Like many parents, I never intended to home school my children. Like many couples, my husband and I don’t normally spend Every. Single. Day. Together.
But this is what lockdown meant for so many families, including ours.
Here are some essential elements that kept us thriving (*mostly*):
The weather in the first lockdown was beautiful, so we spent as much time as we could outdoors – using our garden and the daily exercise allowance to hone bike trick skills, build a shed, plant flowers and play games. Kids can’t climb the walls if there are no walls, as the expression goes. We particularly missed the glory of those sunny days in the second winter lockdown when we spent much more time indoors.
Did anyone else use her Maths Factor website for home schooling? She deserves a Damehood as far as I’m concerned. Ditto the creators of Twinkl and BBC Bitesize.
Near the beginning of lockdown we decided that between Friday evening and Saturday evening we would switch off all technology and enjoy family life at a slower pace (with lots of great food). When we were all home together doing work and school so much of the week, it helped to define the weekends for us as a couple and for the kids.
Whether it’s been drawing colourful pictures for a local care home, shopping for shielding friends or welcoming a Foster child into our home, we have encouraged our kids to join us in looking beyond the walls of our house and to the community around us.
How is homeschool going to work and which one of us is going to take responsibility, and at which points in the day?! And how are we going to do this in a way that puts relationship over arithmetic? It took some conversations to work this out, as well as factoring in a few one-to-one times with the kids so they had our focus. This, of course, evolved as lockdown went on. When the second home school began, our work situations changed and it became even more important to keep communicating about this.
With all the pain, fear and anxiety around the pandemic, it felt important to create happy, fun memories with the kids – to laugh at the little moments, even in the midst of mundanity or frustration. As novelist Wendell Berry put it, “Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”
It takes a village to raise a child the proverb says. I think that’s true of marriage too. My husband and I don’t exist in isolation, and we treasure friendships separately and with other couples where we can be honest, get wisdom, a different perspective and have a good laugh. For all that WhatsApp, Zoom etc don’t offer in terms of connection, there’s such a lot they do, and we valued that.
While I believe all I say above about technology, there’s also been great sorrow this year at not being with the people we love in person. As a couple we’ve felt this at different points, and helped the kids navigate it too.
At points we’ve been exasperated, needed space from each other and struggled to communicate well. At the same time, we’ve chosen to persevere in love, to laugh and to create new family rhythms, and as I reflect on the strangest of years, I’m grateful for that.