Feel like you’re on the verge of going crazy? Have you eaten all your COVID-19 snacks? Do you stare out the window longingly looking at the cars driving by? If so, you might be working from home by yourself!

A little backstory here… My husband and I have only been married one year, but I’ve already gotten used to having him around, like, all the time. Last week, however, he had to go into work while I worked from home. And let me tell you… It was rough. I had SUCH a hard time finding the motivation to get things done and stay focused. If you’re like me and are working from home all by your lonesome (whether you’re married, have roommates, or live by yourself), here are some tips you can use to keep from going absolutely nuts!

  1. Where You’re Working Matters. Whatever you do, DO NOT work from your bed or your couch, no matter how tempting it is! If you have a desk, use it. If not, work from your kitchen table! Sitting up in a chair and using a tabletop will help you stay focused and prevent you from sneaking that Netflix tab open. (PRO TIP: Try to find a spot that has natural light and isn’t in your main living area. This will keep your body’s natural rhythms in check while also keeping the temptation of the laundry, dishes, or other distractions at bay.)
  2. Stick to your norm. Obviously, this can’t be done in every way. But, with what you can control, do your best to stick with what you normally would! Do you shower every morning? Do that before you start working! Pack your lunch the night before? Make that a priority (and see more on that in the next tip!). Go on a walk during your lunch break? Keep that up, even if the location has changed!
  3. Give Your Body Nutrition (But Don’t Overload). Okay, I have to be honest here. Last week, it was a struggle when it came to snacking and meals. Since I had easy access to the yogurt, chips & dip, and cinnamon rolls my husband made, it was nearly impossible for me not to snack on it all constantly. Every time my mind wandered, it landed on snacks. And by the end of day three, I was feeling the consequences of it. By the end of the week, I learned some tricks:
    • Pack your lunch the night before. I usually pack my lunch every day for work, so why not do it when working from home? This way, it’s easier to limit my snacking only to what’s in the bag for the day.
    • Stick to your normal routine. If you usually have breakfast at 7, a snack at 10, lunch at 1, and a snack at 3, (or is it just me?) stick to that! Your body will react if you change schedules, so sticking to your norm will help your mind stay focused.
    • Give yourself smaller portions more often. This is something I live by most of the time, but it is especially helpful when working from home! When you’re able to have more (but smaller) snacks throughout the day, it easily provides variety to your day.
  4. Get. Moving… A lot. Whether you’re a regular gym-goer or not, your body needs to get some movement in! I won’t lie, I did not follow this tip at all in the first couple of days. (Was anyone else in a total daze the first few days of last week??) But the more I prioritized getting moving, the more I realized its impact! The key here is finding what works best for you.  Are you a morning person? Look up some at home no-equipment workouts to do before the sun’s up! Hate working out in general? Go for walks around your neighborhood!  Some people work best on a timer (30 minutes of work = 5-minute break/movement session), but I just can’t get into it. I don’t like leaving anything unfinished, so instead I work by task. Once I’ve crossed something off, I do one round of a quick HIIT workout by my favorite trainers. Find what works best for you and stick with it! 
  5. Make a schedule. The above two tips play into this, but creating a schedule for yourself is the biggest key to staying motivated. Motivation comes from completing tasks, so the more things you cross off your list, the more motivated you’ll be to finish it! And when you create a step-by-step outline of your day, you can build in those 5-minute workouts or 10-minute breaks. Not only will this help you stay focused and motivated, but it is actually proven that you’ll get more done!
  6. Get human interaction where you can. While I am lucky enough to have another person who lives in my house (thank you, husband), I know that not everyone reading this is married or has roommates. If you live by yourself, this tip might be more difficult to put into practice, but it’s not impossible! Rally up a few friends to have a daily lunch video call together. Talk about your days. Take turns asking silly questions. Enjoy the interactions! If you do live with other people that are still going to work during the day, use your time in the mornings and evenings to stockpile your personal interactions! It’s so important now more than ever to put the phones down, turn the TV off, and just enjoy the friendships around you. Virtually, of course.

