For most Americans life isn’t “business as usual” these days. Smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic, COVID-19 has flipped our normal life on its head and conjured up a mix of panic, anxiety, uncertainty and fear. Every family faces unique struggles and obstacles when it comes to creating a new norm with unfamiliar parameters such as social distancing, quarantine and vigorous personal hygiene. But for those of us who have a spouse at risk working on the front lines, whether they’re physicians, nurses, first responders, childcare workers, truck drivers or the countless other essential workers that keep our country running, the stakes (and consequently, the stress) immediately go up.
My husband Bobby, for example, works as a FedEx Express driver. For him and millions of couriers around the nation, not only is it actually still just business as usual during this pandemic–it’s a crazy whirlwind of employees calling out which creates a shortage of workers. And since we are all at home, ordering our essentials online, there is an increase in packages to deliver as well. For those who take on the extra load, like my husband, it means long hours and late nights. It’s job security at its finest (yay for overtime pay!)… but an awful lot of anxiety for the family he leaves at home every day.
The Process of Figuring Things Out
I’d like to say we have it figured out, but let’s be honest, it’s week 2 of our social-distancing adventure and things seem to be changing every single day. Currently, I’m working from home and watching my two daughters (who are under 5 yrs old). Oh, and I’m 5 months pregnant. Bobby leaves before any of us get up in the morning and is usually home right as I’m getting the girls to bed. That means my day consists of all meals, diaper changes, snacks, naps, playtime, mediating quarrels, kissing boo-boos, calming meltdowns, baths, bedtime, laundry, dishes, washing hands, cleaning/sanitizing and trying to work the best I can at my kitchen table, on my laptop, in the few minutes my children are occupied by Frozen 2 or when they can actually get along and play nicely together. It makes my head spin just typing it out.
Suddenly, I feel like a single parent and it’s HARD. (Seriously, single parents are superheroes.) Not only is the sheer exhaustion enough to break me, the effort it takes to not let resentment build up or let the anxiety over whether Bobby will become infected and unknowingly bring home the virus weighs like a ton of bricks on my shoulders every single day. So how can we navigate these murky waters?
Arm Yourself With Knowledge and Safety
If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a billion times, but the recommendations from the CDC are imperative to follow. In our unique situation, we’ve struggled to know how far to take it. Should Bobby self-quarantine and sleep alone in a separate room? Keep 6 feet away from me and the kids? Wear a mask, even at home? The resounding answer to all of these questions continues to be, “We don’t know.” In times like these, all we can really do is look at the data we do have and factor in our unique preference and comfort level. Ultimately, decisions like these come down to what works best for your family.
For our family, the stress of trying to do it all on my own was so much greater than the stress of the possibility of contracting the virus and the uncertainty of how it would affect me during pregnancy. Since we do know that stress has a very negative impact on pregnancy and is not good for the baby, we decided to choose the option that created the least amount of stress for me. I have no other health issues, eat a vegan diet and (try to) exercise regularly. Plus, currently there is no data that suggests that pregnant women are more susceptible or even at a higher risk for severe symptoms. There is also no evidence that the virus affects the fetus in utero. (Sources: CDC, NPR, YaleMedicine)
So, after a very long, emotional conversation, Bobby and I decided that we would follow these precautions:
- At work, he asks permission to sign for anyone he delivers to, in order to eliminate multiple hands touching his power pad screen and uses hand sanitizer frequently.
- Upon coming home, he strips down in the basement, throws his clothes in the washing machine and comes upstairs to immediately shower.
- Before he showers, we sanitize ever surface he touches.
- We continue to diligently wash our hands and try really really hard to not touch our faces.
- Physical touch is limited. (No kissing and minimal hugging/touching.)
Of course, if he knowingly is exposed to the virus, we will reevaluate and implement a complete self-quarantine for him at that time. But for now, this is our new routine! It means he still gets to help out with the kids and the household, sleep in the same bed as me and enjoy family time when he’s home. The stress of feeling like a single parent is minimized (at least on the weekends and days when he gets home early.)
