It feels like we’re in a weird transition in the pandemic right now. It’s like the world wants to go back to normal again. Officials are lifting some of the quarantine regulations, but we are definitely not out of the woods yet with the COVID-19 virus. 

I see people out in public and it seems like they are acting on two ends of a spectrum. Some people are continuing to be very cautious, donning masks everywhere they go. They’re following the arrows, standing on X’s in the store aisles and maintaining a hard “no” to people coming over for a visit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, folks are throwing caution completely to the wind, acting as if things are back to normal and ignoring any kind of preventative guidelines. 

Mix all this with what we’ve been going through the last two months, and what comes out is a lot of people on edge. It’s an emotionally-charged environment. Social media is fraught with all kinds of opinions and conspiracy theories and hostile exchanges about who’s-behind-what with the pandemic. It’s enough to make a person question their sanity.  

My kids see all of this. They take notice when other families are doing something different than us. They talk to their friends who are inviting others over for sleepovers and those whose parents are saying absolutely not. And they can sense the tension in each store line between those who wear masks and those who aren’t. 

So, how do we use this time to teach our children about emotional boundaries? 

What is an emotional boundary? 

When you see the lion exhibit at the zoo, there’s a boundary between you and the lions. And for good reason! The boundary is there to guard and protect you from the lions. It’s also there to protect the lions from you and all the other spectators. The boundary puts a healthy space between you and the danger. It defines which space belongs to you and which space belongs to the lions. Both lions and spectators benefit from this boundary. But if the lion makes its way to the spectator’s space (or, if a spectator shimmies his way into the lion’s space), well, bad things can happen. 

Emotional boundaries do the same thing. They serve to guard and protect us from threats to our emotional well-being. They also put a healthy space between you and other people. Sometimes people can cross the boundary. This happens in lots of different ways: bullying, shaming, name-calling, manipulation. If boundaries aren’t held, our emotional health and sense of self suffers. This can cause anxiety, depression or a sense of depleted self-worth. 

As we think about all that’s happening with the pandemic and the emotionally-charged opinions flying around like crossfire, emotional boundaries are compromised.

As parents, this is the opportunity to teach our children how to build and maintain appropriate emotional boundaries during this pandemic

How We Teach Our Kids Emotional Boundaries 

1. Model. Our kids watch us. Children take cues from their parents, especially when they aren’t sure how to respond to a situation. 

I was talking with a neighbor one day with my daughter present, and they began to explain to me their conspiracy theory on where the virus came from and what certain leaders were or were not doing about it. I completely disagreed, and normally would have made it known. But out of respect for my neighbor and because my daughter was watching, I kept calm and l listened. I validated his opinion without giving in to his hype and politely ended our conversation. Shortly after, of course, I got the chance to explain to my daughter that I didn’t agree with him and why, but that we must also be careful to respect other people’s opinions. 

How do you react in front of your kids when you see someone practicing a different habit of mask-wearing than you? Do you ridicule them? 

If you learn that another parent is allowing (or not allowing) their kids’ friends to come over and that’s not what you would do, do you allow your emotions to get the best of you and put labels on that parent? 

These negative reactions add fuel to the breakdown of emotional boundaries, and our kids sense this. Modeling appropriate emotional boundaries is essential to helping our children have appropriate emotional boundaries

2. Explain the importance of respecting others even when they do things differently. Modeling is one thing. But it’s so important to follow this up with a good conversation with your children about why you still show respect to others, despite the differences in the way they do things. 

After being in a store where some are wearing masks and others aren’t, take the opportunity to say something like, “Did you notice that some people were/were not wearing masks? Our family doesn’t do that, and this is why… However, that doesn’t give us permission to speak mean or disrespect people who don’t do what we do. They have their reasons for doing that, just like we have our reasons for doing this.

3. Be confident in who you are, even when others are disrespectful. Your kids are in situations where they see the glares between mask-wearers and non-mask-wearers in the stores. Or, one kid in the neighborhood might make fun of another for not being allowed to play outside with others. I’ve even heard some rather rude comments between strangers when it comes to social distancing. 

Help your children understand that people don’t always understand that it’s okay for others to do things differently and that they may react in ways that are disrespectful and make you feel bad. These kinds of reactions from others encroach on their emotional well-being. 

Say something like, we can’t help what other people say or think about us. But we have to be okay with who we are. We wear masks/don’t wear masks… play/don’t play outside with others… go to/don’t go to other people’s houses, because this is what our family thinks is best. It won’t always be like this, but right now we are making the best decisions for our family that we know how to. 

Lessons That Go Beyond the Pandemic

Resilience, self-confidence, security, respect of others and self-respect—these are all characteristics that come out of teaching our children about emotional boundaries. And there is no doubt we all need these to keep ourselves from going bonkers during this time in the pandemic. 

