Parents in quarantine share their best survival secrets

May 1, 2020

If you’re like a lot of parents, you’re probably struggling under the new demands of life during a pandemic. Parenting wasn’t an easy job to begin with, but now many moms and dads are also working from home full-time with zero access to child care and trying to juggle an impromptu gig as a homeschool teacher on top of it all. You can find dozens of kids quarantine activity schedules, lesson plans and ideas online, but the reality is that even with activity guides and detailed plans, parents are having a hard time. 

Earlier this month, world-renowned archaeologist Sara Parcak went viral on Twitter when she announced that she and her son were quitting homeschool entirely. Other moms and dads online may not be throwing in the towel on their daily routines just yet, but they are being vocal about what it really takes to make it through a day. Clint Edwards, a popular author and blogger, recently wrote on Scary Mommy that his solution has been a strategy he and his wife call “tagging out.” They take turns running the show with their kids, and when one of them reaches their breaking point, the other parent takes over to give them some space.

Now that many states have spent six or more weeks under stay-at-home orders, parents have had time to test the waters of this new “normal” and figure out some realistic strategies for survival. To help those who are having a hard time or who feel like they still aren’t getting it right, we asked parents to share tricks and tips that are helping them get through these long, chaotic days with their sanity intact. 

1. Squeeze in learning time when you can.

It’s easy to feel like you need to mimic an 8-hour school day with your kids, but for a lot of working parents, that’s just not possible. To make things easier, Megan Zander, a mom of two from Danbury, Connecticut, says she gets her kids going with their school activities whenever she can throughout the day, even if it happens at odd times. “My kids are super early risers. Before coronavirus, I'd put cartoons on to get some extra sleep,” she explains. “Now, I set them up on their school-required language and reading apps. They’re already up and looking for something to do anyway, and it's nice to knock one thing off the list before breakfast.”

2. Play to your strengths.

Most parents are not expert homeschool teachers. As a result, distance learning can be just as much of a struggle for parents as it is for kids. Becky Bracken, a mom of one from Phoenix, says she and her husband decided to divide teaching duties by subject. “Dad does math, which means all teacher communication, Zoom meetings and homework,” she explains. “I do English and language arts.”

If you don’t have another parent at home to help, you could also try setting up a school group where you co-teach with other parents in your child’s class via video conferences with your child and theirs. If all else fails, teachers can provide further explanation and additional resources. You likely aren’t the only parent who needs a refresher on long division!

3. Embrace screen time.

“My kids are playing more video games and watching more TV than they ever have before, and I’m fine with it,” says Sara Donald, a mom of two from Omaha, Nebraska. This is a common refrain for a lot of parents. A recent survey of 3,000 parents by the nonprofit Parents Together found that 48% of respondents’ kids are spending up to six hours a day using screens.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) typically recommends no screens before 18 months and a limit of one hour per day for kids 5 and under, but even they have relaxed  guidelines amid the pandemic. Jenny Radesky, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, recently tweeted the AAP’s amended advice, which tells parents to make sure screen time is educational and doesn’t impede on sleep, physical activity, reading or other offline activities, but also to embrace screens as a way to stay connected, keep learning and to spend quality time using media together.

4. Make lists.

Tracey Johnson, a mom of three from Fort Worth, Texas, says she and her wife survive each week by working off of lists. “I usually take about an hour on Sunday or Monday to prepare to-do lists for each kid,” explains Johnson.

She uses lesson plans provided by her children’s teachers and writes down some suggested activities for each day. It isn’t a rigid schedule; it’s more like a roundup of ideas to ensure that she and her wife are on the same page, even when one of them is busy with other work or household tasks.

5. Give yourself a break.

“I pretty much just fly by the seat of my pants and hope we survive the day,” says Melissa Hergenrader, a mom of four from Papillion, Nebraska.

It’s normal to feel like you need to have a plan for every minute, keep the kids entertained and ace the demands of homeschool. But it’s important to remember that the reality that families are facing right now isn’t exactly easy or “normal.” Sometimes just getting through the day is a big enough accomplishment.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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