I heard on the news today that South Carolina (USA) is the latest state to cancel in-person schools for the rest of the academic year. I also heard the collective sigh of parents across the U.S. trying to figure out how to balance their homes being offices, schools, movie theaters, restaurants, dog parks, houses, and sometimes even doctors' offices.
I'm going to start this by telling you: I don't have human children. I'm not going to pretend to understand what parents are experiencing right now. I do, however, have lots of friends all over the United States who have children from age 3 months-old to 25+ years-old. These parents post their experiences and frustrations on social media, and I take notice.
You may have seen the same posts I have; or at least the same theme. Some are funny. Some are frustrating. Some make me glad I only have dogs.
But just because I'm honoring our stay-home order in a house with only my husband and our dogs, I'm going to share some thoughts on keeping your cool when you are seeing the same people in the same setting, all day, every day.
Keep a Schedule
Even though we don't have children, we still believe in keeping a schedule. I'm not that high-strung, I promise, I just know that my husband needs routine while he's home. I have worked from home before so all this home time isn't bothering me much. We have kept our weedays on our "normal" weekday schedule of getting up, taking the dogs to daycare, starting work, stopping for meals, doing chores around the house. We go to bed at our normal "school-night" time and get up "for work" at the same time as we used to. It helps us tremendously. It helps our dogs, to be honest, to have their schedule, too. Friends have told me that they are staying up later, sleeping more, eating mindlessly, and are generally feeling more out of sorts. Schedules may seem boring but in this time when the month of March seemed to be 93 days long and most days start by asking, 'What day is it?' on your first conference call of the day, they are so important to keep grounded during this unreal time.
Editor's Note: If you have a toddler, you are likely laughing at this "schedule" nonsense. You should be. Toddlers live by their own rules, which change every hour.
Share Home Responsibilites
My former boss and his wife have this stay-home stuff perfected. Seriously. They are taking this time to have fun with their two middle-schoolers and their two dogs. They have "PE class" together most days, go on nature walks to do photography during "art class," and share meal-making responsibilities throughout the week. I asked my boss if he would rent out his daughter to teach me how to cook after I saw pictures of a remarkable seafood dish she made. I'm sure they still bicker about taking care of the pets or putting away laundry, but making required online learning entertaining and dividing day-to-day chores so they aren't falling on just one or two people helps everyone, ok helps busy parents, cope a little better. Ultimately, if that means fewer meltdowns, it will make this unexpected forced-family time a little more bareable.
A dear friend of mine has a family date night every week with his wife and two children. They have a wheel where they each got to put two of their favorite every-day type restaurants. They added a couple of spinner's choice spaces and that's how they pick where they are going to enjoy their date night meal. They've continued to do a modified version of this during the pandemic, just switching to places that are either doing takeaway or delivery. That's their quarantine indulgance -- and it keeps a sense of normalcy at a time when my friend is working from home, the kids are learning online, and his wife is furloughed. Maybe your indulgance is getting an ice cream cake at the grocery store or renting a first-run movie from your TV. Whatever it is, try to celebrate being together at least once per week.
Most states' stay-at-home orders don't prevent you from going outside, even to public and state parks. Now is a great time to do yard work, plant your garden, wash the outside of your home's windows, or just walk around! For the record, I'm not advocating outside play dates with the neighborhood kids or a pick-up game of basketball at the community courts -- I'm talking activities that get you outside, gets you away from a screen, the couch. and/or the news. A change of landscape could do a world of good. My best friend in NYC has been on lockdown, arguably the strictest in the United States, for about 10 weeks. For those people who have never lived in or visited NYC, it is not designed for staying in your apartment all the time. Trust me. I lived there for eight years. Apartments are small, kitchens are tiny and have appliances and cabinetry that barely will hold enough food for a few meals. There are thousands of restaurants because New Yorkers eat on the run. They are in packed buses and subways multiple times per day. Add to all that activity my very outgoing BFF. Not a good combo. When I asked how she was coping she told me that going out for a run or long walk is what keeps her sane. She said that she trys to go outside -- in full compliance of all NYC regulations -- at least once per day. She keeps those outings purposeful and focused.
Of course, please check your local regulations, follow all precautions, and wear protective equipment -- and only go out if you are not testing positive, waiting for test results, or are immunocompromised.
Find Ways to Help Others - as a Family
My former roommate's wife is not only kind and caring, she's hella crafty, too. They live in New York (state, not city) so their stay-at-home order started a little earlier than most. As soon as the PPE shortages were announced, she started a family production line for cloth masks. Even though she has two teenagers, she was able to get everyone together for a few hours per day to churn out masks and deliver them to local healthcare facilities. Not only were they doing something together, and filling their days with something other than YouTube and Netflix, they were doing their parts to help their community. If sewing isn't your thing, how about volunteering at the food bank or offering to foster an animal to help your local animal shelter? I know a friend who goes on hikes with her family -- and have decided to clean up the trails that they hike each weekend by picking up trash, cleaning up the path ammenities, and moving path hazards.
If all else fails, focus on what you can focus on. I'm a big fan of a checklist (see photo above) that a friend posted on Facebook to keep in line and continue to do as much as I'm capable of right now.