Although working from home has its perks, working alone can be really challenging. But don’t give up! There are so many great things you can do to keep your focus. Finding what works best for YOU is the most important one. Have patience in the process. Working through change always takes time, but we’ll all come out stronger in the end if we keep trying. I’ll be wishing you all the greatest music, the best snacks, and the most human interaction possible from my quiet, quiet home!

The past few days have been filled with change and upheaval for me and my family. In two days’ time, my husband and I drove 1600 miles in order to clean out our son’s dorm room prior to his campus shutting down. 

I remember when I first drove to campus to drop him off for orientation. It was so exciting and I was greeted with a beautiful banner that said, “Welcome to Columbia.” But as we drove up Amsterdam Avenue for what may be the last time, I was hit with a stark contrast- no smiling people saying, “So glad to see you, Can we help get your things out of the car?” 

Instead, it was dark, isolated, and almost midnight, similar to how I was feeling on the inside. If I was honest, that was not how I imagined my final visit to Columbia would go. In my mind, our whole family would have traveled together to watch while my son’s name was called as he crossed the stage to receive his degree and a handshake from the dean of his college. 

I realize I am not alone in feeling this way. Many other graduates from all levels have had their graduation/commencement ceremonies postponed or even canceled. As family members who have supported them through the past 4 years, you, too, may be hoping for another outcome. 

The question for us now is, “How do we deal with the disappointment that we feel while also celebrating the accomplishments they have achieved?

Acknowledge your feelings. 

You may be angry, but if you look deeper what you may really be experiencing is disappointment, sadness, or grieving the loss of a dream. Whatever you are feeling, let it come.  Bottling it up and/or acting like everything is normal (which it obviously isn’t) may only make things worse. It’s ok to talk about how you feel. Make sure to listen to how other family members and friends are feeling, too.

Celebrate anyway.

Because in today’s society, we have so few ceremonies that mark life’s transitions, find a way to commemorate the accomplishment – both now and later. If the school is providing some type of ceremony, think about participating even if it’s online. We are living in a different time now, so we have to be willing to change and adapt accordingly. But by all means, CELEBRATE!

Embrace the journey of the past and look forward to the future.

Whether you are graduating from high school, college, graduate school or technical school, you worked hard by studying. You made sacrifices of your time to be a successful student. Whether you are the parent, guardian, friend or family member of a graduating student, you also sacrificed money and time to support them. No matter how exciting the graduations, formals, and other senior celebrations are, I am reminded that they mark the end of one phase of life while simultaneously signaling the beginning of another. It’s important to look back, learn from the past, and move toward the future, knowing that everything has led you to this point in your life. 

I’m still hopeful that my son’s university will hold commencement exercises, and if they do, you can bet I will be there. (I mean, we earned it, you know!) In all seriousness, I’ve been in my feelings since I found out that what I expected to happen was not going to happen the way I thought it would happen. Some things are out of my control, but I’m trying to accept the things I can’t control, have the courage to change the things that I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. I’m hopeful we can all find ways to make the most of a situation we never dreamed we would face.

We are fighting an unconventional war against an unconventional enemy. Time to up our psychological warfare game. I give you Sun Tzu from the Art of War:


However desperate the situation and circumstances

Don’t despair.

When there is everything to fear

Be unafraid.

When surrounded by dangers

Fear none of them.

When without resources

Depend on resourcefulness.

When surprised

Take the enemy by surprise.

Sun Tzu probably never had to work from home and take care of his kids while quarantined.

We’ve definitely been surprised. Is it possible to take the enemy by surprise and regain some lost ground?

Many of us that are working from home and caring for our children feel trapped in a Catch-22. If we attend to our work, we feel like bad parents. If we attend to our kids, we feel like bad workers. (Perish the thought that we attend to ourselves.) We feel like failures on all fronts.

This expresses itself in guilt and compounds our stress and anxiety, so our bodies continue to release stress hormones like cortisol and we function perpetually in “fight or flight” mode. This compounds our struggles.

Tasks feel like they take so much longer. Easy things feel harder. Hard things feel completely impossible. Our brains really aren’t wired to multitask effectively and we are asking them to multitask while under a great deal of stress. That stress is chemical, it is hormones in our bodies. They take their toll and we give up even more ground. Eventually, you are not even you.

You don’t feel overwhelmed; your brain is overwhelmed. It is like overloading a circuit-breaker. It is going to trip and you’ll shut down. Some of us are already there.

