Empowering people to live bravely and authentically

COVID-19 Social Distancing:  Challenges and Opportunities for Parenting Part 3

COVID-19 Social Distancing:  Challenges and Opportunities for Parenting Part 3

The spread of COVID has created a rapidly evolving situation that has drastically changed our daily lives and made planning for the immediate future both more important and harder. In Part 1 of this post, I talked about how to cope with the stress of this situation, as well as how to talk to your children about COVID and help them process their emotional reactions. In Part 2, I discussed some practical advice about how to balance work with tending to children 24 hours per day 7 days per week. In this part, I will be discussing how to make the most of this opportunity. Making the most of this opportunity will not cause this pandemic to go away any faster. It will not relieve financial burdens. But, it will help you weather this storm with less stress and less anxiety. And, it might give you an opportunity to slow down or to make some changes to your life or lifestyle that you’ve been postponing.

The Opportunity to Slow Down

In the hustle and bustle of usual life, people often complain to me (and I have the same complaint) of not enough quality time with their family.  Social distancing is both requiring and allowing us the opportunity to make more quality time.  I had a set of parents this week tell me how the whole family seemed to be more at ease with each other as the stress of getting to school, getting different kids to activities, figuring out who would get home from work in time to relieve the babysitter, etc. – all of that stress has been lifted.  Instead, we can, if we let ourselves, slow some of the pace of our lives and pay attention to the little moments, the small experiences, the humorous thing said, the warm smile… – all the small pleasures that can be so important in our family lives.

Children, especially younger ones, do benefit a great deal from unstructured play time.  This is the opportunity to build forts out of couch cushions, pretend that you are pirates taking over another ship, or play the hero or villain in a swashbuckling adventure.  In short, children may benefit from some time engaging with themselves, each other, and their parents in imaginary play.

For many, it is helpful to journal to make more of a habit of paying attention to and valuing simpler connective experiences in our daily life.  You might start a gratitude journal, either individually or as a family.  Write three things down each day that you are thankful for about your family that day.  Be specific.  You can also make it a family exercise to share at the dinner table.  This is one of the ways to help you look at what you appreciate and value about each other (instead of focusing as much on what you struggle with about each other).

Keeping Up Appearances (Sort Of)

As I mentioned in Part 2, it is easy to allow the work day bleed into family time, let chore time bleed into work time, and let each day bleed into the next. It’s also easy to flop on the couch and let Netflix rule family time. Avoid these temptations. Instead, make a schedule for yourself to distinguish between work time, chore time, alone time, and family time. Also make a schedule for your kids, so that your family time aligns and your respective alone times align.

While it is OK to wake up a little later to ensure you are getting plenty of rest, don’t let yourself get too far off schedule. Go to bed within 30-60 minutes of your normal bedtime. Wake up 7-9 hours later. That might mean you are sleeping in a bit later than you normally do, and that’s OK. Many Americans are sleep deprived. Use this time to catch up on sleep, especially because sleep will help alleviate the harm the increased stress does to your body.

Maintain good hygiene, but feel free to skip the hassles. Wake up and brush your teeth, take a shower, and get dressed as if you were going to work.  But, don’t worry about putting on work clothes unless you will be on a video conference call or unless you need them to get into the work mindset. Enjoy not having to put on a tie while you can and opt instead of a clean, comfortable outfit. If you enjoy putting on makeup, keep doing it. But, if you resent putting on makeup, skip it while you are at home.

Keep consistent meal times. Consistent meal times will help you maintain a consistent bedtime. It will help you avoid gaining weight from snacking too frequently. It will help your metabolism stay on track because your body will know when its next meal is coming. It will also provide an opportunity for everyone in your family to come together at a designated time. Just remember, because you are eating at home, you will need to plan time to cook your meals.

Start A Good Habit

Without going to work and running daily errands, you’re going to save your commute time. Without socializing outside of the home, you might end up with a lot more time on your hands. Use this extra time to start a good habit that you’ve been postponing.

For example, you could start an exercise routine. Go for a walk around the block every day, do some push ups or squats. Run up and down the stairs of your house. Do an online yoga program. (My family loves Leslie Fightmaster’s yoga programs.)

If you already exercise regularly, pick a different new habit. Maybe you want to start each day making your bed after you shower and dress. Or perhaps you want to tidy up the house after dinner. Maybe you want to eat more fresh fruits or vegetables before each meal (there are plenty that last, even in a crisis).  Maybe you don’t floss as frequently as you should and want to make that a more regular habit. Maybe you want to become more politically active or more informed about current events. Whatever you decide to start, now is a good time to begin the habit. But don’t overdo it. Pick one new habit to form and make sure it is second nature before taking on a new habit. Creating new habits is never easy, but taking advantage of this social distancing time could help you focus on a new habit and stick to it.

Family Time

Social distancing means staying home 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. You can go on walks around the neighborhood, provided you keep your distance from other people who are outside. But, you will spend more time with your family than you might ever have, at least since your children were newborns. The time together could be a blessing, but it could also turn into a nightmare.

As I mentioned in Part 2, it will be important to stick to schedules. Before you make a schedule, however, it is a good idea to sit down as a family and talk about work requirements, school requirements, and also how each family member wants to spend this time. For example, kids might find that they want to connect with friends via social media, group gaming, or old fashioned phone calls.  Teens might want a few hours of alone time each day. Some schools have already instituted online learning, but if your school district hasn’t, you might establish some education activity your kids will do each day in lieu of school. With time away from school, it’s also fair for older kids to pick up a few more chores around the house. It is important to discuss each person’s wants and needs to be able to set reasonable expectations, to make the most of your time, and to structure family time.

