My jaw dropped when I read the email from my kids’ school announcing that school would close for weeks due to the novel coronavirus pandemic….wait, what? Just thinking of the massive disruption that would cause in our day to day lives created a knot in my stomach, but while my daughter fretted over her canceled school camping trip, I reminded her that at least we’d still have her neighborhood soccer practices and games as a healthy distraction. Then, my phone pinged with a new message announcing the cancellation of the soccer season. Uggh!
As the hours passed on that day, organization after organization (national and local) announced they were closing for several weeks (or longer). Arguably, the country was taking a massive, simultaneous time-out in a drastic attempt to combat the virus causing the COVID-19 disease. Indeed, our life would fundamentally and drastically change – for an undetermined amount of time. While I understood the compelling public health rationale and felt fortunate for our health, in that moment as a working mom, the news felt like a real gut punch.
As an admittedly Type-A personality, I absolutely thrive on routine and structure. While I understood the logic behind making the short-term sacrifice for long-term benefit, the level of anticipated lifestyle change felt jarring, to say the least. As a corporate trainer, I’ve often taught the five stages of change acceptance (based on the Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle), and I seemed to move through all five stages in a matter of just minutes. My mental dialogue sounded like this.
- Denial – “This can’t be happening. Schools can’t really be closing. Maybe I misunderstood the email.”
- Anger – “Shaun can’t stay home with the kids, so I guess this will all fall on me.”
- Bargaining – “Well, maybe the camping trip could still be an option since if it’s offsite?”
- Grief – “The kids are so dejected and don’t do well when they’re cooped up at home. This is going to be miserable.”
- Acceptance – “We can do this. We’re so much more fortunate than most, and this move will make everyone safer in the long run. This could be an opportunity to do something really different and unique with the kids. On my death bed, I’ll probably remember these few weeks, so I need to make them productive and fun (and safe).”
Only a few short days out from the announcement, I’m certainly still processing the seismic shift about to take place in our lifestyle and society more broadly. While I admittedly still have more questions than answers, I know that a key to a functional household for us is some level of routine and structure. So, during these first few days, I’ve given serious thought to how we’ll approach our daily life differently – what actions we’ll take and rituals we’ll use to structure our day and embrace our “new normal.” Here are a few initial ideas of how we’ll encourage a healthy transition to a new normal.
- Although I’ve generally avoided working on Saturdays/Sundays, I’ll shift my work schedule to work a few hours over the weekend when my husband is home to free up more of my weekday time while the kids are home.
- As a family, we’ll talk proactively about how our life will change, what a new day will look like, and how we can make the changes without driving each other crazy.
- We’ll take time to check in with the kids to hear their feedback, concerns, and ideas.
- We’ll use online learning platforms like Prodigy and Khan Academy to encourage more learning time and spend time playing in the backyard to limit screen time.
We also defined some daily rituals/ground rules to help encourage a positive attitude and healthy environment. We all signed it to show commitment.
This is new territory for virtually all working parents and since each family is different, there’s certainly no one size fits all solution. So here are a variety of ideas from other real parents struggling to adjust to their new normal.
Melanie Frenkel (Carlsbad, CA), co-founder of Signature Green PR, mom of one
- I think the most important thing for kids to have at any age is a routine. In our house, we are trying our best to stick to our regular routines for school, activities and meal times so we all stay on track.
- I’ve already set up a work station and schedule for my daughter. Her school district is in the process of setting up online school during school hours. If that doesn’t happen then I’ll make sure she has certain learning hours (with the same lunchtime and snack breaks she typically gets at school). We’ll make sure she has things to do during these school hours to keep her busy. After school, she will still stick to her after school activities schedule. For example, her dance studio is setting up online classes. She will also still be able to participate in one-on-one piano lessons so we’ll continue to do these online or in person.
- There are so many other things we have an opportunity to do with our kids at this time that we don’t necessarily have time for when we’re constantly on the go. As frustrating as it may be to feel socially distanced from others, it’s actually a great opportunity for us to focus on our families and spend quality time with our kids doing things we can’t necessarily do every day, like preparing all our meals together and having more conversations or working out together as a family, playing board games and doing crafts together. These types of activities keep all of us mentally and physically stimulated.
Stefanie Agusta (Atlanta, GA) – Mom of two
- Depending on public health warnings, we may go to my parents at some point since they live at the beach with a lot of outdoor activity options to enjoy.
- We’ll enjoy some family game nights in the evening since evenings are freed up from homework and canceled activities.
- As a substitute for school PE time, we may go for a hike on Stone Mountain or Sweet Water trails (flowers are blooming).
Raquel Tillman (Charlotte, NC) – Owner, Tillman Insurance Advisors, and mom of two
- I am trying to keep things as much the same as possible. The kids will get up close to the time they normally do, and we are keeping their bedtime close to the same.
- My husband and I are making sure we continue to work out individually and make sure the kids get exercise play too. We want to make sure we all don’t just sit, watch tv, play video games and have too much screen time. If so, we’ll snack and overeat. So, I see walks and hikes (weather permitting) in the next coming weeks just to avoid going stir crazy.
While parents will be understandably focused on the care of kids and household management during this time of rampant school closures, many also face the very real challenge of needing to continue to get work done and be productive during the day. Executive Coach and Founder of Next Pivot Point, Julie Kratz shares practical recommendations for how to telework productively even with kids at home during the day.
- Identify a quiet space to work and use a sign (or another visible signal) to signify when you’re on a call and shouldn’t be interrupted.
- Set a timer to remind yourself to get up and move around every hour for at least 5-10 minutes – a great window of time to spend with kids if they are home too.
- If you have downtime (while kids are doing online learning for example), reading, podcasts or virtual professional development are great ways to continue to hone your craft and keep your brain engaged.
Admittedly, this is new territory for everyone and no one has all the “right” answers. Parents with very young children will face unique challenges, and each family must navigate their own path, “rules” and processes. Certainly, everyone should continue to seek advice from trusted public health sources like the CDC website and also heed warnings from local officials before adopting any course of action.
The truth is that work and school often define the daily structure for most working parents and with that structure either removed or drastically changed for the foreseeable future, parents are faced with the challenge of stepping up to redefine what a productive day looks like in this new normal. Certainly, public health safety is the paramount concern and while it’s a bummer to be forced to socially distance for an undetermined length of time, there are certainly ways to take advantage of this time as a unique opportunity to learn differently, connect with one another on a deeper level and find creative ways to experience the day.
This article was written by Dana Brownlee from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.