Back-to-School Parenting (During a Pandemic): 8 Mothers Share Their Secrets to Staying Sane and Spiritual
Back-to-school season can be hectic enough even during the best of times. But when you add a pandemic and remote learning to the mix, this fall’s annual pilgrimage back to class can create a special challenge for students and parents.
How are Christian mothers handling the new schedules? How can you balance all your life responsibilities without sending the kids off to school every day? How can you keep your spiritual fervor (and your sanity) while at the same time making sure your child gets logged on to their online class?
We tracked down a few moms to ask how they are coping. Here is what they told us.
Mother of two – a 5th grader and 9th grader
Exceptional situations: One child has ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder
Life responsibilities: I am married; I work from home (partner in life-coaching business), volunteer as a children’s ministry leader, and more. I coordinate an ICOC international support group for families with special needs. I have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and am pretty sure I have ADHD too.
“Go-to” scripture: Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
What has helped me: What has helped me stay sane during the pandemic is having spiritual people in my life who really know me. I can say anything, and they don't judge me. It has given me a safe space to process my thoughts, get perspective and discover ways to show up and support my children. The biggest thing I did [when school started] was to completely overhaul my schedule so I could be present during the school day. We realized that we would get through the academics if we were doing well spiritually and emotionally (as suspected, the kids have needed a lot more emotional support from us than usual).
We have spent a lot of time listening, asking questions and validating them. It has helped us to understand what it is like for them, to be more compassionate and to have more realistic expectations, which has reduced stress and anxiety for everyone. Talking about different learning styles and figuring out how we each like to learn has helped me guide them with schoolwork. It has been especially helpful for them with note-taking, homework and studying. Visual schedules, planners and timers are helping us with time management. Everyone has found what works for them.
Having a child with ADHD on the Autism Spectrum, I have learned to support and quickly build trust with my child's teachers. It has allowed me to communicate and advocate for my child with ease. Sharing information about my child speeds up the "getting to know you" and allows my son to get the support he needs. Also, Alexa [Amazon’s electronic personal assistant] has been my best friend; she really keeps me on track. Without her, the kids would be eating lunch in Zoom meetings!
Mother of three – ages 10, 14, and 15
Exceptional situation: Does being a teenager constitute an exceptional situation?
Life responsibilities: I am a single mother (divorced), home-schooling (even before the pandemic), and working full-time.
“Go-to” scripture: Isaiah 54:13 – I will teach all your children, and they will enjoy great peace.
I, like most moms, spend most of my prayer time on my children. Being an unconventional, homeschool mom, I oftentimes feel inadequate or that my children are suffering because of it. This scripture assures me that, in spite of me, the Lord will be the ultimate Teacher. I've found it to be true. There are times when my children happen to know something that I know I didn't teach them. Immediately I think, "Lord, you taught them that."
What has helped me: I wouldn't call what I do "managing." It's more like I get up every day. Many times, as a single mom, that in itself is an accomplishment. Getting up means so many other things in a single-parent home. It means meeting every need, answering every question, providing food for every meal, counseling every child and, for the single mom who thought homeschooling was best (me pointing to myself), teaching every subject to each child. I think you see the common denominator here of "every." Every decision about everything seems to rest on the single parent alone. I'm sure you can sense the stress that could come with this.
Well, there is hope! My hope has been and continues to be "I trust God." Not in the cliché, right-thing-to-say kind of way, but I really trust God and who He is to me and my children. I have resolved and learned that God alone is enough. When surviving the trauma of divorce and all that accompanies that, the scripture Psalm 51:9-12 takes on a whole new life. When, at the beginning and ending of each day, all I need to know is that God is with me and I am with Him. The world may attempt to say more is required (accomplished children, immaculate house, thriving career), but at the end of it all, all that matters is God!
Mother of three boys – a 4th grader, 2nd grader and 1st grader
Exceptional situation: My youngest has a genetic disorder that affects various aspects of his development. He has Speech Apraxia and general motor planning difficulties. He has an individualized education plan through the school to receive various services such as speech therapy and occupational therapy. He also goes to four private therapies every week to help in various aspects of his overall function.
