You’re here because you want to help your child succeed. I get that. Maybe your child has special needs due to a learning disability or developmental delay – that’s the case with us. Or maybe you just want to provide the best environment you can for your child, despite the challenges of working outside the home.
Being a dual working parent household puts a lot of pressure on your time, especially if your children also enjoy extra curricular activities. I know – we’re in the thick of it.
I’ve been on this road since my first daughter started school in 2012. Working, sorting out care, finding time for homework, and getting to extra-curricular activities on time is a huge undertaking. And now that we’re working through schooling a child who needs extra support, being organized and creative with our time is essential.
Read more about our journey into the world of IEPs and learning disabilities.
While I am still a work-in-progress – learning how best to support my children and my family while working outside the home – I am sharing what I have learned along the way. I may not be successfully doing all of these things, but we are working on these strategies to keep our life moving forward.
Here are a few ways to support your child at school when you’re a dual working parent household
Allowing your children to grow and learn at their own pace often means accepting that they may not be where you *think* they should be. Perhaps they’re not keeping pace with their siblings, or maybe you’re comparing them to yourself at that age. That is okay, and it’s normal to want to do it. Just don’t let it colour your love and appreciation for your children individually.
I was an overachiever in elementary and highschool. School was easy for me, I loved being there, and I could never learn enough. It’s not easy for me to accept that my daughter is experiencing these struggles when everything was straightforward and easy for me.
Emma’s grade average is somewhere in the low Bs where I was an almost straight As student. It’s frustrating for me to see that on paper when I know it’s not an accurate reflection of her knowledge. But I’m working on this.
Accepting that my bright, lovely daughter can’t find a way to get her knowledge out to be graded is my priority right now. I don’t want her to think I’m not proud of her, or that I’m disappointed in what she’s managing to get done. At the same time we need to find ways for her to improve her output (which will easily pull up her grades.)
Find (or create) a schedule that works for your household
I work five days a week. My husband is the same – though he is often needed outside of regular office hours on top of his regular schedule. This leaves me the manager of our home and schedules.
My work hours are 8:30 to 4:30 Monday through Friday. My girls get home from school shortly after 3pm and I don’t get home until close to 5. That means they have time at home to empty schoolbags and lunches and (in a perfect world) get their homework done.
Once I get home it’s expected they will finish eating, and change for dance class. We head to the dance studio every night except Friday. Starting times shift daily, but essentially we have 30 minutes home together before we need to leave the house again.
My girls will phone my husband when they get home. He will ask them about homework, but he’s not in a position to really assist them over the phone. If homework is difficult (or they just can’t quite figure out what they’re supposed to do) they will save it until I get home.
Our schedule is always different. On nights that have a little more time, I spend more time with Emma going over her school day and investigating what she may not have completed. Other days it’s all I can do to get home, check that they ate, and go out the door again. We know which nights have more time, and we do more school work on those nights. Projects get pushed (and sometimes rushed) depending on my availability. We use Emma’s IEP concessions to ask for more time when we need it.
Write out your weekly schedule
Something that helped us at the beginning of the school year was to write out our dance schedule and post it where everyone sees it. This allowed the girls to know which nights we had to be ready earlier, and which nights had more time to work or play. Now that we are months into the schedule they rarely look at it, but it was helpful for me too!
Obviously, your life will require its own schedule, but identifying times of day your child is more receptive to feedback could reduce the amount of time you need to spend on work outside of school. Maybe your school has a later start and you could use the morning for 20 minutes of homework help. Or perhaps you could enlist a friend or family member to stop by after school for some homework time while you’re still at work, or busy making dinner.
Try new things – and try them repeatedly
We’re trying a new technique with Emma. She struggles with understanding what is actually due when, and remembering what she did during the day. I will phone home (on days that I have time) after I’ve received the homework email from her teacher and actually go over each item with her. The strategy here is that it may help her remember what went on during the day and what she may not have finished, even if it wasn’t specifically assigned as homework. By jogging her memory this way, I’m hoping she will be able to work on more items independently and avoid the “catch up” on weekends.
