A few days ago, I posted a picture on my blog’s Facebook of me playing a Humpty Dumpty game with my five-year-old, and explained that I was between Zoom meetings. My wife Mel was in the other room working with our ten-year-old daughter, Norah, who moments earlier had a meltdown over math homework. Despite all the screaming from the meltdown, our five-year-old Aspen wouldn’t stop asking her mother to play a game, so I came downstairs to give Mel a hand with what time I had available. Earlier in the morning, I was holding our thirteen-year-old Tristan accountable for his schoolwork while trying to keep up with my own work.
The point of the post was to show that this is our new normal, but according to the comments, my new normal was very different from others. I was surprised by how many women mentioned that their husbands are now working from home, but not helping with homeschooling at all. One woman said her husband goes into the bedroom and locks the door. She also works full time from home, but is expected to homeschool all five of their children herself while keeping up with her own job. I’ll just say this right now: That’s a jerk move, dude.
Listen, guys, I get it. These are tense times. I work at a university that lost $35 million because of COVID-19 shutdowns. There are a lot of discussion right now about layoffs and budget cuts, and I’m as afraid as anyone about losing my job. And yeah, I’m taking on extra projects and saying yes to any crappy task that comes up, hopeful to stand out and help better secure my position at the university.
But none of this is an excuse to not be helping with homeschool.
If you are working from home, and your spouse is too, she’s under the same stress.
Guys: you can find a way to pitch in here. I assure you. Yes, it might mean flexing your hours some so you can work in the evening, or getting up earlier and working before school gets started, so you can be more available to help your children during the day. It might mean setting up shop in the kitchen, answering emails on your laptop, while also helping your child with math. It might mean looking at your schedule and game planning with your wife to figure out when you are most available, and when you really need to be alone in another room for meetings and so forth.
Sure, there are probably some jobs where you cannot be 100% disturbed all day, but I’m going to go ahead and make an assumption that those are few and far between — especially now, when circumstances have forced employers to be more understanding of these things than ever. After all, many of them are in the same boat.
What has worked really well for Mel and me is for her to work with our youngest two downstairs first thing in the mornings. They don’t have nearly as much to do, and that way she can go into her job in the early afternoon. I take our teenager, who really doesn’t need much help — he can do it on his own, he just doesn’t want to. All he really needs is someone to hold him accountable. I put a desk in his closet, and he works in his room. Each morning before I start work, we game plan. We map out his day and establish how much time he will take on each assignment. We set a lot of timers. I work, and every 15 min or so, I look over at him, and tell him to put down the Rubik’s Cube and focus. When I have a Zoom meeting, I shut the door, and expect him to stay focused … with mixed results. But ultimately, I can usually get him back in business after my meeting.
Shortly after lunch, all the kids are finished and playing in the backyard.
But the real plus here is that working side by side with my wife on homeschooling has helped me feel closer to my children, particularly my older son, and it’s really been a blessing to my marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be back in the office, and my children back in school. But sitting down and game planning schoolwork with my wife has really helped us understand our strengths and weaknesses as parents, and given us time to shine as co-parents.
Right now, it feels like life is this collision of family, work, and school, all of it put in a blender and mixed up — and each day, I don’t know exactly which family member is going to make a guest appearance in my online meetings, or who’s going to need help with a division problem, or making a sandwich, or finding their shoes. Like everybody else, I’m just trying to balance working from home, while feeling like I always have one foot at work, and two hands in parenting. But you know what? It’s manageable, and that’s all the more reason why it would be totally unfair to place all the burden on my wife.
Here’s the thing, guys. I know this is written by some dude on an online website called Scary Mommy. Your wife is probably going to tag you in it, and your assumption is that you are being attacked. But you aren’t, and that’s not what I want from this post. What I want you to do is sit down with your partner and discuss homeschool. Don’t hide from it in some dark part of the house. Pitch in. Look at the schedule, see what is required, and find ways to contribute. It’s not that bad, it’s not going to get you fired, and chances are, it will be the best thing for your family and your marriage.