On Parenting: Meghan Leahy on distance learning, pandemic parenting and trying to do it all

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Jul 22, 2020

Meghan Leahy, a parenting coach with Positively Parenting, joined On Parenting editor Amy Joyce to talk about parenting children of all ages.

Hello everyone. Lots of questions rolling in, most of them related to the biggest issue of our parenting lifetimes, as you could probably guess. 

Meghan's column today is about a teen daughter and how much a parent needs to intervene. 

Let's get started. 

Hi Meghan, my husband and I are trying to figure out the best way to handle some big future changes with our daughter, who turned two a few weeks ago. We have been actively house-hunting. The neighborhoods we hope to move to are about 20 minutes away from our current home, in the opposite direction from her current daycare. We already had decided that if needed, we would stagger the move and daycare switch to allow her to adjust. Well, last night we found out that I am pregnant. It was planned :) but my first pregnancy took about 6 months of trying and this one took 3 weeks. My question is, if you could ideally stagger a house move, a daycare switch, and a new baby for a toddler, how would you do it? We had already planned on moving before putting our house on the market (for covid reasons) so that could be flexible. I think that all of these changes would be tough to handle, so any advice would be very helpful. Thank you!

Oh, let me help you here:

Do what you need to do as it suits YOUR schedule, health, etc.


You are clearly a loving parent, and I have no doubt that you will lovingly guide your daughter through these changes WHEN and AS you need to.

You have already discovered that life is full of surprises (Covid, a quick conception, etc), so I would suggest rolling with all of this knowing that your daughter will look to you to feel safe.

Will there be some transition bumps? Sure, but these cannot be avoided so do what you need to do.

Because she is young, you will mostly see her clinginess and maybe some sleep issues, but remember:  the number thing in her life is YOU. If you are stable and confident and loving and attentive, she will make it through fine. Children are resilient; make your OWN life easy.

As we plan for a blended back to school experience, I am concerned for my 11 year old grandson who doesn’t like school and pretty much flamed out of distance learning in the spring. I’m planning to devote some big chunks of time to supporting him on the days they don’t have in person classes. One of his difficulties seems to be with executive functioning: he is disorganized, very messy and struggles with follow through. He needs personal support to make school bearable and that little computer screen doesn’t give any feedback! Can you recommend some resources that would help me understand better how to help him in this area? I’m certainly not a therapist but we have a close relationship and I want to help him in any way I can. Thank you.

There are SO many resources out there!

Outschool has some great lessons for kids, and I also recommend everything on Tilt Parenting as well as Seth Perler's work.

Don't be afraid to ask the school for help!

And LESS IS MORE...always start slow and steady and make sure your 11 year old is invested in whatever you are attempting. He has a mind of his own and has a right to some choices. 

Just loving him through this is a gift.

Yesterday's announcement that our schools will remain closed through January has driven me back into deep, deep parenting despair. Our son, a highly social seven-year-old with ADHD, struggled mightily with distance learning in the spring. He Did. Not. Learn. If needing to repeat a grade was the worst-case scenario, I'd accept it, but at this point that's realistically the BEST option - the worst option is a return to the nightly angry outbursts of April and May that have been mitigated by being able to safely socialize with other children at camp. Our former quaran-teammates have abandoned us in favor of their kids' grandparents. Our son's other friends are already paired off in their own groups. We cannot afford private school, even if there were spots available. Our friends without children - and those with older or more self-reliant children - are rejoicing that schools are closed. I feel completely abandoned and betrayed. There are no provisions being made, anywhere, for kids who need to interact, or who need to learn from someone other than their parents. At this point I feel like it would be better if they'd just cancelled school altogether, rather than the rich-get-richer fiction of distance learning for 7-year-olds.

I hear your anger, and you have every right to it.

Today's parenting challenges feel untenable.

Every door seems to lead to another unacceptable choice...and I am not going to blow smoke...this ain't gonna be easy.

But here's the deal: exhaust your anger. Feel it, have a good scream-cry. Throw something breakable (I love finding something already chipped and smashing it in a safe way). 

After the anger has dissipated a bit, make YOUR plan.

Let's remember that EVERY student is falling behind, and your son will be in good company...so please, remember that.

Also, you need to get with YOUR people.

Start at Tilt Parenting and find the resources you need. I also love Holly Moses.

In any case, you need hope and support and finding other parents will HELP you.

We will ALL get through this and it will be okay, I promise. Take good care of yourself.

Hi Meghan, maybe this is best suited for a more strictly education-focused forum, but I thought I would ask for your perspective. As we approach virtual learning this fall, our family actually has the option to request that our two oldest children (a rising 4th grader and a rising 5th grader) be placed in a combined 4th/5th grade class together. We have heard of the pros and cons of these combined grade classes (including having siblings together) and are so confused as to what might be best for our children. On the one hand, as a dual full-time working parent family, it is tempting to have our children on the same schedule with the same teacher but on the other hand I wonder if we are just taking an easy out and this might not be best for our children? My oldest child is a bit more advanced with her studies while my younger child is more on grade level. Then we think - maybe this year is the time to try something different since everything is upended anyway? Any advice based on your experience? Thanks in advance, and I hope that you and your family are staying well.

Don't think about this so much.

