GRAND RAPIDS — The owners of Brewery Vivant have gotten creative out of necessity when it comes to virtual schooling for their two children, sharing the responsibilities with two other families in their neighborhood.
Juggling the duties of owning and managing the Grand Rapids-based brewery without being able to send their children — who are in second and fourth grade — to school has been challenging and stressful, said Kris Spaulding, who co-owns Brewery Vivant with husband Jason Spaulding.
Sharing the responsibility of guiding their children through virtual school with two other families has been helpful, but they still have to watch them more than usual compared to traditional school years, Spaulding said.
“It’s a lot of navigating calendars, and luckily I process that information pretty easily,” Spaulding said. “It’d be so hard if you didn’t naturally have that inclination.”
Spaulding’s children attend Grand Rapids Public Schools, which is offering online-only classes for at least the first nine weeks of the school year. The local brewery owners are facing what many families and fellow small business owners are dealing with right now: not having the option of sending their children to in-person classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone’s mental capacity is reduced right now just by being in a pandemic,” Spaulding said. “Then it reduces even more when you have to start juggling schedules and be present for your children when that’s not a role any of us has played before. There is a certain amount of stress attached to that.”
‘Huge strain’ on mental health
The added responsibility of homeschooling or guiding children through virtual school can be especially hard for parents who manage a small business, said Stephanie Myers, a child and family outpatient clinical manager at Network180, Kent County’s community mental health authority.
“When parents are put in a new situation when they don’t feel like they have the tools and time to be successful, that puts a huge strain on our mental health,” Myers said. “You wonder if you’re the only person not able to handle it in isolation.”
Myers is also a parent of two GRPS students who started this school year virtually.
“The only thing harder than putting pressure on yourself to be perfect at work then having the energy to come home and be perfect at home is trying to do those things at the same time,” Myers said.
The pandemic has left many parents isolated and away from their peer groups where they are used to getting support, she added. Myers has used social media to seek out some of the community she has been missing during quarantine.
“Parents are supporting and normalizing this experience for each other on social media,” she said. “That’s been helpful for me but I just worry about those parents that don’t have that support in person or online right now.”
Many schools’ switch to online-only classes is a “critical issue” for small business owners and employees facing the challenge of maintaining work responsibilities while homeschooling or guiding in-home virtual learning, said Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley.
“This will be a real challenge for employees to figure out how to bring all these pieces together,” Calley said.
SBAM recently entered into an agreement with Sylvan Learning Inc. to provide SBAM members and employees discounts on direct school support and tutoring options that include in-person support. Sylvan Learning has more than 20 locations in Michigan with in-person and online tutoring options, as well as educational coaches for students.
“We are hopeful that more in-person options will be available in the future,” Calley said.
Indeed, virtual schooling is a challenge across small businesses — not just those in charge. The head brewer and head chef at Brewery Vivant also have children who are GRPS students, Spaulding said.
“It is definitely requiring some of our employees to look at whether the benefit of employment is worth the cost to their family of working through this virtual school scenario,” Spaulding said.
Employees have had to adjust their schedules to work around helping their children, but options are slim if employers don’t offer their workers that flexibility, Spaulding said.
Meanwhile, it’s increasingly important that workers have access to mental health resources.
“We’ve sought out our support network and have figured out how to make it manageable for us,” Spaulding said. “But the general concern in any business is the possibility of losing employees because of this.”
Many of Myers’ clients struggle with the lack of human contact or even just acknowledging that is something they need, she said.
“School is a respite for a lot of families, a breath of fresh air for kids and caregivers,” Myers said. “It’s hard when you don’t get that chance to catch your breath and re-energize.”