Divorce Stress, COVID, and Homeschooling? How to Manage It All

How to juggle the different stresses you may be experiencing.

Posted Nov 17, 2020

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How to manage a toddler and your work?
Source: Anastasia Shuraeva/Pexels

Working from home with kids off of school and dealing with COVID is a challenge for all parents. If you are divorcing or a single parent, it seems almost impossible. Here are ways to juggle it all while maintaining your sanity.

Most parents never considered homeschooling their kids, but now face the challenges of being completely unprepared but trying to do so. For single parents, it's even harder.

And if you are in the middle of a divorce, well, it is hard to imagine how much more overwhelming life can be.

While trying to keep up with their own work, some parents have simply given up on homeschooling, some have brought in tutors, and others have made heroic efforts to continue their kids' education. Working from home can be frustrating and stressful. It can also be rewarding. As one parent told me, “I always wanted to be home with my kids, and now I am. I just have had to find ways to get my job done for my boss too.”

I spoke with three parents who are working from home with young kids.

Jessie is a single parent of a toddler, a very active 2-year-old who is "into everything." She owns her own jewelry business, which always depended on sales to retailers. With retailers mostly shut down, she has been struggling to reshape her business to an online platform. She struggled to keep her employees busy but had to generate income to pay them so she wouldn’t have to lay them off.

Her son used to go to daycare, where he learned Spanish and had a busy, active day with other kids his age. As an only child, being quarantined has been hard for him and his mom.

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"We had problems before but now I think we are being pushed to our breaking point."
Source: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

Adam is married with a 1-year-old. He and his husband are employed by large tech companies. Their jobs are secure but extremely demanding. Before COVID, they had a “nanny share,” but they ended that arrangement when COVID began.

For seven weeks, they struggled to care for their son while keeping up with work. "It has been hard on our marriage," he told me. "We had problems before, but now I think we are being pushed to our breaking point." The word "divorce" has come up in their arguments now.

Lauren has two boys, ages 3 and 6. She has worked from home for several years, and her boys both went to daycare and school. Early in the pandemic, she bought a trampoline and a “jumping house,” which kept the boys occupied for a while.

Her husband is a frontline worker and returned to work in a hospital setting in May. She worries about whether he is bringing the virus home to the family. They have frequent arguments about this, and they are getting worse.

Since she is the one at home, all the homeschooling tasks fall on her, and she is frustrated and grumpy when her husband comes home. "Honestly, I feel like a single parent!" she says.

School plans regarding re-opening seem to change from day to day, she says. It appears that the boys may attend part-time in person and part-time virtually. However, she has not yet decided whether she feels safe allowing them to return to school.

How they managed:

Jessie says, “With a toddler, it’s one or the other. If he’s here, I can only work when he is asleep!” She has lined up support from her ex, her parents, and her roommate. She begs her parents to have video calls with their grandchild when they read stories or look at his activities, giving their daughter a little extra time to work.

"My ex was furloughed from work, so he cared for my son during the day and many overnights to allow me to remodel my business practices."

Jessie focused on good time management, prioritizing her tasks, working early in the morning and in the evenings when her son is asleep, and weekends when necessary. She also made a point of exercising when she could and taking some time for herself to reduce the pressure. Recently she found a small daycare with strict rules regarding precautions, and now her son goes there four days a week, while his father has him on Fridays.

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Good time management and prioritizing tasks is crucial.
Source: Andrey Grushnikov/Pexels

For seven weeks, Adam and his husband created shifts, where they split the day. One worked from 8-2 and the other from 2-8. When a parent was not working, that parent had full responsibility for the child. Since they live in a very small house, that meant the off-duty parent often took the child out for long neighborhood walks. They both worked intensively when their child napped, taking full advantage of the quiet time.

After seven weeks, they were able to bring back the nanny that had been caring for their baby before COVID, without the nanny sharing, which has raised the cost significantly and means that they have had to increase their work time. "I am not sure how we will manage the stress if this goes on for another year!" he says.

Adam and his husband worked with their employers to modify their schedules to accommodate their kid-duty shifts. They also talked with their co-workers to see how they were balancing childcare and work.

Lauren has thought about hiring a high-schooler to come and help the boys with their homework. Like many parents, she is weighing the risks of exposure against her need to work effectively.

Strategies to consider:

Kids need structure. They get bored, miss their friends and their extracurricular activities. Without the routine of getting school and homework, it can feel like every day is a Saturday. You now have to be the one to create structure. Make sure you get your kids up every day as if it were a school day.

Pack a lunch for them in the morning, and encourage your older kids to help their younger siblings. Leave plenty of healthy snacks and drinks out where your kids can find them easily without disturbing you.

Create a schedule for them, including playtime, snacks, perhaps a Zoom call with friends, time outside, homework time, and screen time. This will help kids over 5 feel the security of a structured day.

Try to establish a daily routine for your work too. For older kids, write out your daily schedule of Zoom meetings or other fixed appointments, as well as when you will be able to take breaks. A predictable schedule will let your kids know when you are available. If your schedule is flexible or varies from day to day, use a whiteboard in the kitchen to share your schedule.

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Plan some breaks to spend time with the kids.
Source: Lina Kivaka/Pexels

Plan some breaks to spend time with the kids, perhaps 30 minutes mid-morning, 30 minutes for lunch, and 30 minutes mid-afternoon. Include those times you will be available for them. And try to completely shift your focus to your kids during those breaks. It will help you recharge, as well.

Be realistic about what you can accomplish while juggling your kids’ needs, their school assignments, and your own work demands. It might be helpful to identify a few goals for the day so that you don’t get overwhelmed. Talk to your co-workers and your manager or boss to discuss what you believe you can accomplish.

Allow more screen time, choosing programs carefully. PBS, Khan Academy, and other online sites offer educational and entertaining, age-appropriate options. Save their gaming screen time for those calls when you cannot be interrupted.

Create a private, quiet workspace. Some parents wear noise-canceling headphones to alleviate distractions from house noises. Sasha cleaned up a corner of her garage and set up a work table there.

Set clear boundaries around when it is OK to interrupt you. If your kids know that you will be taking regular breaks, it will be easier for them to accept the boundaries. You might have a “do not disturb” sign for when you have work calls that cannot be interrupted. If necessary, mute yourself to answer a child’s question or to resettle the child with his activity. If you are on an important call, and your little one is demanding attention, try blowing bubbles to distract him.

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Whether parenting solo or not, you’ll need ways to distract your little ones and keep them busy for those crucial work calls.
Source: Tatiana Syrikova/Pexels

Plan specific activities for the kids for those meetings that cannot be interrupted. One parent went to the dollar store and stocked up on “surprises” to pull out before an important conference call. You might have special activities, such as outdoor water playtime, art activities with play-doh or washable markers, puzzles. Some kids enjoy simple cooking projects. Whether parenting solo or not, you’ll need ways to distract your little ones and keep them busy for those crucial work calls.

You may be able to do some paperwork or emails while your kids are working quietly on schoolwork. Reward your kids for not interrupting you. Older kids might enjoy Zoom calls with their friends as an incentive to get their schoolwork finished.

These are a few strategies that can make WFH feel less “impossible.” Check with your friends to share strategies they may have found helpful. We are all in this together. So remember to cut yourself, your ex, your soon-to-be-ex, or your spouse and your kids some slack.

© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2020