Ok so we kinda woke up and the world was different. Maybe no zombies yet, but here we are trapped in our house with our kids and both of us trying to get things accomplished. We don’t have the benefit of play dates or day care or organized sports or any of that. It’s just us, the kids, and a tangled web of competing priorities and unfamiliar systems. There are some things we can do to make it successful though, whether there are two of you, one of you, both working, whatever the case. Here are five things to consider as you try to make this new world a productive and successful one.
1. Set and communicate expectations
Reality that is different from expectations is the source of most stress and yet sometimes we set ourselves up for it by having unrealistic expectations, keeping them to ourselves, or both.
First of all, set up realistic expectations with your spouse about how the day might look and what will really get accomplished. If I need two uninterrupted hours for me to dive into a project and my spouse thought we would all make a fun brunch together because most of her calls are in the afternoon, we are headed for a mess. If I think that I will get all my work done, take time for the kids when they need it, be the magical Dad or Mom that drops everything to build a pillow fort and also asks patiently how the online schooling went today, I could be setting myself up for failure that way too.
The answer might be, I am going to deal with these priorities today and do my best at a few other things but life is a little different now and doing my best is enough.
2. Make a plan
If we work together to put something everyone understands in place, we have a decent shot at a good day. Maybe it’s, “let me get some focused work done this morning and then I will play with the kids at two o’clock and we can all take a walk together at four o’clock, how does that sound?” The answer might be, “Well I have a call at ten o’clock that I have to take, can you run interference from ten to eleven if I need it?” A response may look like, “Ok, I can work on my project from eleven to one if you could do lunch with the kids..” High five, go team. Or elbow bump if you are trying to build a new habit around that and want to practice.
3. Involve the kids
Once you two have a plan together, involve the kids. “Ok team quarantine, here is how tomorrow is going to look, we are rocking breakfast all together how does smiley face pancakes sound? Great, then you focus on your classes and after that Mom is making lunch with you guys, and then I’m doing pillow forts at two o’clock and we are all cruising the neighborhood at four o’clock. How do you like the plan and is there anything we need to change?”
“Dad, pillow forts are lame, can we do window art so everyone can see it when they walk by our house instead?”
“Window art sounds amazing, during lunch you guys think about what you want to draw and I will bring the dry erase markers at 2:00 for us to get started.”
4. Talk about the new behaviors together
We want the kids, and maybe us too, to practice the things that may seem different for them or be new behaviors. It might be, “what do you do if Mom or Dad are on the phone and you need something?” Hey maybe we even take that a step further. “If it involves bleeding what do you do, if it is a question you have, what do you do, if you want to tell me something, what do you do?” This way we don’t allow our kids to have expectations for how we might help them that we have no chance of living up to. That just causes anxiety and stress for them and eventually, us. Let’s talk about what everyone working from home means and how we do it well. We can even make it a two way street. “Hey, what should I do if you are in the middle of a class and I have a question for you?” This is about us all collaborating to make this work well, not just our kids understanding our boundaries.
5. Celebrate success
When we crush a work from home day, we can look for fun ways to celebrate, maybe the walk works, maybe we need to do sidewalk art too, maybe we need milkshakes or a movie. The chance for all of us to reflect on the fact that we did our best together to have a day that was both productive and fun is important. These might be new skills for all of us and celebrating progress makes all the difference when we are learning. Then, we get to plan tomorrow so we can rock another amazing day together. There’s an amazing new world that we just might create on the other side of the chaos, because of who we become by dealing with it well. Embrace that, even enjoy that. How we handle this will teach our kids how to handle their own adversity. Chances are they will need that somewhere down the road.
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