Superhero Parents Balance Working from Home With Distance Learning

We asked five parents how they are balancing working from home with taking care of their families.

At-Home Learning: PBS SoCal and KCET, in partnership with LAUSD and in collaboration with California PBS stations, are offering broadcast programming with digital resources that adhere to California’s state curriculum. Download this week’s schedule.

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Parents around the world are gearing up for another week of working from home alongside their children. The national closure of schools and the loss of the eight-plus hours of childcare and education that schools provided for five days a week has effectively turned parenting into a round-the-clock task, in addition to parents’ jobs, daily routines and household chores. Parents working from home now have the added challenge of supporting their children’s learning and finding ways to keep them entertained, all while trying to do their own jobs.

We asked five parents how they are balancing working from home with taking care of their families. We hope their stories give other parents like you ideas on how to cope, tips on how to structure your routines and a reminder to take a deep breath and remember that you’re not the only ones going through this.

Let Your Child Lead Their Learning Routine

There are loads of suggestions out there on how to structure your child’s day now that your family is based at home. However, the parents we talked to said they didn’t feel it was necessary to turn their homes entirely into schools and they appreciated the flexibility at-home learning gives to their kids.

With all of her supplies laid out first thing in the morning, Sophia spends the morning making slime. Her mom keeps a close eye on Sophia (and on the glitter and beads that will inevitably escape her workspace) as she works from the living room. | Courtesy of TJ Sumaia

TJ Sumaia, a single mom in Orange County, recently transitioned from working full-time as an environmental analyst to working out of her living room with a new coworker: her five-year-old daughter Sophia. She said Sophia plays and learns alongside her on a mat scattered with an assortment of supplies and toys. The day we spoke, Sophia was busy making slime.

“I let Sophia go with her own schedule,” Sumaia said. “I give her the opportunity to choose what activities she wants to do during the day, whether that be working on worksheets from school, playing with her dolls, or painting.”

An only child, Sophia is used to entertaining herself and working independently. Often, she sticks with her chosen task for up to three hours. Sophia’s school also gave her 50-page homework packets.

Our very own David Callaghan, father to two boys in first and seventh grade and crowdfunding manager at PBS SoCal and KCET, said he tries to add a bit of structure to his sons’ schedules. For them, “PE class” involves going outside to take a walk or ride a bike. He recalled how, on a recent bike ride, his youngest son stopped pedaling, pulled out a notebook and started drawing. Callaghan has noticed boundaries between classes are fuzzy now.

“I realized that even though I was seeing this time outside as PE, my son suddenly decided it was art class,” he said.

A picture-perfect example of a child leading their own learning: Suddenly struck with inspiration, David’s youngest son hops off his bike during “PE Class” to engage in a bit of drawing. | Courtesy of David Callaghan


Become a Master Multitasker

No amount of life experience can ever prepare parents to become their children’s teacher, technical support person, caregiver and entertainer, all while being self-quarantined at home and remaining productive on the job.

Guadalupe Diaz, mom of 14-year-old Lucero, has been working from home all year for an educational nonprofit. During this time, she’s become an expert at balancing her work hours with her daughter’s activities, although having her daughter at home poses its own challenges.

“I feel like I have to check in with her a lot more, because before that’s what the teachers were doing, but now that job falls on me,” she said.

Yaneth’s family now goes on daily walks around the neighborhood — something they never did before. She captured a precious moment between her two sons: Joshua shows Alex what happens when you blow on a dandelion. | Courtesy of Yaneth Ochoa

Yaneth Ochoa, mom of 14-year-old Josh and 18-month-old Alex said she’s taking a pause from her full-time job because she’s unable to perform her traditional work duties from home. She said this has allowed her to spend more time developing Alex’s motor skills and helping Josh catch up with school by taking a deep dive into his assignments.

Ochoa received a phone call from Alex’s teacher reporting he wasn’t completing assignments. She realized her son is spending much more of his time trying to figure out assignments than he did when he was receiving guidance directly from his teachers. She also found that sitting down and planning the day with her son made a world of difference in his productivity and made her feel less nervous about remote learning, although she acknowledged that a schedule wouldn’t work for every parent.

“I also feel more confident in my ability to make sure he does his work and is not slacking off,” she said. “You’re going to need a lot more patience than you ever had before.”

Set Schedules and Designate Work Spaces

Some parents have started setting an intentional schedule with three top priorities to stay on task, while others suggested creating specific start and end times to the workday to enjoy the rest of the day with family.

Diaz emphasized the importance of giving oneself permission to not be as productive as usual. “Be gentle with yourself and understand it’s a new routine, and it takes time to adjust,” she said.

Sumaia said she feels that her productivity at work is taking a back seat to motherhood, but she still gives herself permission to make adjustments to her schedule that allow her to be engaged and present for Sophia.

