Opinion

If your kids are alive and fed, you're doing just fine

There are no best practices for parenting, working and living through an international crisis. You need to function in whatever way works best for your family.

It was only hours after my province, British Columbia, announced schools would be closed indefinitely that my Facebook feed was flooded with colour-coded home-schooling charts. The ones that explained how to break up the day between outdoor time, independent reading, kitchen science experiments and backyard art.

Mom groups were filled with queries about homeschooling resources during the COVID-19 isolation, and friends were sharing photos of the pies they were baking with their children. An activity that, apparently, doubled as a lesson in fractions.

As if the idea of being quarantined with my beloved children (bless them) was not enough to send me into a state of panic, social media was now telling me I had to find a way to keep them intellectually stimulated. Every day. All day. For months. *twitch*

And so I prepared. I found Pinterest recipes for homemade play dough, researched school workbooks, and created a daily schedule that incorporated exercise, free play and learning, while letting my husband and me alternate between closed-door office work, and childcare.

Not only would we survive indefinite social isolation, we would thrive! We would eat the new Canada Food Guide’s recommended daily portions of fruits and vegetables. We would take vigorous family walks. We would limit screen time. We would navigate conference calls while our kids did long division at the table. We would drink eight cups of water a day!

I came home from work that day with a plan, only to find my husband putting away bags of groceries: Boxed macaroni and cheese, frozen pizzas and wine. The kids’ iPads were being charged in advance of what he anticipated would be the next day’s screen time marathon.

“Tomorrow’s going to be a shit show,” he said without looking up. “We should set a timer for two hours, and make the kids pause the TV to run around.”

Clearly he and I were not on the same page. But I’d bring him around to my way of surviving COVID-19 isolation. He just needed to see it was possible.

Here’s what you need to know: I tried. For about an hour and a half, I tried. But work emails piled up, and the kids called me “the worst EVER!” when I put workbooks in front of them, and my husband had to take a conference call in the car, and making play dough with little helpers is absolute hell. By 11 a.m., the iPads had brought peace back into the home. My husband had been right. (Don’t tell him this—he doesn’t read my articles.)

For a week now we’ve been existing, and that in and of itself feels like a feat. We’re stressed and on edge. We forget to eat lunch. We forget to shower. We’re trying to work while the children demand snacks, help with the TV or a referee for their endless (truly endless) fights.

Our kids have questions. They want to know when they can go back to school, and see their friends, and go to the park. They want to know why it’s actually “Thursday” when every day feels like the weekend. They want normalcy and consistency and their old lives back, and we can’t give that to them—not even a shred of it. So we let them live.

We let them eat quesadillas for lunch and dinner. We let them watch TV. We let them go in the backyard in their Christmas dresses and rain boots to look at bugs with magnifying glasses. Because this is what our family needs to do to stay sane.

Here’s what we all need to know as we close ourselves into our homes with our families, and wonder what to do next: There are no best practices for parenting, working, and living through an international crisis. You need to function in whatever way works best for your family.

If that means mac and cheese every night, then do it. If that means three hours of Netflix for the kids so you can work, then do it. If that means Venn diagrams and colour-coded schedules so you can create control out of chaos, then do it. If that means baking pies so you can share your passion with your kids while indulging in comfort food, then do it. Put on clean clothes every morning, or yesterday’s sweat pants. Teach the kids about the Great Wall of China, or send them into the yard to hit sticks against the tree. There is no right or wrong.

Remember this: In the vast majority of scenarios, our kids will be fine. This will end, schools will start back up, sports will resume, our offices will unlock their doors and we will slide back into our old lives. Your children are resilient, you are resilient, so get through this as a family without losing your ever-loving mind.

However you’re isolating, you’re doing great. And if you’re a front-line worker, thank you. We’re all in this together. And we’ll all see each other on the other side.