Surviving Social Distancing as a Parent and Employee

Learn more about Anne Wicks.
Anne Wicks
Anne Wicks
Don Evans Family Managing Director, Opportunity and Democracy
George W. Bush Institute

Bush Institute's Anne Wicks and Eva Chiang are both moms and former educators. We asked them to share the highs and lows, and some tips on their first week working from home with their kids.

Anne Wicks, the Ann Kimball Johnson Director of Education Reform, and Eva Chiang, Director of Research and Evaluation, are both moms and former educators.  We asked them to share the highs and lows, and some tips on their first week working from home with their kids.

It has been a strange week. The George W. Bush Institute is practicing social distancing and many schools in the DFW-area are doing the same. You have survived week one of working from home with your children, how do you feel?

Anne:  A strange combination of exhausted, nervous, hopeful, and inspired. The small stories of human kindness and connection right now are beautiful and sustaining. I also feel lucky that I can work from home and that my kid’s school is supporting distance learning. There are many families without those privileges, and it makes my heart ache.

Eva: I agree with Anne, I feel very lucky to work from home and have my children continue their education via distance learning. I’m also relieved that we made it through the week, and I am excited for the weekend. Even though we have had a lot of family time during this period of social distancing, this past week has inspired new ideas of what this time can look like and I am sure the weekend will do the same. 

Eva Chiang shares a photo of her home office.

What schedule have you put into place to manage both work and learning at home?

Eva: My sons and I thrive on schedules. We start the morning, weather permitting, by taking a family walk and then I get the boys started on their academic work. This consists of some Kahn Academy, some work from their school, and a special project I created on the U.S. Presidents. I check in on them and their work when I have time—and sometimes that is later in the evening. We have lunch and outside time together, and then we struggle a bit through the afternoon.

My kids are in third and fifth grade, so their attention spans are about done when the mid-afternoon hours hit. They also crave variety by this time, so each afternoon has been a bit different—and I have learned that that is OK. I have tried to set up a virtual play date every day, and my children are becoming pros at chatting on Zoom!

One of the most important things I’ve done, completely by accident, is separate our “work” day from our “home” day. At the end of my working day, I turn on some music, set the kitchen timer for 15 minutes, and I tell the boys it’s time to transform the house from school to home. We go from room-to-room putting computers and workbooks away, and even getting a little cleaning in. This magical time seems to lift our moods and relax us a bit.

Anne:  Our schedule has changed day-by-day based on work meetings, and I will confess that there has been way more screen time happening than I would like. I am going to steal Eva’s idea about the musical transition between school and home! But I have landed on four anchors for my Pre-K high energy son. 

1)  We play outside twice a day. Sometimes that is with a bike or scooter and other times it’s leaving the garage door open while dedicating time to arts and crafts. The fresh air does us good. Today we played tag for about 20 minutes, which was a good HITT workout for me too.

2) I set up two stations in the house with a basic activity that he can do independently while I am busy (kinetic sand kit, markers and paper, magna tiles, puzzles). I will rotate those every day or so to keep it interesting. He attends a Reggio school, so he is used to creating and exploring at stations.

3) Daily FaceTime/Skype/Zoom with a friend or family member. Those can be a bit chaotic, but even five minute conversations help.

4) Early bedtime! My son is sleeping hard and long these days, which is great. There is a temptation to let kids stay up later during these hectic times, but a consistent sleep schedule is one important way to keep a sense of normalcy in a strange and uncertain time.

What has been the hardest thing to manage this week?

Eva: For me, as a parent, the hardest thing has been how much my kids miss their friends. My fifth grader reminded me (in his fifth-grade way) that he spends much of his school day interacting with his friends without an adult constantly looking over his shoulder. These days, he has me monitoring his messages and his virtual chats. I’m struggling to find the balance of independence and keeping him safe and healthy.

As an employee, the hardest thing is balancing it all. My workday has shrunk, and I am distracted by everything going on in the world. I’m working on giving myself and those around me as much grace as possible, but it can be hard.

Anne:  My house is small, so I don’t have a dedicated office or spare bedroom to use. That means my open dining room is now my office. My son has even joined a few virtual meetings uninvited. My colleagues have all been understanding, and I thank them for not judging me openly when he punched me in the arm in a desperate bid for my attention.

What has been a surprising boost this week?

Anne: Text chains and Zoom calls with dear friends around the country to share information, support, and humor. Plumbing the depths of Zoom’s great functionality and our CEO’s funny emails recapping what he did each day.

Eva: I love how much more I’m getting to know my kids. One, for example, is an early bird who likes checklists, projects, and has a wicked sense of humor. The other has developed a new habit of having warm tea with me in the office first thing in the morning and chatting about life. He prefers choice in his day, getting a slow start, and human interaction.

I also love learning how everyone is adapting—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We are all learning so much right now. It is completely normal that our home lives look very different from one another, and the diversity is so interesting to me.

What advice do you have for other parents in a similar situation?

Anne: There is no one right answer on how to navigate this new normal. And, honestly, it is very hard.  Parents and caregivers are having to be brave and make decisions that are right for their own children. It’s okay to be overwhelmed, especially if you do not have a background in education. Start with a few small concrete things that you can do and build from there.  Reading to or with your children each day is a perfect place to start.

Eva:  We are both reminded that when we were teachers, we spent the first several weeks of the school year building routines. Give yourself permission to do that as well.  You and your kids will figure out a new routine together – don’t be afraid to ask them for their ideas too. But rest assured that there will be no gold medals awarded for the best color-coded schedule and DIY curriculum on the other side of this!