We are living through an unusual time right now in our nation and throughout the world. With the threat of the Coronavirus and many people being forced to stay at home, it requires an unexpected change of pace and routine. Though many are probably finding themselves experiencing an unwanted, unpaid vacation, hopefully most are either working from home or being compensated for the time they need to spend away from work.
As a stay-at-home mom, I have some—well, a lot of—experience with spending my time inside of the house. Perhaps I can offer some pointers for the working parents who suddenly find themselves at home all day, every day.
Of course, if you fall into the category of being single, or you are married but don’t yet have children, or your children have moved away, congratulations! You can watch what you want to watch, play what you want to play, and read (or write) what you want to read (or write). Those who are working can work in peace. Sure, your spouse or roommates might be home as well, but you’re both or all adults and can choose not to distract each other. If you can’t handle it, it’s all on you.
But maybe you’re like my husband Brett, who was sent home last week with a laptop. As the breadwinner in our family, we’re glad that he’s still able to work. The best option for anyone in this situation is to find a quiet place in your home to set up your “office.” If you already have a dedicated office space, perfect! But if you live in an apartment and a dedicated office isn’t an option, you’ll need to get creative. Setting up in a high-traffic area is not going to work. You’ll be interrupted every time someone passes through—especially your children. And your spouse might not be able to resist talking to an adult for once. I’ve had to resist the temptation to burst into the room at tell Brett the story I just saw on the news, or the joke I just read on social media, or how much I’m struggling with a sick child. (Well, maybe I did do that last one. But I didn’t expect him to jump in and help.)
Commandeer a quiet room, close (and lock, if you can) the door, and pretend you’ve made the commute to your real office. When you hear crying, shouting, laughing, or screaming from elsewhere in the apartment, imagine it’s the sound of wildlife outside your window. It will stop. Your stay-at-home spouse knows what she or he is doing. We handle it when you aren’t at home and we can handle it when you’re working from home.
For some of you, you might have found yourself with an expected vacation. I reiterate: if this is you, I sincerely hope you’re being financially compensated for your trouble. As a new stay-at-home parent, you might have no idea what is expected of you. If you think that you will be able to spend your time as if you were single or married without children at home (see above), think again. Your spouse deserves a hand with the children. She or he is probably resisting the urge to dump the children on you so that she or he can hide in a locked room, writing the next great global sensation, or reading all of the books on her or his to-read list, or painting a masterpiece. Or even just imagining life isn’t crazy and hectic and overwhelming.
You’ve likely seen ideas on social media for science experiments, games to play with your kids, activities like indoor campouts or art projects or storytime. Try them. The time spent connecting with your kids will be time you cherish.
But if you find yourself burning out and unable to do these activities all the time, it’s OK. When I told my counselor that I thought I could play blocks with my kids for an hour, her response was: “Wow. I don’t even think that I could play for that long.”
For the most part, children have more energy than adults. Their interests and attention spans are different. You can play with them for a while, then take a break and let them play by themselves. Just be ready to set down your book to prepare a snack, or stop a household chore to get a glass of water, or drop everything to change a dirty diaper.
Some days in my house, I have the energy to make a craft out of construction paper and toilet paper rolls. (Don’t worry, they’re empty. I’m not wasteful, especially in this time of scarcity.) I have the patience to let the kids help me mix cookie dough and the generosity to let one of them lick the spoon. I have the desire to pull out the workbooks and help them learn their letters and numbers and reasoning skills.
Other days, I just can’t do it. I let them watch Frozen or Frozen II for the 50th time. I ask them to color in their coloring books or notebooks. I allow them to play computer games while I watch a true crime show. Sometimes I feel guilty. Other times, I realize that it’s OK for me to take some time for myself. I try to make sure that we’re all getting a good balance in activities throughout the day. The important thing is that they know I’m there for them—taking care of them when they’re hurt or helping them when they have a problem or allowing them to read to me, even if I’d rather be reading my own book.
So, if you’ve unexpectedly found yourself at home all day, every day, just remember this: You’re not alone. Others are in the same situation, and we support you. Don’t worry. We’ll get through this.