Juggling Kids in Remote School and Law School Life

Juggling Kids in Remote School and Law School LifeThis week we welcome guest writer Emily Carter to talk about managing your kid’s remote schooling and your own law school responsibilities.

As I type these very words, I am remote schooling my children. Now, rest assured, I say this with no pride, no smugness, not even a hair of belief that I am succeeding in this balancing act that somehow, the confluence of a virus, parenting, and work responsibilities has loaded on me and many others.

No, please, be assured, my floor is dirty (macaroni, cheerios, and freshly snipped paper cuttings from an elementary schooler’s project are in the current floor assortment). My meal choices lack nutritional value (hot pretzels for lunch, anyone?). And my oldest son, having just emerged from the bathroom at this very moment, reports that the hand towel is soaking wet, soap scum coats the sink, and, in his words, “it stinks in there.” I blame the toddler, who having quickly graduated from potty training to mostly independent bathroom use, lacks a full respect for cleanliness.

Pandemic schooling is not for the faint of heart. There are really no wins here. Your child’s school is remote only? Congratulations, you have just assumed the role of teacher (any free time has been hereby obliterated and your house is now a disaster, see supra).

You have the option of sending your child to school in person? Ok, then. You now shall spend your days hoping for the best—carefully masking your child, reminding her to maintain ample spacing during school, and mandating vigorous handwashing upon pick up. And your nights? Henceforth, insomnia shall be your lot. Are you making the right choice? Just how big and bad is the risk of infection?

And for some, like our family, pandemic schooling is somewhere in between those extremes, with some time spent doing school remotely and some time spent in person. But, again, none of these options presents an easy path forward.

So, with a very humble heart, I offer these suggestions on how you can march forward in law school as you also manage life at home. I judge you not, for any of your pandemic schooling decisions!

Make the hot pretzels for lunch

Shortcut anything and everything you possibly can. This is not the time for perfection in any domestic task. Your kids will survive. Make mental room for law school by removing stress in all other aspects of your life.

Next, triage each day to establish routines and locate opportunities for (more) focused work

During this remote schooling phase, I am finding that interruptions reign. Watch this, Mom! Some child wants to show me his latest blue slime creation or a precarious pose atop our exercise ball. These frequent bids for personal attention make it necessary for me to carefully reflect on our daily rhythms to find more focused work blocks.

My children are in school for a mere three hours daily, meaning that I have drop offs and pick ups that come in quick succession, netting about two and half hours of possible focused work time in the morning. In the afternoon, I sometimes have success in using my youngest’s nap time for focused work, even though I am also managing remote learning for my older two at the same time.

Figure out which tasks in your law school life require deep focus and slot them into these times which offer fewer disruptions. Reading and briefing cases is one such task that requires deep focus. Taking practice exams is another item that begs for deep focus.

Figure out, as well, which tasks can be accomplished even alongside your kids’ bids for attention. Can you read a study aid for review even with a few distractions? Can you outline one segment of material? A constant process of triage where you locate the most focused work periods available and plug in your highest concentration tasks will help you through.

Champion the to do lists and lead others to do the same!

The daily to do list keeps everyone on task. This can take a variety of forms, depending on your children’s ages. For my first grader, I have a whiteboard where I write down her remote learning tasks, culminating in a (needed) reminder to put all supplies away. She checks them off herself. My third grader, armed with his school-issued Chromebook, uses Google Tasks to compose his own daily task list. He then checks them off himself. The beauty of the task list? Children moving themselves from task to task gives me more time for focused work.

It is not always seamless. There are days where my kids struggle to work independently. But I continue trying and reward their efforts (we plan a treat to look forward to at the end of the to do list!). Sticking to this routine means that there will be some days when they can settle into their work, giving you some precious extra minutes of focus.

Headphones

Here’s one thing I’ve learned about my children’s remote learning tasks: they’re noisy! The spelling website dings after each typed word, the math site plays music during the computation of problems, and Zoom sessions are filled with chatter. I can preserve a little more focus for myself if I am working alongside my kids when they plug their headphones in.

If any extra help is available, delegate the tasks that do not carry any emotional weight for your kids

I recognize that extra help is not a given in any family situation. But if you do happen to have a grandma, grandpa, neighbor, friend, or sitter that might be able to pitch in to help your family, assign that person the tasks that your kids don’t specifically need you for. This will look different in every family, but recognize where “not-Mom” or “not-Dad” stepping in is a harder sell for your kid. In our household, “not-Mom” reading the toddler bedtime stories is a pretty hard sell on a lot of nights. But laundry is one easily delegable task. Clothes that are washed, dried, folded, and put away by “not-Mom” are a-ok! No one’s heart hurts.

Set aside “special” time for your child, unencumbered by screens and school responsibilities

Upsets in routine and unexpected changes get to our kids. They feel worry and anxiety—they are stressed, too. Having a small amount of time set aside each day for something that brings them joy is so helpful. It can be short (10-20 minutes), and it can be simple. A quick game of tic tac toe. A walk around the block without your phone to distract you from your child’s conversation. These focused, loving moments help your child (and you!) build stamina for the less perfect times of the day.

I hope these tips help you face another day!


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About Emily Carter

Emily is a tutor for the Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. She previously served as Director of Academic Success at Concordia University School of Law where she taught courses on legal writing, research, and writing for the bar exam, and mentored students from matriculation to bar exam passage.  
She graduated with a B.A. from the University of Michigan and began a career in elementary education before switching gears to attend law school.  After earning her J.D. from Notre Dame Law School, she clerked for Justice Petra Jimenez Maes of the New Mexico Supreme Court and then transitioned into academia.  A child of a teacher and a lawyer, she was meant to work in legal education.  She finds joy in helping others succeed.

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