As the journalist tasked with reporting from Ontario’s political headquarters about all education matters — for the largest daily newspaper in Canada — Kristin Rushowy has been operating at an even more breathless pace than usual since March 2020 — all while raising her three teenage children by herself.

“Education, which I’ve been covering for the last year, has been really, really busy,” says Rushowy, the Queen’s Park bureau reporter for the Toronto Star.

“Everything sort of started with the schools shutting down, and then with the schools going to reopen, and then schools did reopen, and what were they going to look like, up until very recently,” says Rushowy, a mom of two girls and a boy — an 18-year-old and 16-years old twins.

Watch the full interview with Kristin Rushowy and Lianne Castelino.


Click for video transcription

Welcome to Where Parents Talk. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a mom of three and Queen’s Park reporter covering education for the largest daily newspaper in Canada, the Toronto Star. Kristen Rushowy is a multiple award winning journalist who has previously covered the political beat, as well as topics focused on early childhood. It’s great to have you thank you so much for being here.

Well, thanks for having me.

Kristen, I wanted to start by asking you, if you could paint a picture for us of what it’s been like for you, as a reporter covering one of the busiest fastest moving stories, hot topics during this pandemic, while also managing raising three children.

So it’s been busy, right? I mean, I guess, initially, we all thought working from home might be a little bit easier. And it has been in the fact that you know, you don’t have to commute. But the days are long, and there’s still a lot of work to do. And you know, as you said, education, which I’ve been covering for the last year, has been really, really busy. I mean, everything sort of started with the school shutting down, and then with the schools going to reopen, and then schools did reopen, and what were they going to look like, up until very recently, January, schools were shut down again. And now in April, they’ve been shut down their questions if they’re going to reopen. So it’s kind of been a roller coaster like that. And certainly for my own kids, they’ve, they’ve experienced that as well. My eldest daughter is 18. She’s in her first year of university. And she got a resident spots sort of last minute. So we took her to Kingston at the end of August, early September. And then she came home for the holidays, but then got stuck here because of the shutdown order. So she was here for several months. Now, I’m a single mom, we live in a bungalow, and I’ve got twins as well. So there’s four of us in the
house. We all managed to kind of carve out our own space. But yeah, it’s it’s been a juggling act. And I think finding space in the house, that’s been one issue. Because we all want to study, I’ve got to work, you know, the kids want quiet, I want quiet. But with four of us, that doesn’t always happen.

Well, and I have to say you make it sound really easy by saying it’s busy. But the fact is, is you’ve got, you know, deadlines happening at multiple times during the day on a topic, that you also have a very interesting perspective about being a mother of three teenagers. So I’m wondering, how has that impacted you this this confluence of events? How has that impacted you, as both a journalist and as a parent?

Well, it’s interesting, because, you know, as a journalist, I mean, the news is never ending, right. And I could be on my phone, 24, seven, and filing updates to stories all the time. But it is interesting, because you do sort of see how the government policies affect your kids on the ground, right. So my twins are in high school. And they’ve been live in Toronto. So they’ve been part of this hybrid learning, which, throughout the year, which means they go to school, basically every other morning for several hours. And then the rest is online learning around the province, other kids were like in smaller centers, kids were going to school, full time in high school. But in bigger centers, like Toronto, it was this hybrid model. So you sort of see how that impacts your kids. Early on in the pandemic last year, this time last year, there wasn’t a lot of what they call synchronous learning, which is sort of the live stream, the live learning. There wasn’t a lot of that. And I have to say, that was really difficult for the kids, it was hard to get them motivated. I mean, it was really hard for me to get them out of bed, to be quite honest. But I found with the hybrid model, they had to sign in a quarter to nine, you know, the teachers took attendance, they were expected to show their faces. You know, whether the cameras on or off. That’s been a big debate too. But you know, they were expected to check in and do work. So it’s interesting to see how on the ground that actually works, because there was some debate also about the quadmester, should they have two courses at a time? Should it be an octomester, which is one course at a time. So that has that has been fascinating, actually, and especially with the quad master because my kids I’ve actually quite liked the quad master with the two courses at a time. They’ve had good combinations, mind you, you know, with my daughter right now has math and drama, and my son has parenting and bio. So sort of one heavy subject and one, you know, not so science heavy, heavy topic as well. So yeah, I mean, it’s been fascinating from that point of view.

And in what ways I’m curious, has this situation forced you to change how you work as a journalist?