Even our sense of time and our internal body-clock get out of whack. For some of us, the days feel unbearably long. For others, the days seem impossibly fast. The rhythms and routines that defined our days have been upended. Things that gave our lives meaning and significance have been taken from us.

Research indicates that child abuse and domestic violence rates are going up. Divorce lawyers are gearing up. These are our families. Our children. Our spouses. The people we love the most that can become both the catalyst and the object of our anger and stress. Make no mistake, we are in a war. The enemy is NOT our family. The enemy is the mercenary Covid-19 and the disruption it has brought to our lives.

We can wage this war with hand sanitizer, disinfectants, hand washing, and social distancing, but the real frontline is our mind. This is psychological warfare. So what are the rules of engagement?

An expert in psychological warfare says, “When people are stressed, there is a temptation to lose touch with reality and to blur the boundary between reality and fantasy, If you blur that line and start making decisions on false data, that’s going to lead to bad decision making.” 

Your mind is a Prediction Making Machine. Don’t rely on its guesses based on “false data” about the future and create false narratives like:

  • I’m botching my child’s future because I can’t really help them with school.
  • My boss probably thinks I’m a bad worker and is gonna fire me.
  • My spouse and I can’t get along and my marriage isn’t going to survive this. 
  • I’m going to be financially ruined.

You don’t have to believe everything your brain tells you. Tell your brain they’re Covid-19 psych ops. Tell your brain that other outcomes can be more likely. Tell your brain you will take things as they actually happen and not react because they might happen. 

What are your weapons? Directing your attention to the truth. Adjusting expectations. Practicing gratitude. Exercising stillness. (You don’t have to fill 100% of your day with activity.) Breathing. Releasing tension in healthy ways. Sharing love. Practicing grace and forgiveness. Creatively helping others. Putting off important decisions. All these weapons are right between your ears.

Just knowing you are engaged in psychological warfare is a good start. Hold your ground. Fight the good fight for yourself and for the people you love. Take Sun Tzu’s advice and surprise the enemy by using your best weapon- your mind. Don’t let yourself, family or marriage be a casualty. Don’t settle for being a survivor. Focus your mind on being victorious.

In light of our current events and the chaos and disruptions they have brought, I felt the need to call a good, old fashioned family meeting! It had been a while, but we had a lot of new important things to talk about- new work situations, school cancellations, health concerns, and how our family was going to navigate these unique circumstances.

Once everyone was gathered around in the living room, several things were part of this particular meeting:

  • I asked how everyone was doing. How was everyone feeling- physically and emotionally? My colleague wrote a great blog about taking your family’s “temperature.”
  • I shared information from the CDC about the coronavirus, how it is transmitted, risks of exposure, symptoms of infection, and recommended precautions to take. I kept a calm tone and stuck to the facts. I allowed room for them to share what they had already heard and where they heard it. We talked about what information sources were trustworthy. (I have teens and up. Adjust accordingly for your children.)
  • I went over some new family routines and rules that would be in place for a while. No friends over right now. Who was responsible for sanitizing door knobs, appliance handles, remotes, light switches, etc. and on what days. What the schoolwork schedule would look like. We talked about how we would be having more Family Movie and Game Nights!
  • I allowed space for questions and encouraged everyone to be real about their reactions and suggestions. They had some ideas way better than mine!
  • I emphasized that this was going to pass and we would seize the opportunity these new obstacles provided- to spend more time together as a family, to learn new things, and to invest time in the things we always say we wish we had the time to do. We are a team and a fun team!
  • We talked about how “this” was not all about us and how we needed to keep our eyes open for creative opportunities to help other people.
  • Remember: This is opening a dialogue to what will be an ongoing conversation.

Sure, this meeting was necessary because of a set of new, unique circumstances, but family meetings should be a regular part of your family culture. Keep them going!

General Family Meeting Tips:

  1. Keep them positive and fun.
  2. Keep everyone involved.
  3. Keep them relevant. (Nothing worse than a meeting that feels unnecessary.)
  4. Keep them a brief but consistent part of your family life.

Every family is different so be sensitive to your specific family needs as you consider these suggestions and be prepared to make adjustments as needed.

