You may be facing a quarantine as a single parent, if your spouse is deployed, in boot camp, or TDY. You may be working full-time remotely from home. You may be parenting young children stuck home from school. You may also have a new baby in the house (and not sleeping). So how do you do it all?
Here’s the short answer: You don’t.
Right now, I’m a single mother at home with a five-year-old and six-year-old and no family in the area to help. Each of my kids is getting school materials sent through different apps. This morning, my younger daughter had a weekly “checkin” with her class on video at 8:30am; I had a work call at 9. The audio on my laptop broke, so those didn’t go very well. It made me feel slightly better that the teacher’s video app crashed, so I wasn’t the only one struggling.
I’ve been bombarded with colorful “sample schedules” encouraging parents to follow the same routine for their kids they’ve been used to at school. These schedules are also all over social media, with influencers posting bright photos of their children happily coloring in a playroom as the sunshine streams in.
Many of these schedules involve very little sleep for parents. Most don’t account for the fact that depending on your job, you may be busier this week than ever. Add into that all those articles about how “Now is the perfect time to organize your entire house!” and the layoffs that are all over the news, and your anxiety and overwhelm is probably sky-high.
Here’s my advice: “Distance-learning” is a wonderful thing in theory. But give yourself a break as a parent. You can only do what you can do. Here are some thoughts about maintaining some calm in this chaotic time:
- Sleep. Unless you have a baby and have to wake up in the middle of the night, the worst thing you can do for yourself and your kids right now is sleep less. So don’t sacrifice your sleep trying to follow impossible schedules and be the “perfect” parent during this time. Get at least 7 hours of sleep. If you can, get 10.
- Go outside. One of my favorite things to see this week has been all the parents sitting on their lawns with their laptops as the kids on the street ride bikes and play. I dragged a lawn chair from the backyard to the front so my kids could participate. The fresh air made me feel so much better.
- Embrace video. Now is not the time to shy away from screen time. Put on Mr. Rogers. Search YouTube for some fun kids’ science videos. Mo Willems, author or “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,” is hosting “lunchtime doodles” at 1 p.m. EST.
- Let other people read to your kids. One-on-one storytime with mom or dad is wonderful. But it’s not necessarily realistic right now. Pinna is a great resource for kids’ audio. Your kids can still listen to great stories, but with someone else reading them.
- Put out some snacks. Set up a snack station for your kids and let them help themselves. This will avoid your having to get up from work every fifteen minutes to get their snacks. Don’t worry right now about how much they’re eating, especially if the snacks are healthy.
- Buy a basketful of notebooks, crayons and stickers. Other than tv, this the best resource for keeping your young kids busy, from my experience. For older kids, get some puzzles and playing cards.
- Set the bar low. If you’re also working, you won’t be able to recreate your kid’s school day, with all their normal activities. You won’t be able to get the same amount of work done for your job. So don’t set goals you can’t reach. Set small goals, like doing one five-minute activity with your child each hour.
The reality is, we’re all on social media a lot more than we are normally. And this means we’re seeing a ton of “perfect parenting” photos and advice. Everyone is playing together well. Everyone is learning. Everyone is calm. Remember: This is Instagram-life. Your house will probably be messy. Your kids will probably be stir-crazy. Your job will probably be demanding.
And that’s okay.