Life responsibilities: I am in the full-time ministry with my husband and we lead a region in the Chicago Church of Christ.
“Go-to” scripture: Isaiah 40:11 – He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
This verse and Galatians 6:9-10 have helped me to feel the love and comfort of God gently leading and carrying me during this crazy time of having young kids, and to know that God is there with me. It also spurs me on to keep persevering and not to give up even when it's exhausting and I am dealing with battles with my kids. The thought of the harvest keeps me going and helps set my mind on doing good -- especially to my family.
What has helped me: It's been important for me to find my own times of being alone, especially now that my kids are ever surrounding me! Whether it's going on a walk by myself, sitting in a closet, being in the backyard; whatever it looks like, I need to find my moments of being alone and quiet to pray, meditate, journal, think, read, just be with God. My kids are at home doing remote learning and it has not been easy to say the least. Frustrations can run high at times and one thing we've been trying to do for my kids’ hearts and minds, but also for my own, is doing a short devotional in the morning right before we log on for e-learning. We have a verse of the week which we focus on, and every day we talk about a different aspect of that verse and how we can set our hearts and minds on it that day. We all take turns praying.
Being able to have that spiritual focus before our day gets going in whatever direction it'll take is helpful. It helps me have something to bring them back to throughout the day when they may be having a hard time with something. It helps me and my kids to see the Bible as living and active in our lives. This time has been crazy and exhausting for me in so many different aspects, but I've been really trying to fight for my mindset -- instead of seeing the difficulty and challenge, to see the opportunity for growth and building. Instead of merely surviving this time, I want to see it as a time to thrive. I've said many times that there's lots of character-building going on in my family -- and that is a good thing!
Mother of two – a 9th grader and a 10th grader
Exceptional situation: One of my children has ADHD and has a problem focusing on work.
Life responsibilities: My husband, Damiane, and I are on the church leadership team and we lead the marrieds ministry in our church. I work full-time as an executive and attorney in state government.
“Go-to” scripture: Romans 8:28 – And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (NLT)
What has helped me: Damiane and I seized the opportunity to create a new moment of sharing scriptures with the kids. Now, each day before we each retreat to our spaces in the home for school or work, we have a five-minute family devotional where dad shares a scripture with a short explanation and a prayer. This moment has increased our sharing of the scriptures, encouraging each of us, not just as a teaching moment for the children. The opportunity to be home together also allowed us to reset other expectations like chores and family clean-up times. Being in our homes all together has also fostered discussions about how we'd like to spruce up our home. (Note: Terri’s daughter Ava was baptized this summer!)
Mother of two – a 2nd grader and 4th grader
Life responsibilities: I'm a wife and a stay-at-home mom (husband not a member of our church). I also help my Bible talk leader oversee the women in our house church.
“Go-to” scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
What has helped me: Prayer....it's the most powerful tool that helps me stay calm. The kids are back in school and the e-learning has been challenging. Some days are better than others. I had a meltdown the third day into at-home e-learning when my 9-year-old daughter was having internet connection problems. She missed out on what the teacher said and she's asking me what she has to do; at the same time my 7-year-old son is yelling at the top of his lungs that he needs help too. It was too much at that moment. I was so frustrated. My daughter started crying and I had to calm down. The only way for me to calm down is through prayer. Prayer is a time where I can release all my anxieties, my frustrations and all my emotions. It's also a time where I receive peace, clarity and strength to carry on. Thanks to God we can have that time with Him, to be in His presence. He wants to help us carry our burdens and we are not alone. One thing that my husband and I do every day before the kids start school is read and discuss a scripture, and then we pray together. This helps us to be ready for our day. God equips us with everything we need. We have the full armor of God!
Mother of four – 4-year-old twins, a 2nd grader, and a 4th grader
Exceptional situation: Our 2nd grader is autistic and has ADHD.
Life responsibilities: Wife, mom to 4 boys, and full-time women’s minister
“Go-to” scripture: Philippians 4:13 – For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need. (NLT)
What has helped me: What has helped me is to get up early before all the kids, and spend time with God while drinking coffee in my favorite mug and diffusing essential oils; also, going on prayer walks or bike rides three mornings a week, listening to audio books, podcasts or Christian music depending on what I feel like I need that morning. Also, if the school day has been overwhelming and I need a mental break, I like going for a car ride and listening to my favorite Christian songs and praying.