However, what you need to remember is that these lessons go way beyond the here and now. And perhaps there is no greater opportunity than during this crazy, emotional situation. You have the chance to instill in your children how to have strong emotional boundaries in the face of adversity. Your kids will need these skills for the rest of their lives. Don’t waste this opportunity to teach them.

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Routines and consistency are vital to the growth of our children. Research tells us this and experience confirms it. But you know what? A global pandemic tends to be a routine-buster! Nothing rocks our daily flow more than the sudden closing of schools and businesses. So what did we do? Families had to make adjustments to meet a new temporary normal. Bedtimes shifted. Morning routines looked radically different. Navigating a “normal” day became a balance of school, work, video conferencing, and the ever-continuing struggle of screen time. But how can we get back on track after quarantine?

For us, our kids’ bedtime shifted later in hopes that they might sleep a little later in the morning (that was a fail). The morning rush and commute was gone. Screen times increased for our kids, partially due to school, but mostly to help us get work done. Spring baseball was just a memory. Our biggest adjustments really were figuring out how to both work remotely and help our second grader with school. 

But here we are, eight weeks in and businesses and restaurants are reopening, childcare centers that may have been closed or limited to essential personnel are taking steps to welcome all of their kids back. Not only that, but the school year has ended, and for many of us, summer camps are now nonexistent. Virtual learning at least provided some sort of structure for our kids. My son knew he had assignments to do daily and when his video calls were… and he reminded us often. 

Now it’s time to shift routines again and get back on track. In just a few short weeks, my wife returns to work at a childcare center. My 4-year-old will also return to her childcare center sometime in the month of June. My son needs some structure for the summer as I still work remotely. So, what do we change? How do we return to some sense of the routines that we had before? 

Questions to Ask to Help You Get Back on Track After Quarantine

As we discussed this as a family, we asked ourselves some questions.

  • What do we begin to shift now to prepare our kids to return to a new schedule?  Bedtimes, for instance, need to adjust. Take gradual steps to resume a pre-quarantine bedtime. The same could be said for morning routines. We can make small steps to reclaim some of our routines in this area starting with what time we all get up. Abrupt changes are difficult for everyone—but especially for kids.
  • What have we started doing during this quarantine that we want to keep? Our kids have had tremendously more free, creative play. We have spent more evenings around the fire pit. More time has been spent in the hammock. How do we protect these things that have brought so much joy? 
  • What do we want to learn over the summer? As I look for ways to fill my son’s days, I’ll start by asking him what he wants to learn more about. What can we explore as a family that will continue their learning? Just because summer is over doesn’t mean learning has to end, but it can be fun learning experiences.

Prepare for Transition to Get Back on Track

As your family begins to discuss this next transition, here are 3 recommendations I have:

  1. Get your mindset right. Mentally prepare for transitions in your routines. Get ready for the battles that you may have to fight.
  2. Get your plan together. Have a family meeting to discuss this time of transition. (Check out this blog for some great ideas.) What does your specific situation require? This is a great opportunity to reinforce with kids why routines are important and why we have to also be flexible and make changes sometimes. 
  3. Get tough skin. (If you don’t already have it.) Let’s face it—kids don’t like change. Many of us adults don’t either. You may have had weeks with much less structure, but now we have to make more changes. Not everyone will be happy, but that’s okay. 

★ Nothing says that we have to return to the same routine as we had before the quarantine. Take this opportunity to evaluate what you as a family really want to do and what you value. You don’t have to make life as busy as it was before. ★

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I’ve always been quite nostalgic about my traditions. For example, I’ve kept school work that I made good grades on from kindergarten through college. I’ve also left my Christmas decorations up just a little too long each year and turned birthday cards into decorations. While dating my husband, I kept every love letter he gave me (and still do). 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve continued some of the traditions I grew up with. And As COVID-19 and quarantine have taken us all by surprise, I’ve found my husband, Tyler, and I challenged to create some new traditions

Since we heard time and time again from couples married for a few months to 30+ years to never stop dating your spouse, we try to have a date night every week—if not every other week. My husband and I loved this advice because I’m a sentimental sap and he is definitely a charming romantic (the kind of guy who sets out a hundred candles, bakes brownies and pours a glass of wine because he knows you’re having a bad day).

I’ll be honest, COVID-19 put a wrench in our date night traditions at first. We were busy navigating a new normal and because we were spending non-stop time together, setting aside date night time didn’t cross our minds. It took us about two weeks to figure out something felt a little off. We realized we had pushed aside something we always looked forward to—dating! Since going out to dinner and some activities were off the table, we had to get creative with our date night traditions.

We didn’t want to sacrifice something that kept the spark in our relationship glowing. No matter the circumstances, for better or for worse, we needed to show each other how much we love each other. We signed up for that when we committed our lives to each other. 

Just because we are spending 24/7 together, doesn’t mean we are spending it intentionally. Especially if we weren’t differentiating quality time together (date night) from the every-day-in-house hustle. 

