Social Distancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Day 14

It’s day fourteen now. Two weeks in. Friends and family that live back in Texas are just starting their social distancing journey; Houston’s stay at home order started at midnight Tuesday. Homeschooling began Monday for them. On social media, they’ve started talking about how much they love being at home, how they were made for this.

I remember day one.

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Your Teen’s (or Tween’s) Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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?

Generation Z has already been determined to be less social, less experimental, more anxious and more depressed. And now they’re in the middle of a global health crisis unlike anything we’ve experienced before.

Maintain Screen Time Rules. Yes, even though there’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

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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.

Crafting a Creative Kid: How to Raise an Artist

My eight-year-old son is the creation I am most proud of, and becoming a mom at nineteen & figuring this all out as I go along is no doubt my greatest adventure of all.

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When I studied writing, I learned with the rest to “write what I know.” This is why this is not, nor could it ever be a Mommy Blog. Read: I have no idea what I’m doing. Half of what I know about raising a family I learned from twentieth century sitcoms like Family Matters, Full House and The Brady Bunch. No lie.

Sometimes my husband asks, “Why do you bake him cookies for after school? That’s a dessert, not a snack.” And well, that’s why. Leave it to June Cleaver. I cringe when people tell me I’m a good mom, because it invalidates my constant negative self talk and second guessing myself. What do they know? They haven’t seen me loose my temper!

That being said, as I meet more children that are my son’s age, I find that he’s pretty darn creative. When he’s not working on his studies or doing his household chores, he’s making something, no doubt.

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Jamming out in the basement while making clay sculptures

Sometimes people ask me how I pull him away from video games long enough to make things and how he’s so creative. I don’t think this is something that’s hardwired, and there’s a few things that I’ve done to facilitate his  artistic attempts. Continue reading

Birdwatching in El Yunque National Forest and Loquillo Beach

Spring has certainly sprung over in our little corner of Coastal Connecticut! For me, that means spring cleaning every nook and cranny, yard work, and enjoying the heck outta the outdoors. But! I can’t let one more day go by without sharing the final full day we spent in Puerto Rico–it’s been a week and a half since we were there.

The visitor center at El Yunque National Forest was great- all outdoors, but well covered. There were many exhibits on the wildlife, Rainforest preservation, and we caught an English version of the documentary that shared all of this information in a way that our seven year old could bear.

El Yunque is the only forest in the United States National Park system that is a tropical Rainforest. With my obsession with National Parks (Remember, I eloped in one?), it’s suitable that we showed up to el unique El Yunque during the National Park Service Centennial.

Visitors Center for El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico Continue reading

My Face Hurts.

Deciding to become a stay-at-home mom was a long, drawn out process that was fraught with worry and hesitation. In May of 2013, after a few long and hard years of going to college while caring for a child, most of which was during a divorce, I graduated from a four year university. Those school years were plagued with doubt, and I was constantly terrified of how disappointed everyone would be if I couldn’t get a job after those years of leaning on others for support. I took the second job I was offered. Then, I stumbled upon an opportunity that was better for me and my home life, and jumped at it. Working from home, part time, for 150% better pay than the first. Perfect.

It was only a couple of months in before I realized how unsuited I was for the gig. I was disorganized, I lacked passion about my subject matter, and I lacked self-motivation. Week after week, I was suffering from self-imposed stress because I was focusing more on my duties as a homemaker and a mother than on being an employee. I was a failure. One day, in tears, I lamented to Mark, “I could climb the corporate ladder, I could be an entrepreneur, but nothing will give me as much satisfaction as raising my kids!” Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards for me. Continue reading

Thankful.

Never am I a stranger to gratitude, but still, this past week that surrounded Thanksgiving precisely encompassed all that I am currently most thankful for.

On Monday, I spent my day creating crafts and keeping the calm with preschoolers at the local Women’s Shelter as they prepared for a special family meal with their mothers. Directly after that, I rushed to the store and then home to self-consciously make dinner for a mother of Tobias’ friend from school, a chef whom I deem a friend of mine, that recently underwent surgery. Then, I rushed back home to make dinner for my own family, though that meal stopped short at hum drum.

Tuesday, I chaperoned Tobias’ field trip to the zoo, where the children acted more bestial than anything in a cage, a boy from another group chanting to me that I’m a “fat girl” while students in mine are running aimlessly in the crowded zoo haze. All while cursing the teachers who planned a field trip when many students are out and about for the week.

On Wednesday, I visited a friend of mine for over thirteen years. She recently left her husband, and is in a similar situation as mine four years ago, except with two kids and just beginning her career, rather than one while in school. Tobias brought them some of his toys as gifts for their new apartment, but I had a hunch that they were just fine with their new minimalist lifestyle. (Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.)

We woke up extra early on Thanksgiving Thursday so that Mark, Tobias and I could all run a Turkey trot, I Pinterest-failed a baked cornucopia, threw it out, then delivered my disappointingly under-cooked pies to my mother’s house, who was hosting a Thanksgiving that included my ex mother-in-law and my new mother-in-law. Prior to our departure, Tobias and I both started feeling unwell, and I spent my entire Friday in bed–not figuratively–aside from eating a bowl of soup and using the bathroom, I kept my body in that same spot while Tobias wallowed in his own sickness and mind-numbingly watched his tablet computer.