Don’t give up on strategies that had limited success
Emma’s teacher has introduced a list system that may help her stay more organized. Making lists isn’t a new technique for us. We’ve tried lists before and it’s successful for a few weeks, and then it falls off. So we reinforce the idea, or come up with a different list making tactic and try again. I think having a list would greatly assist Emma, but how does she make the list, and where does she keep it so it’s accessible? Is an online list better than a printed one? When and how often should she access it? These are the questions we’re working through now.
We also tried a folder with pockets on the inside. Inside left was “bring home and work on,” inside right was “complete and to be handed in.” Again, it worked for a while, but now so much is done online that this has fallen a bit by the wayside.
Generating ideas, and finding ways to implement them with your child gives them a measure of control over their days. And when your strategies are failing, don’t give up on them. Revisit them with your child and talk about what worked and why it’s not working now. You’ll be amazed how much insight they can share with you about how their days flow. Maybe you just need to tweak your strategy to better work in a different way.
Have open and honest discussions with the teachers
Teachers and school staff are the number one supporters of our children during their days. They want your child to succeed just as much as you do.
I know I’ve had moments when I feel like not enough is being done at the school to assist and support Emma. Something important to remember is that teachers are spread thin. Emma is only one of 28 students in her class. Her teacher is expected to support all those children equally. Her IEP allows her concessions and other supports, but it doesn’t necessarily give her more attention from her teacher.
Wondering what to ask at your next IEP meeting? Read these Questions every parent should ask at an IEP meeting.
At our school Emma does get extra support from the SERT teacher. (I think that stands for Special Education and Resource Teacher.) She, and others with the same – or similar – needs, visit the SERT room where they work on skill development, or are given extra time to work on assignments with support. Our SERT teacher is an amazing advocate for the students and I am very glad she is able to help us find solutions and support at the school.
Email is a great tool for staying in touch with teachers and staff without always needing to find a time to meet face to face. It’s also wonderful for sharing tidbits or ideas you may stumble over during routine homework time, or while having car conversations. I have been emailing regularly with Emma’s teacher regarding best ways to use the digital system the school has, and for clarifications on homework or assignments that Emma didn’t fully understand. She has a very patient teacher, and this is her second year with him, so he is already well acquainted with Emma and her quirks.
Make time to still have fun
Through all the days (and nights) of homework, busyness and catch-up, don’t forget to let your kids be kids. Yes, they may be struggling in school or with homework. Yes, you will all be exhausted from fighting over to-dos. But please, please remember that they are still children.
Playtime, quiet time, time with friends, and time outside are all required for healthy development. Try your best to remember that school is only part of life, and should not be all-encompassing. A few poor grades, or the odd unfinished assignment will not alter the course of your child’s entire life.
Instilling good values – including being responsible for completing work – is important, but so is self care, feeding your soul, and straight up taking a break.
And don’t forget about self care
I have let my daughter stay home from school once or twice over the last few years knowing full well that her “I don’t feel well” is purely mental overload. We stay home together, she sleeps a few hours, and we chill out for the afternoon and the next day she is right as rain. It’s a mental re-set, and we all need that by times.
Reward your child when they successfully manage a large project, or complete all their work on time for a week. Whatever your child enjoys, offer it as motivation. Take them to a favourite restaurant or see a movie they’ve been looking forward to. Let them have that sleepover they’ve been asking for. Positive reinforcement is the best way to support children who are struggling with learning challenges, or anything they find difficult.
Children develop life skills through play – even when they’re teenagers. Social time with friends develops communication and team skills. Sports and outdoor activities can reap the benefits of time in nature and exercise. Let them do the things they enjoy and watch the benefits develop across all aspects of their lives.
These tips are only a few ways you can support your child at school as a dual working parent household.
All of these supports work for dual working parent homes or any other variation. The important thing is to spend a little time investigating what will work for you and your family. Scheduling can be key for those with busy lives. Overachiever parents may need to take a step back to avoid putting too much pressure on their children.
Every situation is unique. We are still finding our way on the journey of supporting our daughters. (We have two, but only one that needs extra support.) Trial and error isn’t the least time intensive way to figure out what works, but for us it’s the only way. And I’m still working on getting past my personal struggle of “school is easy, why can’t Emma figure this out??” and allowing her to work at her pace, and in whatever ways she needs to.
Have you found ways to support your children while you work full time? I’d love to learn from your experiences. Leave me a note below – I love reading comments!