by Amy Neiman, CJFS Intern
Just when I am feeling good about this parenting thing, a pandemic erupts around the world, and I am caught without answers to how the six of us are supposed to live, work, and learn all in the same house for what appears to be weeks on end. I can promise you I did not read one single parenting book to prepare me for this. And yet, here we are starting Week 2 of our social distancing, and we are doing ok. We learned a lot in Week 1 and are tweaking it a bit
1. These times are not “normal,” so do not expect “normal” from anybody. Kids are amazing. Really. They are also incredibly intuitive. Kids feel your stress and sense this is not “normal.” Why are Mom and Dad working from home? What do you mean I don’t have homework? What do you mean I can’t have a playdate with my next-door neighbor? Kids understand something is going on, and it’s not normal. Parents, we cannot expect their behavior to be normal all the time either. Too boisterous? Grumpy attitudes? Needing to cuddle more? These are ways children can express their stress about a situation that isn’t “normal.” And it’s ok. Give the hug. Run around outside if possible, and excuse the grumps, because this will pass.
2. Daytime Schedule – Be realistic!. Some families find it helpful to set a schedule during these days of working and schooling at home. I have a good friend who has each hour set up: Art time, PE time, Free time. I also have a friend who has no schedule whatsoever. In my family, we are a bit in the middle. We have “work” time in the mornings where we all try to accomplish something. It is never as much as I hope, but that is ok. We have to be realistic about the situation we are in. Then we have lunch and free time. We try to have another round of productive time in the later afternoon before dinner. Having guidelines seems to work for us. We also try to be kind to ourselves when our “To-Do” list is not completed as timely as we hoped.
3. Do something fun! We have discovered doing something fun each day helps break up the monotony of being at home. I encourage my kids to join in, but I also recognize they might need some away time. Thus far, they have all participated. We have gone on a hike, watched a movie together, played an old board game, had a fun run around the street, and slid down the hill using cardboard boxes. Tonight, I am encouraging us to create a shareable meme about our current situation. My 11-year-old is most excited about this adventure.
4. Be proactive, not reactive. Many of us are having to do work via Zoom or phone conferences. As soon as I got on the Zoom call with CJFS on Monday, my 9-year-old was wrestling with the dog, under the table where I was sitting. When I finally got up to move, guess what? That’s right. They followed, and I was frustrated. It was then I realized I was being reactive to the situation. I really should have set up expectations for myself, the call, and my kid way before the Zoom call happened. I needed to be proactive. The next time I had a Zoom conference, I had told my daughter I was going to be on a call. She could see what it was like and how it worked, but then I needed her to be occupied. Together, we gathered paper, pens, and several art ideas so she could draw while I was on the call. There was much less wrestling going on during the second call, and now I have a fantastic portrait titled “Mom on Zoom.”
5. Don’t forget about you. As parents, we are very good at putting our children first. We want to assure them things are going to be ok, and one of the best ways to do this is to remember to take care of ourselves. I love having my kids around and my hubby home, most of the time. However, I do look forward to my daily walk around the neighborhood when it is just me and my big dog, Kevin. I can be quiet, and there is not a single question from anybody about food or activities or electronics. It helps to reset my head. I am also a big believer in the 7-4-8 breathing technique. I learned this when working with one of my kids on their anxiety. Breathe in for 7 seconds. Hold for 4 seconds. And breathe out in a big “whoosh” for 8 seconds. Repeat. Another good reset.
This is an incredibly stressful time, but there can be moments of joy when you are surrounded by your family. Find those moments and focus on them. If today was one when you wanted to pull out your hair and you got nothing accomplished, that is ok. Tomorrow is a new day, and you can try again.
For the safety of our staff, clients and the community as a whole, CJFS has suspended all face-to-face services. However our proessional staff is working remotely and our phone system enables us to respond to you quickly during business hours. Call us at 205.879.3438 if you need supportive counseling, at no cost to you, to help manage the stress and anxiety we are all feeling in this uncertain time. We also offer assistance for older adults and vunerable populations for needs such as food and medication. We are here for you!