New work-life balance fundamentals for coronavirus

Welcome to what is likely to be the “new normal” for a while.  I know–it’s a nightmare.  Everything is suddenly different and as it is, maybe you dread school vacations and breaks.  Now you’re stuck.  How do you deal?  I gotcha covered…

So, suddenly, EVERYONE. IS. HOME.  Sure, your employer has implemented mandatory work-from-home, but the schools have also mandated “remote learning” (insert eyeroll).  How in the H-E-double-hockey-stick do you manage all of THAT?

First things first:

  • Find out what your child’s school is requiring of your children and if there is a required schedule.  Plug that schedule into your family calendar and put the resources in place for that.
  • If your child’s school will require that your children be online for live classes at specific times of day, designate a space in your home for this that is free of distraction and get whatever technology setup is necessary for that.  And test it.  And talk to the kids about what they should do if they can’t see or hear things for class.  You might want to call the school and talk them through the process of having “test sessions” for access because they probably didn’t think of holding makeshift orientation sessions.  Don’t forget–this is a complete shock to their system, too.
  • Find out what your company is doing to accommodate families with homebound children and get those things in place–around whatever your children’s schedule is.  Put any mandatory meetings on your calendar and look for conflicts so that you can start figuring out how to manage things.
  • If your child’s school does not have specific times and days that they will be online, find out what their learning obligations will be and what resources the school will be offering to support that for working parents or parents who are unable to help their children (remember that you may be asking something they didn’t consider–tell them they need to consider it and ask for a person that you should follow up with.  Put that follow-up on your calendar).
  • Whether your child has school obligations or not, read up on building structure for your household so you can maintain your sanity.
  • ORGANIZE.  Knowing what is where in your house is pretty critical to pulling this thing off.  Spend the weekend putting things away, doing laundry, and setting up systems for the week (which might include bulk cooking and/or prepping a week of snacks).

Once you have this information, you can figure out the rest.   First and foremost you need to determine what is and is not acceptable during specific hours of the day.  For instance: you might want to consider when “entertainment” screen time is allowed. Honestly, this shouldn’t be much different than your regular school day just because they’re home.  I get it: you need them to be occupied.

Determine what work can be done at odd/late times and the absolute required times that you cannot be disturbed.  From there, you can create a schedule of time where you can be with them and when you cannot.

For the times you cannot be with them and cannot be disturbed, you need to do two things:

  • A place that is “off limits” for you to work that the kids know cannot be entered unless there is fire, blood or stranger danger.
  • A list of things they can do independently–some that they enjoy and some that are household tasks that just need to be done.  Putting these on index cards or on a paper that can go on the fridge and put magnets next to would work great.

Then you need to have a seriously meeting with them and lay it out.  The adults will have times that they need to work and here are the rules…. So think about the rules:

  • Here’s how you should be keeping yourself occupied during those times
  • Here are the things you are allowed to disturb me for (print a list and put it on the door of whatever room you’re working–your “working room”–so that you are training them)
  • Here’s how to bring a problem to my attention during these times (this should also be posted on the door of your “working room”)
  • Here’s what you absolutely CANNOT do while I’m working (answer the phone/door, play video games, go for a walk… whatever).

You may want to set a timer for your work times to help them manage anxieties over your unavailability and to alert both of you that it’s time to shift.  Be sure to keep to the times and break to check in and connect with your children.  Don’t forget: they’re suddenly much more alone and without direction and supervision.  Some manage this transition easier than others.

Make sure you build in some time to connect with them.  This is different than the time where you make sure they’re on track with assigned tasks or chores.  This is straight up one-on-one time and it only needs to be 10 minutes of dedicated time per child.  This is time where you sit with them and let THEM drive the boat.  Whatever they want to do or talk about.  Period.  I make video games and videos off-limits during this time, but beyond that–they dictate the activity or topic.  The point is to connect and engage.  If they love Minecraft and you hate it, you’ll need to ask a lot of questions to learn and show interest in the things that are laying heavy on their heart.  Even if that’s Minecraft.  Seriously.  It needs to be about them and only them… for 10 full minutes.  You can do it.

If you don’t have time to connect, consider what you can do that can be done in their presence.  Try to configure their activities that can be done on a device or at a table to happen when you can be sitting beside them.  Believe it or not–this matters.  Being WITH you–just in your presence and beside you–can often be a kind of comforting connection.  Don’t disregard this.

Try new things.  Don’t assume it doesn’t matter just because you don’t see it.  We tend not to see the world the way our kids do; and our kids don’t speak our language.

If your child’s school is not mandating specific learning, please–just let it go.  You really may not see the fear your kids are feeling about what’s going on.  They feel your stress levels rise.  They have no idea what a lot of the words floating around mean.  They are keenly aware that a lot of unprecedented things are happening.  They know that this is scary.  The school knows they’re not going to keep up learning–I promise.  I worked there.  The education community assumes you could never do their job and they will be repeating a lot to help the kids get back up to speed–so even if you COULD fill in the gaps, your kids will be in class with those that couldn’t and they’ll be sitting through the replay.  So just let it go unless your kids specifically ask for something.

Instead, let this be a time to exercise the skills that the schools simply CANNOT give enough time and resources to:  creativity.  I cannot emphasize what this does for math and science skills above and beyond what it does for English Language Arts and social science.  Let them do all of the things that they don’t usually get to do.  Have THEM make eggs for breakfast.  Let them paint.  Pull out all of those activities you never got to do with them.  Do puzzles together.  Have them do all of the pre-cooking parts of a recipe and just deal with the mess.  Teach them how to do laundry.  Give them a Lego challenge.  Or a drawing challenge.  Or an in-the-house scavenger hunt (with or without a camera).  You’ll need to exercise YOUR creativity.

And hey–both of my kids LOOOOOVE to clean a window.  What’s that about?  So have them clean a window.  Or 17 of them.

Most of all–make sure you’re managing your stress load and taking care of you.  This is a hard time.  It can be a time that really stresses your household.  It can also be a turning point for your family.  I hope that for you and your children.  Deep, deep breaths, mama.  Deep breaths.

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