Working single mom shares challenges of kids attending school at home

Students across Western Washington are preparing to return to school at home. For parents, especially working parents, that brings on big challenges and stress! 

One single mother of three, Tiffany Pickering, works fulltime as a registered nurse. She has a 12-year-old daughter, an 11-year-old son, and a two-year-old. She's uneasy about what's to come with the pending school year.

“When I come home the first thing I want to do is sit down and relax for a few minutes," Pickering said. "But usually I don’t even get to take my shoes off or change my clothes.” 

Single mom Tiffany Pickering attends to her almost-two-year-old Azalea

Instead, Pickering walks through the door after working an eight-hour shift and has to dive right into the nightly routine. Soon, that will include doing homework for two middle schoolers, with this mother feeling like she’s adding the role of teacher to her already long to-do list. 

Single mother Tiffany Pickering works on homework with her two middle schoolers. 

“It’s hard to do that on top of everything else I’m already doing," Pickering said. "Working and coming home and taking care of the kids, and taking care of the animals, and the groceries have been bought and dinner’s been made. It’s tough.” 

And it’s tough on everyone.

Her son Leo, who's going into sixth grade said, “I just don’t like going to school at home because you can’t ask questions. You can’t talk to people.” 

Pickering's seventh-grader, Amelia, struggles with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges.

“I would have these terrible episodes," Amelia said about remote learning last spring. "So yeah, it was not fun at all for any of us.” 

She’s been supported through an individualized education plan and at times a one-on-one aide. But when her school closed down it's building last spring, her vital services mostly stopped.

12-year-old Amelia, who has an Individualized Education Plan or IEP, shares about the challenges for her attending school from home.

“It got me really stressed out," 12-year-old Amelia said. "You know when you’re so upset you start to cry. And then you feel this overwhelming sensation over you. That’s basically how it was.” 

Her mother agrees.

“It was terrible. She was crying. I was ready to cry," Pickering said of the school experience last spring. "I was calling teachers. I don’t know what she’s supposed to do. I’m not a teacher, I’m a nurse. I don’t know anything about teaching children.”

For this family, it was compounded by the feeling they were falling further behind.

They live in a rural part of Lewis County, near the town of Onalaska. Their only internet option comes from a satellite, which doesn’t offer the data speeds required to join online classes. 

“It’s pretty frustrating,” Leo said.  

11-year-old Leo shows off how video freezes on a smartphone because their internet speeds are so slow, making online learning nearly impossible.

“They’re talking about doing all this online stuff and handing out Chromebooks," Pickering added, "and because of our internet there’s no way our kids are going to be able to get on Zoom meetings.” 

Their digital divide on full display last spring, as the school district dropped off paper packets for Pickering's kids, while their peers engaged with teachers online. 

Still, this mother, who's also a U.S. Navy veteran, is trying her best to take it all in stride. 

“Whatever doesn’t get done, doesn’t get done," Pickering said. "I’m not going to force my kids to struggle and be stressed out over something we can’t control.” 

This may just be the healthiest approach to remote learning, as the pandemic leaves so many parents feeling like they too are back in school.