Parenting in the Time of Corona: The Mom’s Guide to Staying Sane
Hello lovely friends and readers!
I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been busy finishing a new novel (that I can’t wait to share with you soon) and working on the official launch of our podcast—Mod About You. But all of those plans take a backseat to the storm that hit Seattle and the world—Covid 19. Here in our city, our daily lives have slowed to an eerie halt. Most people work from home, events have been canceled, store shelves are getting bare and schools have been closed, which means my three boys—ages 13, 11 and 9—are home with me full-time (cue the collective gasp from me and working parents everywhere).
Although I wholeheartedly support this move as a way to further prevent this awful virus from spreading, I also began to panic. How am I going to get my writing done? Will the boys get cabin fever? How will I keep them busy? Will I slowly … lose my mind?
We already know to practice social distancing, wash our hands and not touch our faces, but how to we adjust to a new way of life with kids home 24-7? I’ve put a lot of thought into this and decided that while we may not be able to conquer Corona, we can keep order in our households, and in doing so, our sanity. I realize that not all parents work from home, but with so many businesses permitting workers to do so during this time, it’s likely that many parents will find themselves stuck at home with kids, trying to find some semblance of balance. We’re new at this too, but I wanted to share some things that are working for me. Consider this your game plan:
Create a Schedule and Stick to It. The best thing I did the night before the first day of no school wasn’t even my idea—it was my eleven-year-old Russell’s. This sweet fifth grader loves his beloved teacher and her “daily schedule” that helps the kids feel organized and know what’s expected of them. “Can we make a daily schedule for our house?” he asked. So we got to work on this very heartwarming and genius idea. You could use a piece of poster board or a chalkboard like I have hanging near my dining room. Whatever it is, just make sure it’s visible to the kids and they can check in with it often. Create the schedule however you like, but whatever you do, stick to it. Kids need and crave boundaries. For example, we always have breakfast at 8 AM, followed by a “morning meeting,” when I let the kids ask questions (“Why can’t I go to the skate park with my friends today?”), talk about how they feel (“I’m worried about Nana and Papa.”) etc. Then, while they’re fresh, we transition into the day, which includes things like independent learning time (the kids choose a subject to research and report back on or work on some of the handouts sent home from the school), and independent reading time (one hour of reading in their rooms).
Make it Fun. In all of this doom and gloom, try to lighten the mood for your kids as often as possible. I’m a firm believer in being silly with your kids (thanks for modeling this so well, dad) especially in this bizarre era of Covid-19. In that spirit, I decided that if I’m mom/teacher these days, we needed a principal, and the boys nominated our puppy, Goldie. We all smile when she comes waddling into a room anyway, but I can’t tell you how much fun we’re having with our silly principal. (I’m constantly threatening them that I’ll send them to her office for bad behavior, ha.)
Carve out Time for Yourself. Moms, this is more important than ever now that the kids are home full time. When you used to have time to, oh, go to the bathroom without someone nagging you for a snack at 10 a.m., everything can start to feel a bit intense when you’re now parenting and schooling full time. Make sure your kids know that you need time off too. Have designated times when the “kitchen is closed” or “mom is having recess” when they know they need to self-direct.
Don’t Forget the Importance of Recess. In short, kids need recess. I’ve built in two one-hour blocks in our day when I send my boys outside. For them, recess ends up being a mix of throwing the football around outside, shooting hoops, riding their scooters around the block, cleaning up the fallen leaves on the trampoline, or just sitting on the front porch stoop and watching the clouds. They come back in refreshed and ready for their next task. Be sure to get your kids outside often!
These Are Unprecedented Times, Ask Your Kids to Rise to the Occasion. One thing I did with my boys right away—even before school closures—was to have various “family meetings” to share the seriousness of this pandemic and to help them feel empowered not frightened. From basic responsibilities like frequent handwashing to taking on important jobs around the house, my boys feel as if they are actively helping. Since parents are carrying more of a burden these days, it’s okay to ask your kids to help carry the load. Maybe teach your youngest how to load and operate the dishwasher or put your oldest on “safety duty,” ensuring that doors are locked, hands are washed and ovens are turned off in the household.
