In our home, we’re moving away from assigned chores since I read Hunt, Gather, Parent by Michaeleen Doucleff. We’ve done so as we focus on the social aspect of household duties. Instead of telling my teen he’s in charge of trash every day and getting mad when I have to remind him many times, I’ve shifted the language to: “Let’s clean the kitchen together.” while I begin, signaling we’re doing this now. He’s still taking the trash out and more, but now we have the benefit of us talking and laughing, listening to his music all throughout.
What I learned from the Mayan families in the book is that when a child is given specific solo tasks, they internalize that those are the only tasks that they are required to do. They won’t do more until instructed because they haven’t see it as their role. Because they’re told to do that task, they don’t grow the mental processes to figure out what needs to be done or to remember to do it. If their only cue to do something is to be told, they aren’t learning a way to remember.
Watching my family members’ attitudes toward chores change has been a rewarding experience that has allowed me to complete more tasks, run my home more smoothly, and leave me more fulfilled.
Around 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve 2021, three sheets to the wind on top shelf champagne, I wrote a blog post setting the intention for 2022: the year of ‘less.’
I can’t say I defined ‘less’ well in the moment or if I knew as I made the proclamation what exactly I needed less of. Sure, I need to get rid of the items that crowd my basement, but that wasn’t it. I knew I was overwhelmed and exhausted and I had been overwhelmed and exhausted for as long as I can trace back. Whether or not I could put my finger on it, I knew there was “too much” and I was tired of the rat race, tired of the self-imposed struggle, tired of striving to be everything to everyone and be the best. It was time for less.
I was dismayed to learn of Bob Saget’s passing. I grew up fatherless and his role as Danny Tanner on Full House was important: it showed single parenthood as “normal” and nothing to be ashamed of. For thirty minute segments, he stepped in as a positive father figure where I had none. This feeling was so engrained in me that the first time my husband sat down with our oldest son when he was upset to have a heart-to-heart my first thought was, “Huh, like Danny Tanner,” and my second was, “Oh, like a dad.”
In November 2019, I was processing my childhood traumas and the complicated relationship I have with my parents when I wrote a poem that referenced this. I figured now is as good of a time as ever to share it with others.
I went digging through old journals to uncover what the intention was for this year and I came across something dorky that’s better left private (but champagne is now involved, so no holds barred): “2020 was the year of mental health, 2021 will be the year of the glow up.” 🤓
Day 42. I feel surprisingly good. I have a thing about limbo. I love the game (I’m under 5 feet tall, I always win) but I can’t stand the feeling. Can’t stand the in-between. It was a huge struggle for me when we moved across the country. I wasn’t sure if we were moving, where we would move to, when our first house would sell. It was similarly difficult when we had sold our second house and were waiting to move into the home we’re in now. I’m adaptable. I can handle what is thrown at me. But waiting for the pitch, I get impatient.
Spent week three of social distancing trying not to succumb to despair. Hope feels like a distant memory, but I have to remember that any moment in time is just as fleeting as spring-it comes, it blooms, it withers, and new things are on the horizon.
I don’t have a lot of hope for what’s happening, what will happen next or after that. Dark times are here and more are following. But in dark times there are still bright moments. You find something someone else planted, years before you, in your own backyard. For brief moments, your home feels just like home, not the fortress from fear of what surrounds us. There is still sunshine, flowers, food in the pantry, and love even in a world full of sickness, death, greed and corruption.
Positive thinking and self care won’t cure the hurt I feel for the outside world, but as I go through this fourth week of #quarantine, I’ll try to shift my focus to the moments right in front of me.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world, and local governments are pushing to slow the virus’ spread by encouraging social distancing and enforcing shutdowns of schools and nonessential businesses. People have been told repeatedly that they must stay home. In teens’ terms: everyone is grounded.
I’ve come across a lot of suggestions for activities to do with your young children while we stay at home during social distancing. But what about our older children? This necessary step of slowing spread of the virus during trying times looks exactly like their worst kind of punishment, but they did nothing wrong.
