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I see you, mama, sitting in a messy house, filled with dishes from last night’s dinner and laundry piled high. You are trapped in a house during a quarantine and it’s taking everything to not go stir crazy. I see the exhaustion and the exasperation that comes with toddlers running around. Demanding snacks, begging for attention, needing to have what they want, when they want it.  I see you trying, trying to juggle their needs and your work’s needs, and maybe, sometimes, even your own needs. I know that feeling of being stretched so thin, that you’re barely keeping it together. The seams beginning to unravel, slowly then all of a sudden… you’re hanging on by one tiny thread. 

I see the frustration of an interrupted Zoom meeting, the agitation from a plea for yet another snack, the expectation to be completely focused on that work project, and completely focused on caring for your kids. It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s unrealistic to think that anyone could handle the balancing act that all of a sudden we are called to perform. 

So why do you feel like a failure? You know it’s impossible. You know you’re only human. But what about them? What about society? And employers? And family and friends? Yeah… what about them? Everyone needs to adjust their expectations. Including yourself. You are doing the best you can. You are facing the unknown and taking on more than anyone should be expected to. Give yourself grace. 

In fact, give yourself permission to let the dishes sit in the sink a little longer. Make friends with the dust bunnies who have joined your space. Let your kids jump in the piles of clean laundry that still need to be folded. Go outside and take a second to breathe. Feel the fresh air fill your lungs and be grateful for all the things that are going right in your world. And for anything that’s got you stressed or worried or on edge, add “but” onto the end. 

“We’re stuck at home… BUT… we’re SAFE.”

“The house is a mess… BUT… I have a roof over my head.”

“The kids are driving me nuts… BUT… I get to be their mom.”

“Working from home with kids is so hard… BUT… I’m grateful for the flexibility and that I STILL have a job.” 

So, take it one day at a time, mama. This is just a season that you WILL get through. Be mindful. Tell yourself a different story. One of resilience and patience and overcoming obstacles against all odds. You are NOT a failure. You are capable. You are strong. You are amazing, in PJs and all.

The “Great Blackout” in New York City in 1965 did not result in a “Baby Boom” nine months later. This is the stuff of Urban Legends. People think that in times of national crisis or natural disaster, couples suddenly realize how much they love and need each other and then, boom, nine months later, maternity wards are filled up with the babies that represent that wonderful romance. The Disaster Theory Baby Boom isn’t true. Sadly, it’s just the opposite.

It’s nice to think that in extreme circumstances or with newfound time on their hands, couples romantically turn to each other for comfort, security, and well, you know. The reality is that instead of turning toward each other, they often turn on each other. Research shows more evidence of “Break Up Booms” than “Baby Booms.” 

It makes sense if you think about it. The stress of adapting to radically new schedules and routines, the pressures from the economic impact of these unexpected disruptions, not to mention the understandable worry and anxiety caused by things like, say, a global pandemic, together can form a perfect storm that pushes even the best relationships to their limits.

So here we are. Wow, right?

Everything is canceled. Many couples will be staying home and working from home and spending time together 24/7. What kind of “boom” can we look forward to?

Someone said that we are like sponges. When we get “squeezed,” what’s inside of us will come out! Times like these will bring out the best in us and the worst.

That old relationship copout, “we don’t get a ton of ‘quantity’ time together, but, hey, we get ‘quality time’ together” has just been thrown out the window. The world has a “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign hanging on it. Looks like the quantity time is here now. Will it be quality time too? 

Will this result in couples lovingly “rediscovering” each other and taking their relationships to deeper levels of intimacy? That is the ideal. But that will not be the Default Response. That will only happen if you are intentional and work toward strengthening your relationship.

The reality is, times of crisis can result in people who are already on edge and cooped up with each other taking all their stress out on each other. Domestic violence increases during these times. Sadly, people often tear each other and their relationship apart. The divorce lawyers are already talking about how their caseloads are about to get crazy.

In times like these, how do you fortify your relationship and not just your home?

