…and then the kids were home.

At first, it was only for two weeks. Oh, the waves of energy that accompanied that first week! Fueled by newness and anxiety, we sourced schedules and made plans. We consulted social media and plotted out how we could be both teachers and parents at the same time. We troubleshot, read emails, set up school areas in our homes, and learned how to video conference. We were schooling amidst a sudden public health crisis and called it ‘homeschooling’.

And we muddled through, processing our children’s resistance online with friends and teachers. We saw beautiful pictures of what some households were accomplishing, laughed at some terrific failures, and shared some of our own successful moments (or secretly lamented having few). We were hoping for the end, planning for the return.

Then the leave was extended. And they weren’t going back for the rest of the school year.

We groaned with sadness and frustration and grief and fear. This public health situation was more serious than we had anticipated. There was not yet the comfort of a routine at home, and we were already tired from all the anxious doings of weeks prior. We missed our workdays. We missed our coffee shops. We missed our playdates, our churches, our adult lives. We weren’t sure how to get through all of these feelings alongside our children, to begin with, and now we were supposed to team them, too?

The beautiful thing is that parents have always been teachers.

We didn’t become our kids’ teachers because they stopped going to the school building. Out of our anxiety and desire for control, we launched a major effort to replicate formal schooling within our homes: formal schooling that typically involves administration, licensed professionals, paraprofessionals, a playground, and a cafeteria. Formal education is unique in academia it introduces to our children. Within the boundaries of buildings and schedules, an intense focus on obligatory learning occurs. It is an immense luxury to have an established public school system with qualified teachers and administrators, and our system is well-established and ever-changing. Currently, it’s rapidly evolving to adapt to this crisis, removing the walls and schedules under which it’s traditionally operated. And it will likely continue to evolve into the next year. (Brief round-of-applause for the teachers learning and adapting on the fly!) As we strive to continue even a semblance of formalized education within our homes, it is increasingly apparent just how challenging this endeavor truly is.

Yet again, the beautiful thing is that parents have always been teachers.

We forget that we have been our kids’ teachers since they arrived and that our home has been the grounds for the majority of their learning. Not in the structured and mandated way, but in a myriad of others, we always have. And our school systems know this because when this learning does not happen at home, it often becomes a need to which they respond.

Parents are not teachers in the sense that we have undergone rigorous undergraduate and graduate studies to understand academic theories and classroom management. We are not licensed or held accountable to school boards and state mandates. However, there is still valuable work done at home: a work that we may have been doing all along, but have not given the appreciation and standing ovation it deserves.

The values of home are safety, belonging, and care.

This is what our homes mean to us, and this is what we all can, and will, maintain. This is what will allow our kids the foundation for any future academic achievements. Without this, we struggle. There are many aspects to how our homes become this place of safety and belonging and care, but allow me to briefly highlight one of them as found in the work and research of Dr. John Gottman:

Rituals of connection.

‘Rituals of connection’ are consistent, enduring actions taken within a relationship or a family that encourages or makes space for connection. Rituals of connection are not forced: they are giving kisses to say ‘goodbye’, reading bedtime stories before sleep, and video-calling with family members every Wednesday. They are saying prayers before meals, giving special winks when eye contact is made, or unloading a dishwasher together routinely in the mornings. They are giving ‘BIG HUGS’ and ‘little hugs’ (in that requested order), solving virtual jigsaw puzzles together, and sharing snacks and conversations with our partners in the minutes we can sneak alone after the children fall asleep.

The more rituals of connection we have in a home, the greater the sense of safety and belonging and care. Struggling with a child’s resistance to schooling? Take a moment to consider how you two have connected, or haven’t connected, over the past few days. Today is always a good day to look your child square in the eye and tell them, “I love you. You are strong. You are kind. You are smart. And you are awesome.”
Are siblings engaging in endless bickering and irritability? See if they can develop a ‘secret handshake’ they can show you later, or remind them of that inside joke you all like to laugh at or that fun memory you all share.

Finding yourself feeling depleted and discouraged about family stuff? Hugs and verbal encouragement are powerful… Consider what you might need to feel connected to those in your home; it may help your own mood more than you realize. Do these things, and then do them again and again and again. We connect, and then it becomes ritual, and that is the foundation of the care and value and safety in our home.

In our scramble to add in obligatory learning to our routine of daily home events, let us remember that we have always been our children’s teachers, and let us not forget the invaluable role of rituals of connection in our homes.

Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.