We have been way more creative with our date night traditions out of necessity to keep the spark in our relationship. We’ve felt closer because of that. A big change that’s happened is going from, “What kind of food are you craving?” to “What does our relationship need this week?”

Is it some carefreeness because it’s been a stressful week? Okay, turn the living room into a dance floor, move the coffee table, pull up YouTube, and learn some new moves.

Maybe we haven’t had a meaningful heart-to-heart and date night looks like turning off all electronics, lighting some candles, and having intentional conversations. Here are some conversation starters:

  1. What has been on your mind?
  2. When did you make each other laugh this week?
  3. What have you been thinking about beyond work? 
  4. Have I done anything this week to make you feel loved and is there something I can do more of?
  5. What are your dreams right now?  
  6. What can make our sex life better? How can we make each other feel confident and vulnerable?

It could be simple as we miss dressing up and getting a nice meal at our favorite place so we get takeout, use the nice plates and glasses, light some candles, and change into a nice outfit. Our new favorite spot is our patio with a speaker, candles and card-playing games. 

We have also done some really sweet virtual date nights you can do, too!

I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in expectations. “We normally do this and it works so we should do it like this again.” In these “should” moments, we don’t leave room for something new and creative to happen. Look what happened when we stepped outside of just going through the motions! 

We have had a blast being challenged to change up how we pursue each other. It’s even been good for our relationship. I hope you and yours take the time to find what works best for you. If you do, I hope you have lots of fun along the way! 

Keep dating—even while in quarantine!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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During this pandemic, we have been inundated with guilt overload and messages about how our families should take advantage of this concentrated time together. The internet has become the panacea of all work and productivity-related, education-related and family engagement information. It has provided activities for families to do together from going to virtual museum tours to home improvement projects that include the kids, to all types of digital familial interactions.

There’s lots of good information out there, but it can make you feel guilty if you aren’t careful.

Some of us feel encouraged and empowered by this time. That’s awesome! Some of us are overwhelmed, or, dare I say, feel a lot of guilt. We are trying to keep up the multiple roles of worker, teacher, spouse and parent. It has been difficult to manage these roles with any sense of balance. 

The Problem of Guilt Overload

If I focus on work, and my children need me, I feel like I failed as a worker.  

If I spend time with my family, and I take a work call or email, I feel like I failed as a parent. 

Guilt is the name of the game. To be honest, if I see another article about how to work productively at home, I might scream. If I see another picture-perfect moment of family togetherness on social media, I may hurt somebody (metaphorically, of course).

I am weary of feeling unproductive as a worker and guilty as a parent. I’m supposed to meet deadlines AND spend quality time with my family since we are together at home. Somehow. This is the first time we have ever dealt with a situation such as COVID-19 and its impact on our lives (at work and at home). Many of us have sought to keep those two parts of our lives separated. Now, they are crashing into one another. 

How Can We Get Out Of This Rut Of Guilt Overload and Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda? 

1. Realize that there is no ONE right way to deal with parenting and working during a PANDEMIC.

As parents, we pressure ourselves so much to be the PERFECT PARENT when we spend time with our children. We want “magic moments” all the time. Now that we are home together during this time, we often have the same expectations. Be realistic and intentional about the family activities you choose. Most times the “magic” happens as we give ourselves permission to do things DIFFERENTLY, not PERFECTLY. 

We are also tasked with being productive while we work at home as well. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. This is new for everyone. Productivity will look different. We may work after the kids go to bed or get up early before “home school.” Work will get done, but maybe not in the same way as before COVID-19.

2. Choose the voices that you listen to.

We are BOMBARDED with messages from friends, family, news, social media and even our own voice on how we “should” be dealing with social distancing, homeschooling and working from home. You have an opportunity to make a conscious decision on how to handle homeschooling, upcoming summer plans and continued work from home. Now is the time to make your own way—not to be or feel judged by another “picture-perfect” Facebook or Instagram moment. 

3. Our kids are listening to and watching us.

Kids feed off our emotions. If you feel anxious or stressed, your child’s behavior or mood may mirror yours. If teaching history to your youngster is frustrating, ask yourself, “How can I do this differently?” Friends of mine watched the movie National Treasure to get their daughter curious about history. Remember, beating up yourself does no one ANY GOOD—especially your KIDS. 

I have recognized that GUILT, “the gift that keeps on giving,” benefits no one. I have to be okay doing the best I can with what I have and what I know. In the midst of my upside-down crazy life, I am choosing to remember the words of John Lennon:

Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

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I’m with you on this, but approaching your boss about continuing to work from home can be a tricky conversation to navigate! Let’s put our heads together and see if we can come up with a way to pitch our idea to the boss!

Many people are probably excited about the prospect of getting back to the office. Maybe they have little ones at home that make it hard to get work done during the quarantine. Maybe being put into the teacher-parent-employee role has been a struggle. Some people just like the office and the camaraderie or the hard distinction between work and home. COVID-19 and quarantine have been extra hard for them.

