Parenting & working at home during Covid-19 Quarantine: what's working, what's not
I feel compelled to share what it's been like around here these days, adjusting to the recent news that our kids will be home over the next 6 weeks (at least).
The reason I want to do this is because we quickly tumbled down a dark paralyzing path, mentally speaking, and worked our way back out again. There are still more questions than answers obviously, but my hope is that someone else can take away something useful from all this.
If nothing else, it might be comforting to know that others are right there in the weeds with you 😊
Now that our home has become the centre of our universe (school, gym, activity centre, recess/schoolyard, cafeteria, restaurant, office, movie theatre and seemingly as an afterthought, a home) it's been quite a shock as everyone settles into this new normal.
I won't even go to the details of #Covid19 itself, apart from saying that I sincerely hope your family and those near and dear to you are well, and will remain that way. There's no point in getting into the current status of the situation, as it will be different an hour from now, and tomorrow, and the next day. Your hometown might be worse off or better off than mine, the state of emergency you're experiencing might be more acute or less, you might have some help or none at all, younger kids or older ones; it's all relative. It's hard for everyone, in various ways.
When we get down to the most basic level: everyone is facing uncertainty and feeling anxiety -- which is kind of strangely comforting and unifying -- and that's what I want to talk about today, and in the days to come. Things we can do to help each other, our families & loved ones -- and ourselves -- out of this.
I'm trying to figure out how to get through each day, just like everybody else. I will share tips and strategies I come across, as well as lessons learned about parenting and working in this climate, for the foreseeable future. As always, just use what you can. Look for things that resonate with you and/or that can apply to you, and leave the rest for somebody else.
I'm a working mom myself; I help moms who are in or starting their second act find clarity in their mission, translate that vision into a coherent brand and website, and coach their tech fears away. But right now, everything happening in the world has just pushed its way to centre stage and we're all just trying to figure out what's next.
What's working? What's not?
(For context: our kids are 6 (1st grade) and 9 (3rd grade). We are self-isolating at home preventatively. We are not required to homeschool at this time. My husband and I are both self-employed; he works outside the home, I work from home. At this time we are all still healthy, and very grateful for that.)
6 Things That Are Definitely Not Working (*for us):
1. Trying to make our days mirror the schedule of schooldays: curriculum time (i.e. with school books, math, english, science), learning activities & games, recess/play outside at set intervals, reading time, etc. AND trying to cram in grown-up work time into a day that's structured like that.
In other words:
* Oh, but we had the best of intentions. *
2. No structure whatsoever. I'm all for taking a day to veg out. But this was a different flavour. Mama is scared of the world and exhausted and can't be the hero today, so everybody just do whatever while I watch Brooklyn 99 in bed eating ice cream. This weekend day free-for-all resulted in the kids refusing to have any proper meals (and me not feeling like preparing any food) which made everyone hangry and everything was horrible for all. SO MUCH SIBLING FIGHTING.
In other words:
Ultimately this mental checking-out -- though it seemed like it would help and was "needed" in the immediate -- seriously backfired. Not only did basic things become difficult for us all to handle, I felt so much worse as time went on: unproductive, ineffective, and a poor example for my kids. Not to mention the anxiety wasn't alleviated in the least... only delayed.
(And that's when I figured out that no matter how long this strange new normal continues, I will NOT come out on top by coping with Netflix.)
3. Not taking into account that I was mentally exhausted by all the news, facing the numerous debilitating unknowns, and absorbing other people's panic (which happens when I'm not careful, because I'm an empath). Textbook #overwhelm, which tends to shut us down. And did you know that isolation is a huge contributor to inactivity? (Hence, needing to the aforementioned Netflix & Ice Cream).
4. ZERO #selfcare. I have 5 basic things that I need to do daily for my physical and #mentalhealth, and to show up in the world: food, exercise, sleep, writing and meditation. These are the antidotes. At the beginning of all this, I was doing none of them. The old saying "you can't pour from an empty cup" has never been truer.
5. Letting myself fall into Instagram rabbit holes, especially late at night. This destroyed my sleep patterns, and fed the fears. (Note to self: do not feed the fears.) Then, I was getting up too late and our morning routine was thrown out the window.
6. Bonus worry (at all times): when the heck am I supposed to work properly and earn some income?! My #worklifeintegration was not working at the beginning.
