You’ve been spending more time with your kids than you ever have before. You’re getting a sense of how they function in various aspects of their lives, some of which you’ve only heard about secondhand from teachers, coaches, and other adults who work with your kids.
Like many of the parents Sarah and I work with, you may be having some “aha” moments, where you realize why you’ve gotten certain feedback from other adults in your kid’s life. You may also be seeing things that have never been brought up before. You may be wondering why your normally independent kid needs so much supervision and encouragement while completing work or can’t seem to play alone. You may be dealing with meltdowns, often seemingly out of nowhere that throw you for a loop.
You may have seen some posts or articles about families that have it all together during this time. They’ve figured out how to work from home at max productivity while also teaching their kids everything they’ll need to know by college graduation. Sure, these mythical unicorns may be out there somewhere, but for most families, this isn’t the case. Hopefully, you’ve also seen the many, many posts and articles from parents who are struggling to keep it all together and looking for creative ways to manage current challenges.
As you teach your kids, you may be realizing that you have active, interested learners with unique and creative ways of looking at the world. On the other hand, you might be realizing that your kids struggle with learning, focus, or motivation. You may feel frustrated and worried that school time involves daily arguments or meltdowns. You might even be at the point where you just want to throw your hands up in the air and say, “Well, I tried. They’ll learn what they need to know when they go back to school.” But, when they go back to school, the problems you’ve seen at home are still going to be there. If your kids struggle to learn math or have difficulty paying attention for longer periods of time, that’s likely the case in the regular school environment. It’s not new and it’s not going away. Whether you’re their teacher or providing backup once school resumes, your kids need your support in order to be successful learners.
“So, what do I do?” you ask. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do. The first and, in my opinion, the most important thing you can do is accept the kids you have. Yep, that’s right. This sounds simple and you may be rolling your eyes at me and thinking, “That’s not helpful. I already love my kids for who they are!”
But, do you?
When your kids were on their way you had a picture in your mind of how it would be. You did. You’re human, it’s what we do. You pictured their personalities and how they would relate to you and to the world. I’m guessing your picture did not include learning difficulties, ADHD, behavior problems, or a general dislike of school and you didn’t imagine seeing these things from the frontline as your kids’ teacher.
Unless you’re psychic or very, very lucky, the kids you have are different from the kids you pictured in your daydreams.
Now, for the secret that no one has ever shared with you, the secret you’re afraid to admit to even to yourself.
There’s a part of you that’s a little disappointed you didn’t get the kid you dreamed about.
I’ve worked with a lot of families over the years and this is something that comes up over and over again, with most of the families I work with. And guess what?
It’s okay to feel this way.
Yes, I said it. It’s okay to acknowledge that things didn’t turn out the way you hoped. Think about it- in other areas of our lives, it’s okay to be a sad or disappointed when things don’t go the way you thought they would. Why should it be different when it comes to your kids?
Feeling some disappointment that your daydream didn’t come true is not the same as saying that you don’t love or value your kids. But there is always some level of grieving when reality doesn’t match our daydreams or our plans.
Let me give you an example that I hear all the time (names are completely made up). Natalie and Tom are both college-educated high achievers. They value working hard and getting things done. When they talk about their own childhoods, they recall being motivated, following the rules, and needing little prompting from adults to get things done. When Jennifer was born, they pictured her being the same way. That didn’t happen. Jennifer has trouble learning and doesn’t seem motivated for school. She has difficulty keeping up academically and needs lots of prompting to do her work. As she gets older, she doesn’t express an interest in college and her parents worry that she has no life goals. Natalie and Tom love Jennifer, but they have a hard time relating to her. They don’t understand why everything is a struggle and why she won’t just do her work and stay motivated without prompting.
Does any of this sound familiar? Like Natalie and Tom, have you ever found yourself thinking or saying, “Why can’t you just…?” or “When I was a kid…”? Those are questions/comments born out of frustration and, yes, disappointed dreams of what it would be like to raise kids.
So, what do you do? Allow yourself to grieve the fact that the kids you are not everything you dreamed they would be. And then you have to move on. There might be things about your kids that don’t fill you with joy but there are even more things that do, if you pay attention.
Think about this: There’s no way you could possibly have imagined kids as amazing as the kids you were given. Feels good to think about that, doesn’t it?
Part of your challenge, especially right now when you’re experiencing your kids in new, and often difficult, ways is looking past the things that are hard or not the way you thought they would be so you can see what’s great about your kids. Instead of wallowing in frustration that your kids can’t stay focused long enough to complete their math worksheets, notice that they learned to use fractions by helping you to make dinner or that their written, verbal and public speaking skills were strengthened when they put on a play in the backyard. Instead of getting angry that an assignment was not turned in, focus on the fact that your kid read an entire chapter book for the first time or that your older kid figured out how to code a video game.
Here’s another side benefit to this time of experiencing your kids in all their glory- you get to see what their teachers see at school. If you use this time well, you can become a stronger advocate for your kids once they return to school. This version of homeschooling that everyone has been forced into allows for a unique perspective. You have the guidelines, lessons, and assignments from your child’s teacher, but you get to apply everything in the way that works best for your kids. In effect, you are in a position to provide the individualized instruction that is one of the goals of the education system. You get to see what works and what doesn’t work for your kids and you get to make whatever adjustments are needed in order for your kids to learn.
So, as you go through this process, keep a list of the challenges and how you address them at home. If your kids have an IEP or 504 Plan (a plan that provides learning accommodations or specialized instruction), you can request changes based on what worked for you during this time. If your kids don’t already have a plan, you may be able to request one. At the very least, you’ll be able to have more informed conversations with your kids’ teachers and will be better able to evaluate teachers’ feedback based on what you saw while educating your kids at home. In a future post, I’ll go over specifics about advocating for your kids. For now, just pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work for your kids. And remember, they may not be exactly what you dreamed about, but your kids are probably better than any you could have imagined!
Here are some leads on agencies that have websites and information about educating your kids during COVID-19, particularly if they have learning challenges:
Reach out and share the amazing things you've learned about your kids by clicking this link or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a reminder, we have an amazing handout for families with information about COVID-19 that you may find helpful when speaking with your kids. Click here to take a look.
Feel free to peruse our blog and see what Sarah and Lisa had to say about topics related to your needs as a busy parent. We will talk about everything from parenting values, to life hacks, to realistic self-care.