  • Start them with something fun that gets everyone talking like a silly question like, “What superpower would you want and why?” or “What vegetable would you like to disappear forever?” Talking people are more likely to keep talking.
  • Use them to keep everyone on the same page. What was the best part of last week for you? What are you looking forward to this week?
  • Meetings emphasize family interdependence. They help the family to understand each individual member and help each individual to understand their connection to the family. Let family members put things on the agenda. Let them lead.
  • This is the time to address issues, schedules, current events, and even finances in an appropriate way. This is the time to celebrate grades, sport wins, recitals, and character growth you are witnessing as a parent. NOT a time to embarrass anyone or point out individual mistakes or problems. 
  • Be creative! Family meetings can be held at a pizza place (just not during social distancing, of course!), during a board or card game, or throughout a car ride. No matter what – end with some fun!

Since the family was all together in one place, we capitalized on this opportunity to transition from serious real-world problems into an incredibly competitive, very fun, homemade three-point shooting contest using a pot from the kitchen, a chair, and some paper wads. Walkout music was blasted for each player. Meeting adjourned!

Last week as I was preparing for our team to begin working remotely, I was thinking about how this might work. 

I am an empty nester, so working from home is not nearly as complicated now as it was when our daughter was underfoot. However, many of the FTF team members have small children and spouses who are also providing essential services during this time. People are trying to navigate multiple roles – parent, teacher, team member, spouse, adult child to an aging parent and more – but in a much more chaotic environment.

It is not lost on me that there is no way it can be business as usual for the next four to eight weeks. I literally can’t expect that team members will be at their desk from 8-5 when they are trying to feed children meals and snacks (then help with cleanup), put younger kids down for naps, provide assistance or direction for schoolwork, break up the latest spat or make sure their kids are not occupying themselves with screens all day long. And laundry. Don’t forget the mountains of laundry.

They’re also spending their energy trying to nurture other relationships in their lives and help family members/friends who have lost jobs, are ill or very susceptible to Covid-19 who may need their help in this challenging landscape. Not to mention, everyone is trying to keep surfaces wiped down to prevent the spread of sickness.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from leadership guru, Patrick Lencioni, that I think is worth sharing. 

He reminded us that right now, all of us are in uncharted waters so we need to be exceedingly human. As in, as leaders/employers, we need to demonstrate real concern for the fears and anxieties people are experiencing both professionally and personally. A lot of people, including those of us who lead companies, feel like we have been punched in the gut.

Next, he pointed out that now is the time to be especially communicative with our team members. Check in on people. Share what you know even if there isn’t a lot of new information. Pass along resources that you think might be helpful to them. (First Things First actually created a page with resources for self-care, marital care and parenting specifically to help people during these uncertain times.)

Lencioni also encouraged us to lead with creativity. There is no way we can do things the way we have always done them, so try new things. It’s likely you have already created regular check-in times with your team members. Instead of only talking about work, allow them to share how they are being creative at home, give them the chance to share stories, movies, games and resources they have found particularly helpful. Your team needs to know you get it. This kind of bonding will bring the team closer long after this crisis is past.

In my experience, great leaders do not see themselves as better than the people on their team. In fact, they surround themselves with team players who are passionate about the mission and understand that the success of the work is dependent on the success of the team. Now is not the time to only look out for self, but to recognize that we are all in this together. Even in and especially in times of unprecedented loss, the leader sets the tone for how the team moves forward. 

Truth be told, probably all of us who lead are concerned about how we are going to pay bills and make payroll over time. No doubt, income and donations will be less and billable hours will decrease, but in the midst of this, we absolutely cannot forget the human factor. Pushing people harder will not make things better and they will certainly not forget how they were treated in the midst of this crisis.

Lencioni closed his email with these wise words: 

“What you should avoid is seeming cold or impersonal in the name of ‘business as usual,’ or being absent or inconsistent in the name of ‘giving people space,’ or being afraid to try something new. These unprecedented times call for you to stretch beyond your normal comfort zones and be even more vulnerable than usual. Six months from now, you’ll look back and be glad you did.”