“If I didn’t have a child, I would probably set a more rigid schedule like I used to do in the office, but because she’s here with me, I have to keep it more flexible,” she said.

Sophia takes a break from her 50-page homework packets to surprise mom at her computer. | Courtesy of TJ Sumaia

Callaghan pointed out the challenge and importance of creating a designated workspace in a small home, especially when each member of the family is trying to be productive. He said he works mainly in the kitchen, while his wife works in their bedroom, and the boys work in their bedroom or spread out in the living room. Maintaining individual workspaces helps minimize distractions and interruptions, although Callaghan said he also does his best to make sure he’s available when the boys need help.

“Sometimes I have to walk away from my Zoom calls when my kids ask for help with something,” Callaghan said.

He also said it helps to take turns with his wife when it comes to helping the kids.

For parents with younger kids, it might be helpful to create a co-working/co-playing space so that someone can keep an eye on the little ones. “I want her [Sophia] to know that mom is still here for her and interested in what she’s doing,” Sumaia said.

Take the Time to Address Children’s Emotional Well-Being

Parents of older children are understandably concerned about their children’s well-being during this strange time. Many parents are doing their best to help their kids cope with having to spend every day at home and not being able to see their friends.

Kathleen Abing, an editor/producer at PBS SoCal and KCET and mom to Patrick, 11 and Carmen, 9, said she realized early on that her children needed help navigating the drastic transition in their social and academic lives.

Kathleen and her family enjoying the outdoors together in their backyard. | Courtesy of Kathleen Abing

“Having an emotional breakdown or outburst is totally expected, allowed, and heard. My daughter became really upset … so I decided to put aside my work because she needed me,” she said.

Kathleen explained that it can be easy for parents who are working from home to put pressure on themselves to always remain present and on-task, but that it’s also important to disconnect from work to be there for your family.

Diaz said social distancing has been especially difficult for Lucero, who is very outgoing. She is not allowed to see her friends in person but has been in touch with them through texting and video calls.

“Before, I was a lot stricter about how much time she could spend talking with her friends after she came home from school, but I know how important her social life is to her, so I have tried to make adjustments for her,” Diaz said.

To make sure that Lucero is handling all the changes well, Diaz said she makes sure to do mental health check-ins more often than before.

Enjoy More Chances for Family Togetherness

One of the most heartwarming aspects to come out of this unprecedented moment — and all parents seemed to agree on this — is that families now have more time to spend together than ever before. With morning and afternoon commutes canceled, school drop-offs and pick-ups gone and extracurricular activities suspended, several hours of the day have been returned for families to spend together. Families are having longer mealtimes together and engaging in new ways to keep themselves entertained in the long days at home.

Callaghan enjoys spending less of the day in traffic, since his typical commute involves driving his boys to schools in two different neighborhoods. Before, he worried they were usually too busy to have a meal together, but now, even his youngest son notices how much family time they are enjoying together.

“Last week, we were all sitting around the table together quietly eating and my youngest son stopped eating, looked around at everyone, and yelled, ‘group hug!’” Callaghan said.

David Callaghan enjoying the extra quality time he now has with his two boys. | Courtesy of David Callaghan

For some families, self-isolation and social distancing means more downtime to explore new activities together. Ochoa and her older son Josh participate in an at-home workout class facilitated by Josh’s PE teacher.

“Last week we tried a hip-hop workout together,” she said. “We had never done one of those before, so it was really fun.”

Diaz and Lucero relived some childhood fun by building a fort in the living room and watching a movie inside it. “I never thought she would ask me to build a fort at 14-years-old. It was such a nice, heartwarming moment,” she shared.

The prolonged time at home is even giving older kids the chance to think outside the box and find creative ways to occupy their time, sometimes even including their parents in the fun. Abing said she and her children are re-learning how to do cartwheels as a way to spend more time outside.

“I saw my kids were trying to do cartwheels, so I tried to model a few for them, but then I ended up pulling a muscle in my leg, so I realized I probably shouldn’t be doing any more cartwheels,” she said. “But it was good that we went outside and were able to do something together.”

Sumaia agreed that she appreciates the newfound time that she has with Sophia and said she can be present in a way that her previous work schedule did not allow.

“As a single mom, I had a lot of mom guilt when I was working 40 hours a week in the office …. I don’t remember the last time I have had so much one-on-one time with Sophia since she was an infant,” she said.

We hope that hearing from a few other parents who are trying to do what seemed impossible a few weeks ago, just like you — juggling work-from-home alongside children — gives you some much-needed perspective and the knowledge that you are not alone in this. We also hope you feel inspired by some of the tips our parents shared. And remember: enjoy the extra time with your family! You really are all our superheroes.