Then there are people like us. We’ve got our routines down. Our “maximum productivity zones” don’t necessarily match up with a 9-5 schedule. We’ve seen the benefits of integrating work life and family life, being able to take a walk around the block to think through a work assignment, and still be around the house and available to connect with family, too. We’re comfortable working with the team and having meetings via Zoom or the phone. And let’s be real—we are probably working more than eight hours a day and/or definitely getting more than eight hours of work done. Continuing to work from home seems like a Win/Win for everybody!

How To Have This Conversation With Your Boss

  • Remember that your boss is the boss. Have a humble demeanor. See my blog post here.
  • After seeing working remotely in action, your boss might be more open to you working from home, but there are times the boss might want the team to be in the same room. Acknowledge that and show that you are flexible.
  • Emphasize the specific ways that working from home has helped you be more productive, focused and creative, BUT…
  • Don’t be afraid to express how this has also benefited your family and your overall health and happiness. (Your boss knows that family problems and things like stress, anxiety and depression affect your work performance.)
  • Try suggesting a “trial period” so your boss can gauge how it is working out.
  • Understand and be prepared for the possibility that the answer might be, “No.”

How To Prepare For The Transition Back To The Office

  • Don’t wait to start mentally preparing and thinking through the practical things that will be affected by this transition. It was a significant shift to working from home and it will be a significant shift back to the office. 
  • If you were doing a lot of your work late at night or early in the morning, consider shifting your work routine now. Get your mind and body ready for 9 to 5.
  • Think through how this transition will affect your family. Have a family meeting to talk through how family schedules and routines will change. Your kids have also adapted to you being home during the day. They will need time and help to adjust. 
  • Be creative and intentional to find new ways to keep the things going that have helped your family grow stronger and be more connected. 9 to 5 doesn’t have to make your family less connected.

Best of luck to you, fellow worker who prefers to work from home!

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TO: Management

FROM: John Daum

RE: Going back to work at the office

Dear Management, 

What the heck? I just got used to working from home! Do you realize the adjustment that was? Do you think I can just switch everything up now and go back to the office? This disrupts all my family routines and we just got into a rhythm. Who knows if it’s even safe? Last time I checked, you aren’t the CDC. Plus, I can do the same thing at home that I do there. All I’d be missing is bad coffee. You guys seriously need to rethink this. This is so…

[Record Needle Scratch] 

TO: Management

FROM: John Daum

RE: Going back to work at the office

Dear Management,

I want to thank you for how you lead our company through a global pandemic. My family and I are grateful for the adjustments you made that allowed me to stay employed during such a chaotic time. I realize others were not so fortunate. Thank you for your flexibility and considering your people while other companies were only worried about profits.

I would like to say that working from home has been a great experience for me and my family. Additionally, I’d like to suggest that it has benefited the company as well. After the initial adjustment, I believe that my productivity and contribution to the company actually increased significantly. If it is at all possible, I would like to explore the possibility of continuing to work from home and coming in on certain days to touch base with the team.

Regardless of what you decide, I have already begun preparing myself and my family for how the transition back to working at the office will change some of our routines. I believe that some foresight and good communication is essential to make the transition as smooth as possible for my family and me. We’ve met as a family to discuss different scenarios and how we will navigate them—working from the office full-time or working from home on certain days and the office on others.

I’ve honestly wondered how I have been able to work so well from home and actually be more productive. It definitely seems counter-intuitive. There are some obvious reasons—my “creative zone” seems to be later at night after my kids have gone to bed. Also, I’m able to focus on work without distraction from early morning until lunchtime and have about five hours of solid work done before noon.

Beyond those obvious reasons, there have been a few that have come as a surprise to me. Integrating my work life and my family life has greatly reduced my stress about both. 

For instance, instead of the morning being a hectic time so I can beat the traffic into the office, I’ve been able to have a cup of coffee with my wife. Instead of a “working lunch” at my desk, I’ve been able to sit down and connect with my kids and talk about their day. Also, instead of worrying about my elderly mother-in-law who lives with us, I’ve been able to keep tabs on her and build my relationship with her. Instead of fighting traffic to get home, I’ve been able to have dinner ready for when my wife gets home and we eat more meals together as a family.

I know that this is a lot of family talk and not a lot of work talk, but it has become clear that having more family stability and connectedness has made me a happier person. That happiness translates into more energy and focus for work, more creativity, and less distracting stress and anxiety. I have the ability to work from my deck and be outside in an environment that keeps my mind clear. I have the ability to go for a walk around the block and think through a work assignment. Plus, I have the ability to work while I’m in “the zone” regardless of a time-clock. 

This kind of flexibility and efficiency has given me more margin to take care of myself and my family. A healthier, happier worker is a more productive worker.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. Regardless of how my work situation plays out, my goal is to creatively and consistently keep these lessons learned as a regular part of my family life. I believe that if I do so, the company will benefit—no matter where I work from.

