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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Here in Oregon, kids have gone back to school online — which means there’s more pressure on parents than ever before. Parents have been required to take on a much larger role in the process of teaching in this new virtual school reality, and that extra work can be exhausting and overwhelming. This is a time where extra work can mean extra strain on your relationship — but if you plan ahead and work together, it might actually be an opportunity to grow closer than ever.

As you and the family go ‘back to school,’ consider these strategies to help you maintain your health, closeness, and calm in a new era of education.

  1. Make sure you and your partner have a unified teaching strategy. Sit down with your spouse without your kids and decide how you want them to work while they are “at school.” Once you come up with a system, call the kids over and explain it to them. Now that there is a system in place, stick to it. Keep your partner accountable to what you agreed upon. Letting your kids have snacks or play video games when they should be working could undermine the parenting of your partner.

  2. Designate work and play hours. Most classes still have regular hours, just over video, but that still leaves homework — and now, all school work is homework. Establishing set hours for homework will make this process a lot easier. Set certain hours to worry about the state of your child’s schooling; work with your partner to determine who will be ‘on’ or ‘off’ during those hours, too. Will it be split 50/50? Does it make more sense for one person to do more, or will it be easier to do it all together? Everyone’s style, relationship, and personal restrictions are different, so be flexible and supportive.

  3. Maintain the system. Once you have a regiment in place, stick with it! Remember that one of the things that makes school school is the consistency of the routine, the bells ring, lunch happens, the whole system has a rhythm. Without the physical location to go to in the morning, friends to visit with, a rhythm to follow, it’s hard for your child to motivate themselves to keep up a consistent schedule — but without school, it’s sure to be something they crave. Once you’ve developed a schedule you and your family enjoy, stick with it. Put it on the fridge. Make it a routine to build a little more normalcy in your lives.

  4. Celebrate accomplishments. This situation is hard for everyone. It’s hard for teachers having to watch thirty or more students over Zoom, it’s hard for students not able to see their friends, and it’s especially hard for parents, now stuck at home trying to work remotely while keeping their student from failing the third grade. Remember to give yourself, and your family, grace. Every accomplishment is worth celebrating. Did your student get a great grade on an online assignment? Print it out and put it on the fridge! Show your appreciation for the work your student is doing, and pat yourself on the back for being a big part of the reason why. Celebrate your partner, too! Remind them daily how much you appreciate their work — this is a great place to lean on each other’s love languages. How will they feel appreciated? How would you like to feel appreciated? Make sure you support them in that way to help each other maintain energy through this potentially draining time.

  5. Don’t follow the rules too closely. While managing and maintaining a system is important for rhythm and structure, it’s also important to remember that this is new for everyone involved — and it’s going to be tough. Some days you don’t get it perfectly, and that’s okay. Some days you’ll need breaks; some days your kids will need breaks. Some days the structure will work perfectly, some days you’ll just need to let it go. And on the days when your partner needs that, have grace. Be encouraging. Don’t let your frustration at the situation bubble over into frustration at your partner — you’re in this together, and even if your best laid plans fall apart, you’ll still be together. That’s what matters.

We’re all having a hard time with new and unusual back-to-school realities. But with structure, teamwork, grace, and practice, this time could be more than just a painful era you get through — it could be a new season of closeness and thriving.