As the CEO, I know the FTF team is looking to me to lead through this time. I honestly have no idea what the future holds. I do know for this moment in time, I can be gracious with folks as they try to figure out how they will juggle everything. Nobody’s schedule is going to look exactly the same. I have to recognize that some of our team members are early birds and some are night owls. Some people need total quiet to work and others can work through the noise, no problem. Giving them some flexibility to accomplish tasks is key. People are already super stressed, weary and anxious. Adding to that will only make them more unproductive and decrease the bottom line. With these things in mind, I am looking for ways to help bring calm as we continue to serve people through our work by making one wise decision at a time.

Managing Change Successfully

"It's NOT business as usual". We talk with Julie Baumgardner about dealing with the fear and anxiety associated with the major changes to our business and family lives during COVID19. Learn more at firstthingsfirst.org .

Posted by CWLI – Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute on Friday, March 20, 2020

Breakfast. Check. Son’s Math. Check. Respond to emails. Check. Help daughter with Reading assignment… Lunch… Complete project for work… Dinner. Check. Check. Check. Check. Whew. This was a good day. We got it all done!

Hold on! Wait a minute! You’re missing something. In fact, if you keep up this schedule, the morale in your home is going to drop, the productivity is going to drop and the opportunity before you will be missed. How do I know you’re missing something?

You’re missing something BIG! You’re missing out on an opportunity to increase your kids’ academic, social and emotional skills, their ability to deal with stressful situations and anxiety. You’re missing out on an opportunity to learn about your kids or your spouse, develop deeper connections and create lasting memories. Still don’t know what you’re missing?

SCHEDULED PLAYTIME. Yes. That’s the thing. SCHEDULED PLAYTIME.

Unfortunately, you may also be missing out on a way to make your life easier while you’re home with the family for the foreseeable future. Who doesn’t want that?

This is a MUST. We can’t leave play to chance and hope someone says something funny while we eat lunch or while they’re working on Math. We can’t just hope that the adventurous person in the family brings some excitement. And we sure can’t minimize its importance. 

We must add play to our checklist. Why?

  1. Let’s start with all the reasons I mentioned earlier. No need to rehash those.
  2. Brings positive energy, creating a more conducive environment for the work that follows.
  3. We’re a family. We do life together. We laugh together. We cry together. We play together. We feel each other’s stress and we feel each other’s joy. (I can feel it in my home when someone is really stressed out about something.)
  4. When we play and laugh, our brain releases dopamine, a chemical that lets us know that we like what we’re doing. We connect that joy and pleasure with the people we are doing it with, making us want to repeat it. 
  5. We’re living in stressful times. Laughter truly is the best medicine. 
  6. Play strengthens our relationships.
  7. Strengthens children’s academic skills. (I know I said it earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again.)

I get it. You’re the adult. You have to be the responsible one to make sure that everyone gets all their work done. That everything stays orderly and structured. And if we get everything completed, then we’ll play. Because play is the reward for finishing everything, right? Besides, how will it look if it’s 10:30 AM and we’re playing a game and they haven’t read their English homework yet or you haven’t quite finished that project? You don’t want to be that parent.

Think of the other side of being the responsible parent. The responsible parent who helps to increase their child’s ability to achieve academically and improve communication skills. The parent who builds their kid’s confidence and their immune system. The parent who’s reducing the stress level in the home and creating a positive, energetic homework environment. That’s what you’re doing when you schedule time to play. You’re scheduling all those benefits, which might make it a little easier to get through each day.

There are tons of lists of ways to play. Keep it simple. It can be just a few minutes as a study/work break or a designated 30 or 45 minute recess. Whatever you do, don’t not schedule time to play while you’re home. One could say, you’re not being responsible.

Ideas for Play at Home:

  • Ball up some paper, get a trash can and start close, seeing who can make the shot. Keep inching your way back. Add some flair. Celebrate creativity in shooting styles whether you make it or not.
  • Turn on an upbeat song and dance. Use a hat and whoever is wearing the hat, dances for about 20-30 seconds and then puts the hat onto someone else who then begins to dance. Profusely cheer on the person dancing with the hat on.
  • Draw designs on the driveway using sidewalk chalk.
  • Do impersonations of one another, other people in your life, or famous people.
  • Build a fort in the house using couch cushions, pillows, and bedsheets. Then let someone do their school/job work inside the fort.
  • Start making up a story. Speak for 30 seconds and then have the next person pick up the story from there for 30 seconds and then someone else for 30 seconds and keep going around as long as you can. The story may become outlandish, but who cares? 