Well, I mean, I was filing multiple times a day anyway, on stories, I was falling multiple stories a week. I mean, I found the workload has increased exponentially. There seem to be developments throughout the day on most stories, you know, it’s sort of you never really know what to expect. I was expected by the end of the day, there will be some breaking education news, and that’s pretty much held true. I’ve also covered the post secondary beat as well. So there’s been a lot with that. I mean, Laurentian University. As you know, listeners may or may not know, had to file for creditor protection because it ran into some trouble during the pandemic. That’s also been a story that have been, you know, following quite closely. So there’s been that which is a result of, you know, the school was saying as a result of the pandemic, so, yes, I’ve always sort of had a very busy work life and worked long hours, it just seems to me it’s never ending. And you know, even on weekends, I find the the education minister will put out a statement on a Sunday. that’s, to me is a little unusual. So yeah, it does seem sort of like a 24-7 operation sometimes.

Well, and it’s almost hard to remember what life was like before the pandemic, but for those of us who thought that was challenging with parents, I always wanted to be a journalist, and if so, when did that start for you?

So, um, I didn’t, when I was a little kid, I used to pretend to do interviews. So I guess there was always something kind of there. Or what, sorry, when I went to university, initially, I was studying psychology. And then I switched into an English major, and I worked at the newspaper, I went to Queens and I worked at the Queen’s journal there. And through that, I got a summer internship at the wood standard. And after that, I was I was hooked. So after finishing up at Queen’s, I went to Ryerson. And from there went on to work at the Canadian press on the star. So, you know, sort of, I would say late teens, but definitely sweitzer, my university years that got me interested in definitely volunteering at the student papers, what, what got me there?

And then at what point in your journey, did you decide that you also wanted to be a mother? And you know, what was your approach on, as you say, balancing, you know, a very busy work life situation.

When I started at the Star, I was, I was a reporter, but then I moved on to the desk. So I was an assignment editor and a copy editor. And then I moved into beat reporting and as the beat reporter, so I was covering education. So this was quite a while ago, was early 2000s. I was covering education. And I realized, and the store in particular is great for this, it was a very flexible job. And I I figured I could make it work with kids. And I mean, I have three kids within two years. So it was pretty, it was pretty hairy there for a while. But the one thing I did like about covering a beat, and especially the education beat is that, you know, if I needed to work from home, I could if I had to cover a night meeting, and I could have the day off, and then I would just you know, so I didn’t really have traditional childcare arrangements, but I was able to work my work life around my home life, if my kids were sick, I stayed home with them. And I would either work from home or take a sick day. You know, it worked for me, I just found that the combination of you know, filing news, but also being able to visit schools, sometimes going to the office sometimes not really worked for me, although the hours varied working days and night shifts. That was kind of nice. I mean, it did, it meant that I mean, every day I walked my kids to school in the morning, right, my my start late enough that I could do that. Or if I was working a night shift. I mean, I didn’t put the kids to bed, but I was there for them for lunch and dinner. So I thought it worked really well, especially when the kids were young. as they got older, I mean, it’s less of an issue, you know, they don’t really care for their school, they don’t like to walk them to school, they don’t care if you’re there for breakfast, but you are around for them if they need it. So for me personally, and I’ve told younger reporters at the start of this as well that beat reporting is really if you’re going to if you’re a parent, it is really probably the easiest arrangement you will have. As opposed to being a copy editor, for example, where you’re on the desk, you have very set hours, it’s not as flexible, you are at your desk for those hours. So I think being report made it much, much easier for me to balance having three kids and a very busy career.

It’s interesting, because you know, media is certainly one of several industries that is not always kind to families, as you look on sort of your entire experience and where you are now, what would you say are some of the, you know, strategies and tips that work for you. You mentioned, the fact that beat reporting really did give you that flexibility. But what else I’m wondering and what kind of advice would you give to any mom, and many of them that discovered this during this pandemic, to try to balance all these different elements.

