What does it take to not only survive but to thrive during an extended pandemic? This past week parents are hearing that their children’s schools are going to be online primarily, some hybrid, but mostly children through college students will continue to study online at home through December at least. Whether you are a stay at home parent or work outside of the home, you will be looking at supervising your children’s studies as well as juggling your work, maintaining an extra level of precaution and cleanliness, and dealing with the added stress that each out of the house errand or appointment brings during a pandemic. In addition you have the uncomfortable pressure of saying no to activities that would be usual for your kids but now are risky, such as group gatherings for teens, playgroups for preschoolers, and you need to be the activity director for home activities that can entertain, engage, and satisfy your children for months on end. Sounds exhausting doesn’t it?
As a parent of four children ages 17-26 all living, studying, and working at home, and as a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Director and Owner of San Mateo Child and Family Counseling Center, I am living through and supporting clients with these very issues. What I have found is that it is possible to not only cope, but to enjoy and grow as a family during the pandemic! First, it is important to create a structure for your family which creates a feeling of safety and reduces stress, and this involves setting a schedule and routine for each day. Post a visual schedule of what each person is doing daily, and make sure to leave free time for creativity and relaxation! In addition talk about where each family member physically will do their work or studies. Houses are more crowded now and each person needs to have their own personal zone for work and relaxation. Then re-assign daily and weekly chores for each family member, and write, post them visually, and have people check them off. This reduces stress and constant reminders, and helps college students adjust after leaving their dorms. Also establish a bi-weekly (younger children) or weekly (teens and college ages) family activity time where you play board games, craft, cook, etc. Children of all ages look forward to these times where all family members connect and relax!
Secondly, it is important to develop patience and grit in your children of all ages! During the pandemic it is normal to have feelings of boredom, irritation, and frustration, but we as parents can help our children to dig deep with their minds and with their imagination to what can be discovered here at home. You as parents are homemakers, and before the pandemic even started, have built your home with love, effort, and patience over the years, and what you have built has buried treasure waiting to be discovered! When children express how frustrated they are that they cannot do certain activities outside the home, first validate that frustration, “It is really hard to wait to hang out at the dorm, practice soccer with your teammates, etc.” Then plant a stress reducing, realistic thought that they can substitute, “You can’t practice soccer at the field right now, but you will do it later on.” This realistic thinking helps ground children of all ages and gives them hope. Then you help your children dig deep to develop activities at home that interest and engage them! One of my college age children loves to cook and she started a sourdough starter, and from there was soon cooking dinner every evening for us. Younger children love to plant a garden, take over care of pets, learn to knit, paint, sew, work with wood and build something, etc. Ask your child what would you like to learn at home now that we have time to do it? Older children can re-decorate their room with your help, learn calligraphy, sign language, etc. Teens and college students can volunteer for causes online, take interesting classes they never had time to take, learn an instrument, etc. You will be delighted by the responses you get!
Know that as parents you can do this! You will empathize, listen, learn from your children, but you will also set the structure, boundaries that kids of all ages crave and need. As you are doing these things, make sure to take care of yourselves and ask yourself daily “what do I need today?” Take a bit of time each day for self-care to replenish and relax, so you can be there for yourself, your work, and your children the next morning. We cannot do the activities, trips, vacations that we are all craving, but know that this is OK! We can do these things later when it is safer, and in the meantime there is an immense, endless treasure box waiting to be unlocked, and it is found in your heart and in your home!