With prolonged school closures, Westport parents adapt to new roles

WESTPORT — More than two weeks after Westport Public Schools closed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, many adults have started transitioning into a new normal: Balancing their roles as parents, and now, teachers.

“If you have two working parents that need to be available during the day, it’s not really possible,” said Elena Shmonina, a mother of two 5-year-olds.

Fortunately, she said, her mother-in-law has helped while Shmonina and her husband continue to work. Starting at 8:30 a.m., the kids study and do classwork before taking a break around noon to play outside and ear lunch. They then return to do some more studying and typically finish their day around 4 p.m.

“They do still have a structured day just like in school,” Shmonina said of her family’s routine. “I don’t think I would be able to do this without my mother-in-law.”

Shmonina, who works at a bank, said working parents have a tough balance to handle, with caring for children while needing to make money in uncertain times. She typically works from her home office, using earplugs to focus while still helping her mother-in-law, but recently Shmonina required a change of scenery.

“I actually asked to come to work today,” Shmonina said Wednesday, adding only two employees were allowed at her job at a time. “That’s kind of how I unplug.”

With many now working around the clock to double as parents and teachers, she said she’s noticed other parents talking about the challenges faced during this time.

“I sometimes go to bed at 1 a.m. or 1:30 a.m. myself,” Shmonina said.

As parents adapt to these changes, some local organizations are working to uplift and connect the community. WestportMoms, an online resource for families, has kept their website updated with the latest news for residents.

“I think there’s been ups and downs for everybody,” WestportMoms co-founder Melissa Post said, adding clear communication from the school district has been a tremendous help.

Megan Rutstein, WestportMoms co-founder and mother of two, stressed the importance of parents knowing their limits.

“I think the main thing is the schools are communicating with us and they’re in constant contact,” Rutstein said. “The teachers have been accessible if we need them.”

With headlines constantly circulating about the coronavirus, the two have taken to social media to provide some light-hearted content while keeping the community informed. Their website also provides social distancing-friendly ideas for parents to keep kids engaged while in the house.

“We’ve really tried to create a resource for parents and kids to try and help support them during this time,” said Post, a mother of three.

The moms also utilize their platform to assist businesses and were two of the families who spearheaded the OneWestport initiative, a website to keep the community connected to local shops.

“We really try to be the link between the community and a lot of these organizations,” Post said.

Rutstein said the silver lining in a difficult situation has been the strengthening of bonds between residents and within families.

“For the most part, we’re all in the same situation,” she said. “I think that is what’s bonding the community.”

From using apps like Zoom and Houseparty to FaceTime appointments, residents are continuing to stay connected. While the future remains uncertain, both moms believe this was only a temporary hurdle.

“These are those times that, as parents, you have to be stronger than you thought you could be,” Post said. “You enjoy your kids and know they’re going to look back and not remember at how bad you were at teaching them Spanish, but all the movies you watched and board games you played.”

Shmonina echoed their sentiments.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I just keep saying this is temporary. This is not forever.”