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Was I the only one who was worried when COVID-19 forced me into endless hours at home to quarantine with my family? Was I the only one fearful about how this may affect my employment? Anxious about catching COVID-19? Uncertain about the potential damage to my bank account? Concerned about the impact on my children?

No. I’m not the only one. You know how I know? I went to the grocery store and I could feel the anxiety. I scrolled through social media, watched a little news, and talked to people. You could feel it. You could feel the tension and the uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus.

After a couple of weeks, some good advice from loved ones, some timely articles (some written by my co-workers), and prayer, I decided to not allow the outbreak to negatively affect my mental health. A good friend of mine’s words stuck in my mind, “Don’t waste this time.” 

As a leader of a family and within an organization, I needed to be my best self to lead those around me. COVID-19 highlighted my need to be “me” at my best. Being “me” at my best meant taking care of myself so that I could bring the best me into battle with those that are alongside me.

Instead of focusing on what’s been taken away because of the quarantine, I shifted to what needs to be in place for me to be my best. In other words, “self-care.”

Here are the ways the COVID-19 outbreak has improved my self-care. 

  1. Getting outside.  Walks with my wife. Bike riding. Sitting outside while working. Quarantining has helped me be intentional about simply getting outside to work, play, decompress, or chat it up with a neighbor. The experts say that getting some sunshine relieves stress, boosts the immune system, sharpens your focus, improves mood, reduces anxiety and increases creativity. You know what? I concur. I can feel the difference. Sometimes just 15 minutes does the trick.
  2. Exploring my emotions. During COVID-19, we are inundated with information about mental health. Instead of getting annoyed with the information overload, I’ve intentionally identified and explored emotions that I’ve experienced. I’ve done this by talking, prioritizing some quiet time, prayer and writing. Some of those emotions are directly related to the pandemic while some may be a side effect. To identify and explore those emotions with people I trust has been helpful to prevent my emotions from controlling me. My emotions taught me a lot about myself. I should really keep this up.
  3. Connecting with family and friends. Do you know what happens when you’re not always running from one activity to the next? You actually have meaningful, substantive conversations with people you like. Who knew? Simple check-ins with friends, hours-long conversations about life and being held accountable for taking care of myself have all become the norm. Relationships really are what matters most.
  4. Prayer and/or Meditation. Remembering how to be still and be quiet has been beneficial, too. Finding quiet spaces to simply slow down and pray more regularly has helped me be aware of what’s important. Numerous studies show that prayer and/or meditation helps us respond better to trauma and crisis. And just as importantly, it has kept me from that land of fear which can be paralyzing.

Bonus: Watching Documentaries.

I didn’t realize this was so helpful until recently. I have indulged in several documentaries including one by Ken Burns about New York and one he made about baseball. I’ve also checked out The Last Dance about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It’s been a nice getaway from the mundane and a good chance to learn something new. 

These are all little things that have helped me stay in touch with myself. While working, my focus has been better. Thankfully it has helped me to have more patience with my kids (in other words, I haven’t blown up at them recently). Who knew that there would be positive side effects to being quarantined?

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About four weeks into our quarantine, I told my husband, “I feel like I’m working harder than ever. At the end of my work day, I feel like I need a nap because I’m exhausted.” I really began to wonder if something was wrong with me.

Then I started hearing other people talk about how fatigued they felt. I decided to do a little research, and guess what? Quarantine fatigue is for real. Even with all the Zooming and FaceTiming going on, human beings don’t thrive in extended periods of social and physical isolation. If this pandemic has done anything positive, it has shined the light on the reality that just seeing people on a screen is not enough to satisfy the human longing to be in the physical presence of others or to experience a hug. The lack of that takes a toll on all of us, even the introverts of the world.

It is pretty unlikely we will return to what any of us considered a normal way of life anytime soon. This means we all need to be on guard for recognizing that we are at risk for experiencing quarantine fatigue.

Psychotherapist Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., author of Fragile Power, explains in a piece on Health.com that quarantine fatigue stems from that emotional exhaustion the pandemic has placed on our lives. “I’m hearing from all of my clients that they are exhausted from the sheltering in place rules. They feel unkempt. They’re bored. They’re broke. They want to divorce their partner and give away their children,” he says. “This pandemic has elevated the notion of powerlessness and uncertainty to a level we’ve never before experienced.”

Many can probably relate to this. I mean how many of us were planning to be the first in line for a haircut once barbershops and salons were allowed to open back up? Others were clamoring to get back to the gym, and should I even mention retail therapy? I spoke with someone who works at HomeGoods. She said the line to get in on their first day wrapped around the building. People waited two and a half hours to get in and apparently, the wait to check out wasn’t much better.

Since the experts say it is unlikely we will return to what we consider “normal” anytime in the near future, a big question remains. How can we cope with this quarantine fatigue without putting ourselves, our family members or others at risk?