Mother of two – a 6th grader and 10th grader
Life responsibilities: I am married, working full time, and leading the Young Teen Ministry (7th - 8th grades) with my husband
“Go-to” scripture: Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (NLT)
What has helped me: I’m grateful that my kids are able to adjust and only needed help at the beginning of the school year. When I struggle, I can always rely on my husband and the sisters in the church for advice and help; and God’s promise that He will always be there. Nothing is too hard or impossible with Him, just like He said to Sarah and Abraham. He’s more powerful than my worries.
Mother of two – a 7th grader and 10th grader
Exceptional situation: My 12-year-old daughter has special needs. (Down’s Syndrome - moderate disability). She was transferred to a new school approximately three weeks before schools closed due to the pandemic.
Life responsibilities: I am a married, stay-at-home mom of two wonderful daughters. I am a house church leader and I serve in the ministries that both of my daughters are a part of: teen and young teen ministries.
“Go-to” scripture: Philippians 4:4-6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
What has helped me: I must admit that it has not been easy for me to adjust to this new routine, new set of responsibilities at home, new school, new teachers, and new technical difficulties!
I knew that I was stressing out when my youngest daughter attempted to comfort me by rubbing my back. To my shame, I was actually irritated by her effort to comfort me. She watched me try to handle the technical difficulties and asked, “Mom, are you stressed out?” Then I realized that I was giving myself a pass on God’s command to “not be anxious about anything.” I deserve to be anxious, I thought. I am typically right by my youngest daughter’s side, or a few feet away, for each of her classes. I longed for the freedom that I felt I no longer had.
Then God graciously revealed that the only way that I will remain sane and spiritual is if I hold on to these 5G’s:
1. GOD - Listen and talk to God throughout my day.
2. GRATITUDE - Strive to look for, meditate on, journal or discuss daily, the ways that God has shown His love for me and my family. God opened my eyes and allowed me to see that I should be grateful that my children are alive and that all of our extra time together is a gift from God.
3. GRACE - Give grace to myself, my husband, my children and others because everyone is fighting some sort of battle.
4. GOOD FRIENDS - Make time, even if for a brief moment, to connect with friends who can relate to you, make you laugh, encourage you and graciously remind you that God is bigger than anything that you will face today.
5. GIVING - My husband and I strive to see to it that our family continues to give to others in the form of a call, card, text, Bible study or acts of socially-distanced service.
A Few Words From a Teacher...
Heather Rissman is a wife, a mother of three (an 11th grader, a college freshman, and a college junior); plus, she’s a teacher! Here is her advice for weary moms:
I teach 5th grade, lead a Bible talk of 20 people, and am very busy with elderly parents. This is such a crazy time and as a teacher and a mother I see both sides.
What has helped me? I have to constantly remind myself, first, that in this world we will have troubles (John 16:33); and second, that the world is not my home (1 Peter 2:11). Practically, I need to make sure that I am taking care of myself and getting my time with God. Also, I cannot be afraid to ask for help. I've been very honest with my husband about the stresses of beginning this school year and have asked for help from him with some things that I normally take care of. Also, prayer is a necessity!
Some thoughts for moms:
1. Give yourself grace.
Everything won't get done and that's okay. (This is very hard for me, too.) It's okay for the kids to see that I don't have it all together.
2. Allow your kids to be squirmy.
There is no way they can sit still for that long. They need breaks; they need to run up the stairs or take a quick bike ride on their breaks.
3. Reach out to the teachers.
Thank them for what they are doing and ask what you can do at home to help your child.
4. Find other mothers who are in the same boat.
We are not alone. Satan wants to divide us and make us think that we are alone or that we don't have time to talk to other moms. Having someone in the same boat helps us as we laugh, cry, and brainstorm together! This is a great way to share your faith with other mothers in the neighborhood as well.
5. Let your conversation be full of grace.
Our kids are listening and negativity in the home hurts them.
What has kept you sane and spiritual as you parent in the pandemic? Join in the discussion by commenting below.