8 Things That Are Definitely Working (* for us)
1. Showing appreciation for what each person in the household is contributing. Not only in the sense of chores, but also a funny joke or a sweet story.
2. Going out for walks, all of us together. We definitely need the fresh air and exercise. The target is for everyone to be active at least 60 minutes a day.
3. Pretend Games that the kids play together without needing any involvement from us (they play Spies, Powers (a made-up game about superpowers that help people and the environment), Glitch Techs (apparently this is a TV show). They get lost in make-believe, and it's amazing. Plus, I can focus and get things done.
4. Limiting my social media intake, and deliberately changing how I use it. I will write more about this shortly. Spoiler alert: no more late-night Insta rabbit holes.
5. Modelling quick recovery from bad moods, outbursts, and short tempers. With all of us in such close quarters, skirmishes can escalate quickly. We are doing a good job of de-escalating them just as quickly.
Note: the trick to this is always sticking to the same basic 2 things (thank you @lindsayeberts):
a) how does this make you feel (specifically)
b) what do you need (specifically)
Once we showed the kids how to do this, they caught on quickly.
6. Staying in REGULAR contact with family and friends, preferably over video.
7. Literally ANYTHING I do to manage the #anxiety. More on this below.
8. Anything we do that breaks the monotony and turns our regular house into a way more fun house. Yesterday the entire living room became a lava floor, and the kids had to jump from item to item (chair, sofa, pillows, carpet, we even brought in a mini-trampoline from the garage and found some old hula hoops). We blasted music and made it a freeze-dance sort of game too. On top of that, each "station" they jumped to required a different activity, like jumping jacks, or 5 successful hula twirls, or a silly dance.
They were squealing with laughter and breathing hard from all the activity and, for just a few brief moments, everything felt OK again.
6 Things I Am Going To Do More Of, Going Forward:
1. Neighbourhood loop walks; I heard a friend describing how she walks through her town and texts friends and neighbours when she approaches their home. They come to the window and they speak to each other on the phone, like a real-life Facetime. It's so sweet and gives everyone involved something to look forward to.
2. We will coordinate better to get groceries and basic supplies for my older parents, so they don't have to leave their home.
3. Building in time for what's important to us. Before this all happened, my husband and I were fully invested in doing a life-changing course together. Then, all this started and we couldn't quite figure out when we could ever get back to it. We now do it at night after the kids go to sleep: we will complete one lesson or module per night until it's done. Slow and steady wins the race. For you, it might be something else entirely, but the saying "we make time for the things that are important to us" is really hitting home right now.
4. As for the self-care I need: the only time that makes sense is in the early mornings. So I'll do what it takes. Early wake-ups it is. These are the basics that I need to do to show up in the world, as myself, as a parent, partner, friend, coach, writer, etc., so these are now my non-negotiables. This is the only way I know of to keep the anxiety manageable. I not only face the day but have really good days, even amidst all this. Once again the antidotes that work *for me* are healthy food, exercise, sleep, writing and meditation. If you'd like me to expand on how I treat each one specifically just let me know. But the message is really find what works for you, and stick to it no matter what.
5. More impromptu dance parties.
6. Learn to use N.E.T time more effectively. #TonyRobbins uses this term to mean "no extra time": use the time spent commuting, running errands, exercising or cleaning the house to feed your mind with high-quality coaching and other powerful information like podcasts and audiobooks that will help you achieve your goals. In other words, you don't need MORE time to move forward, you need to use the WASTED time you already have more effectively. I will think on this.....
3 Take-Aways For You, Dear Friend
Ok now that I've talked your ear off, let me sum up my thoughts with these simple rules that I'm trying remember every day. (Perhaps a face tattoo might do the trick?)
1. I need to remember to get my kids to move and accomplish basic things before I hand over any electronic devices or remote controls.
2. We need * some * structure and anchors in our days to combat the two biggest (and most avoidable) behaviour problems we have in the house: any of us being overtired, and any of us being over-hungry. This means set bed-times and set eating times, snacks included.
3. When in doubt, add water. This was a good rule from their cranky toddler days, and it still holds! Give them water to drink, and/or stick them in the bath "to play", even if it's the middle of the day. When the weather permits, it's about swimming, sprinklers on the grass, water balloons, whatever! Find water.