So this week, many families started to be in “closure” mode: Schools close so kids study from home. Offices close so parents work remotely. My family is not an exception: my husband and I get work done and our 10-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter now have home school in our one apartment.
With a vision of minimizing the disruption to each family member’s goals (work for both parents and study for all kids) while maximizing this down time for further family connection without arguments over who attend to which kid at what time, I facilitated a family discussion first thing this morning, once and for a few weeks to come.
Below are the steps:
1. Stay calm and set your goals / intentions for the day: The biggest closure of all, however, is that of our brain as a parent. With torrents of information on the Internet from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter to Instagram and streams of WhatsApp messages in parent’s groups and local Facebook groups for moms (& dads), our brains are, in a way, get shut down. Consuming information and making decisions do take a lot of energy in our brains which have certain energy limit.
If you have not had mindfulness / meditation time in the morning to quiet and prime your brain, then there’s no better and more needed time than today. For me, I have 10-minute guided meditation everyday so I start the day calm, focused, intentional and self-centered. And amidst chaos, I still did it this morning, and one of my intentions for today is to facilitate this family discussion and agree on our scheduling.
2. Talk about the… talk. Get your family’s buy-in instead of rejection by telling your spouse about your intention (kids are easier and are more cooperative ;)). Language is the key here. You can say, “As we will be working from home with our kids around in the next two weeks, I am suggesting that we would discuss and agree on our family schedule. That way, our kids won’t nag at you or me when we are doing our work. Also, we are on top of what they need to learn and help them out when needed. What I can do is to look at their school agenda and draft something for us to discuss. How do you think?” Then ask about the earliest possible time to meet.
Here, you inspire your spouse with the vision for the whole family. Who doesn’t want not to be nagged at by kids while focusing? Also, you lock on the time when everyone can focus on this important topic.
3. Sit down and look through the guidance from your kids’ the teachers and schools. WhatsApp and Facebook groups may have bombarded you with zillions of online resources sprouting from all directions. In addition, you may start to see a lot of parents share their beautifully crafted schedules for their kids and you feel you are inadequate, you are not good enough and you even start to feel under pressure or helpless. Remember helping our kids with school programs could already occupy our days, given we also have work to do. What truly adds values though is to use that extra time you may have from not having to commute, drop-off and pick-up, to create more connection, which is the highest need of human beings, and for developing brains, it’s of utmost importance.
For my son, his teachers draft an agenda each day so the kids know exactly what to do. For my daughter, her teacher also shares weekly homework for a few weeks, an online resource to practice math skill and a printed guide for activities. Honestly, if we could achieve this, that’s already ideal.
This is also a wonderful opportunity for our kids to learn self-management skill, so don’t worry that they don’t have enough activities. In addition, creativity is born out of boredom so they will surely become more creative from the journey.
4. Speak with your spouse about his / her work meeting schedule and let your calendars dance with each other. This way, while one is in a meeting, another could attend to the kids if needed. As I have a bit more flexible schedule with most of my meetings being one on one, I gather them all up within 2 days instead of 3 or 4 like before.
5. Set a family vision, shared goals and scheduling criteria before crafting the schedule so you have some compass to make sure it works for everyone. Below are of my family just for example:
Vision: Stay healthy, happy and focused during Coronavirus disruption. (We are not under-reacting or over-reacting. We are adaptive and in control.) By the way, my husband said, “To hug and kiss the kids more” 🙂
a. Everybody can do his/her work or study with the least disruption (internal / external).
b. We maintain key social connection with the help of technology:
o Our family with our extended families around the world – Facetime/Messenger.
o Minh & Tutti still have connection with friends – Zoom, hosted by mom.
o Mom with her clients.
o Dad with his boss and colleagues.
c. Family take advantage of this time (no travel time and morning rush for parents) to connect & stay healthy (spring and summer!)
d. We help each other: Minh to help Tutti as her “teacher” / “mentor”. Dad & Mom help Tutti as well. Minh & Tutti to help out with chores more.
Criteria & Boundaries:
o Helping each other.
o Balance referencing the Healthy Mind Platter by the NeuroLeadership Institute which I use for all of my clients.
o For kids, they can only watch 30 minutes of TV after finishing all their work.
6. Craft the schedule with the above compass. I planned to craft that with my husband and kids but it’d take hours so I decided to switch my gear by drafting one. As long as we talked about the talk in step 2, our spouse will appreciate this.
You can reference our schedule here. Please note that there are many ways to do it and your ways is the best way. Please free yourself to get creative about this!
7. Hold that discussion in a fun way! In my family, my husband showed my computer screen on the TV so everyone could see from the sofa. I shared about the drafted vision, shared goals and the schedule to see if anyone has any other ideas.
Well, the truth is it was not easy with my daughter squirming demanding to read a book. However, my son helped out by telling her that we are discussiong on her home school as well, and well, she loves home school as she could be with her most favorite people in the world 🙂
8. Just do it with the help of technology and of course, adjust along the way! For example, I use Zoom a lot for my work. And given our goal to maintain certain level of social connection for our kids, I am hosting weekly Happiness Circle time for them and their friends. Also, when my daughter asked me to sleep with her this afternoon, I did tell her a story (that I am working on), and asked Google Home to help her sleep with some sleep songs for toddlers. It worked! 🙂
The best schedule is your family’s schedule. When you feel overwhelmed by others, take a few deep breathes, get self-centered and focus your thoughts on yours.
Of course, life happens and nothing could be by the book. It could be highly possible that when I am typing up an email to my clients, my daughter would drop by and said, “Mom, I want to pee,” or my son could ask, “Mom, what is the password for Khan Academy again?” As long as we have a standard and some shared manual for our mini company and club, we will sail through this uncertain period more smoothly while making our brains and our family’s brains stronger and healthier.
And remember to stick to your own healthy mind and body rituals so you could be strong as the anchor for your family.
P. S. For weekly real-life happiness hardwiring stories about the key areas in a mom’s life (career, parenting, relationship), you can visit Diary of a Happier Mom Brain.