COVID-19 took all of us by surprise. One day our families were at work and school, running errands and attending meetings and practices. The next day, we were ordered to stay home. To say this was an abrupt change is an understatement. The coronavirus global pandemic is hard on all of us, but children are especially confused and overwhelmed, left to the guidance of adults.
Our kids need some level of control right now, plus a whole lot of grace. Their worlds, like ours, have been turned upside down and inside out.
When we initially isolated, I had created a stringent schedule. This was my way of trying to create order out sheer chaos. I quickly learned that yes, a schedule was beneficial, but dictating what we’d do every moment of every day wasn’t going to work. The kids were miserable, and I was stressed out by my own creation. That’s when I decided that I was going to let my four children do what they wanted during social isolation: within reason, of course.
As parents, we know that there are some battles that just aren’t worth fighting. This is even more true now, while our family is following our state’s shelter-in-place mandate, than ever before. We’re together all day, every day, which means things can go really well, or really, really bad. If I was going to make sure my kids weren’t just physically safe, but also mentally and emotionally stable, something had to change. That something — or should I say, someone — was me.
Like many families, we’re balancing work and play. My kids have their distance learning, and my husband and I have our work responsibilities. We also have a home to maintain and meals to prep. Our days include lots of outdoor play so our kids can burn their energy. It’s a delicate balance, for certain. One way to keep everyone in check, without going overboard, is to let go of what doesn’t matter.
For example, we’re usually very strict when it comes to our kids’ bedtimes, especially on school nights. But now, because we don’t have to set an alarm clock in the morning and rush out the door, our kids are sleeping in more and staying up later. So what if my kids want to stay up an hour late and play with their LEGOs or watch another movie? As long as they aren’t completely melting down, we’re making more popcorn.
The other day, my son was walking around in fleece Christmas pajamas with absolutely no concern that it was 70 degrees and sunny outside. Mama, let this go. Meanwhile, my oldest tween put on a summer dress and did her hair. Go for it, girl. Another one of my kids put on two layers of athletic wear because she felt like it. Why do I care? The kids are doing their own laundry these days, so if they want to wear extra (or less), who am I to judge?
We’re watching a movie every night, rotating who gets to choose. That Marvel flick I wouldn’t let them watch two months ago is fair game now. As long as the movie isn’t going to give them nightmares that require me to get up and comfort them at 2:00 AM, knock yourselves out, crew.
I used to greatly limit my kids’ screen time, mostly because it can be very dysregulating for those with ADHD. But now? They’re spending hours FaceTiming friends and family. This gives my children some sort of comfort and normalcy during an unprecedented, confusing, disturbing season. If video chatting with their cousins or touching base with a school friend means an inkling of joy, we’re doing it.
Of course, my home isn’t a total free-for-all. My type-A, anxiety-ridden self couldn’t stand for that. I have some standards, and there are deal-breakers that I stick to for the sake of my own sanity. I’m not letting my kids stay up until midnight playing video games. They would never fall asleep after that much visual and auditory stimulation. I don’t let them have free rein of the kitchen, only because they’d consume everything in the pantry and refrigerator and then ask for more. I draw the line at glitter projects, and I’ll be damned if I’m letting them make slime. No. Just no.
However, I do not care if they wear superhero costumes while digging holes in the yard. Their wish to invent new smoothie recipes—no matter how disgusting I think their ingredients of choice are—is my command. If they want to use all of the tape and glue they can gather to build a robot out of recyclables, cool. The reality is that I can’t entertain them 24/7, so if they manage to self-occupy for a bit and make a mess, I let them. They know they have to clean up when they’re done.
I used to get very hung up on the little things, but our social isolation stint is slowly chipping away at that. This season is quite a lesson, reminding me of what truly matters. If my kids are healthy and safe and if our well-being is intact, then I’m probably going to say yes to their requests. Instead of asking myself why I should let them, my new question is … why not?