  1. Understand that these stressful situations will put stress on your relationship. Sometimes just knowing it will happen, knowing that is what’s going on, knowing the dynamics in play, is incredibly helpful. Remember how under different, normal circumstances, you chose to spend the rest of our life with your spouse? Recall your reasons why.
  2. Understand that you and your partner may respond to and process the stress differently. We all have different stressors and respond to stress in different ways, so agree to have a conversation about how you each relate to stress. Ask each other how you are feeling and work to really listen and understand each other. Ask each other about what you need right now. One of you might need time alone and one of you may need more “face time” to de-stress and feel connected. How will you navigate those differences?
  3. According to research, stress often acts as a magnifier in people’s lives and relationships. Quiet people may get quieter. Talkative people might become totally hyper-verbal. Relationships characterized by a lot of conflict will feel that conflict multiplied. You and your partner’s good and not-so-good qualities are going to be amplified. This may be an opportunity to identify and work on some of those relational things.
  4. Attitude is everything. Do you “get to” spend more time together or do you “have to?”
  5. Commit to facing these “strange days” together as a team. It’s Us Against the World.
  6. Even though you may be spending tons of time together, you still need “Me Time” and self-care. You might be used to going to the gym and blowing off some steam. The gym is closed now. What are some healthy ways to deal with your stress? Maybe it is working in the yard or walking around the neighborhood. “Me Time” may be a long hot bath. It might be watching television in separate rooms for an hour and then getting together to talk about what you watched.
  7. Do not make any big, important decisions during this time! Do not draw any definitive conclusions about your relationship or your spouse. This isn’t the real anything.

Sometimes when we are trying to change our circumstances the most, we realize that our circumstances are trying to change us. This time might be an opportunity, not an obstacle.

Do not forget to have fun! I know it is hard right now. Get creative. Get silly. Be intentional about romance. Have a candlelit dinner and a slow dance in the living room. If you have children, let them see how much Mommy and Daddy love each other and are having fun!

The world might be closed, but you can control if your heart stays open.

Last week as things ramped up with the Coronavirus, my husband and I were having a conversation about navigating work, caring for family, grocery shopping and the like. In the midst of trying to figure it all out and all the “what ifs,” I kind of lost it. Actually, not kind of – I lost my cool. My husband just stared at me. It took a minute or 10 for me to get myself back together.

Actually, I took our dog on a walk and thought about what had just happened. We aren’t normally snippy with each other. We also aren’t normally in such close proximity for an extended period of time.

Let’s just put it out there: Life is super stressful and unbelievably complicated at the moment. We all are probably feeling some level of fear about the future. In these very moments when things are trying and we are facing the unknown, we need to be on guard and very self-aware in an effort to avoid hurting ourselves and those we love. 

If you’re wondering how to know whether you’re on edge or not, here are a few things to keep an eye out for. These signs could be any or all of the following: 

  • You feel like you are going to explode.
  • You’re not sleeping.
  • You are indulging more than normal in __________ (eating, sleeping, drinking, online shopping, as in retail therapy).
  • You’re quiet and withdrawn when you are normally not that way.
  • You feel like you are going to explode if your spouse leaves their dishes in the sink one more time.

All of these are telltale signs that you may be in the danger zone. So, what can you do?

Your first line of defense is to communicate. Talk with your spouse or someone who is part of your support system. The opportunity to have someone listen to your fears, frustrations and needs, even if they can do nothing to fix it, can help relieve some of the tension you feel.

Create a communication plan. Sit down with your spouse and discuss how you will intentionally check in with each other to know how to best support one another. Don’t assume your spouse knows what you need.

Meditate or pray. Practicing deep breathing, meditation/mindfulness, as well as praying can help relieve some of the pressure you are feeling.

Take a time out for yourself. Sometimes we just need to time ourselves out for a few minutes. Sit in the bathroom, your bedroom, the balcony, your front porch or some other spot that will allow you to have a few moments of silence to recalibrate. It can be helpful to have regularly-scheduled times when everybody goes to a specific space. That way, everyone in the family has a chance to be apart.