The thing I’ve always done during the pandemic, especially, but always even before that is I’ve always it’s the juggling, that’s important, right and the way you juggle it. So for example, if my kids might, you know, my daughter was an brownie, so she went to a brownie meeting, but then I would have a deadline. So I would take her there sometimes you would make the phone call, you know, you become the Education Minister while your daughter’s brownies. And I would take a laptop with me and file you know, from the soccer game, I would file from the sidelines or my son’s playing hockey. I mean, I just I found that was the best way to do it. So you’re there for your kids, but you’re also not shirking on your work duties either. And, you know, the thing too, with with beat reporting is that because you get to know your sources, so well right after covering education, but even you know, if you’re on a beat for a couple of years, you do get to know the players involved. You have the context, you have the background. So if there is breaking news, for an example, now, it’s probably maybe seven or eight years ago when the director The school board on Easter Sunday, I think he stepped down. I mean, I knew how to reach him, I had all the context for the story. So I could actually get together with all that background material quite quickly, I knew how to reach them. And then I could, you know, file the story fairly quickly, like the work can be done, the work can be done very efficiently, because you know, you know, your stuff, basically, you can get your story filed, you can reach the people you need to reach and you know, who you need to reach, which makes your job that much easier.

You know, it’s interesting. And again, I feel like you make it sound so easy, but there are a lot of people that would, you know, really have great admiration for how you’re able to really put a puzzle together every single day at several points in the day. And I know, you know, if your kids are playing sports, and whatever, as you described, it’s, it’s, it’s challenging. The other piece of the story, though, is the media landscape and the seismic shifts that it has undergone in the last, you know, 15 years, let’s say, and social media being what it is, and the 24 hour news cycle being what it is. I’m curious as to what those two huge elements, how they impacted you, again, both as a reporter and as a parent?

What certainly for social media, I mean, as a reporter, I mean, it’s made your job, it makes made the job easier, and that you can find people easier, you can put out a call for sources if you need it. But it’s also made it harder, because you do feel like the news cycle is never ending. And there is that temptation to be on Twitter all the time, checking Twitter. You know, there’s also, of course, the issue of, you know, in particular, female journalists being targeted on social media, which, which does happen. It’s hard to get away from Twitter, and I’m just gonna say right now that I’ve not done a good job with that. It’s something I still struggle with, I’m on it all the time. Right, especially at night, because you don’t want to miss anything. So in terms of that, yes, that that’s made, it’s made the job easier and harder. As a mom, I mean, obviously, with social media, there are concerns as well with my kids. You know, because you see, you see that the kind of hate and you see the kind of meanness and and shaming and things like that, that go on on social media. And you know, you’re the target of it yourself, and your kids are too. So you know, it’s sort of a double edged sword with with the social media. It has helped us tremendously as journalists, but I think there are many issues that we need to sort out with social media, I tend to use it mostly to tweet out things of interest. So stories, if I’m looking for sources, sometimes for stir up the call saying I need a parent, child and daycare or something if I’m not able to find one on my own. But you know, there’s so much bad that comes with it too. And I think that’s something that we really need to get a handle on. And also, personally, I need to learn to tear myself away from
it is certainly a lingering temptation, for sure.

I wonder if, if there any other tips and strategies you can offer Kristin on, you know, people who really want to try to have that balance, and, and, and are in industries where, you know, it isn’t easy for families, it isn’t easy. I mean, lots is easier now than it was not that long ago, I’m speaking from experience. When I first had my or when I had my first child, they hadn’t had a baby in that environment for a long, long time. So they didn’t even know what was really involved in mat leave. But the fact is, is that a lot has progress has been made. But now we’re in a different point, with all of this information and all of these demands and deadlines and things. And I just wonder, you know, what sort of hopeful tips and strategies could you provide to young mothers in particular and young families on how to strike that balance?

