How are you doing these days?
Okay, that was a loaded question.
Here we are in September, facing the most unprecedented school year of all time, and I’m asking how you’re doing. Feel free to scream, cry, or laugh in response. You won’t be alone.
The majority of parents I talk to are overwhelmed. When I ask friends how they’re doing, I hear comments like:
“I hope I made the right choice keeping her home.”
“At least you were given a choice!”
“I can’t make plans to return to work because I don’t know when or if my kids will go back to school full-time.”
“My first-grader can’t figure out anything on his own and my fourth-grader can’t handle the boredom.”
“I’ve lost precious hours I’d normally spend being productive—now I’m just sitting and supervising.”
We’re working, parenting, teaching, cooking, and restless in bed when we should be sleeping. After all, when else do we have time to think?
Well, fellow parents, today you are in for a treat. Knowing we all need some encouragement to power through, we”ve reached out to Mary Van Geffen, a Certified Simplicity Parenting Counselor and Professional Co-Active Coach.
She’s an advocate for grown-ups and right now, we really need one. I know I took so much away from our conversation—and I hope you will too!
3 Powerful Reminders to Help Parents Manage this School Year
When it comes to parenting—and schooling—during a pandemic, Mary and I discussed a few strategies for easing the worried parent’s mind:
1. Create a to-don’t list. In a time where a parent’s day is filled to the brim with obligations, consider making a list of anti-obligations. In other words: decide what you won’t do.
Mary suggests letting go of comparison, saying, “Everyone is in this storm, but people are living in vastly different boats.” And she’s right. Some of us have flexible work schedules, some of us don’t. Your neighbor might be managing one child’s education while you’re barely balancing four. And each of us—parents, teachers, and kids alike—bring to the table a unique blend of personality and aptitude.
Comparison gets us nowhere, so let’s add it to the won’t do, don’t do list!
Also on Mary’s anti-obligations list? Taking on the responsibility of your child’s education. (Brace yourself because this next part might make you feel a bit sweaty).
She says, “Once we help students get fed, get online, and into their Zoom classroom, it’s time to walk out of the room and let the chips fall a bit. If you need to stay, shut thine mouth. Grin and bear as much as you can. The teacher will reach out if there’s a problem.”
Sweaty, yes, but aren’t we also breathing a sigh of relief?
Me? I’m no longer responding to shouts for help from across the house. As long as those little legs work, I’m expecting them to do their job and carry my kids to me, where they can ask for what they need in a calm, kind voice.
What will you add to your 2020 Schooling To-Don’t List?
2. Find ease in cultivating a positive, peaceful home. Mary acknowledges right away—and we should too—that on-screen schooling puts young children in a learning environment that’s just not developmentally appropriate.
Translation: little ones need to move and interact and when they don’t, they struggle to learn. This is the reality you’re swimming in five days a week if your kids are learning at home.
You’ll help them learn best not by worrying so much about school, but by inserting yourself into the hours outside of school. Mary refers to this as the superpowers of CONNECTION and RHYTHM.
She explains, “Connection looks like you, self-regulated, giving your full presence a few times throughout the day—playfulness, a smile on your face, you delighting in them.” Be careful, though, not to consider this another obligation. Connection, Mary says, can be as simple as, “you observing and appreciating what they’re doing.”
Rhythm works as an extension, by adding reliable moments of connection throughout the day’s transitions. “It looks like alternating between two different predictable states of doing or being. Between effort and relaxation, small motor skills and large motor skills, stillness and movement, quiet and loud, inside and outside, together and alone, structured and self-directed,” says Mary.
She likens rhythm to breathing—inhale and exhale—as a way to calm the body. You add to that calm by balancing out an otherwise screen-filled day. It can be easy, too. You might “have a set menu and time for snacks or say, ‘We always play tag together during your first break,’” says Mary.
Remember to add rhythm to your own day as well. I take a long walk each morning while my husband feeds our boys breakfast. I listen to a podcast or call my mom and come back with my legs tingling from the uphill climb and my mind ready to tackle the day ahead at home. Rhythm at its finest.
3. Remember: God is for your family. When it comes to parenting through a pandemic, we’re all newbies. Mary encourages us to be gentle with ourselves.
She says, “There’s no proven script. No one has done this before. This is a Moses Moment—a moment of leading your family through something for which you have no experience.”
Mary goes on: “When Moses led the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt, he had never been on that journey before. He wasn’t equipped. It was God who showed up big time to part the Red Sea and rain down food in the desert. You just stay faithful to your values and to your belief that God is for your family and He’ll show up in the midst of it all.”
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We can take comfort and rest in the knowledge that God is on our side.
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We may not totally understand what’s going on today and we sure don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but He does. And Mary reminds me, as I’m working hard to be a good parent, that He’s a good Father.
We understand that many families have no idea what lies ahead this school year. You’re off to a start (whatever that looks like for you) and we pray it’s going as well as it can. But we know we’re all going to face challenges we’ve never faced before this year. So we want to pray this prayer together over the rest of this school year. Pray it daily and trust God to remind you in this Moses Moment that He is for you and your kids—He is present and able to provide all that you need.
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A Prayer for this Messy School Year
Dear God, Thank You for being on our side. Thank You for being with us in the middle of this messy school year. God, we trust you’ll carry our fears, frustrations, stress, and questions as we walk the unpaved road ahead, together. Holy Spirit, help us to see clearly what is best for our family, according to Your will. And as we navigate our unique path, remind us to not lose sight of those around us that may be struggling in the same or different ways. May we shine your light and love no matter what difficulties we face every day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11:28-30 MSG
Mary Van Geffen, a Los Angeles-based Parenting Coach, has helped thousands of parents across America find their footing during this uncertain time. Mary coaches moms over the phone and also teaches The Pandemic Parenting Workshop virtually at elementary and middle schools. Follow her on Instagram or Facebook for daily inspiration and tips. Offer for Minno readers: Mary is generously offering all Minno parents a free 30-minute phone session to help you learn new ways of parenting. Schedule something here for immediate relief.