These are pressured times, marriage counselling or couple therapy shouldn't be seen as a last resort for families.
By Joanna Harrison, Visiting Clinician
Homeschooling is hard enough for the parent child relationship – but it also gets into the relationship between parents and can be a cause for conflict. There’s a reason for this – the parent relationship is a place to manage and work through some of the intense feelings that get stirred up by this new element of daily life with kids – but it doesn’t mean it is easy.
In this blog I am going to think about what issues homeschooling might be bringing up and how a couple might think about what is going on between them if they are finding it hard.
From the moment they become parents, a couple has to work out who does what in relation to the kids. Whether both share care of the children between them, or one is the breadwinner and the other does the majority of the childcare and domestic load – every family has its different way of coping. This is all part of the challenge of adjusting to being parents, and something we work with a lot at Tavistock Relationships.
Unexpectedly, some of those feelings that a couple had when they had a baby are now being stirred up with that now school-age baby. Parents – you have been here before. Couples are having to make very quick urgent decisions not about who changes the nappy but about how the family is going to manage homeschooling and what roles each parent is going to take on to get through the day. This may require a huge shift (just as having a baby did). If both parents are working, one parent at very least is going to have to accommodate it within their working life, particularly with primary school children. On the one hand this may open up some happy possibilities – perhaps a chance to spend more time with the children and feel close to them. But on the other hand there are the difficult feelings – about what compromises someone is having to make to their working life, about the real logistical challenges involved, and a feeling of unfairness that one partner is having to do it while the other person is focussed on their job.
Perhaps just as someone had relished getting back to more headspace for work after children started primary school, now that is paused. Parents are having to reclaim some of the responsibilities that the school had taken up for their kids. (And this ignores the fact that some parents still have babies and pre-schoolers to look after as well as their school age children – meaning that there is a really heavy load to be managed.)
This is also in the context of hugely stressful and distressing circumstances, given the external realities of the coronavirus. Life is difficult right now and we are all having to adapt. Parenting is always harder when adults are preoccupied and there are certainly lots of things to be preoccupied with at present whether it is the economic uncertainties, job stresses, or illness. The homeschooling itself, though different at every school, requires parents, particularly of younger children, to engage with the teaching and IT components of their children’s lives. With all this going on it can easily get pretty tetchy between couples as printers break, children resist being taught by people who aren’t their teachers, and emotions and fears run high.
So – how best can couples manage this situation?
- Having conversations with each other which acknowledge the roles that you are each playing in this situation, that acknowledge the importance of what both partners are doing, are crucial
- Communicating (perhaps more than you ever have done) with each other about the timing and structure of your working / homeschooling day, particularly to highlight those times of the day which have to be prioritised (like an important call with the teacher or a colleague)
- Thinking about realistic expectations and priorities given the situation. It isn’t going to be possible to do everything, particularly if there are younger children around. Some aspirations are going to have to be let go of. This also relates to the next point -
- Tuning in to the anxieties that each partner has about their child’s education – one partner may be more focussed on meeting targets, the other may be more keen to take a relaxed approach. It’s unlikely that these are going to get resolved in this acute but hopefully short term situation. However, these differences will get stirred up under the pressure of the situation, so being more aware of them can be helpful.
- Working together to get the IT side of things right! Without criticism if one partner isn’t as IT savvy as the other!
- Making time at the end of the day to have some childfree schoolfree time to check in with each other. Not easy if someone has got to revert to their day job once the children are in bed but even 5 minutes of chewing over the day can be of help.
These are hard times for couples and parents and we hope that this blog also gives a sense that everyone to some extent is grappling with the new normal and that couples can take comfort from not being alone with these issues. We at TR offer online consultation appointments for couples who want to make use of them at this time, whether as a short help or longer term support you need,
For couples and individuals in the rest of the UK or internationally, here is our online couple counselling service