It’s been about a month of staying home now, I think? I really don’t know! Honestly, I’ve lost count of how long it’s been since the kids were in school. And last week, we got the announcement that our schools will be shut down for the remainder of the school year and relying on parents to run distance learning from home. I know there are lots of other places that have already made that announcement. After a rocky start, complete with a few panic attacks on my part, we’ve come to a really great place.
We’ve managed to come to a place where the kids are mostly happy and kind (they are still kids and arguments, whining, and orneriness do still happen from time to time but mostly it’s actually better than before). I am happy and actually loving this new way of life and wondering how long we’ll be able to savor being this gift of time. I do believe that we can all experience wonderful results right now. But, I also don’t believe it will look exactly the same in every house. With that being said, if you’re struggling to find it, it can be helpful to hear what’s working for others. So, I thought I’d share a few ideas in case you’re still struggling to create a joyful home and a place of peace for your family during all of this craziness.
- Create Routines: A flexible routine lets everyone have a rough idea of how the day is going to go and it really helps kids to know what is expected of them. It took us about 2 weeks for the kids to get used to our schedule but once they did, we don’t have to fight with them over the expectations anymore. I started with the basics: morning walk, breakfast, distance learning time, and scripture reading. After we had that down, I found I could create a time for other things we needed to fit in like cleaning, reading/quiet time, play time, family projects or activities, etc. Being a little bit flexible means that if something comes up and pushes things back a few minutes here or there, I’m willing to roll with it instead of freaking out. Having a routine in place helps everyone and makes sure we do the most important things every day.
- Start each day with some exercise: For us, it’s a walk outside. We go 2.5 miles every morning and there is often 1 of the 5 kids who is whining about something for a little while. But for the most part, once we got through the first 2 weeks of getting used to it, they are happy and cheerful. The one day that I was too tired and allowed us to miss our walk, was the worst day of our quarantine time. Kids were extra grumpy and complain-y (I know that’s not really a word, but it should be!) and my temper was short. Getting outside and getting those endorphins going first thing has helped us so much!
- Do something fun every day: It might be an activity like planting the garden, playing a game, learning to do something new, playing jump rope, or doing a science project, but finding something fun to do as a family every day is where the bonding happens. So much time at home lends itself perfectly to doing extra things to enjoy our time together. My kids are also participating in a daily zoom call with their cousins where they do games and activities (it’s headed up by my awesome sister!) and it gives them something to look forward to every day.
- Find fun, uplifting media to enjoy together: No doubt there will be times when you need a break. While we normally don’t do tv time during the school week, this distance learning has given us a lot more time together during the day. We spend time learning and time playing and there are still more hours in the day! Finding some positive, uplifting, feel-good tv/media is great for some down time. We’ve enjoyed watching quarantine concerts on facebook together and so many uplifting shows on BYUtv that the whole family loves that allow us to relax together while still keeping a positive feeling in our home.
- Hugs: About 2 weeks in, I suddenly realized that my kids were getting a quick hug at bedtime and that was all. We were used to giving hugs when kids leave for the day and get home from school and my little ones would get hugs from their teachers at school. There are studies about the importance of having that physical contact of a hug at least a few times a day. So, we added a couple times throughout our day for hugs that usually turn into a giant group hug. It’s one of the things I love most about this challenging time.
- Don’t take on all the cleaning by yourself: Oh my goodness — PLEASE have your kids cleaning up after themselves and doing chores! If you take on the job of going around and cleaning up all the messes all day long, you will hate life and that’s the last thing you need to be doing right now! My kids are doing their own laundry (I help them fold which is good time to spend together), helping with chores, and when messes get left out I call them in to clean up after themselves.
- Work Together: Aside from regular chores, this is a great chance to work together! My kids have been busy: washing the cars, cleaning baseboards, sorting the bucket of mismatched socks, pulling weeds, planting a garden, juicing oranges, shelling peanuts, cooking, and more.
- Set boundaries & realistic expectations for school work: We have 4 kids in elementary school with 4 different teachers. I was so stressed out that I went into a panic attack at least twice during the first week of distance learning. But we found out from the school that grades don’t count and they are just looking for participation. And one teacher told us she only expects the kids to do 1 hour of work on assignments every day which helped me to set a realistic expectation. We now do assignments for 1 hour a day and then the kids play on the learning games the teachers want them to use for 1 hour. We start at 9:30 and end at 11:30 and then we’re done. Once I set that schedule and decided to relax about it, it has been so much easier. My husband is home most days to help, but he has to go in to work occasionally and it usually means missing school time and those days have been just fine. I float around the table from one computer to the next to help each child as needed for the 1 hour of assignment time. If multiple kids need help at the same time, I’ve learned to say, “I’ll be with you in a minute when I finish helping ______” which means that my children are learning how to patiently wait their turn, too.
- Make time to be spiritually fed: I’ve found a great time for me to read my scriptures is during the 2nd hour of our school time. I’m sitting at the table with the kids, but they are busy on their learning games. They rarely need my help but they do need me to be present so they don’t start messing around. So, since I have to be there anyway, rather than hanging out on my phone, I’ve started taking out my scriptures to do my personal study. It’s perfect AND the kids see me reading my scriptures (teaching by example) , which is an extra bonus! Then, after lunchtime, it’s time for the kids to have some free playtime. This is the time for me to turn on a conference talk or BYU speech to watch on the tv in my room. Often, one or two kids will come to find me because they like to follow me around like little ducklings. And I tell them they’re welcome to stay, if they will sit and listen quietly or they can go play instead. Sometimes they sit and listen with me and I’m just fine with that and sometimes they decide to go play, which also works for me.
- Do what you love: A great way to continue to live with joy is to spend time doing the things you love. It gets hard when you have kids surrounding you 24 hours a day. But what if you could still do what you love? Whether its music, sports, cooking, sewing, art, reading, crafting, building, etc., this is a great opportunity to share those things with your kids. Teach them the basics or find ways to enjoy those activities together. Not only is it good for you to spend time doing that thing you love, but it will benefit your kids as they learn a new skill and see your talents at work.
Once I started looking for solutions instead of focusing on how hard and overwhelming it was, things started to gradually fall into place. While some things are still hard, I’ve found that I’m loving our current situation and hope that you will find things to love about it, too. I’d love for you to share what’s working for you in the comments!