In August, as a parent, I was contemplating the start of school, pandemic pods and how much money was going to be needed for child care. Parents who work outside the home face an impossible challenge of not being able to be home. Parents who work inside the home face the impossible task of working alongside children.
Parents who work on running their households full-time have an equally hard time keeping track of how their older children need to learn and turn in homework for grades, while tending to a youngest child who is potty-training.
The stakes are high for how our children are learning, and how painful or pleasurable the experience is. The cracks they can fall through will widen every day but can close with our mindfulness.
Choose your own adventure
As parents, we don’t know what we don’t know. We think we have a “self-motivated” child who can do this all alone. But if you pay attention, you may see a great misunderstanding of the concept of decimals, for example. The “simple” concept of the difference between 809 and .809, when not understood by a 10-year-old, can cause outbursts and resistance.
You may have a child who is “acting out.” They might be rejecting attending the “morning meets,” or completing the assignments or letting you even see the assignments. You then may be shocked to see them slam a math book on the table or grab the Chromebook by the screen and cart it off to another room.
Helicopter parenting is required, but the children may want nothing to do with us. School is their territory. School is where they had independence, even though they suffered and battled through their own layered dynamics with friends and teachers.
The thought of absorbing a screen for hours a day might make you cringe, and it makes some children cringe. While every child has potential, the motivation button must be found. As a business owner, I can tell you that I am motivated by hustle and hunger. If there is creative work I want to do, yet a client is calling me to come to a meeting with their people, who talk in circles for hours, I might wince a little. But they are paying me, so I’ll come!
Therefore, I offer bribes to my children to test well in a required app called Reading Plus and to at least complete Typing Club. As a blogger, I’m a fast typist. I can’t watch my children finger-point across a keyboard.
To understand the root of their frustration, I tested each program. Typing Club was good. The pressure it puts on them to get to know certain fingers on certain keys is good. My kids don’t like the pressure. I can work with this.
Reading Plus, however, is painful. It claims to encourage fast reading by graying out words and doesn’t let them flip the page backward if they need to (unless I didn’t understand all the functions). So if they accidentally skip ahead a few pages, they’ve lost and will test poorly on the exit quiz. This impacts their grade and is anxiety-inducing.
So, I bribe them into paying close attention. They get $1 Toca Boca app points for a 90 percent on Reading Plus, and $1 at The Chocolate Studio in Beacon for each lesson completed in Typing Club. (Note to self: Drop that to 10 cents or 50 cents because there are so many lessons.) When necessary, I bribe them with a Glazed Over doughnut to show up for the math tutor the district makes available in their school. My children resist because they don’t want to look like they need help, yet an unexpected lightbulb always flashes when they attend.
Perspective + child care
At the heart of this pandemic experience is perspective. If child care is something that you cannot or will not justify because your job would just cover the cost, think about what child care offers to you and your child. (For the people who cannot afford it, we need a child care bank, like a food bank.)
For you, child care might bring your brain back. For your child, it might be the most fun babysitter or a day care center full of friends. For me, it is my toddler cared for and happy downstairs while I juggle working and being a remote-learning teacher to my two older children, who might fall through the cracks without supervision.
Here is an example of perspective. At the grocery store, I build in the 25 cents for the gumball machine at checkout. I was always against this treat. Now, for my third child, I give him the quarter and he goes to work on the knob to get the reward from the machine. I’ve bought myself time to bag my groceries. This week, a mother behind me in line didn’t agree. Her daughter saw my son go work the gumball machine and asked for the same. The mother, having already unloaded her groceries onto the belt while I bagged, shook her head and said: “Those gumballs are unhealthy.”
Katie Hellmuth Martin is the mother of three children, wife to one man and owner of A Little Beacon Blog and Tin Shingle. She can be reached at [email protected]