Over the past month and a half, COVID-19 has consumed my days and nights more than I would like to admit. As a single mom of five, I am no stranger to worry. 

But this worry is different. The thought of spreading or bringing home something that could be deadly is frightening. I worry about my family and friends. And I worry that my friends are under an unusual amount of stress from having to wear extra hats during a global pandemic. I worry how that will affect them in the long run. I’ve been schooling my children at home for three years and worry often if I am enough for them.

When I found out that parents were going to be thrust into serving as home educators while managing so many emotions during a time of uncertainty, I knew some parents would feel like they were inadequate and blame themselves for not being able to pull it off. I read stories on social media about how parents were overwhelmed by the thought of having to teach their children, work from home and provide their children with therapeutic support.

Moms were concerned their children were going to fall behind and often spoke of wanting to keep their kids on track academically. I saw copies of the educational packets their teachers sent home. Everyone spoke of chaos and confusion. Parents were upset and frustrated. Teachers were pressured because they had never been in a situation like this before, either.

I am a single mom of five children. My oldest daughter is 24 and has made a home for herself in Sandusky, Ohio. My four younger children were adopted from the foster care system in Allegheny County. All of my children have special education and mental health needs, which can be challenging under normal conditions, but especially with homeschooling in the mix. But we’ve made it work.

I work for Instacart as a personal shopper, which allows me to work around our normally chaotic schedule, but because two of my children have medically complex needs, I am choosing not to work to avoid the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in stores. I also put together resources and topic-based curriculum packages for families of elementary schoolers, mainly for an African American single mom homeschool group that I run. While it’s work, I do it free of charge (though I accept donations).

Leah Walker, 45, of New Kensington, photographed outside her home with three of her children: Mark, 9, Matthew, 9, and Selah, 15 (left to right). (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)
Leah Walker, 45, of New Kensington, photographed outside her home with three of her children: Mark, 9, Matthew, 9, and Selah, 15 (left to right). (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

When I saw the crisis so many of my fellow parents were thrown into, I wanted to offer peace and love to them. I wanted to encourage them and offer support. It is hard to know where to start. 

Initially, in March, many friends reached out to me for resources and advice. I am pretty sure I made it worse by stating, “I would not worry about the packets…throw them away and love on your babies.” 

By no means was I trying to minimize the situation by telling my friends to just let the kids play while they take a long hot bath with wine and practice self-care. I’m not always the most eloquent speaker. But I thought hard about what it was that I really wanted my friends to know and do. It was then I remembered what I do for myself: I give myself grace. In moments of chaos and turmoil, I focus on what is most important. We are in a frenzied state of madness — it is OK to allow your children a few extra hours of video game time while you decompress and manage these changes. 

Whenever I think back to my first day of homeschooling my four children, it always puts a smile on my face. Not because it gives me the warm fuzzies but because I can’t believe how much everything has changed since then. My four youngest children trickled into homeschooling by mutual decision over the 2017-2018 school year. Last year was our first official school year with all of them in traditional homeschool. I was so eager to teach these little sponges everything! I had lesson plans and a schedule. I had well-organized art supplies and ideas on top of ideas. I was determined. I had a vision

None of what I imagined happened. My lesson plans were a bust. 

My children had no interest in learning any of the things I’d researched and felt were exciting. I realized I wasn’t very crafty. My children had zero interest in going on nature walks and reading classics. I smile now because there were many days like that until I learned to let things happen organically. I had to accept that listening to audiobooks about creepy insects and alien encounters not only held their interest but sparked their imagination and stoked their love of learning.

Homeschooling isn’t always easy, even for the most seasoned homeschooling families. The expectation that every single day is filled with joyful, happy kids learning for six hours with a smile is unrealistic. I told my friends to give themselves some grace. If you managed to get up, get dressed and encourage your children to read something, count that as a win for the day. 

There will be days that counting backward while taking deep breaths will count as math. There will be days when bathing the dog counts as health and phys ed — and that’s OK. It took me years to settle into feeling confident as a homeschooling parent, and you have all been thrust into crisis schooling in an instant. The packets and apps might not be flawless, but kids will learn in a million small ways, regardless. 

Leah Walker lives in Westmoreland County and is a homeschooling mother of four school-aged children and an adult child. She is a speaker and educator and can be reached at lwalker3106@comcast.net

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