One Day at a Time by Kate Thompson, Head of Press & PR at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles UK

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I’m lying in bed, heart thumping. It’s just dawned on me that the school holidays have started.

Yep, my daughter, Milly, has finished year 10. Half way through GCSEs and I’m reflecting on how effective, or not, my parental homeschooling support has been over the past four months. 

According to her report, she had adapted well to guided home learning. If I’d had my own report, I think it would be a definite ‘could do better’. Maybe a B- at best. 

And that’s a bit disappointing. At the start of lockdown, I, like the rest of the country, had so many good intentions. 

The first couple of weekends were a flurry of decluttering, folding plastic bags, writing school/work/housework timetables (colour coded, obviously) and discovering Joe Wicks and Yoga with Adriene. On reflection, I was probably the definition of COVID control-freak mania, confident I could plan and to-do-list my way through a global pandemic. Banana bread? Tick. Timed lunch breaks and study support? Tick. Yoga workouts? Namaste my friends. 

I helped Milly work through chemistry homework. We watched BBC Bitesize videos together. I dusted off my A level German, and wiped away her bedtime tears when the thought of completing her Macbeth coursework was a little too much to take. 

But somehow we lost our way a bit. Study breaks were postponed due to urgent work Skype calls. Catch up sessions at the weekend gave way to dog walks and Tik Tok. And I never had the courage to say I couldn’t do it all. My key worker police officer husband started going to work most days. And it was hard.  

I’d try to check in on the kids when I had a gap. But support quickly slipped to a ‘everything ok?’ assumptive close. I’d start to ignore the school emails (hell, hadn’t I read enough emails already today?) with copious details of vlogs I should be watching on spotting signs of anxiety and supporting teenagers (5 x 35 minutes each) and listing my son’s upcoming tasks (surely at 17 it’s time he took responsibility for his own work…?) Unless they required direct action or hinted a return to school date, they fell down the inbox quite rapidly.

Sometimes I just had to laugh. Wondering if my Skype camera face had let slip a smile when a note was pushed on the desk saying ‘Frank’s (our nine month old Cavapoo puppy) eaten bird poo and thrown up everywhere’. What exactly was I supposed to do? I subtly texted ‘is he ok now? And please clean it up’ … put my best PR smile face back on and carried on the call. Multitasking to the max. 

But in the end the guilt catches up with you. Guilt because I wasn’t doing well enough at homeschooling. Guilt because I’d end up working in the evening. Guilt because yoga had given way to a glass of wine and a couple of episodes of Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta… Guilt because the rest of the world seemed to be smashing it, with new hobbies, charity work and journeys of self-discovery. 

Did I know deep down that other people were feeling the same as me? Probably. But few people are up for a Zoom chat to tell you that at 2am. I did firmly tell a very good friend with two young kids who’s also a full time senior partner at a management consultancy firm as she sobbed down the phone that yes, teachers are awesome, but even the finest teacher would probably struggle to be a management consultant with no notice and no training, while also doing their day job. Point made. 

I guess the teachers have a little bit of a break now. And of course they deserve it. The email (one I did read) from Milly’s school said ‘have two weeks off completely and then think about some revision, ready for mocks in September’. 

As I reflected at 2am, I must plan that in. Must help her. Must make sure she’s coping with it. She may as well revise. I’ve nothing else planned to keep her amused. I haven’t done my usual weekly seven-week holiday planner with Scout camps (cancelled) and weeks at grandma’s (semi-shielding) woven in between days out and chill days. Just a provisional week long booking at a campsite in Padstow. 

But hey. The summer holidays hold less fear now than they used to. We’ve survived living together doing nothing for 16 weeks. We’ll get through it. Like we did the rest of lockdown. One step (and one glass of wine) at a time. Namaste. 

Top tips for survival – (thanks to Cath Baker, Karin Ravenall and parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith)

  1. Schedule some ‘breaks’ in the diary. Gaps get filled very quickly but you need some space. You wouldn’t feel guilty going to the loo or having a quick chat at the coffee machine in the office, so do the same at home 
  2. Focus on ‘output’ not ‘input’ from a work perspective.  Aim to get certain tasks done and if you get them done, that’s a good day. While you’re juggling a full time job and homeschooling, be realistic with your ambitions
  3. Look out for each other. As a team you’ll have mix of good and bad days, but allow yourselves to talk about the dog being sick on the carpet or a child ‘refusing’ to do any schoolwork at all. Lift each other in turn
  4. Use the 70/30 rule It’s impossible to be a perfect mum or dad – and even if you were that’s a really unrealistic role model for your kids. They’ll never learn how to make mistakes or know how to apologise
  5. Click ‘unfollow’. Tech is useful for parents. But air-brushed images of family life on social media are not. If you start questioning yourself or second guessing yourself as a parent then unfollow or mute them and find someone more realistic to follow.
  6. Competing is for the Olympics. It’s not just on social media that people pretend to be perfect. A lot of parents aren’t honest and when you chat to them, will make things sound better for whatever reason. Simply avoid getting involved in those competitive parenting conversations. Smile, nod, nod and move on!
  7. Be kind to yourself. Taking time out for you is really important but make sure this doesn’t become another ‘perfect parent pressure’. If you manage some exercise or a new recipe, then great. If not, there’s always tomorrow. It’s honestly ok. You’re doing fine. 

 

Article written by Kate Thompson, Head of Press & PR, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles UK

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