With school districts beginning the school year in remote learning mode, families are figuring out how to make the demanding task of overseeing children’s learning at home actually work.
The extra burden can weigh even heavier on single and working parents. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that in 2019, among married couples with children, 64.2 percent of families consisted of dual-working parents. In single-father families, the number of working fathers was 85.2 percent, and in single-mother families, the number was 75.4 percent. Although those numbers will have changed somewhat because of the effects of the pandemic, the majority of families have custodial parents who work.
Enter the superhero of COVID-19 – the grandparent. Families are getting creative about how to make it through the first weeks, maybe months of school and increasingly, these plans include the support of grandparents.
Grandparents have long been appreciated by children for their ability to be patient, generous with their time, and willing to read the same book over and over. Those qualities can make them an ideal candidate to help out with pre-elementary-aged grandchildren, who may now be at home due to preschool and daycare closures. However, as parents know, grandparents’ talents, wisdom, and experience mean that they can also be an incredible resource for their school-aged grandchildren as they engage in remote learning.
Benefits to Family Members
Including grandparents in the remote learning plan has benefits for all participants. Parents are able to focus on work without the frequent interruptions that come with working at home with children. For grandchildren, grandparents can offer undivided help and attention. And, with today’s demands on parents, they often do so with more patience.
Grandparents, who may be more isolated due to their increased risk of complications from the virus, benefit from the socialization that their grandchildren and adult children provide. They experience less loneliness and a decreased potential for depression. Their new role as teacher or helper can also extend a sense of purpose when they aren’t able to participate in the activities that normally bring them pleasure. And, the greatest benefit of all, is that involving grandparents in children’s remote learning plans offers an opportunity to deepen the grandparent-grandchild relationship.
What the actual plan will look like varies among families, based on individual family needs and health concerns. Some grandparents move into the family home to be physically present. They can check on grandchildren to ensure that they are staying on task, and can serve as a source of encouragement and help for completing schoolwork, allowing parents to focus solely on their work.
Other grandparents choose to be involved virtually if they aren’t able to be physically present or are concerned about the health implications of being around young children, who can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus. One such grandmother watches her grandchild’s school Zoom calls over a second video call, and helps facilitate learning that way. She checks in to ensure that her grandson is staying on task, and answers any questions he might have once he switches to the independent work portion of his remote-school day.
An additional scenario involves grandparents helping remotely, but not necessarily with their grandchildren’s school schedule. Grandparents are getting creative and are offering remote art classes, book clubs, story times, chess games, and a number of other virtual options to their grandchildren. Parents experience the “supervision” as a relief, and grandparents and grandchildren reap the benefits of time spent “together.”
Considerations When Having Grandparents Help
- Prevent burn-out. If your remote-learning plan includes help from a grandparent, it is important to think about preventing burn-out. Grandparents, as willing as they may be, may not have the stamina to take children on full-time. The demands can be physically and mentally overwhelming, so plan to provide breaks from responsibility for your grandparent.
- Communication is key. Talking ahead of time about everyone’s expectations, and setting up times to check-in and adjust if necessary, is key to a successful remote learning plan for everyone involved. Ideally, formalize those check-in dates from the beginning and plug them into the calendar to increase accountability. Finally, don’t set them too far apart, so that small concerns don’t become big issues before they’re discussed.
- Protect the bond. If helping your child with school work begins to negatively affect the grandparent relationship, consider a break or an alternative solution, if possible. Sometimes just shortening the amount of work time to allow for a bit of fun activity time can do the trick.
- Financial considerations. Finally, consider whether helping your children will have a stressful effect on a grandparent’s finances. Will they be purchasing materials or cutting down their own work hours? Are technology costs involved? Some families compensate grandparents for their help to offset those deficits.
Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.