Home, but not alone: Give yourself a break, the kids will be alright

With learning from home in full swing, Ruairi O'Duil reflects on his accidental membership of the Good Parent Club, and has some reassurance for other parents who might be worried they are not getting it right.

I feel like a fraud.

I bumped into a couple of friends while out taking the Dancer for a spin on his bike over the weekend. It seems the only question that mattered this week as Victoria started the biggest educational social science experiment of our lives was, ‘So how did school (in air quotes) go?’ And I, unlike seemingly everyone else, don’t have a horror story. And somehow, this was a credit to me. Yeah-nah.

The Teenager is actually very positive and has completely embraced the routine, the technology and the challenge. He’s actually enjoying it. He says. Gets himself up, logs on, does the work.

The Dancer? Not so much. The whole point of school for him is the social interaction. The learning, for him, is easy and is just the price to pay for hanging with his mates. So we had a bit of initial resistance, which centred around writing a journal. We negotiated a bit, agreed that he could write something else and didn’t have to study all day. No more shouting.

Not a lot of skill or even effort involved but, somehow, this grants me access to the Good Parent Club. Yeah, right.

I have long held the belief that most of parenting is luck, that kids raise themselves despite our best efforts not really because of them. I have been lucky enough to be chosen as a parent of three intelligent, reasonably well-adjusted and healthy children.  In these times, I am lucky in that we continue to have an income, we have space, we have technology, we have kids who are old enough to be functionally independent and age-gapped enough to be separate yet close enough that they can cooperate with each other, at least sometimes. And I have time, I’m not trying to work a full time job or wrangle a preschooler.

I feel like a fraud.

I bumped into a couple of friends while out taking the Dancer for a spin on his bike over the weekend. It seems the only question that mattered this week as Victoria started the biggest educational social science experiment of our lives was, ‘So how did school (in air quotes) go?’ And I, unlike seemingly everyone else, don’t have a horror story. And somehow, this was a credit to me. Yeah-nah.

The Teenager is actually very positive and has completely embraced the routine, the technology and the challenge. He’s actually enjoying it. He says. Gets himself up, logs on, does the work.

The Dancer? Not so much. The whole point of school for him is the social interaction. The learning, for him, is easy and is just the price to pay for hanging with his mates. So we had a bit of initial resistance, which centred around writing a journal. We negotiated a bit, agreed that he could write something else and didn’t have to study all day. No more shouting.

Not a lot of skill or even effort involved but, somehow, this grants me access to the Good Parent Club. Yeah, right.

I have long held the belief that most of parenting is luck, that kids raise themselves despite our best efforts not really because of them. I have been lucky enough to be chosen as a parent of three intelligent, reasonably well-adjusted and healthy children.  In these times, I am lucky in that we continue to have an income, we have space, we have technology, we have kids who are old enough to be functionally independent and age-gapped enough to be separate yet close enough that they can cooperate with each other, at least sometimes. And I have time, I’m not trying to work a full time job or wrangle a preschooler.

We Facetimed my wonderful brother who is a lifetime (four and a bit weeks) further down learning at home highway in Northern Ireland and took a tour of his ‘school’; seven and five-year -olds at their desks, six-year-old making awesome stop motion movies and one-year-old year old terrorising all and sundry. Mom trying to make phone calls to keep her business going. Dad wrangling, cajoling, praising, laughing. That is parenting.

We all judge ourselves. Especially now, when it’s such an atmosphere of control and there is so much that we are being told we must do; wash your hands, don’t touch, stay away. Are we doing it right? Are we doing it wrong?

None of us should be beating ourselves up about how we get through this because there is no right way. Will your life be ruined if you don’t emerge blinking into the socially distant future without having learned a new language, or how to make sourdough or having reconnected with every one of your high school year?

Will your kids be left behind if they don’t spend six hours in a virtual class every day? Behind whom? Will making them study more give them an advantage or is the advantage to be gained in giving them focussed attention as they help make the bed.

Nobody knows. So neither is wrong.

For me, focussed attention and quality time together is feeling good for me, so I’m going with that.

I caught a bit of advice on social media from a teacher yesterday. I know what you’re thinking but just because you found it on social media doesn’t make it not good advice. Anyway, she said that come June, July or September or whenever, teachers will use their superpower, to get our kids back on track, our job is really just to keep them undamaged, so that they can be taught.

Chilling out and exercising a little forgiveness with ourselves and with them would probably help that.

Ruairi O’Duil has parked his reflexology business during the pandemic, and is contributing regularly to The Parents’ Website, offering his insights into family well-being.