It didn’t necessarily come out of nowhere, but I will say one day my kids were in school and blissfully unaware of the viral-filled world around them and the next they wouldn’t see their classmates or teachers for the rest of the school year. It was Friday, March 13. My middle schooler stayed after school for a St. Patrick’s Day dance. The preschooler was one of 5 kids in his class that Friday, which he noted was odd.
Then it all fell apart, and I was suddenly in charge of them all day, every day, for 4+ months straight. There was no asking the grandparents to come over and watch them so I could catch my breath. There was no playdate kid swaps with friends. Playgrounds were shuttered.
America is still struggling to pull itself out of this virus mess. Schools are announcing they will start the new year remotely to avoid risking the health of their staff and communities. Meanwhile parents are struggling.
Let me say that again for the folks in the back: PARENTS ARE STRUGGLING.
It isn’t that we hate our kids. We love them. But this is like that weeklong vacation to a secluded cabin in the mountains, only the road collapsed in the rains and there’s no escape. You’ve played all the board games. You’ve watched every program on Hulu, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video. You’ve hiked every trail that was open within an hour’s drive.
There is one thing kids thrive on, and it is structure. So while the color coded daily schedule posters probably went in the garbage after Week 1, the one saving grace for our family and our mental health is the idea of specific events happening daily. They may not be at the exact same time and they may not look exactly the same each day, but knowing that element of the day will be there brings comfort and stability to an otherwise uncontrollable world.
Here are a few of the things we built in to each day:
- Quiet Time
Quiet time can be a nap. It can be reading a book or playing by yourself in your own room. Quiet time is 1.5 hours every single day in which everyone goes to their own space and does what they please. Not only does it give parents a break from being on duty, but it allows kids to be bored and have to come up with their own entertainment.
- Bed Time
Kids thrive on sleep. They may say they want to stay up late and sleep in, but well-rested kids are more emotionally stable and able to make good decisions. The under-8 crowd is lights-out by 8:30 p.m. each night and wakes around 7 a.m. The tween crowd is lights out by 9 p.m. and wakes around 8 a.m.
- Personal Hygiene is Required
It is easy for kids to skip doing all the “get ready for school” steps when school is at the dining room table. We made it an expectation that teeth will be brushed, hair will be combed and fresh undies will be worn.
- Lunch is a Picnic
We spread out a blanket and eat lunch in the floor of our living room each day while we watch TV together. Dad is at work and the kids enjoy the casual atmosphere.
- Screens must be Requested
It is easy to default to screens when there is no one else to interact with. However text messaging devices are in the control of parents at all times, with the expectation that we may review conversations at any time. TV and streaming devices must have permission before use. Video games usually require a chore of some sort before play.
I’m still not sure what this school year will look like. In the meantime I’m taking some of this quality time with my kids to be sure they have the emotional skills they’ll need into adulthood, as well as some of the domestic skills they may have otherwise never fully grasped.