It is week 2, day 3 of social distancing at the Sturgess household. We are finally settling into our new normal. I won’t lie, week 1 was hard.
My husband and I both have office jobs and were trying to figure out this whole “remote” idea while also getting a quick tutorial on homeschooling and online education for our elementary and middle school age daughters. Tensions were high, tears were shed, and a million and one dishes were done. (Who knew everyone ate this much!?) It was bumpy to say the least. Dr. Phil’s blog post last week was timely and encouraging in the midst of week 1. Now firmly in week 2, here are three tips that may make the coming days not quite so bumpy for the children in our lives.
Your children need for you to tell them the truth about what is going on in our world right now. It is really easy to just make up “safe” reasons we are home, but that’s not the truth. We are all affected by one central theme these days – the coronavirus – and our children need to know about it. Proverbs 24:26 tells us that “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” What a blessing to be able to give that to our children!
Remember, always be honest and always be age-appropriate. For younger children, you may simply explain that there are a lot of people sick right now. Take this opportunity to talk with them about all of the helpers that are out there working to make people better – doctors, government officials, researchers. And explain that we stay home right now in order to help us to not get sick and in order to help others stay well.
For older children, give them more details and facts. The reality of the current situation is that your middle school and high school kids will, through their daily interactions online with teachers and classes, see news headlines and articles, and they can be scary! Don’t leave your pre-teen or teenager wondering; start the conversation with them about what is going on. Be honest and tell them what you know, and explain that we are doing our part in social distancing. This way we do not get the virus and we do not spread the virus.
For littles and teenagers, this is not a one-time talk but a continual discussion. Your children will have questions, and those questions may surprise you. Our oldest seemed particularly worried after school closed, so we asked questions, too. After much discussion, we discovered that she was concerned about her friends who eat breakfast and lunch at school because they do not have food at home. She was worried that they would not have anything to eat for an indefinite amount of time since they were home all day. If we had not been open with continual conversation, we may never have been able to reassure her that our school system has a program in place to ensure that her friends are being fed.
It can definitely be a scary thing – talking openly about something that even we as adults do not understand and can be anxious and fearful about (and we should be honest with them about those feelings, too). But, teaching our children how to talk about the hard things in an honest and open way is a huge gift that we can give them.
As Phil mentioned last week, we all handle stress differently. As a parent, I encourage you to sit in that a bit and really think on how you handle stress. How do your kids handle stress? I saw a quote the other day that hit me pretty hard. Josh Star said, “Kids are always learning. What they’re learning right now is how adults respond.” Our kids are watching us and watching how we respond to what is going on in the world. Let’s just face it: we do not all respond with courage. I am a routine person. I have in my head exactly how a week day should look. Well, school is canceled and I’m working remotely! What do you think that did to my little world?! That’s right, it exploded. But I knew that was going to happen, and I was able to manage it using skills that I’ve learned over the years. My husband, on the other hand, thrives in situations like this and has very few issues adapting. Everyone is different, even our children.
What he and I quickly became experts in last week was how our children handle the stressors of social distancing. We did this by watching their reactions and behaviors as well as by listening to what they said and how they said it. It became ever so clear that our oldest could adapt well to this life, is destined to work in the IT field from home, and will probably homeschool her children. She’s very content, self-directed and self-paced, and does not mind the time alone. Our younger daughter, on the other hand, started wilting. The super funny, always happy, energetic unicorn in our family started crying, getting frustrated, and moping around.
So what did we do with two totally opposite kids? Our youngest needed a schedule. She needed to know when to do science, when to do English, when to take a brain break, when it was time for lunch, and when to expect her “school day” to be over. Scheduling our oldest like this, however, would cause unnecessary stress for her in a time when she needs flexibility and is able to manage her workload with minimal help.
We are also managing all of our stressors by keeping normal what we can. Bed times, bike rides, dinner together, Wednesday night Chick-fil-A, and praying together are all staying the same. These normal things feel good and remind us that not everything is crazy and our little family is fine.
Finally, I leave you with this thought. Hopefully, we will never find ourselves in this position again, which also means that we will not have the opportunity again for such intimate, uninterrupted, dedicated time with our families. As a working mom, I never imagined that I would have this much time with my girls and husband. Yes, I’m still working and I’m keeping myself pretty structured, but that doesn’t mean that I did not allow myself a few minutes of a break from writing to paint my youngest child’s fingernails or watch an impromptu fashion show.
This time gives us unexpected opportunities for conversations with our kids that we may never have slowed down enough to have. It gives us breathing room to laugh and joke around and just enjoy the fact that God created our specific family with our specific people in it so that we would have this specific community. Yes, there are stressors, but do not neglect the fact that we serve a good, good God and that none of this has happened without His knowledge or outside of His control (Luke 12:22-26).
For such a time as this, enjoy the time. Be intentional about conversation, look for the teaching opportunities not only in educational skills but life skills, and just have some fun. You and your family do you. Do what works in this time for your family that creates a greater bond than what you had before social distancing.
Allow God to work through this situation to knit your family together in ways you have never dreamed.