Everything is Education. I have no idea how the world is going to help all these millions of children catch up on missed learning (and my boys break out in hives when I mention the idea of future “Saturday School”), but they’ll find a way and life will go on. For now, I go back to what my mom always believed—life is education. And, your children are living and breathing current events right now. Share news articles with them. Let them watch presidential press conferences on TV. Talk to them about it and let them ask questions and share their opinions. Just because they’re missing six weeks of math doesn’t mean their brains will turn to mush. There’s an abundance of learning that can happen without textbooks.
Order Books by the Boatload. I’m a novelist, so I admit that I’m a bit biased here, but if you’re going to buy your kids anything during this time, make it books. And don’t hold back! I sat down with my boys and asked them to make a list of new books that we could order to keep them busy during this time and they gave me their wish lists. Many local, independent bookstores across America are struggling already, so consider supporting them. Island Books near Seattle, for example, will ship or courier book orders to clients during this time. (And, don’t forget books for mom, too! May I humbly suggest my new novel? 😉 You can order it here and here!)
Simplify. I love to cook and share food with the people I care for. It’s kind of my love language. But for sanity’s sake, and practicality reasons, I’ve had to simplify things around here. “Remember when you made us that Japanese dinner, mommy?” my son said the other day, reminiscing. He’s referring to a night when I went all out—homeade sushi, tempura, a plate of Asian sesame noodles and hand rolls. (Seriously, I don’t know what got into me!) But these days, there will be less of that, and the kids understand why. Trips to the grocery store are less frequent in favor of relying on staples and simpler foods in this time of social distancing. Meal time can still be fun, but focus on simplicity for your own sanity and the good of public health. Two fun things we do, that the kids love: “picnic meals” (aka spread out a sheet or large blanket and serve dinner on the ground. The boys have loved this over the years) and “snacky dinner” (not sure what the origin of this one was, but snacky dinners are basically a plate of random items that really don’t go together—like sliced bananas, cheese quesadilla bites, and some pickles. Just mix it up a bit with whatever combo of somewhat nutritious things the kids like!
Talk to Your Kids About Getting Back to the Basics of Life. In our highly connected world where we can “order” anything we want or need and get it the next day with Prime delivery, I’ve often wondered about this generation of kids who are growing up with a sense of immediency and abundance. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, I guess, except for the fact that much of this new generation is growing up without the faintest idea of how food is grown, or how a craftsman works to make their beloved toy, or how an author works to write the book they’re reading (if I do say so myself). This is a great time to “slow” living down a bit and teach them about the way generations before them lived—how to plant a garden, bake homemade bread, entertain themselves without a TV, phone or iPad.
Let Them See Your Humanity. The other day I felt completely and utterly overwhelmed. I had a writing deadline looming, dinner to get on the table, and a million other anxieties bogging me down, including worries about my parents and others I care about in this crazy time. “Are you okay, mommy?” one of my boys asked. When I might have hid my emotions before, this time I opened up about how I felt, and how it’s okay for everyone—even adults—to feel upset sometimes or anxious. I think kids need to see our honesty and humanity in times like this.
Remember, School Teachers Use TV Too! Don’t feel like a #badmom for turning the TV on, maybe just don’t choose Cartoon Network, ha. During “school hours” (when I need a breather), sometimes I’ll let them watch an educational documentary, a cooking show (which, oddly, my kids love!) or, like right now, an episode of the epic documentary-series, World War II in Color (it’s on Netflix).
Hire Them. Put your kids to work! Let them earn some extra cash by giving them some job to do around the house. It will keep them busy and give them a purpose. Better yet—see if any of your neighbors will hire them to do odd jobs around their house (weeding, dog-walking, etc) with sanitized hands, of course!
Help Them Help Others. We live in a quiet neighborhood not too far from downtown Seattle where there are many wonderful people of the greater generation who raised children in the very same homes they’re living in today. Some are very elderly, others are new grandparents. A woman in her seventies, just down the street, is undergoing weekly chemo treatments for breast cancer. These people are all at risk during this season of illness and in times like this, neighbors become family. If you have an at-risk neighbor where you live, make sure he or she doesn’t become isolated. In our neighborhood, some of the local kids passed out flyers to make sure all neighbors who need help get it. We are ready to help if need be—picking up prescriptions, running errands and delivering meals or groceries.
Hang in there, everyone. Stay healthy and sane. It’s hard not to feel as though life as we know it has changed forever. But we’re all in this together—our kids too.