I had a resurgence of energy after Mark brought me breakfast and coffee on Saturday, so I went to the salon to take off the terrible acrylic nails I was reluctant to have, had my nails painted, then proceeded to do yard work for hours on end. (Which would seem to most to be a terrible idea.) Today, Sunday, Mark woke me up before dawn to say goodbye, for he’s on a business trip for the good part of the week. I finished the book I began reading during my indisposition, then proceeded to flip flop between tasks all day, not getting anything done rather than deeply researching trips I’m taking four and eight months away.

Trust me, it all relates. Drum roll, please. The trite phrase you’ve been waiting for….

I’m thankful for…

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The 3 Best Comebacks for Snarky Moms

Moms are conditioned to put their guard up, beginning in the early days of pregnancy. From the first signs of a baby bump, all-knowing and well-seasoned mothers and grandmothers are more than happy to delve out advice for what worked for them, and are unaware of the critical glances they give as you state that you’re doing the opposite. We’re all self conscious of whether or not we’re doing the right thing by our children, so when someone challenges it by taking a different route, panic ensues, and defense mode leads to rude expressions and disapproving comments.

I get it, it’s a nerve-wracking job to take on. Just when you’ve convinced yourself that something isn’t a big deal, there’s a Dr. Freud or a Dr. Sears to let you know that you’re potentially ruining your kids’ psyches. Whoops!

Here’s the thing: parenting isn’t a competition. Here’s another: you’re not right, and neither is the other person–there’s no right way to do it. And something we all need to be reminded of: Your [honest and truthful] best is good enough.

Not everyone has been reminded of those things, so when you come across someone that’s being snarky, here are some of my favorite comebacks: Continue reading

My 25th Year: a post-birthday post

This time last year, I was working in the digital department of a large local retailer, putting in sixty hour weeks working beneath an unqualified manager–and bully–who had “known the right person” to get his position. I was overworked, overwhelmed, filled with guilt about my inability to have time for my family, and unsure as to where my “family” stood: my son was now beginning to call my boyfriend his dad…leaving much to be desired. As a recent graduate, I was engulfed with worry that this was what I had worked hard for and it my new normal. I was devastated, to say the least. Those emotions are what consumed me during the days I celebrated the first #quartercenturyofkelsie.

I’m quick to assess a situation’s costs and benefits and make adjustments, regardless of how difficult they seem at first. My thirst for growth is never satiated, and the previous year was filled with big choices, mature revelations, humble understanding, and peaceful acceptance. Here’s some of what I learned in my twenty-fifth year:

1. I am enough.

I spent the first few years of my twenties trying to prove something. I had a child at nineteen. I was devastated by the stigma and felt I needed to be redeemed. My final year of college was guided by fear of achieving a job, and when my job was depleting my quality of life, I didn’t know how I could save myself while still upholding this Wonder Woman Mom image I had been fighting for.

In January of this year, I participated in a 40 day transformation the Houston yoga studio that I belong to. The program is a combination of daily yoga and meditation, mindful eating (and living), and hard-hitting concepts that everyone struggles with. Through this program and my inward contemplation, I began to understand how OKAY I already am, how my journey is just as it should be, the illusion of right vs. wrong, and applied these concepts to my perception of others. I highly recommend the program, which can be guided through Baron Baptist’s book, 40 Days to Personal Revolution.

2. Letting go is worth it.

This year I said goodbye to some people who had been friends to me for a very long time, and I also reconnected with someone whose friendship I had let go of years ago. Someone’s presence is either serving your journey or they are holding you back from it. Don’t let feeling like you owe someone keep you from the growth you need.

On a bigger scale, you have to be willing to let go in the same way of dreams that you had for you future, so that you can make room for new ones. When Mark proposed this past November, I was stoked to have the dream wedding I couldn’t have when I married my son’s father as a teenager and then have a marriage filled with love and respect as I had hoped. Then I reviewed the budget and had to prioritize.

We’re still getting married, but it won’t be a big affair. Yes, I had those dreams a child, but I dreamed of going to Harvard before I was a slacker and the various other ways I let my life go astray from that. The dreams I’m achieving because I didn’t get stuck in not achieving others is why my life is so fulfilled.

3. Working a 9-5 is SO last century.

My favorite thing about working from home for a Houston-based marketing firm and our partners, is that all of the people I’m meeting with have one thing in common: they value life as a whole.

There’s this big issue with work/home balance in our society, but the people in my circle are living the lives that they desire—travelling the world, having the time to enjoy their family, staying faithful in their religion, and being active in their hobbies, all while running a business. We work random hours, but we’re able to enjoy it, rather than spending half of the day mindlessly surfing the web and watching the clock.

4. I’m not that great of a parent.

.,..But I’m not that bad of one, either. When I was growing up, I was always upset my mom was at school or work instead of being around and spite toward my absentee father grew stronger and stronger. I had opinions about the parenting that was given to me, and was sure that when I became a mother, I would do everything better. When Tobias was in utero and infancy, I read all the books I could get my hands on, then I was cocky about the choices I made—sure that they were the “right” ones.

I yell, I say inappropriate things, I talk too much and lose my patience quickly. But I’m doing the best I can, and that’s okay. The boy is all right.

As am I. Twenty-six sure sounds old, but it came with a sense of peace and an invigorating sense of priorities. I’ll take that over a face without fine lines and wrinkles any day.