gray, whose job allows her to work from home, says having one designated area for schoolwork, along with a set schedule, helps establish boundaries.

Pamela Gray works with her son.

“We treat our days like real school. Get up, get dressed, eat and then sit at your desk/work area and login for class. Some days are better than others.”

Misha McClure, Comcast’s manager for external communications, is balancing her schedule with her son, Chase’s schedule so she can help him throughout the day with the virtual on-boarding process for new sixth graders.

She’s also concerned, as are just about all parents, with COVID safety.

“I don’t think I can fully feel confident for him to return to [in-person] school until a vaccine is available to minimize the effects of COVID.”

READ WHAT OTHER PARENTS ARE SAYING

David and Yolonda Wall, who both work full-time, have a 5-year-old who is starting school this year, and a 3-year-old in childcare.

“Our 5-year-old, Ian, started school online on August 11, but he’s been taking classes at school since August 24,” said David, who says daunting school-related challenges exist whether Ian is in the classroom or learning virtually.

TIPS FOR PARENTS

  • Set boundaries: Being your best as a working parent doesn’t mean saying “yes” to everyone’s request. Saying “no” to things that aren’t vital allows you to say “yes” to things that uplift your spirit.
  • Stay connected: Reducing stress doesn’t mean giving less to your kids. Focused time doing enjoyable activities can actually relieve stress.
  • Enlist help: Family, friends and neighbors are often more willing to lend a hand than you think. Call on your village for support.
  • Model appropriate behavior: If you avoid anxiety-provoking situations, invest in self-care, practice positive thinking, your children will also.
  • Reward courageous behavior: If your child faces his/her fears or takes risks to learn new things, reward them with praise or a tangible treat.
  • Encourage your child to express their anxiety(s): Validating your child’s emotions encourages them to grow emotionally and problem solve.

Sources: verywellmind.com & psychologytoday.com

 

“We loved the online learning for safety reasons, but we had to supervise our son all day. It was like I was back in school.”

Wall said staying home daily was “not a great option at all” for him and his wife, and that in-class learning took some of the pressure off them.

“But now, the issue is, is our son’s safe.” Then there’s Jasmine Smith, a parent who is also a Manvel High School 11th grade history teacher. She teaches her students virtually, but from her campus classroom, while simultaneously monitoring the work of her kindergarten son and fifth-grader daughter, who accompany her to her classroom daily.

“I keep my son, Lathan’s meet video up on my projector in my class while I use my personal computer to do my Google Meets with my own students,” shared Smith. “For my daughter Lynnden, who’s in fifth grade, she’s an independent learner so I don’t have to check in on her as much. However, I do have her school email saved on my computer to log in as her and make sure assignments are getting completed.”

Jasmine Smith has to balance teaching her own class with teaching her children.

For parents, especially those at home with their virtual learners, Smith suggests building a good relationship with the child’s teacher, being patient but proactive, and using breaks as opportunities for children to move away from the computer screen.”

Adding to the usual stresses, parents have to contend with are issues like mask-wearing reminders, travel to and from school, campus social distancing consistency, and for homebound students, providing all-day food/snacks, technology access, the impact of a lack of socialization, childcare for toddlers and emotional challenges.

STRESS RELIEF POINTERS

Dr. Rheeda Walker, a University of Houston psychology professor and author of “The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health,” offered suggestions that can help both parents and their children deal with the rising stresses that come with our current COVID school reality.

“Starting with the understanding that we are in a very precarious and stressful time goes a long way. This is important so that we lower expectations for 1) ourselves as parents who have endless responsibilities and 2) for children whose lives have been disrupted.” 

Walker says with lowered expectations, parents can relax a bit on achieving perfection in schoolwork. She also suggests giving your children, co-parent and teachers the benefit of the doubt.

“Assume everyone is doing the best they can, and the outcome will be far from perfect and that’s ok. When parents take a moment to ‘adjust,’ especially at the height of feeling overwhelmed, doing so allows them to not say something or behave in a way that can make a bad situation worse.”

When at your boiling point, Walker recommends “adjusting” by walking into another room to breathe or pray and keeping your favorite songs cued up “to listen to while sitting outside in the car for 5-10 minutes.” 

She also advocates empowering children by asking their opinion on solutions when things seem “out of control.”

“Our kids often surprise us with amazing ideas. Even when they don’t, it goes a long way when grownups empower them to be helpful.

“At the end of the day, we can only do what we can do.”

Gray suggests the village approach. “Many times, children just need to hear from another person in the village after mom has said the same thing 100 times. For me, I need support from my family to allow me some downtime after working and being with two online students all day.”

McClure sees increased student freedom as a positive.

“Allow your student to truly engage virtually. It gives them more freedom to learn to navigate the system and gives you peace of mind during the school day.”

For the Walls, communicating assignments and organizing for the week on Sunday evenings is essential for maintaining their sanity. “We have a meeting every Sunday about who’s doing what, and that helps. We also have a big assignment board in the kitchen, which is needed with two different pick-up times with two kids.”

As a teacher, Smith uniquely feels the pull of work and home life. “I understand the school leaders’ positions on why they want to resume face-to-face learning since funding is a huge part of that equation. However, as a parent, I think families have to do what’s in the best interest of their children.”

Smith, who wishes all Houston-area school districts were on the same page, added, “I don’t foresee many students being successful sitting in front of a computer screen for 6-8 hours a day.”

Wall thinks COVID testing in schools would help alleviate some parental stress and create a healthier reality for all involved.

“My parents are in their upper 60s, and not able to really help out like they want to because the kids are in school and daycare, with no testing. Teachers are protected, but I’m not sure about how protected the kids are.”

RESOURCES FOR PARENTS

  • Comcast Internet Essentials: Reduced cost internet access for low-income families (internetessentials.com)
  • PPE: For individuals with low or fixed incomes, low cost or free PPE (masks, gloves, hand sanitizer) can be found at readyharris.org, the City of Houston’s Project C.U.R.E. (given out at the city’s mobile testing sites, and various other efforts by organizations and individuals like Houston native and rapper Slim Thug who launched a personal protective equipment line (Slim HTX) of affordable PPE options (slimhtx.org).
  • HISD @H.O.M.E. Home-Based Ongoing Mobile Education: HISD’s cite for its virtual offerings, including HISD TV offering instructional videos and more (houstonisd.org; 713-556-INFO)
  • HISD Community Resource Guide providing contact info on all manner of organizations and services (houstonisd.org)
  • HISD PowerUp Program: Offering one laptop per HISD student, which can be accessed via the school
  • Ft. Bend Resources: fortbendisd.com
  • Alief ISD Resources: aliefisd.net
  • Aldine ISD Resources: aldineisd.org
  • Cy-Fair Resources: cfisd.net