Across this wonderful country, many Aussie parents have suddenly, and unceremoniously, been faced with homeschooling their children at some stage in the last year and a half. Myself included. This year however, the stakes were raised for me as my two youngest kids joined their big brother at primary school taking my classroom numbers to 3 [which is 3 kids over what i’m qualified for].
As Victorians faced a 4th, 5th and 6th lockdown [le sigh], you can betcha I’ve needed to bring my academic a-game to the lockdown party. When it comes to navigating homeschooling or [crisis schooling as I now refer to it], the most essential choices that I found have helped me more recently navigate these murky waters, might surprise you.
Let’s unpack what I learnt;
Throw your pre-pandemic expectations in the bin
Those that know me well will likely tell you that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I set very high expectations for myself, which is sometimes a strength, but in this case? Well, it makes for some tricky orienteering if you’re a working parent who’s suddenly found themselves holding the crisis schooling compass.
When we entered our first lockdown? My little family relished in [heck? Perhaps even enjoyed] the slower day-to-day pace. The kids rolled up to their Webex calls in their Oodies and I only straightened the front half of my hair for Zoom meeting purposes [not that physical appearance has ever been a workplace requirement here at TDP]. But as lockdown time dragged on… and on… and on, I realised that my brain was craving routine to cope with the new reality of intersecting circles that were anything but what life was like before lockdown.
I was holding myself as a Mum, and a conscientious colleague, to my own self-inflicted sky high standards. Being a night owl, I’m quite happy to juggle my work days around to suit what supported me on the home front. However, my kids need [and like] their sleep, and I’m kinda partial to them sleeping too. So as a family, we reset our personal expectations together and committed to doing their daily class calls, daily reading, getting daily fresh air and maths [where we could] in the form of mathletics and… that’s all, folks!
It’s not optimal, I know [and apologies to any of my kids’ teachers that might even possibly be reading this], but our overall mental health is simply more important right now. Kids witnessing their parents stressed out of their freaking minds isn’t going to do them [or their future work ethic] any good either.
Worst case scenario? They fall behind in their learning and might need a bit of tutoring to catch up on any gaps that lockdown has caused. That’s something I’m okay with for the sake of our collective mental health.
Communication is key
Now if you’ll allow me to be boldly honest for a moment I’d like to make this point Royal-Doulton-levels-of-crystal-clear.
What you require from a mental health point of view needs to be placed directly at the top of your priority list. Like, the very *VERY* top!
Once I recognised that I was beginning to tread on water, I could see my tolerance for organising early morning lunchboxes wane, my patience to assist with even the most basic of tasks [like eating dinner together] was evaporating, and I was officially the very angry bear of our household.
I was burning out faster with every lockdown. I knew I needed to flag this with my management team so that they were not only aware of my external contributing factors, but could work with me to formulate a plan of attack to move forward with. At the end of the day, I enjoy my role immensely and working each day was providing me with a purpose and sense of achievement each day.
In saying all of this, I understand that I’m speaking from the privileged position of being in a workplace that welcomes this kind of feedback… and if you aren’t right now I’m so sorry – you deserve better. But these needs? They’re fundamentally essential to this particular generation of [pandemic] parents.
Your feelings are valid and there should always be supportive options on the table when it comes to your mental health. Advocating for yourself in the form of activating a paid mental health day [or two] should be encouraged, not just offered.
Workplaces need to be better at this, particularly in the big corporation setting.
Walk the talk
Taking swift and decisive action to scaffold our own mental health safety has never been more crucial and for most people I know, these last two lockdowns in particular have hit differently. In Victoria? The toll that a long, hard lockdown takes mentally is all too familiar to VIC’ers and it’s heartbreaking to watch as our New South Welsh’men neighbours are now experiencing this too.
Most of us don’t have to look too far to hear things like ‘I hope you’re taking care of yourself’ or ‘be kind to one another right now’ and the sentiment rings true, but at the end of the day… being the change, even in a small way each day is what will make the most difference in times of crisis.
If you’re struggling, I recommend plugging the holes in your burnout bucket: identify them, address them, and execute the changes you require.
I’m slightly embarrassed to say that it took 4 lockdowns for me to arrive at this place but there’s something truly restorative that comes from being honest with those around you and making a pit stop when you need it.
Sure, vulnerability is uncomfortable and even moreso when emotional burnout is threatening, but if there’s one thing I know for sure after experiencing so many consecutive lockdowns myself? It’s that flight attendants were onto something when they spoke of the importance of ensuring you apply your oxygen mask on first [before you try to help others].
It’s really is just absolutely essential to fit your own oxygen mask first and then take a big, DEEP breath so that you don’t find yourself frantically scrambling around the cabin adding to all the chaos.