Protect Your Marriage (Especially From Resentment)
It would be easy to slip into resentment during these times. Working from home and taking care of the kids is no joke. All the stress and anxiety of life is quadrupled, and who ends up getting the backlash? Our spouse. Bobby and I have already had our fair share of arguments since this quarantine began, all exasperated by the current circumstances. So we have to intentionally work at keeping our marriage strong and healthy. Some of the easiest ways to do that?
- Acknowledge each other’s sacrifices. We are both putting forth an extra amount of effort and there isn’t one that is better than the other. We both feel seen and cared about when we’re speaking words of affirmation and appreciation for what we’re doing daily.
- Communicate your feelings. For some people, talking through their feelings comes easier than it does for others. But it’s so important to have that self-awareness and let your spouse know what’s going on inside your mind. (Remember, none of us are mind-readers!)
- Actively listen to one another. Part 2 of communicating your feelings means that the other person actively listens to you. Passive listening (when someone is listening without really reacting or interrupting) is really just one-way communication. It doesn’t make the person talking actually feel heard. Actively listening (when someone responds and shows that they genuinely understand the message being conveyed) creates a safe space that allows both people to connect on a deeper level. It builds trust and respect, especially in the midst of tension.
- Remember, you’re on the same team. Fighting against each other instead of for each other can happen in the blink of an eye. Suddenly your argument turns into subtle (or not so subtle) jabs because you know exactly what buttons to push and where your spouse’s Achilles’ heel is. But remember, your spouse is NOT the enemy. COVID-19 is.
Connect With Each Other Daily
As you read this, we are currently significantly limiting our physical touch. And yes, it’s tough. Bobby’s primary love language is Physical Touch, so it makes it much more difficult to show that I love and care for him when we are purposefully maintaining our distance. Although it’s not ideal, we both recognize that this isn’t for forever. It’s just a season. We are determined to get through it together. And we will be stronger for it. So, while we may not be able to touch each other… We can still connect through quality time, conversations, little gifts, notes and meeting each other’s needs the best we can right now.
The Four Points of Connectedness
Our connection has grown tremendously over the past couple of years because of this amazing concept I learned. According to studies done by relationship researcher Dr. Linda Duncan, there are four powerful points of connectedness between couples during the day. When you are intentional about connecting at these times on a regular basis, they can increase the intimacy in your marriage. Yes, please!!
How you wake up.
Figure out a simple, loving way to say “good morning” to each other. It’ll set the tone for how you engage with each other until you part for the day! If coffee is your love language, it’s a no-brainer.
How you part for the day.
Parting is such sweet sorrow these days, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Take some time to talk about what the day looks like and be sure to leave on a positive note… (“I love you” and “Thank you for working so hard!” are great parting words.)
How you greet each other.
After being apart all day, the way you greet each other when you get home really matters! Even if it can’t be a big hug and kiss, you can still express excitement with a warm smile and a genuine, “I’m so happy you’re home [sappy nickname here]!”
How you say goodnight.
When the day is done and you’re ready to call it a night, take some time (just the two of you!) to debrief on the day. Even though you’re probably not going to bed at the same time, getting “tucked in” isn’t just for the kids! These sweet moments before bed can actually impact how well you sleep that night!
The bottom line is that having a spouse who is still working adds a level of complication and stress into the mix of an already difficult situation. But just remember… this too shall pass. In the meantime, while you’re taking all the necessary precautions, don’t forget about keeping your marriage healthy as well. Eventually, when all the dirt settles and the waters are clear again, it’ll be so refreshing to know that your relationship is even stronger for it!
***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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“If anyone is gonna catch COVID-19, I will…” This is a thought that I’ve had to do mental battle with in the last couple of weeks as I deal with anxiety about COVID-19. Even though rationally, I know my chances of not catching COVID-19 are really, really good, I still find a sinking feeling creep into me day after day. Even the people who know me have hinted at it, heavily implied it, or come right out and said it.