School is more than academics. It’s where young people explore new topics, an experimental zone of learning what interests you. It’s about finding a love of learning and socializing with people who laugh at the same things you do and who you can tell things you’re starting to not want to tell your parents. Middle school and high school are about exploring your identity outside of your nuclear family, and most of this is done through the way a tween or teen interacts with their peers. How are our children going to navigate this complicated time in their lives without traditional social interaction? Even if our kids stay caught up with their academic lessons, what of life lessons?
Maintain Screen Time Rules. Yes, even thoughthere’s a pandemic going on.
Screen time is a hot topic in parenting circles. Most parents feel like they’re allowing too much screen time, even if they know that their child is allotted significantly less than their peers. If you’re concerned about screen time at all and its effects on the developing brain, it always feels like the kids are getting too much.
Right now, I kind of wish someone would limit my screen time. I’m having a hard time pulling away from the constant news cycle warning us of what is to come and bringing awareness to our failed systems. Less screen time for your teen means less opportunity to consume information about devastation and doom. Boundaries are gifts to your children, as it’ll help them create their own boundaries as they grow older.
If you’re overwhelmed by caring for your young children for far more hours a day than you’re used to, I get wanting to flip the TV on. But a teen or tween has already had years to get used to the screen time rules you have in place and is well aware of alternatives. Let them do the alternatives, and stay in line with your values and standards. They’re already in front of a screen through the duration of their school day, do you really want older children vegging out in front of the TV all evening while the adults make three meals and clean up after them? Speaking of, you should probably…
Assign More Chores During Coronavirus Quarantine
Okay, I know I sound like THE WORST right now. No additional screen time AND more chores? You may be thinking, ‘I thought we weren’t supposed to be punishing them when they’ve done nothing wrong?’
You’re not. Do you punish yourself every night for making dinner by doing the dishes? Is your husband punishing himself for wearing too many clothes whenever he does the laundry? No! Chores and responsibilities are not punishments, they are a part of living. The more time spent at the house, the more tasks that become necessary for someone to do. That should not be shifted only to the parents.
It’s not just a matter of needing more help. For well being, people need a balance of activities that give them feelings of pleasure, closeness and achievement. Without extra curricular activities, the most opportunity your teen (or tween) has for feeling accomplished is by finishing another day of mounds of classwork without the added social benefit. Think of giving more chores to your quaran-teen as a gift to both parents and kids alike.
Emphasize the Need for Collaboration during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The only way that your teen won’t feel like they’re being punished in this process is by having a conversation about collaboration.
Talk to them about individuals doing what’s best for the team. Is that something they value? Can they think of ways that they’ve experienced this at school, in sports, or in their friend group? What about choices that were made within your community?
Once they’ve acknowledged the importance of collaboration, bring it home. Everyone is making sacrifices right now. People are losing their jobs, people are getting sick, and people are missing out. So it’s more important now than ever to work as a team.
Connect with your Teen
Teens have a reputation for holing themselves up in their room and ignoring the family. Because they have less access to their friends, it’s more important than ever to bridge the gap between you and your teen.
Think of things to do together. Let their interest be your guide. Watch a movie they’ve been wanting to see this weekend, play a game they like, or cook a favorite dish with them.
Think about your child’s love language. Have you been nourishing that in a way that makes them feel connected? Now is the time.
Acknowledge Feelings and Practice Gratitude with your Teen During the Pandemic
Teenagers also have a reputation for selfishness. Their brains are working differently than adults, so it definitely may look like a character flaw, but it’s not outside of the norm. When you discuss the negatives of this scary time, you find some hope and gratitude. If you’re reading this, you both are alive. That’s a start, build off of that.
Encourage Frequent Video Chats with Friends During Social Distancing
This is where I’m willing to make adjustments for screen time. I don’t need to tell you why relationships are important, or how essential connection is for mental health, but I did have to remind my middle schooler MANY times to download a platform he could use to stay in touch with his friends. If your child did most of their socializing at the school and less-so on the phone, you might have to push it for a while to make it happen.