When discussing family time, it’s important to discuss when family time will happen and what you will do during family time. For example, will you start eating all three meals together? If so, what will each person’s role be in preparing the meal? What time will you be eating together?  If you decide to spend evenings as family time, will you be watching TV, playing board games, working on a puzzle together, or doing something else together as a family?  The more you lay out what to expect and when to do it, the more smoothly this time will likely go.

Now can also be a good time to start a home improvement project together that benefits the entire family. For example, you could revamp your TV room or make a teen hangout room. If the family likes gardening, you could start a garden together. Just make sure that any project you start is something everyone is interested in doing and that it can get done in the next 2 months.

Cooking Meals as a Family

For many American families, cooking is the job someone does while everyone is doing sports, chores, homework, or other things that makes our lives busy. Or, we rely on restaurants and fast food for quick meals on-the-go. With restaurants closed and people having to rely on more shelf-stable or freezer-stable items, now is a great time to move away from the grab-and-go foods that so many Americans feel forced to eat to make time for our busy lives. Without the demands of school and sports and socializing, social distancing creates an opportunity to start cooking meals together as a family.

One way to engage the family in meal preparations is to have each person pick a meal for the week. Meal planning can also be a good time to teach kids about nutrition. For example, we don’t eat rice and pasta and potatoes at the same meal because they are all starches. So we can use this time to help guide children to create healthy meal plans themselves. Some kids can come up with menu options all by themselves. Other kids might need to pick from options to avoid suggestions of Fluffer-Nutter sandwiches for dinner. For example, you can ask, “what starch or grain should we eat? What protein should we pair it with?  Pick one green vegetable and one red vegetable for us to eat on Wednesday.”  By giving kids a choice, they will have an investment in that meal. By giving each person a turn, there’s more understanding that we have to eat the foods that other people picked on days when it isn’t our turn to pick.

Many families are going to be facing budget issues during this period of social isolation. The resource section has links for people who need food donations. For those of us who are tightening our belts, however, now can be a good time to evaluate our food choices. For example, bulk oatmeal is a lot less expensive than packaged oatmeal and much more affordable than single-serve oatmeal packages. It takes more time to cook, but while home, many of us will have more time for cooking. Many of the most affordable foods, like rice and beans, are also shelf-stable, so you can buy in bulk to reduce cost even further, and you don’t have to spend money on energy costs to maintain them.

You can introduce your kids to nutrition and budgeting lessons when you are preparing food, too.  For example, you can talk about the affordability of rice versus pasta versus prepared pastas. Just be sure to do so in a way that focuses on the educational lessons they will need to know when they are on their own rather than the short-term crisis.

As you cook meals, give a role to each person. For example, one person can wash the vegetables and set the table. Another person can cut the vegetables and clear the table. Another person will do the actual cooking, but it will go a lot faster for the cook of the family with everyone pitching in.

Family cooking is a great way to show kids just how much work cooking takes. You can introduce your kids to family recipes and how to cook them. And, most of all, you will teach your kids how to cook.

This pandemic is stressful on everyone, kids included. However, if we create together time that is structured and positively focused on a goal, then we can distract our kids from the scary outside world and refocus on family and food.

Have Fun

It is important to make time for fun every day, but especially during this crisis.  In our culture that focuses so much on productivity, fun and play get a bad rap as frivolous, or at best, a low priority activity to get to if you get all of your work done.  But as a colleague says, fun is like a vitamin that we need every day.  Plenty of research supports the idea that fun and play engage us creatively in the moment, which boosts experiences of happiness and serves as a natural antidote to anxiety and depression (that often have us focusing on negative outcomes in the future or the past).  Fun is good medicine for you and your whole family.

Fun does not have to cost money. Play a board game or a card game. Play hide and seek. Tell a round-robin story. Try to include some activity in your fun time. Take a walk around the block. Have a dance party.

Make sure that your fun includes activities that are fun for everyone in the family. If the family doesn’t enjoy the same activities, rotate who gets to pick the activity. Then, each person can be committed to the activity that day knowing that a different day, the activity will be of their choosing.

Connect with The Larger Community

There are news stories about people in Greece and India walking outside at 5 PM or 9 PM and clapping to show support for the healthcare workers who are still going to work.  Or check out this video of people clapping for nurses and other healthcare workers at the change of shift near a hospital in Atlanta.   It’s a great way to connect with your community without interacting with your community. And, don’t just clap for the health care workers. Clap for the grocery store workers, pharmacy workers, police, fire fighters, and national guardsmen who are also working through this crisis. Whether these workers hear you or not, it will feel good to connect mentally and emotionally to your community during this period or social isolation.

Be Thoughtful & Forgiving

Because of the heightened stress, it is even more important to be mindful of what you say and how you say it. Try to avoid hot button topics. Try not to fall into patterns of behavior or communication that hurt members of your family.  And part of that may involve lowering your expectations of other people in your family, so that you can focus more communication on what we need and how to support one another, and less on criticizing what other family members did or didn’t do.

At the same time, be forgiving. Practice some radical acceptance and practice giving each other the benefit of the doubt.  Everyone will be a little more on edge. And that means each person will have fewer resources to commit to being thoughtful. When someone is thoughtless or rude, try to let it go. If you do feel the need to address it, do so in a way that gives them an opportunity to apologize. For example, you might say, “Hey, I know we are all stressed. I’d appreciate it if you would use a more compassionate tone with me.”

I hope that this series of blogs will help you make the best (or more appropriately the “good enough”) for your family out of this highly stressful time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Please share your comments and thoughts below about what you are experiencing, what you are struggling with, and what’s working for you.

4809 St. Elmo Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814

(240) 205-4677

Got Questions?
Send a Message!

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.