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Deciding how to handle back-to-school? 3 things you can do to find hope in the unknown

By Nicole Carpenter, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Jul. 22, 2020 at 7:45 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — A recent New York Times article posed the idea that during these COVID-19 pandemic times, you can have a kid or a job. But not both.

The article’s author, Deb Perelman, made the point that working parents are not burned out and struggling with just emotional concerns. Perelman writes, "We are not burned out because life is hard this year. We are burned out because we are being rolled over by the wheels of an economy that has bafflingly declared working parents inessential."

Perelman continues, "But my family, as a social and economic unit, cannot operate forever in the framework authorities envision for the fall. There are so many ways that the situation we’ve been thrust into, in which businesses are planning to reopen without any conversation about the repercussions on families with school-age children, is even more untenable for others."

She’s not wrong. When kids were sent home to learn this spring, so many of us parents felt the situation untenable. But it was temporary. And we made it through. However, now we face a school situation this fall just as unknown — and much more permanent.

We are torn between the need to get these children — our kids — back in school and the fear that it is not safe for us to do so (and that is saying nothing for the position in which this places the teacher).

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended top priority be getting kids physically present in school, stating, "The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020."

Related:

As parents, what in the world do we do?

When recently asked if I was sending my children back to school, I quickly responded "Heck, yes!" I’m sending them back because I have to. Because I need to or we’ll all break. Because we already broke. And yet moments after my feisty declaration, all the worries and fears of what that will even look like for my kids in high school, junior high and elementary school began to plague me.

All we can do is make the best decision we can with the information we have. School districts are releasing their guidelines and as we move forward into fall, there are three things we can do to find hope in the unknown.

Do your best now to get prepared

Even though I plan to send all four of my kids back to public school, I have already turned my personal home office into a den space with a desk large enough for multiple people to use at the same time. Our ‘distanced learning’ experience this spring proved that letting my kids do their schoolwork in their own rooms, at their own pace, was not at all effective (as in, it was a complete disaster). If we find ourselves in a similar situation this year, I’m ready to centralize our learning efforts.


I'm working on adjusting my work schedule so I can be more available should we need to do school from home. Even just preparing for that scenario will help me feel calmer.

–Ann Brough, behavior coach and mom of four


Ann Brough, mom of four and a behavior coach who works from home, is nervous about how this next school year will work, too. "I’m working on adjusting my work schedule so I can be more available should we need to do school from home," Brough explained. "Even just preparing for that scenario will help me feel more calm."

But how can working parents without flexible schedules prepare for an unknown school situation?

Vicki Weatherston, a resident of Weber County, has a job that requires her to be present at work. If school in the fall doesn’t work out, or if they start remote learning again, Weatherston said, "The responsibility to educate my kids will fall squarely on their teachers and my mom."

Model a positive attitude — even if you don’t feel like it

"For me, it all comes down to what I can control, and all I can control is me," declared Amber Seely of Syracuse. Seely is a mother of three school-aged kids and works as a speech therapist in a school setting.

"And I’m a planner,” Seely said. “This definitely isn’t my favorite situation, so my approach is this: Choose how I want to think about it. Because how I choose to think about all of this is going to create the way I feel about it.


This past spring, the distanced learning approach was not pretty over here. I’m letting go of the idea of doing it all right, and I’m going to plan on messing up along the way while trying to make it all work.

–Amber Seely, speech therapist and mother of three school-aged kids


"None of us know what’s going to happen, so trying to predict the future is only going to cause me fear and frustration. This past spring, the distanced learning approach was not pretty over here. I’m letting go of the idea of doing it all right, and I’m going to plan on messing up along the way while trying to make it all work."

In addition to our own mental health, modeling a positive attitude and limiting the negative things we say about the upcoming situation is important. Studies show moods and emotions can spread — well, like a virus. We need to be all in on whatever decision we make and completely supportive.

Stop judging other people for their choices

When it comes to back-to-school options, let’s assume every family makes the choice that is best for them, their children and their current circumstances. And leave it at that.

I’m not sure why or when it became so important to judge others for choosing differently than we have chosen. I saw a meme on Facebook that I loved. It perfectly illustrated this back-to-school debacle:

I’ve seen this circulating and it’s worth sharing. This is not an easy decision and every parent wants what’s best for their child. 📚

Posted by Patrice Sanders - WBFF Fox45 Baltimore on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"When a friend says they are sending their kid back to school … say, ‘Man, I’m so proud of you! I know that wasn’t easy making that decision.'

"When a friend says they are doing virtual learning … say, ‘Man, I’m so proud of you! I know that wasn’t easy making that decision.'

"When a friend says they are homeschooling their kids … say, ‘Man, I’m so proud of you! I know it wasn’t easy making that decision.’"

The next few weeks might be full of uncertainties and worries, but rest assured we are all in this together.

More from Nicole Carpenter:


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About the Author: Nicole Carpenter

Nicole Carpenter, communications and operations manager for the Women’s Leadership Institute, is an advocate for empowering women. She is a speaker and author of "52 Weeks to Fortify Your Family.” Find her on LinkedIn — she’d love to connect.

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