I check the CDC website daily. I check to see if there are any more cases in my county and the surrounding counties. (And the surrounding states… and countries.) I catch myself wondering if “they” are reporting the numbers accurately. My paranoia doesn’t feel entirely unwarranted. The concern of my family, friends, and co-workers is justified.
My health has been a bit of a dumpster fire.
Chronic pain and catching everything going around is just a way of life for me. What follows is far from exhaustive. Consider it my body’s “Greatest Hits.” In no particular order…
- Severe case of mononucleosis in college that went undiagnosed for months, made me miss almost an entire semester and did significant liver damage.
- Spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia. (To answer your question—the worst kind.)
- Contracted a staph infection during knee surgery. Spent two weeks in the hospital being operated on every other day. (Beat sepsis and avoided septic shock! Yay!)
- Diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disorder. (Of course!)
- Spent a week in the Infectious Disease ward of the hospital because of more staph infections. (Nurses in biohazard suits—scary, not cute!)
- Total of 32 surgeries in the last 25 years on my face, head, both shoulders, elbow, hip, both knees, and I guess you could say, innards. (Not counting numerous other procedures. It only counts if I was completely anesthetized.)
- Totally forgot! Traumatic Brain Injury from a car accident. (Wasn’t trying to be funny.)
It’s a respectable list, but I’m always mindful that there are people out there dealing with far worse health issues. So you can see why I might get a little anxious about COVID-19, right? You can see why people would put all their money on me if there was some kinda morbid betting pool?
Let’s talk about anxiety a second.
You don’t rack up a “body count” like mine without having all the exhausting mental health problems that inevitably come with a broken body. Been there, doing that. Here’s the kicker—I was voted “Class Clown” my senior year of high school and THAT is a distinction I have always been determined to live up to! Laughter is the best medicine! How do you beat anxiety about COVID-19 and stay fun-lovin’ when you have legitimate health concerns?
- I focus on what is right with me and remember there are people dealing with so much worse. There are people that would trade problems with me any day.
- I’ve been through some hard things. Miserable things I don’t want to do again. I’m certainly not happy about COVID-19 and our present situation. On good days, I try to lean into hard situations and even try to be thankful for them and be open to the lessons they are trying to teach me and the character they are trying to develop in me. (And I stay thankful for the people around me who love me and help me through all of this stuff.)
- I try to be wise. (I try.) There are things I just can’t do, even if I think I can. Frequently, I have to swallow my pride and let other people do things for me. (This is one of the hardest parts. I’d rather help someone than be helped.)
- Specifically related to COVID-19, I do what the professionals say to do. Period. Full stop. I’ve been conscientious about eating healthier, staying hydrated, and getting sleep. I practice social-distancing, wash my hands a ton, make sure surfaces in my house are sanitized. We had a family meeting and continue to work together to be smart and stay healthy.
- I deliberately stay away from people, conversations, and information that is generally negative or will make me feel anxious. That has involved putting some distance between myself and some people. That has involved controlling the flow of information into my brain from television and social media.
- I’ve been using apps like FaceTime and Google Meet instead of simply making phone calls or texting friends and family. Seeing another face is so important for helping me feel better and to really check on how they are doing. Face-to-face communication helps me connect to “my people” who encourage me.
- I’m a big believer in the real power of positive thinking. I decide how I’m going to think about my body and my life. (That’s why I don’t even like writing stuff like this, honestly.) I try not to live in worry and fear or self-pity. I find strength in what I’ve already overcome and will draw on that strength for the next “thing.” But only if there is a “next thing.” I don’t deal with “what ifs,” I just take it as it comes. (When I feel like I am losing the mental battle, I don’t hesitate to call on “my people” and even call on the mental health pros when necessary.)
I’m not going to say that anxiety or fear about COVID-19 is justified. I will say that concern is justified.
There is a huge difference. I’m concerned about my health and respond to that concern appropriately by doing what medical professionals recommend. That’s it. That’s what I can control. I’m not going to worry about things I can’t control.