Look at all the smiles, laughter, and imagination taking place. Check. Check. Check.

The rain let up and the sun peeked through the clouds in the early afternoon on Day 2 of Social Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Already a little stir crazy in the house, I directed my 4-year-old, Jackie and 2-year-old, Maddie to get socks and their rain boots on. We headed outside to our driveway, where a couple of fresh puddles lay, just waiting for eager feet to jump in them. 

Jackie looked back at me with an inquisitive look in her eyes. “Is this ok?” she silently sought permission. I smiled and nodded with an emphatic, “Go for it!”

She timidly stepped in the puddle, while Maddie watched, waiting for her big sister’s verdict. A little jump. A smile. A bigger jump. A laugh. Soon, both of my girls were jumping and splashing and kicking up muddy water all over their clothes. I stood back, watching them bask in the joy of a carefree childhood activity. 

We needed this. I needed this. With the stress of a global pandemic, trying to work from home while parenting two kids under 5 as my husband delivered essentials to businesses and hospitals as a FedEx driver, I needed a distraction. Some sort of stress relief. And this was it. A little break from the juggling act I was attempting to do between projects and snack times, diaper changes and refereeing sibling quarrels. The excitement and simple pleasure of getting dirty outside were exactly what we all needed. 

The significance of jumping in muddy puddles dawned on me, as I really stopped to savor the moment. I had NEVER let my girls jump in puddles before. I rarely even let them get dirty. It’s not that I’m a clean freak, there’s just never enough time. There’s always something to do, somewhere to go, a nap to be had, a meal to prepare and eat, a bedtime routine to stick to. 

In the hustle and bustle of life, I had unknowingly been robbing my kids of an essential childhood need: to play outside, explore, get dirty, discover and learn. 

As the stress and anxiety of our new (temporary) social distancing norm was threatening to hit hard, getting outside to play provided much-needed benefits for both myself and my kids. Not only did my kids get exercise from all that jumping and running, but they were also soaking up that vitamin D that strengthens their bones and keeps them healthy! Being outside improved all of our moods and gave us a much-needed break from the stuffy indoor tension that was building. 

And just like that, my perspective on our situation shifted. I could view quarantine as an inconvenient nightmare OR I could see it as an opportunity: to slow down and appreciate the little things in life, to let my kids be kids, to minimize the stress of social-distancing by taking the time to enjoy the moments of uninterrupted play.

Most mornings, we wake up with little time to spare. Get dressed, shower, wake up the kids, get them dressed, tell them to make up their beds, brush their teeth, comb their hair, brush my hair, grab their things, grab my things, fix a cup of coffee, get ready to leave, oops, I forgot to brush my own teeth, brush my teeth, hop in the car five minutes later than I needed to! Drop the kids off at school or the bus stop, stop by Starbucks, head to the office hoping I didn’t forget that I have an 8:00 appointment. Sound familiar?

Guess what, while we’re practicing social-distancing, here’s the chance to create a new family norm that is less focused on punctuality and more focused on starting the day the way you want to start it as a family. As our lives have changed due to the pandemic, we can intentionally do some things differently that set the whole family in the same direction for the day.

Here’s one change that can make a HUGE difference.

Family Breakfast Time . Don’t let food be a hindrance, but let’s address food first. Breakfast can be anything from sitting together to drink a beverage, to toast with jelly, all the way up to to the big time – pancakes, eggs, fruit, and OJ.  Focus on the words “Family” and “Time.” Think of the word breakfast as the important time of the day. It’s before you launch into your “daily work/school” time.

Why is this so beneficial? Studies show the benefits of having regular family meals together. Benefits, particularly for children, include better eating habits, feeling more connected, increased communication skills, and better self-esteem. They also include being less likely to develop eating disorders, engage in risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking habits, or to become depressed. Eating together helps you develop the lifelong bonds that strengthen your family and help you make it through tough times.

