I don’t profess to be a parenting, healthcare or public health expert. I’m just a parent sharing my thoughts during these crazy times to give you one perspective of what we are thinking about and discussing in our family. Every family is probably having similar discussions with their kids and may make different decisions than ours and that’s all good. I believe in live and let live so don’t judge us and we won’t judge you.
Our world is changing day by day with the global Coronavirus pandemic and it is being handled differently among countries, states, counties, cities, and families. Like most people, I’m obsessively reading and watching the news, checking Facebook, texting family and friends as everything is changing minute by minute.
By the time you read this, some of what I write will be out of date. Since I started writing this post, our Governor in California just announced all bars, wineries, brewpubs, and nightclubs will be closed. Wow, just wow. This is unprecedented stuff here and we don’t have a manual on how to deal with it. Sounds a bit like parenting, right? You just do your best to figure it out. We are all drinking water out of a firehose as the news and recommendations are changing hour by hour and we are all trying to do what is best for our communities and families. I want to look at this as an opportunity to be our best selves and make sure we are all looking out for each other. Even though our family is healthy, we need to do what is best for the greater good and that is going to mean all of us are going to have to make some sacrifices.
We found out 3 days ago that our kids are going to be off school and at home for 4 weeks. As most parents in this situation, after the profanity (luckily it was all in my head), we are trying to figure out what we need to do as a family to get through this time. The first thing I did was go to Michaels and load up on crafts and the second thing I did was go to the library to make sure everyone had enough books in case they shut the libraries down. One of my biggest fears is not having something to read and I don’t want my kids to have more excuses to be on screens the whole time. My wife has her own business and works from home so she has decided to ramp down her work hours to be the primary on the kids. That takes stress off of me as my company is still saying business as usual so I’ll be working. I usually travel a lot for work (luckily driving not flying) but I think I’ll be working remotely most of the next few weeks as my customers are school districts in Northern California and most of them are closing for 3-4 weeks.
We are going to try to limit our contact with others to help flatten the curve. We are still trying to figure out what this means. Can we go to the dentist and doctor appointments that were scheduled in the next couple of weeks? Do we let our house cleaners come? And, if not, do we still pay them? Do I get to go to hot yoga or can my wife go to Crossfit? Can we take the dog to the dog park? Can our kids see their friends? One thing that does mean is that there will be 5 of us (and 1 fluffy 75-pound dog) in the house every day, all day. Cozy.
Our kids are 8, 10 and 13 so they are old enough to understand much of what is going on. We sat down and talked to them about what these times mean to us as a family and as part of a community. We talked about “social distancing” although my wife has renamed it “physical distancing”, as we think it’s still important to stay social even if it’s not face-to-face. We talked about how lucky we are in so many ways. How we won’t lose our jobs during this time (we hope) but some parents may lose their jobs and/or have to lay off employees and close down their businesses. We are talking as a family about which local small businesses we want to make sure we are supporting in some way during this time and are trying to be creative on how to support them. Do we order take out from our favorite restaurants to keep them in business? Do we keep going to yoga if the classes are small and we bring our own supplies? Do we try to pick up anything we need locally as opposed to ordering on Amazon?
We talked about how our family is lucky that we are not worried about where our next meal is coming but many families in our state and community are and some kids at their schools rely on getting fed once or two a day at school. We discussed that the school districts had to consider how to feed their students before closing down. It put a new light on their “4 week vacation” and allowed them to think beyond themselves and our family. We are talking a lot about what it means to be part of a community and a society.
I told them how I had been trying to think of how to help others right now and then my parents (their grandparents) told me that my sister’s friend asked them if they or any of their friends needed groceries dropped off on their porch or errands done so they don’t have to leave the house. My parents didn’t need to take her up on her offer because they have family near but they sent her the name of some of their friends who might. I live in another state as my parents so I was so grateful that someone thought to make that offer.
That was a great example to share with our kids about what social responsibility is. Helping others who need it, when and how they need it. After hearing that story from my parents I decided to do something similar myself so I posted a note on our neighborhood Facebook page asking if anyone knew any neighbors who might need help with errands or grocery shopping and we could leave things at their door so they wouldn’t have to come in contact with us. I asked our neighborhood association to email it to the community as well but haven’t heard back from them yet and haven’t seen an email about it. I haven’t yet heard from or of any neighbors who need help but I have heard from other families who would also like to help. We’ll continue to try to find older or sick folks in our neighborhood or community who might not want to leave the house right now and do our part to help them where we can.
Since we are looking at 4 weeks with no school, camps and, possibly, no playdates or friends over, we decided to come up with a schedule of how our kids need to spend their time during the week when they are at home from school and we are working. Luckily, they are old enough to be somewhat self-sufficient so this might be a good experience for them to have to follow a schedule without much adult/parental help.
We had everyone voice what was important to them during this upcoming time of school closures and homeschooling. We as parents wanted to make sure that the kids did something for the family or community, connected with their grandparents, learned something new and got exercise. Our kids wanted to have some screen time and time to choose their activity during certain parts of the day. My wife wanted us to restart our ritual of family mindfulness and do a daily dose of the meditation from the app “Headspace”. I said I wanted everyone to give the dog (Oliver) extra attention and didn’t want the house to be a pigsty for a month so everyone had to do some cleaning every day. We all decided that we would not stress too much about academics and if they learn new things, read and are creative, that’s good enough during this time. We were able to get all of those requests in our proposed schedule.
Everyone agreed to the following schedule and we said we would try it for the first week and then tweak it as needed.
8:30-9:00 Get up/have breakfast
9-9:15 Family mindfulness
9:45-10:45 Educational time (can be a fun online class)
10:45-11 Call/Facetime Grandparents and/or play with the
11-12 Creative time
12:30-1 Outside time/exercise
1-2:15 Reading/quiet time/games
2:15-2:45 Something for the house, family or community
3-4 Free choice (screens are ok)
4-6 Educational time/creative time/reading/games/outside time (no screens)
Our son asked if he could sleep in later sometimes, exercise for longer blocks of time and do more mindfulness. Absolutely! This is not boot camp, just something to keep us all relatively sane and them off technology 24/7. We also think it’s time for him at 13 to step up and be a leader with his younger siblings so we’ve asked him to follow the schedule without complaint, help his younger sisters before they come to us with every question and try to head off their fighting before it escalates. I’m happy to get him a new Fortnight skin or buy something else he’s been wanting if he’ll do this. I’m not above a little bribery with my kids to keep the household more chill.
We don’t know how this next 4 weeks (or more) with no school and trying to flatten the curve will go but we want to use it as a time to try to enjoy each other as a family (board games, anyone?) and reflect on our usually busy lives so that when things get back to normal, whatever the new normal after this is, we can be more thoughtful about how we spend our time and look at it as an opportunity to make our lives less busy, more fun and more meaningful. After this forced break, we should be better able to re-evaluate every activity that we normally do and see if it makes sense to continue it or not.
I realize that I’m writing this at the beginning of this new normal of physical distancing and forced family together time and if you check in with me in 2 or 3 weeks I may be less thoughtful about all of this, my hair may be unwashed, my voice may be gone from screaming, the schedule may have been thrown out the window and screens may be the default. The best-laid plans and all.
It is going to be hard for everyone during the next month or longer as we try to get through this but let’s show our kids what it means to be part of a community and let’s strive to be our best selves during these crazy times.