The past year has been intense for well, pretty much everyone around the world, but mothers, in particular, have taken on an outsized burden that has left us overwhelmed, frazzled, and absolutely exhausted. We’ve all been forced to make seemingly impossible decisions about how we would organize our family lives while we’ve spent the greater part of a year stuck and safe at home. Many moms quit their jobs, others started working from home whether full- or part-time so they could assist their kids with virtual learning, and still others like myself, made the choice to independently homeschool our children to avoid the unknowns that the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed on the public school system in America.
As someone who worked from home before the pandemic, I was in a unique position that when schools shut down in March 2020 I didn’t have to scramble to find help with my kids so I could still head into the office each day, and because of the financial unknowns at that time, my workload decreased a bit those first few months as well. My oldest — who was in second grade — logged onto his school’s virtual learning program each day and we went through the struggles. He’s such a young child learning how to complete his schooling entirely on a laptop which he had previously only been exposed to an hour or two a week. My youngest, on the other hand, was no longer in pre-school two mornings a week and I had to find things to do to keep her busy and out of her brother’s way while he was doing his school work.
It was stressful and frustrating, but we did our best to stay positive. I found comfort in venting to other parents I knew with kids in his grade and we powered through those last three months of school. Toward the end of the school year though, I found my workload suddenly (and blessedly) multiplied to beyond even what it had been pre-COVID and I spent many a late night writing stories to meet deadlines so I could be present to help my kids during the day.
My son absolutely hated virtual learning though and we all took a huge breath of relief when the school year finally came to a close. We enjoyed the summer as much as we possibly could, but soon I had to face the decision of whether I was going to submit my son to virtual learning once again. I didn’t feel safe sending him back in-person, full-time, or hybrid as the pandemic rages on, so it was either going to be fully virtual or I was going to un-enroll him. By the time August rolled around, our schools still hadn’t put out a plan for the school year with less than a month to go before the first day of school, so I made the call and we embarked on our COVID homeschooling journey.
I had been researching curricula all summer, so I purchased our homeschool materials and dove in head-first. I knew my son didn’t want to be on a computer all day and I wanted something that my then four-year-old would also be able to participate in at least partly, so we went with nature- and literature-based homeschool curriculum that we were incredibly excited about.
That hasn’t changed, but our family dynamic has. Now six months in, I’m not the same mom that I was a year ago. In some ways, it’s good. I’ve learned that I sometimes have to change my plans at the last minute and just go with the flow, I’ve learned that everything I do with my kids doesn’t have to be super-structured and while I’ve learned that while I can usually do most of everything, I can’t always do it all. I have limitations, and I can accept that.
On the other hand, most days I feel like I’m drowning. I feel like I’m not giving my kids the best version of myself because I’m constantly exhausted and I spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week needing to be “on” as a mom. There is always someone who needs or wants something, always a fight to referee, a school lesson to explain for the third time, a knee to bandage, a misdeed to discipline, a deadline to meet, a meal to prepare, a nightmare to soothe, a story to listen to, and I’m tapped out.
I’ve come to understand that in a parent/child relationship, quality may outweigh quantity when it comes to time spent together. The fact is, I’m not meant to be all the things to my children, but during a pandemic that’s exactly what I’ve taken on. And yes, I realize that I willingly chose to homeschool, but like every parent in the past year, I knew a decision had to be made and I had to make the one I thought was the best fit for our family. I don’t regret the choice. In fact, I treasure the fact that my kids and I have had some really cool bonding experiences together this year and that I’ve gotten to keep them under my wing and away from less than desirable influences for a little bit longer, that I’ve gotten to foster their curiosity and teach them things like cursive handwriting and cooking that they wouldn’t have learned in public school, and of course, that I’ve gotten to give them loads of extra hugs, kisses, and cuddles.
But, this year has been the equivalent of handing me a mirror to watch my own reactions and emotions to every situation every single day, and it’s made me feel like a failure more than a few times. I’ve yelled too much, cried too much, and given in to screen time requests more times than I can count. My kids have seen my raw, often ugly emotions, and while I’m committed to always talking it out, I still wish they hadn’t witnessed me at my worst the way they have during COVID homeschooling.
Kids are resilient though, and I know that they’ve also seen the best of me. Thankfully, they always see the days as more good than bad. But I don’t know how well I’ll be able to recover from this, or if I’ll ever see myself as the kind of mom I long to be. I do know that I’ll continue to make the tough decisions when life calls for it. Oh, and that teachers are awesome and will never get enough recognition for the work they put in each and every day.