In my current work environment, my coworkers often refuse to wear pants. HR says that he knows it’s a problem, but he’s got to mow the grass, so he’ll talk to them at snack time.
I’ve seen a string of these kinds of statements on social media recently, and I love them. They give comedic relief to the difficulty of working at home with children. Maybe your “coworkers” aren’t attending Zoom class as they should, or they’re eating all your groceries faster than you can go on your next curbside pick up run. I’m no math whiz, but I just don’t see how my husband and I can maintain our 8 (+) hour work days with both children staying entertained and educated for those same 8 hours. It's impossible to continue life like we did before I’m sure you’ve figured out. I hope this issue of Eagle Counseling Newsletter gives you some insight about what’s been working for us as well as some resources for the very unique situation we’re all in.
What’s Been Working for Us
Follow Your Family’s Natural Rhythm
In one month, my oldest daughter turns 3 and my youngest turns 1, so we’re in a stage of life where we constantly assess our schedule. Our family has a natural rhythm in regards to when we do things like wake up, eat, sleep, play, and relax. The more we can do these things in sync with each other, the less frustrated we become. For example, if our family wakes up around the same time, we’re hungry around the same time, and we eat together. We make one mess in the kitchen at a time, and we fall in line with each other regarding the other two meals (and two snacks) of the day. We all need quiet time and loud time in the day also. I need quiet for working, and my kids need quiet for sleeping. On good days, those coincide. When my kids are ready for loud, wild, play time, if I've used my time well, I can feel free to have some wild time with them. I find myself getting resentful when we are all trying to do things in our own time and schedule, and my kids are resentful when I overuse the line, "Just give me 5 more minutes for emails honey," so I have to make sure to use their quiet time wisely. When it's time for me to give them attention, I have to make sure it's my full attention. A solid, uninterrupted hour of outside play, running around the house, or other high energy activity, gives me more quiet time to work later because they've had their "mom fill" for a little bit. Experts are also saying that screen time recommendations should be considered somewhat lifted right now, but I would add that using screen time strategically can give you some much needed time later. This week, I needed time from 10:30-11:30 am for Zoom class, so we saved our morning cartoon time for that time slot. Then I could release myself from the guilt about our cyber babysitter, and Charli wasn't bored with TV when I needed her to be glued in one spot.
By talking about your schedule with the other adults in your home, and your children who are old enough to grasp time, you can be more intentional with your time. To help you with this, Issue 6 of ECN contains two great articles about revamping your family meal times to make the most of your time together.
Our families are contained together, but that does not mean we have to connect. Just like before the stay at home order, we have to intentionally connect with one another. Some great ways to do that are cooking and eating meals together, watching TV or movies together, family walks (get out of the house!), or doing a project together like painting a room or doing chores. We’re currently doing lots of yard projects, and Charli likes to help scoop dirt with her own little shovel. The Dani, the little one, likes to eat the dirt, but that’s a separate thing. Everyone's a little bored right now, so why not treat your boredom together? I know many of you are playing more games together, getting into different hobbies together, and trying to seek joy daily. I admire you for that!
Give Kids Direction and Purpose
At school, your kids are used to routine, purpose, having to do things they don’t want to do, getting out of their comfort zone, being polite, owning a classroom job, and getting along with people different than them. I promise we really did teach them those things. Now that they are contained with you and maybe siblings, if everyone seems a bit snippy, give them more ownership of the household. That seems scary, but hear me out. I read once that you should never discourage a kid from doing something you want them to do later. Charli usually gets food all over the floor trying to put her plate in the sink, but she always takes her plate to the sink. I either take her plate to the sink myself and try to train her later (potentially an old dog learning new tricks situation), or I clean up the floor until she’s a little taller and more coordinated,OR she learns to clean up the floor too. I’m a control freak, so I get the hesitation, but experts will tell you that kids need ownership and responsibility at a young age so they can handle more as they grow. Here are some life skills to teach your children right now (even your two year olds) that won’t add more work to your plate: setting and clearing the table, laundry, organizing toys, taking care of pets, yard work, and making their bed. Another life skill to work on right now is the importance of independent or self-play time. Kids need some time to play independently in a structured way, which may give you a little bit of work time you need also. Give them specific activities that are "me time" activities such as reading, coloring, or legos that they know how to do on their own. A friend of mine set up a kid sized desk in her office so when she works, her 4 year old "works" too. Great idea!
Reassess, Reallocate, and Release Yourself from Guilt
I resent when people say “we have more time than ever now." That statement causes panic and shame for me because I immediately think of all the things I'm not doing with "all my extra time." In reality, we still have the same 24 hours as always, we just have to reassess our time, and understand that we can’t allocate it where we did before. As parents, we have to give our kids more time and our work less time right now. That’s really hard for me because teaching and counseling are my passions, and as much as I love my daughters, I gain fulfillment through my work outside of the home. That doesn’t make me a bad parent. It means this time of parenting 24/7 is emotionally and mentally tiring. If you’re in the same boat, rest assured that this is not forever. Release yourself from the guilt of missing your job and your time at work. You worked hard for your career that may feel like it’s been put on the back burner. I don’t know that we’ll have a ton more stay at home or work at home parents after this pandemic, and that’s okay. For now, reassess where you need to spend your time, reallocate your time for the current situation, and release yourself from the guilt of all the things you aren't getting done.
We’re all navigating this strange new world that is honestly, getting a little old. Hang in there. We’re going to make it through, and your family is going to be stronger and more resilient because of it. I hope the little that I’ve learned about helping my own family helps you, and below are some resources I’ve found useful in this journey as well. Please know that I’m praying for you and your family, and I’m just a Zoom call away if you need anything. - Michelle Dwyer
How to Create a Quarantine Schedule for Kids at Home That Won't Stress You Out
Gary Prindiville is the school counselor and a middle school theology teacher at Prince of Peace Christian School and Early Learning Center in Carrollton, TX. Visit the Contact page for more information.
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