As a practicing veterinarian putting in at least 30 hours at the hospital (and of course the countless hours put in catching up on emails, labs and patient phone calls, as well as consulting and lecturing) and the mom of three young kids (second-, third- and fifth-grader) who are remote learning this year, I am bracing for the unknown, the uncharted and the unusual days that 2020 still has in store for us.
I know that with anything in life, failing to prepare is preparing to fail—even if it’s for a pandemic that is making us feel as if we live in controlled chaos at all times.
However, as we all do our best, here are my five steps for surviving the school year ahead:
Stay in Front
Most moms I know always want to be prepared. But how do you prepare for something that has upended your life in every possible way? I think by now we’ve all learned to expect the unexpected, so now we need to turn that thinking into a plan of action.
First, let’s set expectations. I cannot expect the same level of ability for remote learning from my second grader as compared to my fifth grader. Not only are they different ages, but my care-free and fearless seven-year-old is really nothing like my serious and sensitive eleven-year-old. But they both need to be able to make it possible for me to help them get through their school days without taking too much away from the rest of the household.
The week before school started (we are all remote learning here in Chicago), we started going over what every day was expected to be like. Not only how they would get on their Zoom calls and handle themselves, but when they would get their work done, how they would keep tabs on everything, and how they would help me take inventory of what they need and what they have accomplished during their day.
We can all look at our current life situation and bemoan all that our kids are losing, including the in-person interaction with their teachers and the social skills they would be developing alongside the other children. Even my friends who have kids learning in-person have said that school is nothing like it was before COVID-19. Social distancing, constant mask-wearing, no recess or lunchroom, and the lack of athletics and other social clubs has made everything very different from what we were accustomed to in the most recent past. And, is it absolutely ok to be unhappy about all of this. It isn’t fair to our kids; it isn’t fair to us. But all of us in this profession know from our years in practice that life takes unexpected turns.
We’re stuck in this situation now, but there is good that can come from this. Our kids will be raised to be resilient. They are learning to handle adversity in many forms. They are dealing with being scared about the unknown. These are all building blocks for their life that will make them stronger adults—as long as we are strong for them right now. Life is a challenge we need to meet head-on.
Ask for Help
However, meeting life head-on does not mean everything has to be done completely on your own. My husband and I, who both work full-time, know that we have to come together to find the best solutions for our family to keep us all moving forward. Whether with your partner or on your own, figure out who within your family and friends can be of help. Establish your village!
I find all too often in life we don’t want to ask other people for help, thinking we are just being a burden, when those very same people could probably use our help, too. I’ve made this mistake too many times in life, not realizing that it actually shows strength and bravery asking for help, not weakness or inability to manage.
I have a good friend who watches our school-update Zoom calls for me (while I’m practicing) and takes notes for me so I can be up to speed on what’s going on at school. In turn, when I’m home, I have her daughter over for socially distanced play dates whenever she has anything for work that takes her away from home.
Helping with school work, technology or just letting a friend vent are just some of the ways we can all help each other take some of the stress off of our shoulders.
Take Time for Yourself
Speaking of stress…yes, it’s building up. We can all feel it. We are so busy worrying about work, our kids, our parents, and anyone and everyone in our lives who has been affected by this. But, especially in our profession already riddled with compassion fatigue and daily mental health challenges, we need to take care of ourselves.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Speaking of taking time for ourselves, a huge component of that is forgiving ourselves. I have days where I drink more coffee than I would like (If my Starbucks closes down again, I will quit this pandemic!), eat the chocolate I swore I would forsake or never quite get my workout clothes on. And that’s okay. Not every day is going to work right. Some days are going to be really, really awful. Some days we are going to cry. (Okay, many days we might cry!) Accepting that fact will make this a lot easier.
If you do the best you can to incorporate the three points above, then you are providing a loving and smart environment for you and your family, and you are getting through this as best as anyone can. Some days that means everything goes wrong. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at practice trying to put out a fire at home via FaceTime in between appointments.
Whether it is setting an exercise routine and sticking to it, finding ways to make sure you can eat healthy, pulling out an adult coloring book or just setting aside some time for yourself every single day to take a relaxing bath, we can’t be good for everyone else if we aren’t being good to ourselves. Yes, a glass of wine is a great way to end the day, don’t get me wrong, but we need more than that for ourselves. Make time for yourself to rest and recharge and feed your passions.
This Too Shall Pass
At the end of the day, we need to remember that these days won’t last forever. Yes, they may last way longer than we first thought, but they will end. We will find a new normal that works, even if we can’t get back to our old normal. There will be a year soon when your kids are back in school for the whole year. And those kids will be formed by all of the experiences and trials they went through during this time.
At the end of the day (yes, often with a glass of wine), I like to look at my three little ones and capture this moment in time and think about their kids someday. (Can you imagine the lecture our grandkids will get from our kids when they complain that they are bored!?) We didn’t choose to have this chapter in our lives, but we can do our best to keep the narrative flowing in a positive direction. +