I don’t generally allow social media or games on the phone for my middle schooler, but there’s a video chat app called Houseparty that I approved for him to get yesterday. Not only does it do video chat in groups, there are also game prompts for them to play with their friends during the conversation.
Send the Kids Outside While you Can
We need as much sunshine as possible. It’s good for the brain! With my ankle sprained, I’ve been telling my son to get in the backyard. But for those of you without pain who don’t have a yard, go for a walk, bike ride, or look for another way to spend time outdoors.
Encourage your Teen to Make a Goal to Pursue During Social Distancing
This is (hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence where you have no pressure whatsoever the leave the house. No pressure to achieve anything grand or push productivity. I’ve seen a lot of suggestions from people to spend this time slowing down, meditating, and relishing being out of the rat race. I’ve also seen people who want to reorganize it all, do a bunch of projects they’ve been meaning to do, and set their sites on goals they’ve been wanting to achieve.
Setting a goal during the pandemic isn’t about achievement as much as it is about intention. Encourage your child to consider what their intention will be during this unique time. Even if it’s rest, what does rest look like? Is it tuning things out? Is it more sleep, earlier times in bed?
If they do want to achieve something bigger, like pursuing an interest, what are resources you can use to facilitate that? YouTube has tutorials on just about anything, but there are more specialized websites that may be of more value.
Getting intentional about this time provides another opportunity for achievement in a time which that is limited.
Be Cautious of What Can be Overheard
I was on a video call this morning with a friend talking about the virus, fuming about our country’s leadership and sharing concern for what the future looks like, knowing the financial repercussions for this on such a massive scale without the right policies to protect the people. In the midst of this doomsday discussion, my middle schooler walked in the room, though his office space is on the other side of our house.
He surely heard the murmur of me talking to someone other than a baby, so curiosity caused him to head my way. He said he was “stretching.” Mhmm.
But in that moment I was really aware of how sheltered I can let him be when we’re in the midst of this. How much information is just enough? How can I straddle informing him and not scaring him?
Take it Easy
Sure, I seemingly just gave you a list of guidelines to follow to protect your child’s mental health during our current global health crisis. But really, this list was also a reminder for me. These are stressful times for everyone (though I acknowledge that they are far more stressful for those who get sick, their families, the medical professionals and grocers on the front line and those that are un- or underemployed) and we’re all just trying to keep the peace in our homes.
Raising a teen or tween is hard. Their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully formed, they’re hormonal, impulsive, and still very unaware of how the world works. It’s much harder in times when you’re figuring out how the world will work after a catastrophe. There’s only so much we have control over in times like these. You won’t always be able to keep your patience with them, but you can make attempts to connect with them, encourage them to connect with others, keep them active, in the sunshine, and as safe as possible.
It’s my day ten of social distancing. I don’t know how many days it’s been since you’ve seen friends outside of a screen or run an errand that was deemed non-essential. Maybe it’s been five days since you hit the gym, or maybe you waited until they shut down the bars in your city before you stopped going out. Maybe you’re a medical professional or you work somewhere that supplies essentials and you’re still more vulnerable than those who can or must follow through with the recommended guidelines. Everyone has their individual reality during this pandemic. Historians and friends alike are saying ‘write it all down!’ so I’m here, in my often-defunct, rarely-resurrected blog to share what my family’s reality is during the COVID-19 world health crisis.
For us, everything changed on Thursday, March 13. I went to the gym that morning, reassured by the owner’s Facebook posts about deep cleaning and preventative measures to decrease the likelihood of spreading of the virus. As we were doing our cool down stretching, she received an alert on her iWatch: the district’s schools were closing that afternoon for an unforeseeable amount of time.
My friends at the gym and I had a feeling we might not see each other in a while. We exchanged goodbyes with a curious feeling about when there would be another hello, while most days it’s a ‘see you tomorrow!’; knowing our gym routine is ingrained.
Nothing feels ingrained anymore. I went with my toddler to the store directly after the gym, as we did most weekdays for the last year. It didn’t look the same. It was frantic, things were flying off of the shelves. The clerks who we know by name were already harried, and it was still early. Very early.
