by Dawn Fung
Background : I gave ST journalist Amelia Teng my opinion of WFH and juggling homeschooling, although my WFH is mainly caregiving and community building. (See The Social Factor and Preschool Market for homeschooling parents who run businesses.) My thoughts turned into an article.
23 April 2020.
It is week 3 of the CB. By the time the extension ends on Jun 1, we will have experienced 8 weeks of CB with more stringent measures. What is more painful to me is that we are clearly in DORSCON red, in a lockdown, but the government refuses to say it as it is. By this time, your newbie investor and ah beng already understand what is happening. I don’t know who the language policy is targeting to reduce panic. Maybe there really is a group of people who go nuts once they hear ‘DORSCON red’ and ‘lockdown’ even though it is a global (not special to one country) measure. Maybe it is to keep a cleaner media archive when we look back later on, to show we were sensible.
MOE has pushed the June holidays forwards from May 5. Schools will resume on Jun 2. In what form will school look like – whether HBL, hybrid or as normal – is unclear. There are two more weeks until HBL ceases and parents take over their children’s activities completely. This is nothing new. The holidays have always been about parents planning or signing up programmes for their children. But the CB has thrown us completely off track, even homeschooling parents.
While homeschoolers do spend a lot of contact hours with their children, CB and WFH are major transitions that curtail movement and resources for childcare. Homeschoolers who used to rely on extended family members for help, who are used to traveling outdoors for activities, to meet up with one another for interest based co-ops, are also coping. With WFH, our spouses are now home. Some of our families are going through financial difficulty. Homeschoolers who juggle work and homeschool are finding new ways to adapt.
But we do have it easier because we signed up for it. Since we want control over how our children are educated, we are willing to pay the price required. The price is time – we will give up time for other things to know our children, and to cultivate ourselves to be better people for them. The result is that we can wait out the CB with less anxiety.
I suggest two coping mechanisms to ease your pain during this CB extension.
View your current situation with joy and gratitude.
When was the last time you complained that you didn’t have enough time with your children? When was the last time you complained that your spouse didn’t have enough time with the family? The complaints for working parents usually have to do with the lack of time with their loved ones. The CB has forced you to have time with your kids, whether or you like it, or can handle it. Take it as an opportunity rather than a burden.
We all want the CB to end. When it does, and life goes back to normal (whatever normal means), would you look back at the CB with wistfulness? Would you have wish you did it better? Now is the time to rethink your family goals. Yes, balancing WFH and caring for your own is stressful. But life is stressful la. All commitments are tiring. But don’t you think that committing to your family is a good kind of tired? You are able to be with your children, while others have had that opportunity taken away. Celebrate the little things. See life again from a better perspective.
If you can reframe your perspective of life with your children, you will be able to cope from a position of strength. You will not feel as helpless. Why? Because you are seizing an opportunity. This is the risk and creativity of an entrepreneurial mind at work. This is the WFH parent who thinks out of the box. What are my limitations? What can I do within my limitations? How can I grow? How can my children benefit? You’re changing the way you think. You’re developing a growth mindset. You’re developing your value as a better worker.
View your family as a work portfolio.
Develop your family as a labour right. Homeschooling parents have always worked from home. Our children are our work. We see it as our labour right to craft our family’s vision, and align our activities to the direction we desire for our family. This is excellent managerial practice. When you are able to integrate your family life – the unit responsible for holistic adult living – with the things you want to achieve outside, and strike compromises that are reasonable for every person in the home, you have achieved something that few have: people skills for different aged demographics. (This is a valuable trait. Chuck it into your CV this year.)
Craft a vision. Developing a family vision is practical and natural. On your deathbed, you will not wish for your business to reward you with more work. You will wish for your loved ones to surround you with care. This is possible only when you take care of them well. Taking care of your children well has huge payoffs that money cannot buy. During CB, you are in a small HDB and you see them all day (unless you are fortunate to have a helper and a large garden yard). You must prioritise your family because their behaviour and demands will affect you, which will affect your mental and emotional health. This means your productivity as a worker is directly related to your family’s wellbeing.
Build team work. A family vision has to be something that both spouses, or the main caregiver, is agreeable to. It does not have to be lofty. For example, it could be “we want to be happy” to “we want to direct our own learning”. Whatever it is, you can scale it down to this CB period in reasonable goals. Being happy could mean that daddy makes his 40 min zoom calls while other members of the family keeps their noise down. It could mean that mum gets to spend an uninterrupted hour on the screen to work while daddy plays with the kids. Breaks would then be focused on the children – let’s chat over a meal. However you want to communicate it, make sure everyone knows and is onboard. WFH and CB takes a family to succeed, because you only have one another.
Build achievable KPIs. The family goals must be realistic. It should not be beyond what you can humanly achieve. For example, it is not practical to have a direction for all people in the home to work at 8 hours peacefully in their own zones if you have a few preschoolers in the house. If your expectations are unrealistic, you will stress yourself and your family out. Do you really expect a three year old to sit quietly for hours on a craft while you work without interruptions? Throw those ideals out of the window. They do not exist. Remember, it may not be possible to have as much personal time like in the past. Recognise that this change is because of external factors that are out of everyone’s control. If not, you will be resentful of your children for taking away that ‘me time’.
Expand your family building skills outwards. If you take care of the home front, you will be in a stronger mind to expand your energies. Since you have seized the opportunity to enjoy your family during this CB, you now can make better choices for your paid work commitments. The whole world has slowed down because of COVID-19. Every parent who is an employer, employee, partner and vendor will be mindful that each of them has caregiving commitments to attend to at home. They will be understanding if you negotiate for more realistic working goals during CB.
Parents who suddenly have to WFH face a critical reality: You cannot do everything you want at the same time. You can only do one thing at a time. Accept that you cannot work at the quota and at the speed when you had an office to run to for 8 hours a day. Negotiate for more reasonable deadlines and quotas. Talk to your company about your needs and limitations. If you expand family building skills towards your paid commitments, you are helping to develop your paid work culture into a familial culture. That is a HR dream.
There is no ‘magic formula’ to juggling working and being a parent at the same time. I run events. I teach. I look after a community of families. WFH is harder because your work never seems to end. If you are fortunate, your HDB has an extra room for you to work quietly. For me, it’s a phone or ipad and wherever I sit in the house. For my neighbour, his equipment is everywhere since he had to bring his stuff from the office home.
Despite the differences in our situations, all WFH parents must know: your family is your business. There is no running away from that responsibility. Face up to it this CB and craft a work plan for this oft-neglected side of your life (if it has been that way). When I see my family as my first work, I tend to put into perspective just how much effort I really need to expend into my other commitments. Children are very forgiving, but they are with you for only a short time. This is the time for you to recalibrate what is important. Don’t let time with your family slip away so easily.
Further Help :
1. The Village 2020 featured two workshops that are in line with this topic. Cassandra Shepherd’s Developing Your Vision – Know Your Why and Ding Zhen Xin’s Involving Your Children at Work While Homeschooling offer invaluable insight. Write to them if you need a consult.
2. If you or your children are suffering from abuse because of continuous contact hours with a toxic member of the family, pls call the police or relevant helplines immediately. The article above will be relevant to you once you and the children are removed from harm.
3. The team at Homeschool Singapore produced a Learning at Home Series (helmed by Valerie Tan) for the covid-19 situation by helping caregivers with ideas for home learning. It contains authentic insights and tips from different families. Feel free to adapt the information to suit your family’s needs. Follow our IG and ask us questions. We will do our best to help.
Opinion covers thoughts about Singapore education from homeschooling parents. Send us yours.