What Can Help With the Fatigue?

  • One of the best things we can do to alleviate this type of fatigue is to move. Not locations, but get up and move your body. If you can’t get outside to walk, run or bike, find something else to do. Rearrange the furniture, do jumping jacks, run in place, clean, plant a garden—anything to break a sweat.
  • Do things to intentionally work your brain. Try things like jigsaw puzzles, crossword or word search, learning to knit or crochet, or learning a new language. Anything that will get your brain to think but in a way that is different from your norm is ideal. This will help with the brain fog you might be feeling.
  • If you have been in the same routine since you started quarantine, consider shaking it up a bit and trying something new. With children transitioning away from online classes and into summer mode for real, it’s a natural time to create a new schedule for them and you.
  • Remind yourself and those around you that things won’t be this way forever. It is for sure inconvenient and in some ways discouraging, but we have come through hard things before and we will again. Your mindset really does matter. If you constantly tell yourself and talk with others about how horrible this is, it will for sure make this time harder to navigate through.
  • Focus on what you can do. You can write letters to people. You can try to safely connect in person by practicing all the CDC social distancing recommendations, plan your next dream vacation or tackle a project you have been putting off because it was going to take too much time.
  • Stop giving yourself a hard time about what you aren’t doing. It’s highly likely that none of us are really functioning on all cylinders. This is difficult. Take each day as it comes. If yesterday wasn’t a great day, give yourself a pat on the back for getting through it even if it wasn’t pretty and then move through today one step at a time.

We still need to be careful and considerate of others, and self-care is actually a vital component of that.

Walking around feeling like your brain is numb or that you are in a dense fog doesn’t feel very good. Putting some of these things into play can help. Notice I didn’t say, putting all of these things into practice. The goal is not to overwhelm yourself, but to do some things differently with the intent of keeping things fresh when everything feels stale or boring. In other words, we all might benefit from hitting the refresh button to help ourselves get through this.

Children are funny—at least mine are. I love them to death, but if I had to explain why they do, say or think many of the things they do, I’d be up the creek. Sometimes there is no rationale or logic. Kids are weird sometimes.  And it’s very possible that, if your experience is anything like mine, they are doing just fine in quarantine during this COVID-19 pandemic situation – maybe even (dare I say) happier in quarantine. I asked my youngest (she’s 11) the other day if there was anything she liked about being in quarantine. She muttered, “Eh, I guess so. Maybe.”

Typical. 

Then she proceeded to play outside for three hours, baked some cookies, and watched a movie with the family. I think she’s doing alright. 

So this article is for all you parents out there whose kids seem happier being in quarantine and have thought, what do I do with that? And I’d like to suggest that exploring why our kids are happier during quarantine can make us a better parent. 

The Two Sides of Why Kids Are Happier 

So, just why are the kids happier during quarantine? There could be two sides to that answer— a healthy side and a not-so-healthy side. We can learn from both. 

Maybe you’ve seen the not-so-healthy side of happier-quarantined kids. You see the signs:

  • The video game console burns more electricity than the refrigerator
  • Their bedroom door is always shut, all day, and you’re starting to wonder what your kid looks like. 
  • The pantry is now a free-for-all, and you’re beginning to miss those sweet school lunch ladies who you had never met before. 

Granted, this doesn’t necessarily reflect every happy kid’s quarantine experience. But if it does, these are signs you might not have noticed before in the normal humdrum of life. Now that you are together more often, you notice the patterns and the red flags go up. 

But there’s possibly a healthier side to why children might be happier in quarantine. 

Kids are happier when families do stuff together. They love being around each other. Even teens, who typically need time away from parents as a normal part of their development, find comfort, belonging, connection and a more solidified identity when the family is more available. (But don’t expect them to tell you that!)

True, many kids miss seeing their friends (as do many adults). But consider the idea that the last few years of technology have possibly conditioned kids for quarantine. They, especially teens, are already accustomed to hanging out with friends and family electronically. 

Another explanation for quarantine-induced happiness in your kids: During the quarantine, have you noticed how much you are jumping from activity to activity, grabbing dinner on the go, not enough room for good family conversation, just like in pre-quarantine times? No? That’s because you probably aren’t. 

With the cancellation of baseball, dance lessons, band practice and other extracurriculars that devoured the family calendar, the pressure of jumping from activity to activity with little downtime has disappeared. Consequently, so has the pressure to do everything well. And kids really like this. 

One more possible reason kids are just happier in this crazy situation: They can focus on schoolwork better, and for shorter periods of time during the day. 

Schools are wonderful places, and the hardworking educators and administrators who devote their lives to kids are invaluable. But I also know that schools inherently contain distractions that, frankly, aren’t present at home. Rowdy peers, bullies, loud environments, busy hallways, busy lunchrooms, busy work—these can easily interfere with an otherwise productive day at school. At home during quarantine, kids can do what we all like to do—get in there, get their work finished and move on to more exciting things in the day. 