Set the tone for the day. This is the perfect time to set expectations for the day. Everyone can know what is expected of them and what to expect from you. We tend to receive information better when we’re eating. It does not necessarily have to be a minute-by-minute schedule but just having a set time to explain the intended flow of the day while we are eating and all together can provide some predictability for everyone. The kids will know that there will be some downtime, playtime, work time, quiet time, eating time, etc.

Family Temperature Check. I go into further detail about this in another blog. Ultimately, this is a good time to find out if anyone just plain and simple woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning or is having a very difficult time emotionally dealing with the fact that we are all stuck in the house together all day every day for the foreseeable future.

Give everyone a common starting point. Just like every football team huddles before running the next play and then proceeds to their position to start the play, the family huddles at breakfast and then starts the next play. As a parent, we have the power to send the family to their next play with enthusiasm or with dread. Even if you’re the only one with the positive energy, that’s OK, be that parent who the kids roll their eyes at and say, “Dad, you’re just over the top.” They’re going to say it with a smile on their face and move on after breakfast thinking not about the dread of being home all day yet again, but how silly their parents are. 

Tips: If you decide to have a family breakfast on a regular basis, here are some tips.

  1. Enlist your children to help with breakfast. Set the table with dishes, cups, silverware, condiments, whatever is age-appropriate. After all, they are eating as well. Do not become their servant. If age-appropriate, let them prepare some, if not all of the food.
  2. Keep it simple, but only if you want to. Don’t feel stressed that you have to pull out the pots and pans. Cereal and juice are fine. Pop-tarts and water are fine. An apple is fine. However…
  3. Go all out some mornings just because! Waffles, pancakes, omelets, biscuits. You have the time now. If your work and schooling get started a little later, since everyone is quarantined, it’s OK. That’s the opportunity here. Now, you don’t have to leave by 7:45 to miss the traffic and miss sitting in the long drop offline. (Teach your children how to make some of these items. Before long, they may do it for you.)
  4. Get started. When you get up, just because you are working from home, don’t spend hours procrastinating about getting your day started. Breakfast becomes the high point of the morning. Get into a rhythm and when everyone wakes up, announce that we will have breakfast in ___ minutes so that everyone is moving toward breakfast. That becomes our first destination for the day. For some people, simply having a set time for breakfast may be the way to go.
  5. Enlist children to help clean up following breakfast. Wash dishes, load dishwasher, clean table, sweep the floor, put away any extra food, be done
  6. Be real. This does not mean your day will go perfectly or even smoothly. This helps you to maintain a healthy relationship when things do get rocky.

Take advantage of this opportunity. I love to eat. Lots of us do. I love my wife and my kids (all 7 of them). Doing what I love to do with the people I love should be the formula for connection and peace in the midst of this chaos.

All of us are beginning to realize that life as we have known it has dramatically changed. We are at war against an invisible enemy that is wreaking havoc on our lives. Playdates for our children, lunch with friends, a steady income, worship, exercise classes, school, sports, graduations and even shopping are either non-existent, cancelled, postponed or look very different at this moment in time. Our lives have been interrupted in a huge way.

Even for the most spontaneous person, our dramatically different way of living has many of us on edge. 

“During times of trauma and uncertainty, we are stressed, weary and overwhelmed,” says Dr. Gary Oliver, clinical psychologist. “Our typical response is to ‘react’ in the moment, which often makes things worse. This is our emotional brain hijacking our thinking.”

Especially during these times, Oliver says we need to be intentional about “responding” instead of “reacting.” 

 “In life there are only three kinds of situations: things I can control, things I can’t control but can influence, which is a larger group, but the degree of influence probably isn’t as great as we think, and things that are totally out of our control,” Oliver says. “We can’t control the COVID-19 outbreak. But we can be sure to wash our hands and distance ourselves from others. If you are a person of faith, you can pray. We can exercise to stay healthy, we can be kind and help others who are more susceptible to catching the virus.”

Oliver believes this focus on what we can control and influence will help us thrive as we work to reach the other side of this crisis. For each decision that you face during this time, Oliver recommends that you think of the situation as a blinking yellow caution light. We all need to slow down and proceed with caution. Why? Because we are at risk of acting in ways that will only complicate the situation or possibly make things worse.

Here are some specific actions Oliver recommends to help us deal with the days ahead:

Sit down and make a list of all the things you can totally “control.” In all likelihood, this is a very short list. 

