Laura Gonzalez (right) of Seattle, and Marcos, her 13-year-old son (left), cook special weekend meals. She said he is responsible with his distance learning, but she worries he's home alone while she works.

The real-life struggles of distance learning, according to 5 families

Updated 4:07 AM ET, Sat November 14, 2020

(CNN)In the not-so-distant past, there was a place where parents could drop off their kids for six-plus hours a day. Teachers and administration kept them safe, and taught them things. It was wonderful.

Now, it's all parents. Even with teachers working hard to reimagine school online, it's up to parents and guardians — mostly moms — to oversee their children's education and well-being all hours of the day.
CNN spoke to five families across the United States to hear how the grand, forced experiment of distance learning is going for them. They spoke about their struggles, as well as the tiny pockets of resilience they have discovered along the way. Answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Coping with a lack of structure

Robert Kent is a single dad who lives in Warren, Rhode Island. His daughters, 10-year-old Ayla and 8-year-old Bella, are distance learning full time. He oversees them three school days a week, and their mom oversees them the other two.
Robert Kent (center) of Warren, Rhode Island, single dad to daughters Ayla (left) and Bella  (right), oversees their online learning three days a week.
CNN: What's your distance learning routine?
Robert Kent: We get online by 8:30, and they have activities for basically the whole school day.
In the afternoons, we try to get out. My younger sister has kids and lives close so we go there a couple days a week. We try to do other activities, like go to the zoo — one of my friends gave me a free pass — or ride bikes. It can be hard to get them out.
CNN: How's it going?
Kent: I know the teachers are trying, but the parents are on their own. It's up to us to figure it out.
My younger daughter needs more structure to learn. She can be defiant, and it's really hard to get her to understand. Sometimes I find myself doing what my parents used to do, and just doing her work. But I know you can't do that and I tell myself, "No."
My older daughter just wants to get her work over with.
CNN: What personal challenges are you facing?
Kent: I work at a college, and my hours were cut. For the first time in my life, I had to file for unemployment. I used to take home $470 a week. Now I am taking home $290 a week with unemployment. It has been a real struggle.
I've been downloading grocery apps so I can shop for the best deals and budgeting. I recently got a free 10-pound bag of potatoes through one of these apps. We ate a lot of potatoes for a while.
CNN: What do you do to take a break?
Kent: My stress levels are pretty high, and I need to have patience so I don't yell at the kids.
What has really saved me is my gym membership. Yeah, I can use the money for other stuff, but mentally just working out and being able to have that little moment for myself so I don't freak out is important.

Cooking and therapy to deal with stress

Laura Gonzalez lives in Seattle with her 13-year-old son, who is distance learning full time. Her partner, a merchant marine, is regularly away for monthslong trips.
CNN: What's your distance learning routine?
Laura Gonazalez: I wake up at 6 a.m. and make breakfast and lunch for my son. I prepare for the whole day because he stays alone while I go to my job. I am a nanny and work 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for another family.
After I get home, I cook dinner and do everything I didn't do in the morning at the house, like cleaning.
I'll ask him if he read and did his homework. Sometimes, depending on the material he is working on, we sit down together to do it. He is good at math, but he needs help with other subjects. If he finishes in time he gets to go back online and play videos and video games.
When I have time, I do online learning. I am working on getting my GED right now. And then we go to sleep early so we can start early again the next day.
CNN: How's it going?
Gonazalez: It has been a challenge to keep up with the communications at the school. There are various teachers on different platforms, and I have to be on different group chats.
Also, it's a problem that he is alone all day. He is responsible and he gets his work done, and I haven't noticed him being sad. But I do worry about him being by himself.
CNN: What personal challenges are you facing?
Gonazalez: At this moment, I am doing better compared to what happened at the beginning of the pandemic. I was out of work, and he was out of school. Now we have a routine. Before I was worried about everything, and my biggest concern was money.
Of course, I worry that he spends his days in solitude, but it is something necessary that we have to do.
CNN: What do you do to take a break?
Gonazalez: During the week we think about what kind of special meals we want to cook, and then on the weekends we cook them. We make cakes, sopes (a popular Mexican street snack) and elaborate dishes. Sometimes we go for a walk.
A few months ago, the National Domestic Workers Alliance offered group therapy sessions for domestic workers, and I took one. I learned a type of therapy (Hakomi) that combines mind, body and breathing. It helps you feel liberated and let go of the stress that keeps circling in your head.

Career sacrifice for a mom

Gabby Turner lives with her husband and two sons, ages 3 and 6, in Oakland, California. Her younger child attends in-person preschool, and her older child is in distance learning full time.
CNN: What's your distance learning routine?
Gabby Turner: Starting at 9 a.m., I spend the first two hours doing morning meetings with my first grade son, making sure he is focusing and has all the materials he needs. Then at 11 a.m., our pod school starts in our backyard. We have six kids, all who are in first grade at the same school.
Gabby Turner of Oakland, California, put her career on hold to help manage a pod school for her 6-year-old son and five  other first graders.