Mommy in the Middle

I began my new career last month as a “home schooling mom” with the best of intentions.

On the first weekend after the COVID shutdown of my seven-year-old daughter’s school, and following the guidelines provided by her teacher, I powered up Excel and created a color-coded schedule of what we would be doing each day:

Reading on Monday and Wednesday mornings. Math on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Thirty-minute Zoom calls with classmates twice a week. Supervised “learning sessions” in which I would help my daughter navigate among four different tablet apps to complete assignments.

Don’t be impressed yet… not even for one day did I stick to the schedule.

I just didn’t have the time, the mental bandwidth, or the academic training required to turn on a dime and set up a kitchen table version of a fulltime, first grade classroom. And please don’t ask about my new role as karate teacher now that Fiona’s in-person lessons with her real instructor have been put on hold.

I know I am not alone. As I talk to friends and colleagues, read newspaper articles, and catch up on the latest home-schooling memes, I see the struggles we are all experiencing. Parenting was hard enough pre-COVID. Today, it feels like the job has been multiplied by a factor of ten.

But I have learned some things:

#1. Perfection is not the goal.

I realized quickly that trying to replicate what life used to be for my daughter — with school, activities, friends, etc. — is setting too high a bar for us both. So of course, her academic progress will probably slow down in some areas as a result of the interruption. But that’s true of her entire class, if not first graders worldwide.

Instead, my goal is to maintain a happy and comfortable home, one in which her experience is a positive one. As her teacher said to me, “We are looking for active participation; we are not grading the work.”

#2. This is all temporary.

It’s hard to imagine life on the other side right now and I have no doubt that many things will never be the same. But it won’t last forever, either. Knowing that, even in the face of so many unknowns, helps me get through the tough days (AKA, every day!).

Caring for My Parents Has Changed, Too

The other side of the “generational sandwich” has its own set of new challenges. I lived in Colorado for several years, and during that time, I rarely spoke to my parents more than once a week.

But we were all much younger then. Today, with my parents living in a continuing care retirement community, my dad wrestling with Parkinson’s, and a quarantine in place that keeps us physically separate, I talk to them every day.

Except when I don’t. Some days I’m too busy or too distracted or just too tired to do one more thing. And then I feel guilty, since I know that for them, chatting with their children and grandkids is a highlight of the day.

And that’s only part of it. The physical separation is about more than just the social aspect. The last time I saw my dad in person, for example, he had a rash on his head and I was able to get him the attention he needed. I wouldn’t have noticed that over a FaceTime call. But today, that’s all we’ve got.

Which means that I can’t see what kind of shape the apartment is in. Or what’s in the fridge. Or how my dad’s meds are being provided. There’s an oversight element to my parents’ care that has been taken away — that makes me feel sad, angry and guilty (have you noticed a theme here?).

Fortunately, I have learned some things here as well:

#1. Remote connections can work.

As we discussed in detail last month, there are many things you can do — one-on-one, as a small group, or as an extended family — to stay connected. (We just ordered a game of Battleship for my parents, so we can all play remotely!)

#2. You need to let yourself off the hook.

Imperfection doesn’t mean you are not a good daughter or son. It just means you’re human. This is new to all of us and, as I’m learning every day, doing the best you can is the best you can do.

One Last Thing

With all that’s happening around us today — homelessness, hunger, mass unemployment, and more — I sometimes feel that I have no right to be unhappy. After all, I’ve got a nice place to live and a supportive, loving family. Maybe you feel the same.

That’s when I try to remember this quote (I’m sorry, I don’t know who first said it): “There is no hierarchy of pain.”

Pain is pain. Other people being worse off doesn’t diminish whatever you are feeling and there’s no need to feel bad about feeling bad. Just do the best you can in supporting your kids and your parents. That’s all anyone can really ask.

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