Then make a list of the things you believe you can influence. 

Finally, list the things you can do nothing about – and this is probably an endless list. Oliver says most of the time people are kind of shocked by how few things they can actually control. Some studies suggest that approximately two-thirds of what we worry about are things totally beyond our control.

Now, rank the list of things you can actually influence from one to 10, with 10 being the highest. The things at the bottom of the list are the things you actually have the least influence over. Then look at the things you scored five and above. Ask yourself, “What are some specific things I can do in these areas?” Your answers may be something like this: I can stay aware of the latest updates or I can practice good self-care. 

Speaking of practicing good self-care, Oliver points out that we are only as good for our spouse, children, extended family and friends as we are for ourselves. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can really be unhelpful to others. You can love yourself and others by eating well, resting, utilizing spiritual resources if you are a person of faith and getting exercise. 

Count your blessings. In challenging times, it is easy to focus on the negative instead of what you actually have. Make a list of your blessings. Do you have food? Is there a roof over your head? Can you walk, talk, see and hear? Do you have people who love you and are checking in on you? Do you have electricity, running water and access to the internet? Visually seeing your list is empowering. 

Support others. Ask yourself, “How can I encourage, express appreciation, support or pray for others?”

Find ways to connect face to face through Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime or something else. Although we have social distancing, we still need relationships. Texting and Facebook are ok, but there is no substitute for face-to-face contact. Seeing someone’s face and hearing their voice is comforting and psychologically, physiologically and emotionally nurturing. We all need that, especially at this moment in time. Isolation is good for not spreading the virus, but relationship isolation is not healthy.

Pay attention to your pets. Brain science now tells us that interactions with our pets can be life-giving, especially in times of crisis. 

When people feel like they can’t do anything, anxiety, fear, discouragement and depression creep in. People become overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. 

These suggestions may seem small in the scheme of things, but they are not insignificant. Instead, these recommendations can help you grow smarter and make wiser decisions. Look for the opportunity to encourage others, because it’s not just about your own survival.

Ask yourself, “What is going to be my next healthy step?”

Families across the globe are about to find themselves spending lots of unsolicited time together due to the coronavirus pandemic. As I peruse through social media, talk to friends, and even think about my own experience with 7 kids in the house, there is plenty of anxiety, fear, and consternation over this one simple question, “What am I going to do with these kids all day?” Fortunately, there are many, many resources being provided to help parents answer that question.

The question I want to pose is, “How do we as parents, we as couples, keep from losing our minds while we are being asked to stay cooped up in our homes with these energy abundant children?” You’re going to have the opportunity to be more irritated, more frustrated, and angrier than ever. 

Let’s not spend our energy trying to figure out how to prevent the inevitable. That’s just setting yourself up for more frustration. Let’s plan for how we will respond in a way that does not ruin this unique opportunity we have to grow as a family. 

Before we get into the hamster wheel of just trying to survive each day, take some time each day with your significant other and maybe your children as well and do a temperature check. As a family, take a moment and ask one another, “How are you doing?” How are you feeling?” “What do you need?” “How is all this time together affecting you?” “What bothers you the most right now?” Listen to their answers and share the effects each day is having on you. 

It’s okay to acknowledge the difficulties. This is a good time to hear if Mom is feeling overwhelmed. Dad may be feeling helpless. Your daughter may be feeling restricted. Your son may be about ready to shut down and shut everyone else out. And your dog may be the one absorbing it all. 

These daily temperature checks take into account that this is new territory for us all. The uncertainty of the economy, of school, of our way of life as we know it can cause us to react in ways that we are unfamiliar with because we can’t always readily relate it to a past experience. 

Instead of just forcing our way through it, let’s learn how to talk our way through it. Let’s figure out as a family how to share our thoughts and emotions. Let’s learn how to address one another’s needs even if they can’t be met because of the circumstances. Let’s not act as though we know what to do as a family unit. Let’s figure it out together. Understanding the effect it’s having on one another in real-time is a good first step.

This is an opportunity to take advantage of the intended beauty of relationship, of the connections we have with those closest to us. If we can learn to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of the people in our own home, imagine how that may translate outside those doors when we get to leave the home again.