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Playing the role of parent and teacher during lockdown

By Avigail Sacks

I was very moved by an article a mother wrote about not being able to homeschool her child. She attached a picture of all the worksheets she had printed out that had been sent by the school… but had not been completed. I was touched by her ability to empathise with what she and so many mothers are going through. 

I was ashamed to write about my experience because, well, I was the mom who made sure my children did EVERY… SINGLE… WORKSHEET. And if I write that, well, it may come across as if I’m saying that I’m the ‘perfect’ mom and that we are managing so well in lockdown. But let me assure you, that is far from the truth.

The truth is just like the other mom expressed that she was doing her best to survive in the circumstances, this was my version of my best. I really thought this is what needed to be done, otherwise I would be failing at getting my children through this time. There is no right or wrong here. Just two mothers speaking their truths.

My child, who is actually also a gift from G-d bestowed upon me to help me reach a better version of myself, gave me a good wake up call. 

The making sure every single worksheet got done lasted a good 4 months. Yes sometimes I was met with a bit of nagging here and there. I created star charts, they earned prizes, I made sure they had nice snacks throughout the day and I gave them my undivided attention… their education consumed most of my day. 

I took on the role as their teacher and parent. And their education became my number one priority. 

All parents wish for their kids to learn one way or another. My version of being in control of my world during this time, played out in me being totally consumed in making sure my kids did exactly as they were asked by their teachers. 

Last week, I decided to take my kids horseriding for the day instead of doing the worksheets. It was the first time I took them on an outing during the week. I was tired of homeschooling and I think they were tired of me telling them what to do. 

I saw how they marveled at these beautiful animals, I saw how they cried in fear of getting on and how they found ways to overcome that fear. My one child took the pony for a ‘walk’  by holding the lead instead of riding on it. I saw how they brushed them with love and care. I saw how my other child overcame that fear by riding the horse and feeling so proud. 

It was a beautiful day with many lessons to be learnt. 

When we got home, my child refused to do the school work and I was met with the attitude of, “well, what are you going to do about it?” I started saying things like, “how will you pass this grade if you don’t do the work that’s been sent to you?” or “I’m going to ask dad to speak to you because I can’t take this anymore.” My child’s non cooperation triggered alot of frustration in me. (I’m an Attorney by profession, non compliance with rules and deadlines is clearly a challenge.) 

There were threats… I was creating fear… And I know this is not who I am. It didn’t sit well in my skin. 

But I didn’t know what else to do. 

And after 4 and a half months… I crashed. 

I cried, I prayed to G-d for strength and guidance, I poured my heart out to my husband. I blamed him for not caring about their work as much as I do. I felt so lost. Making sure all the work got done everyday was such a huge achievement and accomplishment but at the same time spending the day out with them with the horses filled up mine and their souls so much. I felt so torn between two spaces. 

Seeing my kids so happy that day tore me to pieces. 

And then my husband said something which changed everything for me, 

“you can’t care about their work more than they care about it.” 

I took on the role of parent and teacher and after a few months (I don’t even know how I lasted that long) it was too much to handle. I decided something had to change. 

I made a decision to remind myself of my responsibilities as a mother (and not as a teacher) with regards to my child’s education:

-log my children into their zoom classes 

-print out their worksheets and lay it out on their desks

-say, “these are your worksheets for today, do you understand what you need to do? I am available to help you if you need my help.” 

-put a clock on my child’s desk and show them by what time their teacher wants the work to be sent in. 

-offer words of encouragement and support.

-teach my child how to photograph the work done and send it to the teacher. 

-keep doing the star chart for my kids as it gives their day a sense of structure 

-value the role I play in their lives simply by the fact that we live together and we learn from eachother with everything we do throughout the day whether it’s school related or not 

-remind them that they have amazing teachers who care about them and want to help if needed

-show empathy when they are struggling 

-offer my help with daily tasks 

-love them no matter what

-live in the moment with them 

-play and have fun with them

-lead by example. 

Their teachers are so capable, loving, understanding, empowering, supportive and professional. That became even more apparent when I reached out to them for help. They listened to my pain and worry and offered guidance. 

This is what I’ve decided not to do:

-micro manage my children

-push them to complete their work at my pace. (I’m very driven in my efficiency.) 

-make them finish their work as soon as possible so that I am free to do what I need to do. That caused alot of pressure. 

-not to push for the work be as neat as I want it to be but rather as neat as they believe they can and want to make it. 

-threaten them, even with indirect comments. 

-tell them what to do every hour of the day and repeat myself countless times when it doesn’t get done. (I’ve put pictures on the daily tasks on their star charts so that it’s clear and easy to understand.)

As soon as I expressed my intentions and said, “I am my children’s parent and not their teacher” my whole body relaxed. I didn’t feel anxious anymore. And that does not mean I don’t care about their education. In fact, it means I care enough about my child that I will afford him or her the opportunity to learn as is fit for them. 

I am happy that I am learning these lessons now. If it wasn’t for this lockdown period I don’t know when I would have learnt to let go of my expectations of them and how things ‘should’ be. My children are actually very happy with this new arrangement. They feel more empowered. 

They’ve also been in pyjamas for the last two days and oh boy have I bit my tongue hard!