Continuing our series of perspectives, we spoke to Lainie, who, together with her husband, Luke, took the decision to educate their children at home for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I never expected nor wanted to be a stay-at-home mother and three and a half years later I still don’t, but I am. The reluctant but intentional stay at home mother. A teacher, a chef, chief researcher, principal buyer, stock manager, nurse, bookkeeper and a volunteer.

Prior to the pandemic, Lainie worked as a health science professional, a job she returned to after a brief maternity leave.

When I signed up for motherhood, I was in my early thirties, recently married and working full time in health science like I had been for the ten years prior. I returned to casual work nine weeks after the birth of my first child with a lot of great support from family and my workplace.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed things for the family.

When SARS-CoV-2 struck, daycare ended and so too did my casual employment. Like many others, we learnt about yeast and to knead, proof and bake together. We spent every weekend at home, doing jobs and watching too much Netflix. We live in Australia, a country that was initially able to reduce transmission so much through various public health strategies that meant we were at very low risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 for the first two years of the pandemic. Then, when Omicron came, everything changed. We became like everywhere else that didn’t suppress transmission.

Lainie’s experience in health science meant she was surprised the virus was allowed to spread so freely.

While I was realistic that the pandemic would go for five to ten years, I was optimistic it would be shorter, vaccines would prove effective against infection, and that health agencies and governments would continue to want to drive down transmission. It’s what we do with all other diseases after all. In my line of work, we never accept any type of disease as ‘normal’ or ‘necessary’. We are constantly administering medicines to prevent infections, using vaccines to reduce viral illnesses and routinely perform pathology to get ahead of any diseases before they take hold. It always makes sense, financial and otherwise, to prevent illnesses rather than treat them after the fact, especially if there is no effective treatment for long-term complications.

Lainie wasn’t prepared to gamble with her family’s health.

I thought, naively, that my child would start schooling the way I had, in a classroom, surrounded by peers, with a teacher whom she addressed by their surname, and I would do drop offs and pick ups and help with homework. With my child at school, I would then be able to return to work. But as the pandemic days ticked by, I watched public health messaging begin to deviate further and further from the evidence. I watched as politicians abandoned sensible public health advice in favour of driving the ‘economy’, guided by vested interests and some of the terrible TV doctors, not the international experts. As more and more protections were dropped by public health, as a family, we had no choice but to scale ours up.

Lainie knew that by making a variety of choices the family could reduce its risk.

We didn’t accept that we had to get infected with a novel virus and we had learnt the steps we needed to take to avoid infection. We needed to mask, clean the air, and avoid crowded spaces, particularly indoors, as much as possible. Our respirator game was able to improve thanks to fabulous companies providing options for kids and we invested our money in air purifiers instead of holidays. It’s easier to get my children in respirators than it is anyone else in my extended family. They see us do it and they know its easy and important. It’s not a hassle to us, so it isn’t to them. They make sure they have a good fit, they know if a strap is loose and they know if they need to get close to someone outside of their immediate family, they need theirs on. They know it allows them the freedom to socialise in public places without risking their health.

Lainie recognises the family is lucky to be able to take such steps to protect themselves from repeated COVID-19 infection.

Keeping healthy during the pandemic was and continues to be our priority and I am aware of our privileged situation. I have many friends who simply cannot afford to make the choices we have. That’s why governments need to step up to ensure minimum standards of protection for everyone. I can’t understand the surrender mindset of policymakers. In our family, we always try our hardest at all things, and this is no different. We try our hardest to prevent every Covid infection we can, because we know it’s not just about our health. Every infection we don’t get is an infection not passed to someone else.

Lainie and Luke decided they weren’t going to gamble with their children’s health and decided to homeschool, which made the couple really think about their respective roles.

The day I filled out the paperwork to homeschool I knew I was pretty much giving up my career for the next 12 years. Why is it me and not my husband? It’s a good question for a feminist and there are a variety of answers. My profession is more accepting of prolonged timeouts, whereas his requires constant presence. His job is safer in the COVID-19 era and involves mostly outdoors work with minimal contact with others whereas I would have been indoors mostly, in small spaces working with the public. Rightly or wrongly we also both felt I could meet the emotional and educational needs of the kids on a day in day out basis in a more complete way.

Lainie compares the change that was forced on them by the pandemic to the change she experienced when she became a mother.

I think a gift I got as soon as we conceived our first child was an added layer of adaptability. Without knowing it was going to happen, I became a chameleon - perhaps a reluctant one and maybe I am still fighting it. This is not to say fathers don’t undergo immense change too, but what started for me as a changing body, changing sleep patterns, changing work life balance, changing heart, changing priorities, became a change in how I viewed and enacted my entire future. Somehow, my happiness and worth after children could never be tied to my career.

Lainie and Luke are not alone in their decision to homeschool and have joined a sizeable local community of parents who have similar views.

I am not alone in being a reluctant but intentional home educator. I know this because I am very lucky to have met a chameleon pack of other mothers who have adapted to the pandemic. These women enjoyed careers in finance, environmental science, design, scientific research, IT, applied health sciences and anthropology and would have returned to work if not for homeschooling. We all understand that children can develop Long COVID, and we know schools in our country should be protecting children from Covid infections, but they are not. We cannot willingly send our children into environments that do not openly encourage and support masking and are not filtering the air and ventilating indoor spaces.

Lainie’s homeschooling group have become good friends.

I have known them less than a year and they don’t know it yet but I am having a milestone birthday party soon and they are the only ones I want to come. Amazing, intelligent, friendly, conscientious, kind mothers who make choices to benefit their children, not just now, but well into the future. They prioritise health every day and aren’t afraid to stand out from the crowd or to be alienated and excluded for their choices. They are brave, powerful and don’t need jobs to define them. I don’t know whether they’d accept my description of chameleon, but I don’t think it’s a bad way to think about ourselves. Adaptable and strong.

Thanks to Lainie for sharing her family’s experiences. Click here if you’d like information on how to protect yourself from COVID-19.