Things are different these days. We really didn’t need a blog post to bring that to our attention, huh? Well, don’t worry… This isn’t an “enjoy the blessings in this moment” post or a “suck it up and protect the people around you” post. This is a post for all those parents who are struggling being home with their children and are having a hard time enjoying anything about it. I see you. I don’t blame you. I was you.
This is NOT a judgement. I come from a place of understanding, because I hit a patch of the self-quarantine lifestyle before quarantine was a normal part of our vocabulary. Your life right now is something you never could have seen coming. Even if you heard of it, it’ll never be the same caliber as living it. This was me falling into parenthood. And I say ‘falling’ because it felt like I took a giant dive off a cliff, not knowing if there were sharp rocks or soft pillows on the landing (much like how we are feeling today, no?). My case of postpartum depression left me unable to make sense of anything, let alone my new role and family dynamic. So are you ready for the truth? Because I bet it’ll surprise you.
You have post-normalcy depression.
Listen, it’s 100% appropriate to grieve the state of the current world. It seems we are inundated with graphics depicting the dire situation, the death tolls, the overworked healthcare workers and the system that’s supposed to manage it all. Rightfully so, we need to take strict precautions to stop the spread of Covid-19. As a result, our world has gone into an almost total shutdown, leaving many out of work, students without school, and businesses in a bind.
You have no choice but to feel like you have to be thankful you’re healthy and safe, but you’re also clouded by worries of what’s happened and what’s to come. There’s this uneasy nudging inside you that things are not okay at home. This new state of imbalance between our work (or lack of work) and our kids’ schooling and everybody’s needs has left us gasping for air. The last thing we are able to throw ourselves into is being teachers of our kids while barely managing our own selves. Having kids at home all day makes it feel near impossible to accomplish anything and that’s just the plain truth. Dare I say that some of us actually hate it?
Let’s pause for a second and allow me to put words in your mouth: You don’t hate having your kids at home all day. What you actually hate is the loss of routine and the sense of normalcy you once had. You don’t hate having to school your kids. You hate that you haven’t figured out how to teach them successfully yet while maintaining your own prior work and home life. You don’t hate that they ask for snacks a hundred times a day. You hate that it’s one more thing you have to manage and you wished they would manage it responsibly for themselves.
For some wretched reason, we’ve all come to believe that parenting is mostly instinct. That is a lie. Would anybody dare venture and say that marriage is instinct? Never! In fact, it appears to be widely accepted that marriage takes work. You don’t wake up one morning and just know how to live with another person in your space all day, and expect it to go smoothly.
PARENTING IS NOT INSTINCT. It’s only instinct in the same way that you know to blink and shield your eyes when you see something flying at your face. It gives you zero guidelines for controlling something from ever being thrown at your face again, though. You might know that the general idea of parenting is to help your kids survive which loosely translates to feeding them and sheltering them. You may also hear “just love them,” but even THAT looks different in every family. If there was a formula, I know a lot of authors and a lot of psychologists who would be out of a job for lack material to write about.
Being in a new relationship dynamic takes work no matter what the scenario looks like. You have to take time to understand it. You have to fail at it and try again. You have to develop and foster the relationship with your kids and it takes time. Let’s also not dismiss that your kids need time to adjust, too! They also have to learn to see your family in a new light. You all had just figured out how to do life while they were in school many hours a day and then meeting up for homework and dinner. You all had just figured out how to make it to the extracurricular activities while balancing personal commitments. All of that has to be completely abandoned in this situation and nothing is as it should be or would be.
It took me literal years to understand myself as a wife, then a mom, then as a stay-at-home mom. I doubted myself and my abilities every step of the way and there were many times I wanted to U-turn or dig a deep hole and bury myself in it until it passed. The amount of sheer distress when I realized neither was an option and I just had to keep pressing forward left me tired and drained. I can feel through many statuses I’ve read and memes posted and comments liked and conversations shared that this isn’t too far from how many of you are feeling right now. Can I offer some hope? For the sake of your sanity and theirs, stop expecting yourself to be great at something you’ve literally never done before.