Ask ‘Em About Happiness

So how do we go about exploring these ideas with your children and gaining some parenting perspective? One simple answer to this is, ask them

  • What have you liked about being in quarantine? 
  • Is there anything you have not liked? If so, what is it?
  • What has made you happy being in quarantine? 
  • How has school been different for you in good ways? In bad ways? 
  • Are there things we’ve done in quarantine that we normally didn’t do before as a family? Are there things you would like to do as a family that we’ve not done before? 
  • Is there anything we did in pre-quarantine that we haven’t been able to do now, and you don’t miss it?

I believe knocking around these questions with your kids can make a big difference in how we parent and what we can look forward to in the future. It’s going to take intentional conversations, and depending on the number, age and personalities of your children, you may need to choose your strategy carefully. 

Younger kids may need help to articulate answers to these questions without putting your words in their mouths. With preteens and teens, you might have to wait for the “the right time,” the “teachable moment,” to bring up the subject. Some kids like to know these questions ahead of time before giving answers so they have time to think about it; others love spontaneous conversation. You know your children well and can figure out (sometimes through trial and error) how best to approach these questions with them. 

How It Will Be After The New Norm

The big question here is, how will what you learn from your kids about being happier in quarantine affect how you parent after the quarantine? 

What will your family focus on more? Less? And how do you want to direct your parenting based on what you discover during quarantine?  

These are the kinds of questions that simply take time and ongoing conversation in order to draw solid conclusions. But keep this one big idea in mind: The experience of going through quarantine will impact our kids for the future, but not nearly as much as how we parent during the quarantine. 

The ways in which your family has shifted during the pandemic—spending more time together, eating more meals together, slowing down, enjoying the outdoors more, having more intentional conversations, making time for more play and fun (in other words, all the reasons my funny, weird kids say they’re happier)—these are all touchstones to be cultivated by us, the parents, for the future. 

What we do now helps kids navigate transitions, deal with change and stress, develop resilience, foster positive values, make tough decisions in the face of the crowd. Because, hey—that’s life, right? 

Talk to your kids about what’s making them happy right now. Lean into what they say (or what they do after they mutter I don’t know). We can learn a lot from what’s making our kids happy.

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Right at the start, I want to offer you hope. I’ve been married for 25 years and we have survived the day-to-day marital difficulties as well as some things considered “Marriage Killers.” Our marriage isn’t perfect—no marriage is—but we have learned that it is possible to go from surviving to thriving. Remember: Marriage is two imperfect people, building an imperfect relationship, striving to fail better every day. Don’t lose hope.

Quarantined in a difficult marriage…

You probably feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. That’s not an easy position to be in. Quarantine has probably magnified and intensified things that you were already struggling with in your marriage. You’re not alone. Many couples are discovering difficulties with quarantine. You and your spouse’s fuses are shorter now and you are stuck together with more to stress about and get angry about. Understanding that dynamic is important. It really is a rock and a hard place. Don’t draw any conclusions during this time and don’t make any big decisions.

Since we might be inching toward the end of quarantine, let’s think about why your marriage is already difficult.

We are gonna run with the idea of “rocks” and “hard places” for a bit to talk about marriage. Some people expected their marriage to be this easy, fun, delightful walk in the park. Marriage has those moments, but… Every marriage is a rocky road. You will experience everything from a pebble in your shoe to a mountain that you have to scale. The stones on your rocky road come in all shapes and sizes. But there are ways to navigate them all and stay on the road together.

✦ Speaking of stones and rocks, a rock’s hardness is measured on something called Mohs Hardness Scale. For our purposes, this is now the Marriage Hardness Scale.

What is making your marriage difficult? Where are you on the Marriage Hardness Scale?

1. The Little Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Annoyed.)

Examples: Oh, you already know them! (You can just mentally scroll through the list in your head.)

The bottom of Mohs Hardness Scale is talc. We know it as talcum powder. It’s soft, but it can get everywhere. This fine powder is going to work its way into all the unique cracks and crevices of your relationship. You may have married someone who is the complete opposite of you. Those differences can get annoying really fast. You may have married someone who is exactly like you. That too has its own challenges. The bottom line is that no matter what, you are two individuals with unique personalities, needs and habits. Don’t be surprised that your spouse does little talcum things that annoy you. (And don’t forget, you probably have little ways you annoy them too, just sayin’…).

You can do two things with Annoyance Level hardships—you can overlook them or you can address them.

