A mug on my desk is marked with cleverly painted words that read “Parenting Style: Survivalist.” I’m pretty sure I picked it up in Target in a moment of weakness and bemused indulgence, just before COVID-19. Now, I see it as a foreshadowing moment of truth. Never truer, today I navigated staff meetings with the background of a semi-feral six-year-old’s war cries, as he runs about the house with a Minecraft axe, while my daughter bemoans having to learn the least common multiple instead of working on her Animal Jam channel. Thank you, Khan Academy.
Ok, ok … this may be a smidge exaggerated. The current scene is pretty accurate, but we still complete homeschool and carve out family time every day. It’s not as hard as it sounds, but it does require a load of self-discipline on the part of my family.
Our current schedule includes a mix of one on one, workbook, and app-based learning. My husband and I break up the teaching between the two of us, based to meeting load and each other’s schedules every day.
Some of the ways we work together:
- Keep a shared family calendar. No, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy. We use a shared Google calendar, and whenever appointments for the kids pop up, we invite each other.
- We keep steady breakfast, lunch, and dinner times. Everyone works hard to be offline for these periods, so that we can spend time together and talk about everyone’s day.
- We make time to be active. My husband takes several walks outside throughout the day. I alternate between my Asana Yoga app and the treadmill. Recently, I started working on losing the COVID pounds via the newest iteration of Jenny Craig – Noom. (P.S. – love it. You have to try.). Maintaining a healthy balance keeps everyone’s morale high, and helps me be a calmer professional at work. Thanks to Calm, I meditate once or twice a day as well. Once a week, we go for a hike. While we’ve always been hikers, it has now become one of the few field trips we can take without having to constantly wear a mask.
- We keep a punch list. We share a Microsoft To Do list for things such as groceries, honey-dos, and the like. Similarly, we have our own personal lists to keep us on track during the day. Grade papers, check … feed animals, check – we don’t just keep lists for our personal life. All of my projects are in a project management tool, so when I work, I compartmentalize each “focus area” in Microsoft Planner, and I can tick things off in sections through the day. I try not to be reactive at work, and instead work through these “focus areas” that my co-workers and I share.
- The kids follow a traditional school calendar. Even though they are not technically “in” school because we have a high-risk family member, we follow the district’s calendar, and I keep lessons and grades as close as possible to what they would experience in school. My daughter attends an art class weekly. She wears a mask and they have limited attendance, with no more than five attendees each week. We try to stay focused on mental health, and this one class is something from Pre-COVID that helps my daughter feel like things are getting closer to normal. Mental health > grades this year.
- Put the devices away. Sarah Barry, Certum’s services director, explains, “I actually see my kid smile. I can take the temperature of his mood because I’m making eye contact.” Keeping devices away from family time is crucial, especially since many of us slid on the “screen time” when COVID hit. While watching “The Social Dilemma (check it out on Netflix),” I saw a neat safe gadget for devices. You lock them away on a timer. Ignoring the fact that, in the skit, the “cell safe” was destroyed by a wrench, I thought this was a great idea. While you may not have a physical cell phone safe, you can (hopefully) get the same effect with a kitchen drawer. Break the device addiction and focus on face time with the family. I now leave mine in the kitchen drawer at night. Similarly, I have removed any social media apps from my phone (I don’t even have Facebook any longer – gasp), and, instead, I’ve prioritized my life based on areas I’d like to focus or grow. We only have a certain number of hours in the day. I don’t want to spend mine zombie scrolling through Facebook.
- Work on self-discipline. While the physical space we occupy may be smaller, our minds are just as active. We have all picked up, or had a renewed focus in, hobbies. I’ve been working on learning Spanish, and am returning to college to study computer science. I just started reading my very first Spanish book. My husband has his walking regimen, which he sticks to religiously. While we don’t have sidewalks due to living in the country, he walks our property line three times a day, without fail. Sometimes, we join him along with the pups, resulting in an impromptu reenactment of the “Sound of Music.” Who knows what the neighbors think?
If there have been any blessings from this awful year, it has been seeing our family grow closer. I’ve heard similar things from friends. Focusing on the positives, I hope that we never lose this opportunity of seeing each other during the day and growing as a family. In some ways, we are poorer, but in many ways, we are much, much richer.