With schools shuttered and many states issuing “stay-at-home” orders, an unprecedented number of Americans are working at home (or trying to) with their kids. While “sheltering in place” is clearly what’s best for our physical health during the coronavirus epidemic, being cooped up can take a toll on our mental health—and our closest relationships. Add to that a tenuous or nonexistent income stream, and the stress that comes from reading too many scary headlines, and let’s admit it: It’s hard to focus. How can we stay sane, especially as parents—and maybe get a little work done? Here, a few tips to help you flourish in this new normal.
1. Stick to a Routine
With your regular school and work schedules massively disrupted, life feels chaotic. Mental health experts say that a new routine—and sticking to it—can help you exert a measure of control over your day-to-day existence. This is especially true for kids (even teens!), who need structure. Be sure to wake them up at the same time every day and adhere to the same habits they had during a normal school-week, be it making the bed, getting dressed, or putting their dishes in the dishwasher. Now that schools are closed or have moved online, many parents are including four or more hours a day of focus on schooling, whether online, home, or self-directed. With smaller kids, creativity is key. Aside from activities like coloring, reading, and crafts, you might try orchestrating a daily “family challenge” like “find the best smelling thing in the house,” “find everything in the house that starts with the letter M,” and so on. Who knows? You might find that your kids start liking homeschool better than real school.
2. Set Clear Boundaries
Working from home is challenging on the best of days, but when your kids and spouse are sharing your space it can be near impossible. “The first day we were all at home, I sort of toggled back and forth between work/momming and it was a disaster,” says writer and communications pro Hanna Neuschwander of Portland, Oregon. “I was a wreck with my kids *and* got nothing done.” She and her husband sat down and made a plan. Now, days are split in half: 8 am to noon are her hours to work, and no one is allowed to bother her. After lunch, she and her husband switch—same rules. “It’s not a full day. But knowing I only have four hours actually does help me focus and prioritize,” she says. Another friend, a financial analyst, bought a dimmable LED mood lamp and keeps it on her desk. When it’s red, that means “On a call, do not disturb.” When the light is purple, it means, “No stupid questions like, ‘Where are my ballet shoes? Or what’s for dinner?’” And when it’s green, it means, “I’m free—ask me anything.”
3. Practice Self Care
One of the silver linings of this pandemic may be that we finally learn to take care of ourselves. Those of us who aren’t on the front lines of this pandemic now have plenty of time to cultivate new habits. In addition to cooking healthy meals from scratch and getting plenty of sleep, exercise is crucially important. Not only does it enhance immunity and mood, but it also improves the quality of your sleep. If you and your kids can, get outside for a run, walk or bike ride. (Many states have now issued stay-at-home orders that forbid going outside unless for essential services; that said, if you keep six feet apart from others you should still be okay.) If you don’t yet have a home yoga practice, now’s the time to start one. On Yoga with Adriene, Adriene Mishler (often accompanied by her dog Benji) hosts hundreds of yoga classes—everything from Yoga for Beginners to hour-long power yoga workouts. (She also has classes that target specific conditions like anxiety and lower back pain.) For kids, Cosmic Kids Yoga has goofy, engaging 3-15 minute videos that blend yoga with storytelling, animation, and nursery rhymes.
4. Escapism: Bring it On!
Go ahead: Immerse yourself in that fabulous YA novel or binge-watch The Crown on Netflix. Hold a spontaneous dance party in your kitchen. We all desperately need moments of distraction from this pandemic. Artist Mo Willems, Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence at Home, has been hosting a daily “lunch doodle” for kids where he teaches them how to draw characters from his books. If kids have already exhausted their screen time, make exceptions for Storyline Online (where famous actors and actresses read their favorite children’s books) or Pinna, a kid-centered podcast that includes classic books like Make Way for Ducklings and Where the Wild Things Are. While they’re listening intently, you can sneak off to another room and meditate, do yoga or even take a nap.