Now That Dad Is Home

Now That Dad Is Home

At Charlotte Mason events over the years I’ve met many dads who say they do not help with the homeschooling. It is not uncommon for a dad to attend a conference so that he can better support his wife, even if he has no intention of directly teaching his children. Sometimes these dads want to do even more than attend a Charlotte Mason event. Some of them want to read Charlotte Mason’s books. A few even commit to reading all six books in two years, as part of the Idyll Challenge.

I am currently on the final lap with two Idyll Challenge groups who only have volume 6 left to read. Over the months they have learned that education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. It has become clear to all that education is a 24×7 activity. The consensus is that all dads are teaching their children, whether they know it or not. As significant persons in the household, they can’t help but shape the atmosphere their children breathe. And as strong influencers of their families’ lifestyles, they consciously or unconsciously impact many of the habits their children will form. That already represents two-thirds of education: atmosphere and discipline.

One of the members of the men’s Idyll Challenge (Group 2) is a friend of mine named Patrick Lowndes. Patrick lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife Bethany and their four children. As part of Charlotte Mason Northwest, Patrick leads a virtual Dad’s support group in that region for CM dads. At our most recent Idyll Challenge meeting, Patrick brought an idea to the group. I’d like him to tell you about his idea and what happened next:

With the unprecedented emergence of COVID-19, many dads find themselves now suddenly working from home. With more time at home, their impact on lifestyle and atmosphere is even more acute. How should dads think about this newfound responsibility? How can we more intentionally use our time and presence to impact these important elements of education? I reached out and several dads from our group stepped forward to offer their reflections and tips.

Thanks to Patrick, I’m able to share those reflections and tips with you. As you read or listen to these ideas, you may be surprised at what a special opportunity is before your family now. I just want to mention that these are not “super dads.” We are all just regular dads pursuing our respective careers. Three of our contributors are in the technology field (a product manager, IT infrastructure engineer, and a software architect), one is a video producer, and one is a pastor. They are from very different walks of life, but they share one thing in a common: a deep love for the Lord and for their families.

The first thing I’d like to share is how these dads are helping their wives in new ways now that they’re working from home more often:

I’ve tried to help with food prep for meals, which creates more space for my wife to focus on schooling.

I am more available to help with subjects that I normally have to help with outside of my working hours, specifically math.

I find that my mere presence in a room can be helpful in getting the kids to settle down more quickly. Another way would be that I can be a listening ear for when things appear discouraging for my wife.

In the morning I get up before everyone in the household. I make sure coffee is fresh and the dogs are let out and cats are fed. I tidy up the kitchen if the chores were incomplete from the night before. I inventory food supplies for the grocery list run. I then go to the [home] office and work. I come down for lunch and talk to the family. After work, we decide what is for dinner and I plan the meal. We all sit at the dinner table for dinner every night as a family. We always make an emphasis to eat as a family. I also assist in math computations and explanations. I am more mathematically inclined and can cover most math problems.

Being at home more often has allowed me to help my wife with daily routines with the kids, ranging from piano practice to getting breakfast or morning chores going. I’ve also had opportunities to watch our youngest at times so my wife and the older kids can focus on a particular reading or subject.

Of course, help is a two-way street. While dads can help out more, they also need the rest of the family to help them maintain boundaries, so the dads can still get work done amidst homeschooling and home life. Here are some ways our dads have made this work:

Each morning, I share when I have quiet meetings — where I really cannot be interrupted at all. My wife adjusts the location of schooling a bit to accommodate for less noise in our small house.

I have the same routine in the morning — I kiss my kids goodbye and tell them I’ll see them later (even if it is a lot sooner than normal), letting them know I’m going to work. I’m asking my kids to knock if the door is closed — my five year old is already picking it up!

My office has a door, which is always closed. I advise to knock first and wait for an answer, for I may be in a meeting with my headset or speaker. When they hear me talking to colleagues or vendors, they do not interrupt.

We have tried to establish that a closed door (to my spare bedroom office) means “do not disturb” and the kids have responded fairly well to it. I do get knocks or unannounced walk-ins occasionally, which is not a huge deal. I’ve also had to be very disciplined with my time so that I do have “off” time when I’m not working.

But even the best laid plans can go astray. Fortunately the consequences are not disastrous:

Closing the door helps for older kiddos, but younger kids still just walk in. Usually I’m on mute when not talking, but the video often catches a cute little head bobbing around — which my co-workers and customers think is cute.

Working from home gives many dads the chance to take “micro-breaks” where they engage with their kids. Here’s how some of them approach this:

Micro-breaks have been really life-giving to my family, when dad shows up, but I usually try to keep these outside school hours. I sometimes drop in to celebrate my kids if I overhear them performing something like music and I want to cheer.

Quick hugs while grabbing food from the kitchen, being able to be around for picture study or memorization or prayer, quick check-ins.

The misconception is that working remote, you have to be online all the time. That is not necessarily true. Corporations know that there are still human needs for breaks, fresh air, and walks to clear your mind. When I am on these breaks, I interact with the children and ask if they need anything and most of the time, they do not, since they have their own daily itineraries. I ask my wife if she needs anything or she will address me first.

I’ve discovered that sometimes, me taking a micro-break can actually disrupt whatever activity my family is doing, so I have to strategically plan when I’m going to come out of my office based on what they are up to. But having planned times for a break together and lunch as a family has been great.

A hallmark of a Charlotte Mason education is time outdoors. Now that most families have some kind of stay-at-home restriction, nature and the outdoors is proving even more important to help everyone cope:

I try to plan an outing once a week when we can eat lunch out in the woods somewhere where there are no other people. We’ve also gotten more creative about starting maintenance projects around our yard to keep the kids busy outdoors and engaged in something with fresh air.

We are outside even more. I try to take an afternoon walk with everyone, and Sundays after church we have been taking long walks in the woods.

We’ve actually gone on many hikes together. We have many parks and trails in our area. We also have a lot of carpenter bees around the house and took some time to research what they are and what they do. We also discussed the differences between bees, wasps and hornets.

Being outside in our yard and taking family walks or bike rides has been a lifeline in this time. We also have hung out as a family around a backyard campfire quite a bit. My wife has started a bird journal with our kids and they are in touch with cousins and friends in other states to compare what birds are seen when and where, so we’ve all enjoyed being a part of that.

The crisis of COVID-19 has brought much suffering and uncertainty to the world. But homeschooling families are making the most of it. And our dads have been finding some wonderful blessings in this new way of life:

More spontaneous interactions with my kids that are creating more memories than I was creating before.

Seeing my wife and kids more.

Watching my kids grow. It’s like watching a flower blossom. The kids may find certain lessons laborious, but I can actually observe their gradual improvements.

Seeing them grow daily. Hearing their side conversations is really adorable. I used to travel all week when they were toddlers and I missed all the cute innocent activities and growth spurts. So now I think they appreciate me being a less absent father and more active one.

Being around my wife and children more and making memories we would not have made otherwise.

No one really knows when or how our lives will adjust back to normal. Or whether the “new normal” will be different from the old. Some things, however, never change. Education is an atmosphere, discipline, and life, and dads have a big role to play. Patrick and I hope these thoughts and suggestions will be a “survival guide” for dads who are now working from home. And it is my prayer that amidst sorrow and uncertainty, intentional love and togetherness will give you hope.

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