Well, I think if you are, you know, I can speak as a print, you know, online journalist, I think you’ve you work where you can, especially now being home during the pandemic, you work when you can, so if it means stealing an hour before your kids wake up, do it or are you kids down for nap, do it or after you put them to bed at night, if you have the flexibility if you know if you’re working on a feature, for example, which sometimes we do, it’s not always, you know, news, news news every day, sometimes we do get a chance to step back and have a few days to file a feature. I don’t think it matters if you do it at night. If you need to spend the day with your kids, and then you spend four hours at night writing. I think that’s okay. The beauty of it is as long as the work is done at the end of the day, the hours in which you do it don’t matter. And it doesn’t mean there’s not going to be a struggle. I mean, kids are going to get sick, your kids need you. You know, I was had the rule that I put my kids first and that I worked my work around my kids and generally that I was able to make that work when they were younger, obviously was a much bigger challenge and it’s it’s harder. And you know, as we all know, during the pandemic, in particular moms have taken on a tougher load. If kids are sick, it’s typically the moms who are staying home So it’s not to say there’s not going to be bumps in the road or times where you’re going to, you know, cry your eyes out, because it’s really hard to get everything, get it together. But I think if you put your kids first and then make the work, squeeze the work in where you can, it can be done. And it doesn’t mean that you’re not running yourself ragged, because you are, these are very long days, especially with the journalists, sometimes they’re they seem nonstop. So it might be the case that you’re working till midnight and getting up early next morning with your kids. But the one thing I was did try to members when they were young, but you know, the level of need that they have for you, it levels off a lot, it’s a different kind of need as they get older, and it does become a bit more manageable. And as I said, when they get older, you are driving them places, but that’s really what you spend your time doing right? in hockey games, soccer games, or whatever. And you can you know, what, if there’s a soccer practice, there’s no reason if you need to be working, then you take the time to drive them, talk to them, and then you’ve got the time when you’re at the soccer field to to do a bit of work. So I mean, it’s not perfect, but I it is the way that I managed it as they as they’re growing up.

What would you say that you have learned about your children didn’t during this pandemic period?

It’s interesting to see their different styles, right with, especially when it was last March, when so all three of my kids last March were in high school, still, my eldest was still in high school, it was just interesting to see how they handled the work because again, it was that asynchronous learning where they could basically log on whenever they wanted and do the work. So and all three were very different. Like my eldest daughter, of course, was grade 12. She was she’s a very keen student, but you know, she got up every morning had a very set routine got the work done. Whereas the twins, I mean, my son was sometimes getting up at three o’clock in the afternoon. And that was a struggle to get him up earlier. So kind of had a joke that I was enrolling him at night school. So he did schoolwork at night. And for my, my, my other daughter, his twin sister, she, she was critic, pretty conscientious as well, which is not quite the schedule that her older sister had. But she was definitely getting up and getting the work done. You know, also was dealing with frustration, just seeing how they dealt with frustration, because some, especially those early days, that mean, it was very frustrating. And at one point, I decided I signed two of them up for summer school because they felt they fall on a bit behind. That just did not work. We gave up on that after about a week, the workload, just it that there were a lot of tears, and I thought, Okay, you know what, let’s just give them a summer. And we’ll figure this out in the fall.

Yeah, no, and it’s it just continues to evolve, right? We just really don’t know, from one day to the next how it’s gonna all shake down. I wonder what have you learned about yourself, Kristin, during this very intense period, certainly in, in the world and in your in your life?

You know, I think it’s just the fact that we can endure this. I mean, at some points, it’s been very bleak. I mean, I think last March, nobody expected it to last this long. You know, we had sort of glimmers of hope throughout the summer, right? When the numbers were low, life is normal, but it was, you know, you can see your friends outside. And you got sort of that feeling that things are going back to normal. And, of course, what’s happened, you know, in the second and third waves, I mean, it’s, it’s been really hard. And I think sometimes finding the good in it is difficult. And the thing I do keep reminding myself and the one thing that I have sort of seen as the silver lining of it is that, you know, before my daughter, my eldest daughter went off to university, I mean, we were leaving, obviously, very busy lives, right, all three kids were in competitive sports, I’m going to drive everywhere as long hours at work. And I feel like it was just gave us a chance to slow down and I actually gave me time to be with the kids, and especially my eldest before she went off, I feel like I gained all these months with her, you know, because we were, you know, we’re all working from home, were eating together, you know, we decided to take on wanted to learn pandemic skills. So my daughter learned to cook before she went off to university. I mean, it was just, I really appreciated the gift of time that I had with them. I mean, however, like it was some days, it was just nice to kind of reconnect with them. And although I do miss, I do actually miss watching them play sports, because I really didn’t, I certainly enjoyed I really enjoyed the hockey games, but it’s been kind of nice, not having to drive please. And just being able to at night, you know, we we watch TV together or play games. That has been a gift. And that is the one thing I do keep reminding myself on the days that it’s very tough. And when you think that this is not ending, and how much more can we handle? That? You know, in that sense? We’ve, that’s the lucky part of it.

For sure, and it’s such an important reminder because it is so easy to you know, to get very deep into a dark hole of despair for a lot of people. I also wonder where self-care fits in your list of long list of priorities. What do you do in terms of self-care and and is that a priority for you?

