Welcome to Keswin Family Quarantine. Like many people, my husband and I are both working from home. Our girls, Julia and Caroline, are 17-year-old juniors in high school, navigating both online school and the college process. Daniel is a freshman in high school. And who could forget the family favorite, Cruiser, our labradoodle.
After some fits and starts, I’m finally getting in the groove of working from home surrounded by hormonal teens, and a husband who I sometimes confuse for a fourth teen. I’ve gathered some tips to help others get their work done and also bring some human-ness to quarantine:
1. Have family meetings
We hold family meetings once a week, which are mandatory, btw. When we were first quarantined, the meeting was dedicated to coming up with a plan. What are school schedules? Where in the house does everyone want to work? What hours do we need it to be quiet? After we had a plan in place, our weekly meeting serves as a check-in to make sure everyone’s needs are being met and to see if our system can be improved. We solicit feedback from all family members and are open to change.
2. Leverage technology to connect
Let’s be honest. Teenagers don’t want to talk to us all day and quite frankly we don’t really want to talk to them either. And for those of us fortunate enough to have work to do, we have to get it done. So we set up a group text chat (ours is called KESFAM) to communicate in real time throughout the day. In the KESFAM group chat, we post funny quarantine memes, we forward interesting articles, but most importantly, we send timely messages like, “Don’t come into the DEN, I’m on an important call” (me!) or “I’m presenting to my class” (one of the kids).
3. Divide and conquer the housework
Being home all day, the house gets much messier than usual, not to mention the 21 meals a week we’re cooking, eating, and cleaning up after. We usually have some cleaning help, but obviously not these days. So we ask the kids which chores they would prefer, and none is not an option. In our house, Caroline does the laundry, my husband cooks (he’s trying out new recipes from the New York Times), I’m straightening up—constantly! Julia vacuums, and Daniel does dishes, with a lot of reminders. As you might imagine, keeping everyone on track is part of my “straightening up” job.
And working moms—ditch the perfectionism. There will be dirt. And yes, we sit down for a family dinner, but during the day everyone is on his/her own. PB&J or cereal are fine for breakfast, lunch and even dinner on occasion. Your house is not a diner, and you are not a short order cook.
4. Maintain and create rituals
Whether you’re a teenager or an adult, things are scary right now. None of us knows when our lives will return to some kind of old/new normal, so maintaining existing family rituals will keep the stress levels down. I’ve been cooking brisket on Fridays for Shabbat like I do at home. Walking into the kitchen and smelling the brisket anchors us and reminds us that we’re all together. And that’s what really matters.
We can also create new rituals, which gives us a sense of normalcy and a cadence to our days. Jeff and Caroline started a morning game of Quirkle, a great strategy game if you don’t know it. They play before school and work start, and so far Caroline is kicking his butt 7-1. Brainstorm with the kids which of your family’s rituals you could maintain during quarantine e.g., a certain meal, family movie night, Scattergories (a Keswin fan favorite), and try out some new ones.
5. Have some fun
This situation sucks—plain and simple. We’re all dealing with different situations and levels of stress. Our kids aren’t seeing their friends in person, we’re all spending a lot of time in front of screens, and we’re all living under the threat of getting sick. Seriously, this is a nightmare.
Which is why we’ve been trying to lighten the mood by making family TikToks, organizing bingo with family friends and watching lots of Family Feud and reality TV. Survivor is a good show for these times because I think we can all relate. This is—I hope!—the biggest challenge we’ll ever face.
Finally, in my first book, Bring Your Human to Work: Ten Ways to Design a Workplace That’s Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change the World, I wrote about ten ways—values, meetings, professional development, etc.—to bring your human to work, but it all comes down to one thing. And that’s honoring relationships.
So for those of us who can’t go to work, we can still bring our human to everything we do, and in some ways it’s easier because our relationships are front and center—for better or for worse.
Staying human while working from home with three teenagers sounds like an oxymoron. But it’s not. And I’m confident that it’s good for us, great for our business of being human, and will change how we see the world when we come out the other side.