Maybe the biggest lesson I’ve learned about anxiety is that actively looking for ways to help and encourage other people, is like, magical. It’s hard to worry about yourself and someone else at the same time. It’s hard to worry about things you have no control over while helping to meet the needs of someone else. Nothing feels better than helping other people.
This is the perfect time to think about how other people are doing and reach out to them. What if you could relieve someone else’s anxiety while relieving your own?
Feeling overwhelmed with coming up with things to do with your kids stuck at home? Check out this ultimate list of ideas! Thanks to the Princess Awesome & Boy Wonder Community for the amazing suggestions!! (for actual quarantine, school closures, weekend social distancing, anytime!)
- Have each kid pick a topic they’d like to learn about and spend 30 mins each day on that topic
- Spend one day reading every single picture book we have in the house
- Go through all the old mail laying around (ok, that one’s not for kids although they do enjoy helping tear stuff up)
- Bake something every day
- Have each kid write a letter and/or emails to a different friend or family member each day
- Use all of our building toys on one giant structure
- Wash our hands!!!!
- Races of various kinds in the backyard (hopping on one foot, crabwalk, walking backwards, etc.)
- Try stop motion animation with playdough
- Facetime grandparents a lot
- watch everything on Disney+
- inventory the plants & wildlife (from bugs on up) in your yard.
- learn the parts of plants/flowers & how they function (bonus if they learn the Latin names).
- if you aren’t too squeamish & have a spare clear shoebox size tote or 5-10 gallon tank, catch some pillbugs (rolly pollies, sowbugs) & observe them (if you really do this, i can tell you how to set them up. i have about a thousand of them currently because it’s too cold here to thin the herd & they’ve been reproducing all winter. they’re pretty interesting).
- write a short story & illustrate it.
- learn how to do simple book binding.
- make paper (from your old mail!)
- have the kids help with yardwork in between playing games outside. They’re little, but they like getting dirty and “working” in the gardens.
- GoNoodle! Great for guided movement, relaxation, etc.
- Board games, card games
- We have some extreme dot to dot books (1400 dots) that the kids love, especially the 5 year old!
- Lots of reading, playing with the dog,
- Working on learning to sew using stuff we have on hand.
- Card making/scrapbooking projects (mostly for me but kids can do it too).
- Getting the garden ready, we need to weed and work the ground. I might get seeds and we’ll set up to have our own starts this year.
- Make tents and reading caves : ) flashlights, tidy snacks, books, and pillows!
- Have a shadow show in the reading tent (we used blankets over chairs or a table)
- Get binoculars and learn about the birds near your house, look them up on google and search for their birdcalls on YouTube
- Learn how to make a stuffed animal
- Play with cornstarch and water and cheap action figures
- many educational websites are waving fees if your students school is closed
- Here’s a list of all of them that are waving fees
- Collect a bunch of tape markers and cardboard boxes. That’ll keep them busy for a day or two.
- Watch all the hand washing videos & vote on your favorite. Discuss why each good, helpful, funny. The Holderness parody one is hilarious, the Vietnam Tiktok one is great choreography, some have good songs etc.
- Also pick your favorite song with a 20 second refrain or verse perfect for hand washing length of time.
- Family puzzles. Ones that are 500-1000 pieces and a challenging but not frustrating picture
- We homeschool (4 kids) and honestly, just have fun!!!!!
- Team up and really clean and organize each kid’s space, making a donation box for each. Parents are included.
- Have a board game day
- kids can also make their own games! Board games, card games, you name it! My daughter spent a lot of time this winter creating soccer and football games played with cards for moves and pieces made out of legos
- Write a story cooperatively. One person picks a character and the other picks a setting and then go gangbusters together.
- the folding picture story one! We called it “eat poop you cat” one person draws a small picture across the top of a paper the next person writes a sentence that describes that picture and folds Over the paper top of the paper hot dog style to cover the picture. So the 3rd person only sees a sentence and they have to draw a picture. They fold over the sentence.
- Any and all art is fun at home: beading, painting, drawing, play dough or kinetic sand, sewing, etc. when my daughter was young we could do art all day.