It’s not. It’s not at all and that is definitely one of the things that over the years has dropped off the radar. So it’s one thing I have tried with a pandemic with being home and trying to do something for myself, like, even if it’s just taking a walk with a friend. That’s the one thing I’ve tried to do. I don’t do it daily. I wish I did it more. But yeah, but self care for sure. That’s the one thing is a mom and a working mom. I mean, something has to give. That’s the one thing unfortunately, that is generally going to give, right? You fit it in where you can, and he should always be doing more of it. But it’s, it’s the one thing you kind of learn to live without.

Any final thoughts, anything that you’d like to add that I haven’t asked you?

No, just that, you know, it’s it’s been an interesting journey during the pandemic, in particular with parenting. And, you know, you read all kinds of articles about moms in particular feeling burned out, and you know, what, I can see that I have been there I can, I can feel that too. There is there’s still hope, though hope, though, that this won’t last forever. And but I think too, we can all take lessons from the pandemic and that maybe we do need to slow down a little bit. Maybe we do need sort of that time, maybe the kids don’t all need to be competitive sports, maybe they don’t, you know, maybe I don’t need to go to the going to work function so many times a week. You know, just maybe that we do find time post pandemic, to, to, obviously not have the same level of connection that we do now, but maybe something deeper than what we had before.
So certainly a very optimistic outlook, and certainly something that’s on the minds of many parents, I’m sure.

Kristin Rushowy, thank you so much for your time today.

That’s great. Thank you so much. Thanks, Lianne.

 

“It’s been a juggling act,” Rushowy continues. “We live in a bungalow, so there’s four of us in the house. I think finding space in the house, that’s been one issue, because we all want to study. I’ve got to work. The kids want quiet. I want quiet. But with four of us, that doesn’t always happen,” she says.

Additional rounds of school openings and closures through waves two and three of COVID-19 in January and April 2021, have kept more than two million elementary, high school and university students in Canada’s largest province, on a merry-go-round, moving at a brisk clip, and with very few stops.

Teen in school during the pandemic - Kristin Rushowy interview

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

 

It has also left many of their parents glued to media coverage — for survival.

Even for Rushowy, well-versed in speed and deadlines as an award-winning news reporter — plying her trade for more than 20 years now — the break-neck tempo of this period and the lens through which she is living it as a journalist and a mother — is unique.

working on laptop during pandemic

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

“The news is never-ending,” says Rushowy, who previously worked at The Canadian Press. “I could be on my phone, 24-7, and filing updates to stories all the time. But it is interesting, because you do sort of see how the government policies affect your kids on the ground.”

Pivoting from online to in-class instruction and the frenzied scramble to secure safe, accessible, timely childcare are akin to combat sport in many families thanks to the coronavirus.

Even with three older children, Rushowy is not immune.

“Early on in the pandemic last year, there wasn’t a lot of what they call synchronous learning, which is sort of the live stream, the live learning,” she says. “I have to say, that was really difficult for the kids, it was hard to get them motivated. I mean, it was really hard for me to get them out of bed, to be quite honest.”

At the same time, the blistering speed and unpredictable timing of press conferences, government announcements, breaking stories, school board, teacher, parent and student views and reaction, evolving health and safety directives, leaked info, revelations, features, unconfirmed reports, unidentified sources, monitoring social media, etc., — continues, unrelenting. All usually requiring a quick turnaround.

There’s also the time spent researching, writing, finding credible sources, interviewing, verifying facts, submitting a finished product — with a clock ticking. The process rinses and repeats multiple times a day.

The result has Rushowy working long hours, sleeping about six hours a night — while tending to the daily duties of family life and the needs of her adolescent children — educational and otherwise.

“I had the rule that I put my kids first and that I worked my work around my kids and generally I was able to make that work,” says Rushowy, who delivered three babies in two years, at the start of her journalism career.  “It’s not to say there are not going to be bumps in the road or times where you’re going to cry your eyes out, because it’s really hard to get everything, get it together. But I think if you put your kids first and then make the work, squeeze the work in where you can, it can be done.”

During her interview with Where Parents Talk, Kristin Rushowy also discusses:

  • Balancing work and family in a demanding industry for 20+ years
  • Mastering time management
  • The challenges she and her family have faced during the pandemic
  • What COVID-19 has taught her about herself, parenting and her children
  • Social media and its double-edged sword as a reporter and parent
  • Her own self-care regimen

Related links:

Toronto Star: Kristin Rushowy

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