The new normal of physical distancing due to the pandemic put families in an unusual situation. There is no more driving kids to soccer practice and karate class, no more play-dates and sleepovers. Even schooling has changed from a physical to a virtual format. Like never before, kids and parents are spending all their time together under one roof. For adults there is work from home, cooking, cleaning, laundry mixed with emotional weight of anxiety and fear. For children there is a disruption of routine, diminished play and social engagement as well as a huge increase of screen-time. As a result, many families are experiencing tension and heightened level of frustration. On the flip side, this can be the time to strengthen the bond you have with your children. I mean, really, when are you ever going to spend this much time at home with you kids without external distractions?
My two girls want my attention. They need a cruise ship director to help them navigate their day. At first it was unclear how to balance work and kids without the support of babysitters or grandparents or a partner. If felt overwhelming . I decided that engaging in conversation with my girls about our new reality may be the first step to minimizing shouts of “mom” as I work on transitioning my physical clinic to a virtual one. It was during that conversation I recognized that even short bursts of my full presence will satisfy their need for attention. The therapist in me embraced the notion of true presence, and this is what we collaboratively created to get us through the month of April:
Construct a plan of your day together. Every morning we get up and create a plan for the day. In that process, I review my work schedule to make my kids aware of the times when I will not be available to support them. We schedule online classes, arts and craft activities, reading and other tasks that they can accomplish independently. Yes, this is also when they can get some Disney Plus action.
Engage kids in chores. My kids love to be my helpers. They want to help me cook and bake. They want to learn which buttons to push to start the washing machine. I take these opportunity to teach my girls how to make sandwiches, sort laundry and roll socks into a ball. Their performance is not perfect, but that does not matter. What matters is that we are doing things together.
Play. Its so simple and yet so complicated for adults to just play. Let loose and allow your kids to be your teachers. Ask them what they want to create today. Not everything has to be scheduled or structured. Have a dance party! Go on a pretend trip to Disney Land! Do a scavenger hunt around the house! Paint rocks! Do not look at your watch. Do not think about work. Allow yourself an hour to be a kid with your kids. Trust me, its worth your time.
Do movement activities together. On those nice days when you can venture outside, do so without reservation. Take a walk in the woods, go for a hike, stroll around your neighborhood. Walking around is a great activity that does not require much planning or preparation. If going outside is not an option, do a yoga class together with your kids. I enjoy Zumba workout and my girls are now joining me for those virtual classes. Usually, kids (and parents) spend a good chunk of their time in a car. Now is a nice break from traffic jams and parking lot drama.
Continue with your morning and evening routines as if it’s “business as usual”. It has become so easy to let go of typical routines. I mean, why not? No more school buses to rush to, preschools to drive to and you can work in your pajamas! Yet, routines are very important in a child’s life. It gives them a sense of stability and a set of expectations. It also reminds them that things will get back to normal, and eases the anxiety about the weirdness of this situation. Sure, everyone can enjoy a late night here and there..but make that an exception and not a part of your new normal.
Every night, after I put my kids to bed I wonder about what summer of 2020 going to bring into our lives. I acknowledge the uncertainty and the challenge of managing the daily grind. At the same time I feel a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to slow down. I love that I have a chance to really connect with my girls. I am a working mom. In what world would I ever take lunchtime strolls with my children or have a picnic in the backyard at 1pm on a Tuesday? Quarantine will eventually end , but the connections you create with your children will stay with you forever.