- Massive board game tournament with all the (mostly forgotten) board games we own!
- Stolen from “growing up global fb page”
- If your school is going on #quarantine and running #schoolonline, get #GlobalKids for the special price of just $10.98. Take a screen-free, curiosity + creativity boosting, global empathy + engagement trip around the world, from comfort of your home
- My daughter (6) has enjoyed doing yoga at home. There are kid-friendly YouTube videos and printed cards with poses.
- Zumba or Dance-along videos on YouTube
- We home school exclusively and the best advice I have is check out Pinterest. There are tons of ideas for activities, games, etc.
- Draw self portraits on blank faces
- color coded different interesting places on a map.
- I’ve had them draw maps of places and then make directions from one place to another to see if someone else could follow it.
- We’ve done scavenger hunts, indoor treasure hunts where they follow clues through the house to a “treasure” at the end (could be candy, a movie, whatever), and a lot of charades.
- I made videos with my 3rd grade daughter teaching kids how to write code. Check out the videos here
- My daughter wanted a doll house for her 18″ dolls. We saved cardboard boxes and got more from Dollar general and got to work. The closets and couch are cardboard as well.
- There are a few easy “kitchen chemistry” type science experiments that are easy to do, like making slime, baking soda and vinegar reaction, etc.
- we put food coloring under the baking soda in a mini muffin pan and used Pipette to drop vinegar in and then you can see the color!
- Last summer we did an experiment to learn what each ingredient did for a cake (so we made one following the recipe, one without eggs, one without milk, etc.). We then compared and contrasted the different cakes … Then we ate a lot of weird cake.
- There are a bunch of ideas on the lab section of our webpage! And we have letters from women in STEM around the world!
- give the dogs a bath and brush
- wash and clean out my car (mostly their food trash and dirty socks)
- mow the lawn (my 11 year old just learned!)
- play sidewalk chalk outside
- glow stick party
- popcorn + movie marathon
- Listen to kid podcasts – we love story pirates and smash boom best.
- Declutter toys!
- Have an Olympics with a bunch of events competitions – funny ones, helpful ones like cleaning and really fun ones like minute to win in style.
- Learn new card games
- We’re going to learn to make sushi!
- Lots of art projects!
- Dig up all the activity books, presents, etc that never got played with, and use those!
- There’s always time tested building a tent in the house with blankets and chairs. Great for just before nap time.
- We are going to bust out our hiking gear and try new hiking paths. As long as you stay away from over populated areas you will naturally stay a safe distance from others and sick people generally don’t hike!
- Do a study on planets, then have the kids create their own planets- how big is it, where in the universe is it located, atmosphere conditions, can it sustain life, how long is a day/year, name it, etc.
- you could even spread the planets out around the house to show “approx.” distance from each other.
- Watch this to learn about relative distance
- Design a new space craft, draw plans, then create out of legos or household items. Spend some time pretending you’re on different planets with different gravity, you could seriously spend a whole week on just fun space activities.
- But that’s not limited to space- these ideas would work for animals, geography, body systems, historical events/time periods, etc. Beyond that, do some fun physics experiments like making a bridge out of straws, egg drop protectors, paper airplanes, etc.
- PuppetMaster: an app where you can animate anything from a drawing to a stuffed animal.
- Practice spinning poi – my daughter is just learning how to spin and it’s been fun practicing together.
- Puzzle races: put several puzzles (20+ piece puzzles) in a paper bag and shake it up. Pour pieces out and give each person the puzzle box they are to put together. Go! (Cooperation tends to be a result as pieces are traded.)
- Dig through cabinets and figure out recipes for that thing you got at the grocery store and thought “this is interesting surely it can be used for something!” And then make it!
- Water play
- Make ice cream
- Make and play with Play dough
- I let them “paint the fence” with washable paints outside
- My mother used to let us put on swimsuits and get out our beach towels and have a pretend beach party on rainy or snowy days, complete with Beach Boys music.
