My wife and I work at home. Every. Damn. Day.
We’ve had that part figured out for the last 15 years.
But you know who doesn’t “work” at home? Our two kids, who are ages eight and 10. Normally they are in school each day. Except that now, like you, my wife and I find that our children are now at home during our office hours—and they aren’t great co-workers.
They bicker. They whine. They have (many) needs. Now, they’re also a great source of love and joy—which is much needed in the time of the coronavirus—but those factors are often hard to reconcile with a daily adult to-do list.
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Like most families, the Mohr family is trying to find some sense of normalcy. And there has to be normalcy, because at least according to the reports, this forced togetherness isn’t going to be ending any time soon.
Luckily, my wife and I have been here before, just on different terms. One (or both!) of our daughters has had to stay home sick from school while we were both on deadline. We’ve experienced teacher in-service days. And then there’s a little thing called summer break that we’ve had to navigate each year they’ve been in school.
Those instances are not like the COVID-19 crisis in any way except that we, as a family, have to balance our family life and our work life. And, as we’ve found, it’s possible.
You just have to follow a few basic rules.
Create a Schedule Together
Because my wife and I do not home-school our kids, we are not tremendously skilled in creating a school day. And even though we both have our Ph.D.s, a family schedule is a heck of an undertaking.
That’s why we made family schedules a family thing. (Plus, no one likes a dictator and the “trust us, we’re doctors” joke got old after the second time we told it to our kids.)
So early on in self-quarantine we sat down with the kids and created a schedule we could all live by. Here’s what it looks like:
In short: structure, plus some flexibility.
We were a bit aggressive and over-scheduled at first. Now we have this daily schedule instead that’s been working thus far. And if it doesn’t? We’ll iterate and work on what does.
We don’t follow this to the minute exactly, but we’ve learned our kids love the structure and just like when they are at school, need some sense of routine and consistency each day.
We have our children help us with a schedule of meals. They can prep what they can, figure out recipe ideas, and use up what we have in the pantry, freezer, etc., because we’re barely going to the stores.
It’s fun. It’s nourishing. And it takes place away from any computer, smartphone, or television screen. Plus, we get to eat the results.
On our daily schedule we now have the kids contributing more than ever to the daily chores. They have always been in charge of dinner clean-up, but now, because more of us are contributing to the mess in our home all day long, we’ve added to their chore list.
The first week we cleaned the first floor of our house. The second week we all did the second. Now we’ll alternative each week.
Together, Create Time To Be Apart
We needed to be honest and direct with each other and our kids: We were all feeling ungrounded as life as we knew it was coming to a screeching halt.
We talked about what the new reality could look like at dinner the first night and how hard it was. When my wife asked our 10-year-old what scares her the most about all of this, she replied: “That well spend the next 21 days talking to each other the way we did today.” It stung.
And that’s when we realized, togetherness is great, but too much togetherness can cause a civil war. Each of us needed time to be alone, to not be scheduled, to do what we needed and to feel whatever it was that we were feeling.
For us, it means some quiet time in the office where no one can bother the other (kids or adults) or maybe a walk outside alone. Our kids need the same.
Everyone needs space for themselves—away from anyone else and the noise of the world.
The Bottom Line
I’m not saying our schedule is the best or will work for you.
What I do know is that building our schedule, and following through with it, is certainly bringing us together.
We’re learning to be more creative, spending more time actually together as a family instead of constantly distracted, and we’re regularly Facetiming friends we haven’t before. We talk more to our extended family, as we check in on each other. And to be honest, it’s really nice.
While this situation is strange, uncertain, and admittedly scary, there’s something to be said about all of the above. We’re all moving our bodies more than ever—kids included. We let them bring basketballs to dribble while we do family walks (they need to be entertained too). We see neighbors on the regular who we don’t normally see (from across the street, of course). And we’re playing together, talking through our experience, and our understanding of it as we go.
While I don’t hope this becomes the new normal, I can see how we are growing from the experience. And you can too. Have conversations you don’t normally have. Take advantage of this time to learn something new (even if it’s as simple as cooking a new recipe). Try to learn something about a friend or family member that you didn’t know before. We’re in this together and we’ll all grow together.
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