Exercise! Exercise is key to helping us release toxins, stress and tension in a healthy way versus taking it out on our spouse. Going for a quick run, a brisk walk (yes, even in the rain) a bike ride, doing jumping jacks inside or anything that will get your body moving and cause you to break a sweat is helpful. Walking the dog has been a huge sanity-saver for me.

Get connected with your support team. Even in the midst of social distancing, relying on your spouse to meet all of your needs will likely lead to even more frustration and tension between the two of you. Create coffee time or social hour through Google Meet, FaceTime, Zoom or some other platform which will allow you to hang out with friends or family.

Take one day at a time. None of us knows about tomorrow. To keep rehashing the “what ifs” will literally drive you crazy. It will be helpful to you, your spouse and the rest of your family if you can take things one moment at a time. The goal is to navigate today.

Avoiding some things like unrealistic expectations and negativity will also be helpful. It is unrealistic to think that you aren’t going to have some meltdown moments. It’s bound to happen with people in such close quarters who are cooped up for an extended period of time. The goal is to avoid reacting. Instead, take a deep breath, count backwards from 10 and then respond to the situation at hand.

If you’ve been focusing on the negative, you might want to refocus on a few positives. Stop telling yourself you are a failure or thinking your spouse is failing big time. Your brain believes what you tell it. If you think negatively about yourself and/or your spouse, it makes it hard to communicate and life becomes more complicated. All of us are trying to figure out how to adapt and adjust – even your spouse. Things are likely to get better as people get into a groove, but it may take some time. We have a real opportunity to look for the good things our spouse is doing instead of focusing on what we see as a negative.

One of the greatest things we can do to survive life as we know it right now is to love each other well. One way we can do that is by watching how we communicate in the middle of uncertain times. Remember the reasons you fell in love with your mate. Reflect on the good times you’ve had and what it took to make it through the hard times in the past. Be intentional about complimenting and encouraging them. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are a team. Listen to their fears and frustrations and be willing to compromise when necessary. When all is said and done, hopefully our family relationships will come out stronger because we’re choosing to think before we speak and trying to make things right when we lose our cool.

( for: actual quarantine, school closures, weekend social distancing, anytime!)

Thanks to the Princess Awesome & Boy Wonder Community for the amazing suggestions!!

  • 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
  • Legos. 
  • 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
  • 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!
  • Audible!
  • Water play
  • Make ice cream
  • Make and play with Play dough
  • Gardening
  • 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.

If you’ve ever spent the holiday season caring for a sick loved one or friend, you know how stressful it can be when caregiving tasks already fill your day. Heap the expectations of a joy-filled season on top of that, and there is real potential for feelings of guilt, anger, resentment and complete fatigue to take over.

Many caregivers are constantly exhausted, and sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other seems daunting. It can be tempting to hide away until after the holidays to avoid dealing with the added stress. If you can relate, these suggestions may help you navigate the season with a different mindset.

  • Give yourself permission to put self-care at the top of the list. You probably know that you can’t give what you don’t have to others, but that is just plain easier said than done. Some family and friends may have more flexibility to give you much-needed breaks to exercise, sleep, treat yourself to some time with friends or to just do nothing. 
  • Instead of trying to do it all yourself, let someone help. Driving to doctor visits, picking up prescriptions, changing beds, grocery shopping, fixing meals and keeping the house clean can keep you going 24/7. Friends are usually looking for ways to be helpful, especially during the holidays. It will bless you both if you take them up on their offers or ask for what you need. 
  • Think about what makes your heart happy when it comes to celebrating the holidays. Do those things and eliminate the rest even though you might want to do more. Instead of doing all the decorating, ask a friend if they would do it for you. Send an email instead of cards or have someone help you address envelopes. If hosting the annual holiday gathering feels like too much to handle this year, ask someone else to host. If you still want to host but want less responsibility, let others bring the food.
  • Take control of your mind and guard against negative self-talk. If you typically do everything yourself, this can be a particularly complicated time of year. On one hand, you know you need help, but on the other hand, you hate to seem needy. Healthy people ask for what they need and don’t feel guilty about it.