You get to make this whatever you want it to be, but don’t expect it to happen overnight. Everything takes training and time and commitment. I called many of my friends after staying home full time when I had children and cried about how it just wasn’t working. I even confessed a few times that I thought I hated that I had kids. I know that’s completely awful, but they were real feelings because of my uncertainty. (Note the difference: I hated that I had kids, not that I hated my kids.) It guts me now to remember that, because these days it’s the only thing I see myself doing and I love it.
What changed? Did my kids become easier? Did they miraculously become well-behaved, obedient angels? The answer is a resounding NO. I changed. I learned. I prayed my heart out for God to help me and I reached out to my support system. I gave and I took and I experimented until I found something that worked for us. Am I out of that learning phase completely? Absolutely not. Every milestone in their life and ours sends us darting back to the drawing board, and that’s just the story of life. I know this isn’t some groundbreaking news to many of you, and yet, I see lots of people upset that things aren’t going the way they planned, and it’s clouding their path of how to make it better.
So, practically, what do we do? First of all, throw out what you THINK life should look like and focus on what works. You may have in your head an image of each kid sitting calmly before their assignments, completing it mostly independently, and then playing peacefully with one another while you remotely work on your own laptop for a typical work day. Just go ahead and toss that in the trash now. It might end up that way, but not yet. If you think the best and most quality learning happens only in the classroom, you have fallen into a common misconception. I think any of us that have trained for a job know that the best practice is actually doing the job, not learning about how to do the job. Your kids learn a lot from school (praise the teachers!!), but there is SO MUCH LEARNING to be done at home. You tell your kid that you need a zucchini cut into halves or fourths, they’re learning math and then cooking it is chemistry. You go outside together for a walk and notice the texture of the bark on different trees, that’s science. You sit together on the couch and engage in conversation, that’s language arts. You play games together with winners and losers and turn-taking, that’s social-emotional skills.
But since you’re probably going to have to turn in assignments, a more practical approach is frankly, whatever works for your family. I can’t tell you what it looks like for you and that’s kind of the whole point of this post. I can give you ideas of what other people have done and things I’ve tried, though, and you can give it a test run:
- I know some parents have tag-teamed their work where one parent gets a 2 hour uninterrupted work cycle while the other parent helps the kids with their tasks, and they switch.
- If you’re in a situation where there is a single parent at home at any given time, this is going to take kid-training. Set realistic goals with your kids about what they need to accomplish and how much time has to pass before they are allowed to come and ask questions.
- Maybe in your family, it would work if everybody is sitting in the same room together working, fielding questions as they come, but there’s a sense of camaraderie that everyone has something to finish.
- Maybe your kids are pretty independent, but there still needs to be a point of connection which can be over midday dessert and no work is involved– you just sit and chat and catch up. Depending on the age and the personalities of the people in your family, this will obviously take different forms.
- Don’t make them do work every day of the week. Choose 3 or 4 days that are work days and the rest are breaks so nobody is burnt out. Let them help you decide what those days are. 2 of those days don’t have to be the typical “week day,” because time is actually in your favor, believe it or not! Choosing a Saturday might help since you probably won’t be working.
I have no idea if any of this will work for YOU, but you can try. So here’s my sage advice if you’ll take it: Give yourself LOTS and LOTS of grace, but don’t exempt yourself from the work. All these people out there who enjoy the company of their kids didn’t happen upon this feeling. They put in the effort and figured out what would make a beneficial environment for their family. This situation is hopefully temporary but we don’t know just how temporary.
If we are lucky, we won’t just go back to normal. Instead, all the things we will have taken for granted will be our prized possessions and we will guard them with our lives. If you ask me, investing in figuring out your family dynamic is one of those things that you get to keep with you forever! The novelty of having that won’t ever wear off, even long after quarantine is over. So make quality out of quarantine and take this time to see your family for who they really are– the people you love.