Ask yourself: what would *maybe* to the least struggle this coming year?

This is not a time for "ideal" or "best."

This is a time for "what will be the easiest to maintain in our home knowing that none of it is ideal."

Don't think too much, listen to your gut.

And none of this will last forever.

Also, have a meeting with your kids about it...pros/cons.

Any ideas for keeping my 7 month old entertained while my husband and I work from home? She's on the cusp of crawling and very very aware (and displeased) of when we are working, and it's getting harder to make it through a work day. We have part time care now and are putting her in day care next month, but those days when it's the three of us at home and working that are becoming a real challenge.

Time to invest in some indoor fencing and child-proof the crap out of it. Try to work in or right next to the fenced area, and keep an eye on her.

This will not be ideal, but it may buy you some time every day.

Also, find a local high schooler and get them to come over every day.

Every single day.

Same time.

Yes, have them get a test, etc., but commit to finding someone.

Good luck, and you will be surprised how many meetings you can have with a baby on your back in one of those backpack thingy's.


Do you have any advice on how to make the decision on whether or not to send a first-grader who needs speech therapy but who otherwise loved kindergarten and did well academically to in-person school versus remote learning at home. Both are an option in our school district, and I can oversee the remote learning, though it would inconvenient since I also work full-time (just a very flexible job). I am really torn.

I did a Zoom with Dr. Lucy McBride (and I suggest you watch it), bc she says that sending our kids back to school depends on the outbreak where we live and how good our schools are doing with mitigating the threat of the virus.

One thing that Dr. McBride said is that the younger the child, the less the spread...so look LOCALLY and decide what is best for your family.

Are toddlers as difficult and frustrating elsewhere in the world, and for all of human history? Have other societies figured out more successful methods of handling them than the mainstream contemporary American way, which involves unrelenting tantrums for months or years, even if you do everything the parenting experts recommend?



I cannot speak to every toddler in every part of the world for all of history, but...

Let's put it like this: it is an intense, no matter how you slice it.

The brain growth is rapid, the will-power is strong, and the immaturity is real...and that's a messy combination for everyone, everywhere.

HOW parents respond is pretty huge though.

You can do your own research, but I found this article to be profound in its simplicity.

The Inuit parents appear to flow with their children's emotions with less reaction and need to constantly correct and shame their children into being different.

This flow leads to an ease to the reaction reaction reaction mode so many American parents think they need to have.

I would suggest reading about other parenting cultures...it is really cool.

My 6 year old doesn't seem affected by things she loves being taken away while she is grounded. Eg. no tv, etc Why does she have no reaction or doesn't seem to care by being in Trouble?

Oy, this is a waaaay longer answer, but at some point, a child becomes defended against the hard feelings that come with being shamed.

They literally stop caring.

I am going to say this very clearly:


1. It doesn't work

2. She is losing access to her emotions.

You want the teen who flips you off and heads out the door?

You are headed there.

Find another way...I promise it works!


But just want to thank you, Meghan, for your realistic expectations of both parents and kids, and your emphasis on making things work for parents, as that trickles down to kids. I know there are no good options for many of us right now, but the kids will grow up and realize that we did our best! Keep it up.

Yeah, I find that out culture is a little upside down when it comes to priorities, but immature children cannot run the ship of the family.

It will never work out the way we want...

Good morning; hope you are well. Like everyone, I've been struggling to parent during the pandemic. (My husband and I have an 11-year old son who is entering 7th grade.) Worrying about school, worrying about my kid having too much screen time. Worrying about the political situation. Worrying that I'm worrying too much. And then I got diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer (I had cancer back in 2012). I really feel at the end of my rope. I can't concentrate on my work, my house, or my kid. I have a great oncologist and team and feel I'm in good hands, but I just want to spend all my time sleeping or binging on Netflix. How do I move forward with all of this?

Whoa, this is a lot friend.

You've earned yourself a couple of says of sleeping and Netflix, so take it.

Go on a STRICT no-news and no social media diet. No exceptions.

Find some yummy and light books (I love Jennifer Weiner) and escape.

Get outside and see how unworried nature is. 

Cook and eat good food that makes you happy. 

You are busy saving your life, so focus on all that.

The rest of us will fight the political fights and get school straight.

Oh, and call your friends and get your support going, STAT.


Loved this piece about what we can learn about parenting from an indigenous group in Brazil

Okay, time to sign off. Lots of questions were coming in about WHAT TO DO. Should we send them back to school? If they are remote only, how do we help them learn while we're working. All the things. Please stay tuned as we continue to cover this at On Parenting

And if you hadn't heard yet, Meghan has a book coming out in just a few short days! Here's an excerpt from Parenting Outside the Lines

In This Chat
Meghan Leahy
Meghan Leahy is a D.C.-based parent coach. She holds a master’s degree in school counseling from Johns Hopkins, taught high school English, and was a Parent Educator with PEP. She is the mom of three girls.
Amy Joyce
Amy Joyce has been at The Post, well, for a long time. Her first foray in to online chats were related to work. Now she's happy to chat about fun (but would like to believe the two can be one). She has been a Business reporter, editor for Weekend and the Going Out guide, and is now editing and writing for On Parenting. When not at work, she can be seen unsuccessfully dodging wiffle balls in her front yard.
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