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Accidental Homeschoolers Unite!

Many of us became accidental homeschoolers at the same moment we started working from home all the time. On behalf of parents at Gusto and an extended tribe of amazing parents, here are some tips for navigating the new normal.
As of March, many of us became accidental homeschoolers and full-time caregivers at the same moment we started working from home on a semi-permanent basis. Crowdsourced from an amazing tribe of parents -- at Gusto and elsewhere -- this document contains tips for navigating this new normal.

Whether you are taking on this challenge yourself or supporting a friend/loved one/coworker in these uncharted waters, we hope this provides some tactical ways to navigate this brave new world. We’d LOVE to hear more thoughts from all of you on how you’re managing.

One big disclaimer: we’re sharing because we want to learn ourselves. By no means are these “best practices” and a lot of them only apply if you’re in a privileged position of having access to the internet, a few devices, safe places to live, and the ability to spend a little more time with your kids to make up for a little of the supervision and guidance they were getting from wherever they spent the day before this all began.

First things first, you are not alone in this!

Grace. Give yourself a lot of it. We are all out here doing our best. As our CMO,
, said beautifully:
“Know that everyone has different home situations and that’s cool. The goal is to help each other embrace the new normal. Kids crying, dog barking, messy house in the background. It’s real life. Colleagues won’t judge you and customers and prospects are going through exactly what we’re experiencing too.

Tell your co-workers what you’re trying to balance/integrate/juggle and that you may be late for that meeting or assignment, or ask to tag out completely and ask someone to tag in (you’ll be able to do it for them later).

Also, tell your kids what you’re up to and let them see, if they’re able to understand it, what you do everyday. It is amazing what humans do for each other if we let them see the mess, the parts and the pieces of us rather than trying to assemble it all into one neat package.

Last night, my seven year old told me, “Mom, I feel trapped. Can’t play with friends, I finish online school at 9:30 am, and now I can’t go back to school all year. I just want this to end. It was fun at first, but now I want it to be finished.” I held her (it was clear she is really scared and mad and sad and all the things together), we both cried, I said I felt much the same but I would try to do more to help her feel less lonely during the day, and then we read Harry Potter which always cheers things up.

I share this because I think she said what a lot of us are feeling. And no one - literally know one - has the answer on “and so now we are going to do this to fix it.”

But hugging her tight and being really comfortable not being as productive at work so I can make more devoted time for her is a promise for today. And then we will see how it goes the day after that.

The day-by-day, hour-by-hour approach seems to be one thing that is working decently well. That and sharing the harder moments with the Gusto parents group and friends, not for anyone to handle it or do anything about it. Just because it feels less scary and intimidating once you put it out there with others.

Last point on approach that is helping in this moment: putting the serenity meditation - “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference" - on repeat in the mental cassette tape of my mind (that's spotify for anyone not born in 70s or earlier). Playing that instead of an inner critic tape telling me that I should have this on lock by now has made a big difference.

Develop a routine that works best for you and your family (and that may very well mean no routine).

Schools and childcare places seem to suggest “Keep the day structured as much like childcare and school as possible,” so we’ve included some resources to do that. To them I say, thanks and, with respect, please f** off. I also say this to every author who suggests I need more sleep, exercise, water and less caffeine. HOW THE HECK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THAT? ARE YOU EXPERIENCING A MASS PANDEMIC, ECONOMIC DOWNTURN, HARDER WORK SCHEDULE THAN EVER BEFORE AND ... NOW THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ACTUALLY MAKING MY KIDS LEARN SOMETHING? Ok. Deep Breath. Back to the subject at hand.

It is truly okay to not be able to stick to a consistent routine or schedule. I love how
, our Head of Organic Acquisition, brilliant editor, journalist and team lead who is stewarding real-time updates for all
, and mom to 4-year-old Leila, put it:

Real talk here. I tried to develop a routine, created a schedule with Leila, and then it all went to shit because kids are kids and I had meetings all day and Sid (partner) had some urgent conference calls. Once we fell off it, it was hard to get back.

Everyone online talks about creating routines and trying to stick to schedules, but real life is so much messier than that. I think it's just as important to remember that we are in a time-bound period right now. It may seem endless, but it actually has an expiry date. And when that date comes, your child will go back to school, preschool, daycare, whatever, where they will have a schedule and a curriculum and all the rest.

So if you fall off the routine, can't stick to a schedule, give yourself a break. Remember that children are super adaptable and have goldfish memories. They'll remember the weird/fun time that their parents were home all the time and they got to watch a ton of TV. They won't be scarred by the lack of a routine or fall behind in schoolwork or not get into college.

Share the load with your partner if you’re able.

If you have a partner, try to implement a shift-based approach to caring for your child. If your manager and business needs can support this flexibility, try blocking your calendar publicly for time specifically allocated for live meetings (e.g. morning/afternoon). Have your partner select an opposite time block for their live meetings. Lunch, or nap times if your child(ren) has these, is a good time to mid-day reset and switch. If you can, take 30 mins to step away and eat together or watch the child for your partner while they get something to eat and vice versa.

While not ideal, consider doing more project-based work in the morning before kiddos are awake or after they go to bed. You can certainly attempt it during your non-live meeting shift as well, but expect interruptions for goldfish crackers and applesauce.

Some additional tips to help manage the dynamic between you and your partner:
Share work and personal calendars
Divide and conquer. Split duties for meal prep, feeding, cleanup, premium desk space, laundry, education, playtime, etc.
Schedule time for each other. Talk.
Exercise as a family. Download workout apps.
Try to get some outdoor time in, even if it’s a short walk around the block to get everyone some vitamin D and energy out. Other activities you can do outside with toddlers: Start a garden; chalk up your sidewalks; build your own jungle gym; 5-minute dance party.

Limit meetings.

No one likes meetings. Not ever. This is a great opportunity to try and shorten meetings and limit them to what’s most essential.
Start and End meetings at the 5. For example, Start at 10:05 or 10:15. The space in between is the perfect break to check in on the LOs. For those with younger kids, keep meetings to less than 20 minutes. Limit the number of one-hour meeting blocks.
Consider what meetings could be “walk & talk” to get some fresh air and take baby for a stroll.

Multi-task, especially if you have a baby.

For the littlest of ones, try holding your baby in a baby carrier/sling while standing/working. When baby is sleeping, try getting in a quick yoga set, use the Breathe app on your Apple Watch, or Headspace app before getting back to the grind. Clearer head = higher productivity!

Give yourSELF a break.

Let’s face it, being home all day with kiddos and dogs and partners won’t always be a blast. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the macro stresses coming from the rest of the world. There are tons of great resources out there but if you can only remember one thing it’s:
. Four simple words to help you be resilient in the face of so much change.

And if all else fails, remember: things will eventually go back to some semblance of normal.

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