Overlooking them requires you to exercise patience, grace, empathy and humility. Addressing them is going to require conversation. “I feel X when you Y. Could you please Z?” You’ll need to be able to do both along this dusty road. Maybe that takes care of it; maybe it doesn’t. When it doesn’t…

I love this clarifying question: Is this a tension to be managed or a problem to be solved? You’re two different people doing life together. Some issues and annoyances don’t change. That’s normal. You can choose NOT to give things the power to annoy you. You can accept your spouse the way they are, warts and all. Learn to lean on your differences and put them to good use. Learn to laugh about them. (I know that sometimes the “little things” can bother me the most. If you let annoyances accumulate, if you give them power, eventually, they will bump you up a Hardness Level or two.)

2. The Not So Little Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Discouraged.)

Examples: Disagreements about finances, sex, parenting. Constant busyness. Undealt with annoyances. Lack of good communication.

Some things that are difficult in marriage rise above the expected annoyances of living with another person. (And sometimes those annoyances, never dealt with, get aggregated and form a rock that is harder to deal with.) These rocks become “a thing” between you and your spouse. They can twist your ankle and trip you up. These rocks can also be picked up and weaponized—“You always… You never!

Marriage is work.

You’ve heard the saying, “You can work harder or you can work smarter.” Marriage requires BOTH. Yes, it takes effort, but a healthy marriage also requires some skill sets. 

  • How to respond instead of react. (Control your emotions, don’t let them control you. Know when to call “timeout” and cool off.) 
  • How to actively listen. (Body language—look like you’re listening. Put what you heard in your own words. Ask clarifying questions.) 
  • Conflict management skills. (Attack the problem, not the person. Use “I” statements, not “You” statements. Have a plan and rules for how you will handle conflict.)
  • Intentionally staying connected. (Date nights. Learning your partner’s “Love Language” and exploring new ways to love them. Expressing gratitude. Being intentional about doing things that strengthen emotional and physical intimacy.)

When you can navigate the rocks as a strong TEAM, instead of tripping you up or being weapons, they become mile-markers of your growth.

3. The Big Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Exasperated.) 

Examples: Mistrust. Constant conflict. Boundaries being approached or crossed. Resentment.

These are boulders along the rocky road of marriage that can get in your way and make you change direction and get off course. You can become divided as you navigate different paths around the boulders and now you’re not walking together. You can feel the separate lives forming. Plus, you feel like co-owners of a small business named, Family, Inc. and your communication has devolved to a level that has all the romance of a business meeting—“Did you pay the electric bill? Who’s driving to soccer practice? What’s this charge on the statement?” This can make a marriage difficult. And maybe, after a few boulders, you’re just trying to keep it together for the kids.

It is incredibly valuable to have a Marital Mentoring Couple.

I’m talking about a couple that has made it 20+ years and has the war stories and the lessons they learned from them. People that will be honest with you and you can be transparent with them. You might be surprised to find out how normal and expected some of your “unique” problems are. Expectations are everything and finding out that some things are “normal” can take some of the power away from them and encourage you. A mentoring couple can pass on lessons, skills, and maybe more importantly—a new outlook and hope.

The boulders of marriage can unite you, rather than divide you. It’s all in how you approach them.

4. The Hardest Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Hopeless.) 

Examples: Infidelity. Apathy. Emotional Affairs. Contempt. Separate Lives Under One Roof.

You are going to face some problems and issues that seem “irreconcilable” along the rocky road of marriage. This isn’t an annoying pebble in your shoe, or a rock you can twist your ankle on or throw at your spouse; this isn’t even a boulder that has come between you. There are mountains to climb. And the fact is that you can also move up the Hardness Scale very quickly. Situations, issues, problems can escalate from Annoying, Discouraging, Exasperating, to Hopeless quickly if left unchecked and undealt with.

Don’t be afraid to call in the pros at this point. (Or at any point.)

By pros, I mean marriage counselors. We have personal blindspots. We have marital blindspots. A counselor might be able to see what you aren’t seeing, hear what you aren’t hearing, and show you that you’re doing things that you both don’t know you’re doing. (Or NOT doing.) They can help you cultivate the skills that you didn’t even know were available or you were capable of. Don’t be ashamed of getting counseling. You probably already know couples that have benefited from it—you just didn’t know a counselor helped them. Even if your spouse isn’t willing to see someone, that shouldn’t stop you. It only takes one person to change the dance.

Fun (IMPORTANT) Fact: There’s been a lot of “rock” talk here. The hardest stone on Mohs Hardness Scale is the DIAMOND. That’s right. It’s likely that one of you gave a diamond on your wedding day and one of you received it and is wearing it right now. That hardest of stones comes in handy for ALL your marital hardships, especially for the hardest of situations in your difficult marriage. And you already have that stone! You’ve had it the whole time! Remember why you got married in the first place? When you climb the Marital Mountains together, you’ll find an incredible view and a whole new perspective.

Back to hope

This Marital Hardness Level can go from Hopeless to Hopeful. All of them have the potential to bring you closer together instead of driving you apart. Annoying can go to Amazing. Discouraging can go to Encouraging. Exasperating can go to Exhilarating

During this quarantine, remember, you’re between a diamond and a hard place. You can do this.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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