Those of us who had been paying attention during the days prior weren’t terribly surprised. The neighboring Town of Westport had announced that their schools were closing the day prior. A recent international visitor had received a positive coronavirus test result from their home country after attending an event in Westport, and several other attendees had begun to experience symptoms. We still felt secure in knowing that there weren’t yet any cases in Fairfield, but at the same time we were well aware of how intermingled our towns are.
The school officials were aware of this as well, and decided to make the call. Thursday, March 13, 2020 was the last day for students for the foreseeable future, while teachers were to report to school the following day, March 14, to make a plan and familiarize themselves with the resources for a distance learning program. By Friday evening, parents of the 10,000 children in the school system were given a quick run through via email about the distance learning program, and gave us a start date of Tuesday, March 17. It gave the district time to get approval of the distance learning program from the state so that the days the kids missed would not have to be made up at the end of the school year like snow days.
Distance learning for middle school (in my district, at least) has been pretty seamless. Each middle and high school student was already supplied with a Chromebook at the beginning of the school year, and those who do not have access to the internet at home were given solutions. The students follow their usual schedule and are able to have access to their teachers at that time for answering any questions. Teachers have modified their coursework to better suit distance learning and the work has sufficiently taken up the allotted time. Some classes are utilizing chat rooms and this upcoming week my son’s French class will be using their mics to elevate the language learning experience.
The distance learning transition hasn’t been a matter of difficulty with the coursework, but rather the distractions. It’s hard to keep my older son on task when my youngest is having such a good time.
My husband’s job made the call that same Thursday. We’re lucky that his career is very computer-centric and he’s able to continue to work from home throughout all of this. This took some adjustments with two kids at home through the day. We had to do some rearranging. In our office we have a desk for every person in the family, but we couldn’t have our middle schooler trying to get work done while dad’s on business calls all day. I also needed to keep an eye on him, so I didn’t want him using the desk in his room. So there’s a desk in my living room—make that two. My toddler just couldn’t deal with my oldest being the only one to have the privilege of sitting at the living room desk all day.
The little guy has been on a streak of OBSESSION with his Dada, so it was causing some problems with him thinking every day was a Saturday but his Dada was ignoring him in the office. So our new routine is to wait until Elvis starts eating breakfast, then Mark gets his coffee, puts on his briefcase (while still in pajamas) and says, “I’m going to work! Bye bye!”
Elvis will say bye bye back and even if he overhears him it’s 👌. Mark gets his coffee delivered by his temporary secretary to avoid any confrontation with the baby before lunch. After lunch, the babe goes down for a nap.
How we’re Passing the Time During Social Distancing
When shutting everything down was just a rumor, I thought, ‘huh. I wouldn’t mind being quarantined at all. I have plenty of projects to do around the house and can always run and hike.’ I’ve also just come out of a very busy snowboarding/travel-filled winter, eventful Christmas season, and fall fun/travel-full fall. I was ready to cut out some social obligations.
But day two of social distancing, I went for a run with the jogging stroller on the sidewalk. Someone had overgrown bushes that were impeding the full use of the sidewalk and I ended up falling and spraining my ankle in a divot. It’s by far the worst injury I’ve ever gotten while running, and a huge bummer given the circumstances. No hikes or runs for me, and even cleaning things up around the house has been painful.
The kids have busied themselves with a lot of outdoor play, painting, sensory play, listening to podcasts, playing pool, reading books, drawing, hanging out in the fort the kids made, taking naps, a video chat playgroup, a three-hour Dungeons and Dragons session with five friends, watching Frozen 2 and Wreck it Ralph as much as possible, and playing chase around the house. I’ll let you guess which one was doing what.
Mark loves to cook so he’s been doing that. Sweet potato hash + andouille sausage breakfast burritos, mixed fruit cobbler, white chocolate malpua, blackened fish tacos…to name a few.
I’ve been reading as my ankle heals, and felt a lot better today so I’ve been working on a home project.
We don’t know how many days or weeks or months we’ll carry on like this, or what the future holds. We’re just taking it moment by moment, day by day. This is day ten.