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Managing virtual school in addition to being a working parent feels overwhelming on the best days and insurmountable on the worst days. But what if merging the two can make your family stronger and provide other benefits, too?

Many parents find themselves in a position they didn't actually apply for and never anticipated. Now they are struggling to figure out how they'll handle all the job requirements. It's a new position, morphing parenting, teaching and employee all into one. Talk about a varied job description that for sure includes all other duties as assigned!

Believe it or not, not only can you make this work, you have the opportunity to strengthen your family in the process. And part of what will help you is putting your work skills to good use at home.

Ditching the guilt and giving family members permission to make mistakes can be empowering to everyone. As you begin this process, it will be important to let go of any guilt you may feel as you navigate all you have to do. Guilt is not your friend and won't help you accomplish anything at all. These are uncharted waters. You're giving it your best shot. It's highly likely you'll need to make adjustments as you get further down the road. This will decrease your anxiety and stress level, which will likely help you have more patience and strengthen your relationship with each other.

Putting together a schedule decreases chaos, increases communication and fosters cooperation among family members. Families do better when they have a general idea of what's coming next. In this age of total uncertainty outside our homes, you can create some certainty in your home by setting a schedule based on your work requirements, your spouse's work requirements (if you're married) and your child's school schedule. Knowing what is coming next and what to expect can help reduce drama and tension in your family. It doesn't have to be the exact same schedule every day, but there does need to be some consistency because children thrive on that. Write your weekly schedule on poster board and put it where everybody can see it. Take time at the beginning of each week to go over the schedule. It might also help to review it each day over breakfast so everybody remembers the plan for the day and can address changes that need to take place.

If your children are younger, color-code the schedule and talk about what the colors mean. Maybe Red means don't interrupt mom/dad unless it's an emergency. Orange could mean exercise for everybody. Green may mean you will be with them to help with whatever. You may want to give older kids a notepad to write down questions that come up when you aren't available. This will help them remember what they needed help with and allow them to keep going or work on something else until you are free.

By doing this, you're helping your child build confidence, learn self-discipline and figure out how to work independently. You're also providing security by making sure they have what they need, setting boundaries and being available.

Controlling your mindset when things aren't going the way you expect them to teaches your children resilience and that, together, families can do hard things. Your children will follow your lead. If you're looking at these days as an adventure and an opportunity to work together as a family to figure it out, just the process of working together and being positive about it will help strengthen your family bond. It isn't that you don't have concerns or don't grasp the significance of all that's happening. It's that you manage the concerns together and don't let them take up residence in your head.

Putting your support system to work teaches children it is OK to ask for help. Even in the midst of COVID-19, it's possible and, quite frankly, necessary to deploy your support system. This is one of the most powerful ways you can strengthen your family in the midst of virtual school and work. Knowing that family members and friends are there for each other and that others are willing to help share the load gives you time to catch your breath, sit in silence or do whatever you need to do to refresh and replenish your energy. When our kids see us taking care of ourselves, they experience us being less irritable and tense, and we are better able to handle whatever comes our way. Families function better when they don't feel like they have to walk around on egg shells for fear someone might explode. There is a peace and calm that brings security to the relationship.

If you don't currently have a support system, work to put one together. Some parents are dividing up responsibilities at home and working with other families who are in the same situation to make things work. If that's completely out of the question, try to include times in your new schedule where everybody does a chore or goes to their room/favorite nook in your house for quiet time to read, nap or play quietly.

Celebrating the little things acknowledges what you can do when you work together as a team. In the midst of all we are dealing with, getting through a single day is reason to celebrate. Turn on your favorite music and dance, or create a family cheer that you do to signal the end of your work and school day and transition into the evening. In addition to celebrating as a family, find ways to celebrate as a couple and individually. You might be surprised at how energizing it is to acknowledge what is going right versus focusing on failures and missed opportunities.

If you've ever been through anything hard before, individually or as a couple, you know in the midst of it, it feels daunting and exhausting. You work together to come up with a plan, and you continue to put one foot in front of the other while holding on tightly to ensure nobody gets left behind. Before you realize it, months will have gone by and you won't be hanging on for dear life, but there will be a certain resolve and strength about you. The very thing you believed might do you in made you stronger and brought out the best in you.

With all of the negatives associated with COVID-19, there are some potential positives, too. One for sure could be that virtual school and working from home made your family stronger.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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Julie Baumgardner
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