For more COIVD-19 Resources, click here!
Turn on any television, read the front page of the newspaper, listen to the radio or check in on social media and the chances are really good you will hear or see something about Coronavirus (COVID-19). As adults, we are hungry to learn all we can about it in an effort to protect ourselves and the ones we love. And when it comes to talking to our kids about Coronavirus, we try to be careful.
Even though you may think your children aren’t really tuned in to what is going on, think again.
Chances are good, even for very young children, that they know something is up. Mommy seems tense and uneasy. Daddy is watching more news than normal. People are wearing masks. The usual weekly trip to the grocery store or delivery from the grocery store included lots of toilet paper, bottled water and cleaning wipes. And, to top it off, a friend on the playground talked about some virus that’s going to make all of us sick.
As a parent, it’s sometimes hard to know what to do in situations like this. Will talking about it create fear in your child? If they don’t bring it up, should I say something anyway? If I’m not confident in what I know about this virus, where would I even begin to explain it to my child? These are all valid concerns.
The thing is, children are perceptive. They know something is going on. The fact that you aren’t talking to them about it could actually make the whole situation scarier. Clearly, you need to consider the age of your child as you decide what to say.
The Child Mind Institute, along with other experts, encourages parents to do the following when it comes to talking with your children:
Don’t be afraid to talk about it.
Look at the conversation as an opportunity to share the facts and set the emotional tone in your home. Your goal is to make sure your child feels safe and knows that they can ask you any questions they have about this.
Be developmentally appropriate.
There is a lot about this situation that is unknown. One of the easiest things we can teach at any age is the importance of washing hands. If the only thing good that comes out of this whole experience is that people learn the important habit of handwashing, that is a win for everybody. If your child has questions, try to answer them simply. And if you don’t know that answer, say so.
Take your cues from your child.
Encourage them to ask you questions. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility for a child to hear from a friend that we are all going to die from this strain of Coronavirus. That is an unlikely scenario and being able to say so can alleviate unnecessary fears.
Deal with your own anxiety.
Watching endless amounts of news can create more anxiety because your brain doesn’t know you are watching reruns of the same thing over and over. When you are experiencing high levels of anxiety, that is not the time to try and have a conversation with your child. Wait until you have calmed down. Setting limits on how much time you allow yourself to watch the news can help decrease your anxiety.
If your child is watching the news with you, watching people leave the cruise ships and seeing people in the hospital, it would be easy for them to believe they could easily catch the virus or that lots of people are dying from Coronavirus. It is helpful to reassure your child about how rare the Coronavirus really is, that they are much more likely to catch the flu, and that if children do get it, their symptoms are milder.
Focus on what you are doing to stay safe.
We all feel empowered when we know what precautions we can take. Talk about washing hands and singing Happy Birthday or another fun song they like that lasts 20 seconds, when they come in from outside, after they go to the bathroom, sneeze, cough or blow their nose and before they eat. This is a great habit to establish in general. Also, getting enough sleep is important. If your child asks about wearing a mask, tell them that the experts aren’t telling us to do that at the moment and we are listening to what the experts are saying.
Stick to routine.
Routines, rituals, consistency and structure provide security for children. When we waiver from the usual and customary, that’s when their radar goes up. If for some reason their school or child care center closes, think about how you handle things during any other break and do that. Chances are good that their schools have closed before due to the flu in an effort to sanitize the building and give people space and time to recover. Structured days – getting up at the usual time, doing the things you normally do – will help your child to thrive even in the midst of this moment in time.
Keep the lines of communication open. This doesn’t mean this is the topic of conversation every time you sit down to a meal or are together. Tell your children that if new information comes out that would be helpful for them to know, you will for sure tell them.
Our kids look to us to see how we either respond or react to situations, and they often take their cues from us.
There are so many things in our lives that we can’t control, but we can determine how we handle conversations and things in our own home. Hopefully, this information can help you communicate what your kids really need to know, help them sort fact from fiction and ease any fear they may have in the process.
For more COVID-19 resources, click here.