Column

My Daughter’s Math Homework Has Been Our Pandemic Lifeline

It turns out schoolwork is the pandemic parenting hack you never expected

Photo: Kira Hofmann/picture alliance via Getty Images

There’s nothing quite like being a pandemic parent in the winter. Gone are the outdoor playdates and park time; being stuck in the apartment these past few cold months has taken on a whole new level of isolation. Yet one thing has made the dreary pandemic winter more bearable: doing math homework with my 10-year-old daughter.

Hear me out.

When it comes to parenting during Covid-19, there’s no shortage of woes to choose from. Whether it’s going without childcare, trying to navigate remote learning, or experiencing the sadness of watching your kids struggle with loneliness, the virus has made the already difficult task of caring for another human exponentially more difficult.

For me, though, the hardest thing about trying to help my daughter through this past year has been the uncertainty — for the first time ever, we can’t give Layla a straight answer. We can’t tell her how long this will go on for; we don’t know when she’ll be able to have an indoor playdate again or when she’ll be able to go to school without a mask in a classroom that isn’t a dance studio with all the windows open. It’s a big change for young kids who are used to looking at their parents as the people with all the answers.

Even worse, now our daughter doesn’t entirely trust us when we do try to assuage her fears or give her hope about the future. When I tell Layla that things will start to get easier now that the vaccine is here and being distributed, for example, she points out that when she first left school last March, we told her it was just going to be for a few weeks. And she’s right! Why should she trust that we know what’s going to happen next when everything over the past year has shown that we don’t?

You know what does have straight answers, though? Math. There are rules and boundaries, expected outcomes and few surprises. I was a bit of a math dork as a kid: I was on a champion math team in junior high and went on to attend a specialized math and science high school. And so it’s been exciting to see Layla take the same pleasure and respite in numbers that I did.

I can finally give my daughter — who has felt so unmoored for so long — solid answers about something.

After dinner every night, we sit at the just-cleared dining room table and get to work on rounding numbers, order of operations, fractions, and exponents. (I won’t lie: At first I did have to do some convincing that old Mom knew what she was doing — but once I taught her a few tricks that made homework easier, she was all about it.)

It’s not all fun; it’s also been necessary. Learning remotely is a challenge, and topics she could once handle without any problems now feel harder. Layla’s teachers can’t follow her progress as closely over Zoom, and she’s less likely to ask for help when “office hours” mean logging onto yet another remote lesson. And so we work on math homework and practice her skills together. There can be frustration and exhaustion, but it’s ultimately been my pandemic lifeline.

What’s most important to me is that I can finally give my daughter — who has felt so unmoored for so long — solid answers about something. We can spend time together, working on a challenge and actually solving it, instead of feeling helpless.

Maybe I can’t tell her when school will go back to normal or when she’ll have a birthday party or a sleepover again. But I can show her a multiplication trick to make her work go faster, and I can teach her the lesson that hard work pays off. It’s not a perfect solution, but right now, I’ll take any win (or equation) I can.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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