Caring for a loved one goes on for a season, and that time period may be months or years. Whatever the time frame, most people understand how hard it is, and there are often many people in your life who are willing to help you shoulder some of the load so that in the end you don’t end up sacrificing yourself in the name of caring for the one you love. 

Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 9, 2018.

Wait, what? It’s already time for school to start? How did this happen when it seems like just yesterday kids were doing the happy dance as they got off the bus and headed home for summer break?

While most parents love the more relaxed schedule during the summer months, plenty of parents will be doing their own happy dance as their children head off to school and everybody settles into a routine. 

In an effort to kick off the school year with less stress and as little drama as possible, there are some things parents can do ahead of time to set the stage.

  • Straight out of the gates, decide what your family can handle when it comes to extracurricular activities. Many child experts warn parents about the stress children experience when they are involved in too many activities, which ultimately leads to meltdowns while trying to finish homework and handle later bedtimes.
  • Know what you as a parent can handle. On top of children being stressed, parents really have to consider their own bandwidth when it comes to school, work and additional commitments. A stressed-out, tired parent who is always at the end of their rope typically leads to lots of drama. Can we agree that parental meltdowns just aren’t pretty? Knowing what you can handle sets the stage for what can actually be on the table at this time and what is just not an option.
  • Establish routines that provide consistency and structure at home:
    It’s best for children and parents alike. Having a consistent bedtime, wake up time, morning and nighttime routine actually decreases stress for children (and adults) because they know what to expect. Just because the kids complain about things doesn’t mean it isn’t good for them.
  • Include prep for the next day into your evening routine. Things like choosing an outfit, packing lunches, getting backpacks ready with completed homework inside and signing papers before going to bed can make the morning better. Anything you can do the night before to make the morning less hectic is a serious plus! 
  • Let your children do what they are capable of doing for themselves. If this is new for you, one way to get the ball rolling is to tell your children that the beginning of each school year is significant. They are capable of handling more responsibility as they get older, so give each child a short list of things they are responsible for making sure gets done as their contribution to the family. You may be tempted to jump in and do things yourself because it is faster or easier, but unless you want your child dependent on you later in life, it’s really good to develop the habit of delegating things you know they can handle. 
  • Establish a homework station that is an organized study space with all of the materials needed to do homework.
  • Think about technology and how you want your family to use it during the school year. You can find helpful information as you seek to make decisions about this at Families Managing Media.
  • Schedule a 15 to 30-minute opportunity once a week for everyone to come together and compare calendars. A great time to pull everything together is during a family meeting on Sunday evening. Talk about what’s on deck in the coming week for everyone, see if anybody is responsible for taking food or materials to school, plan meal prep for the week, or discuss anything important for everybody to know. 

Most people don’t do well with surprises that throw them off their game. Making time for your family to connect and communicate is one of the most effective ways to decrease stress and drama. Here’s to a stress-free start to the school year for your family!

Most mothers, whether they work inside or outside the home, feel like their job is never done.

“It’s true,” says Sara Emanuel, wife and mother of five children. “I constantly feel like I run myself into the ground trying to get everything done. I have to guard against living in a constant state of guilt over all of the things left on the ‘to do’ list. I know that’s not healthy, but it’s hard to turn my brain off or to think about doing something just for me because I am exhausted.”

In addition to constantly feeling like the job is never-ending, moms compare themselves while looking at Facebook or Pinterest. And, in an informal survey, an entire group of women admitted comparing what they do for their children with what other moms are doing. 

“I try not to compare myself to other women, but honestly it’s hard not to,” Emanuel says. “I catch myself comparing how I handle discipline to how another mom handled a similar situation, thinking, ‘I wish I had been that creative.’ I think if most moms were honest, we all spend a lot of time beating ourselves up for what we aren’t.”

Emanuel says she believes that women in general want to look like they have it all together.

“It makes me laugh when someone comes up to me and says, ‘You’re always so put together. How do you do it?’” Emanuel says. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘You only see me once a week. Sometimes I don’t even get to shower.’”

In reality, there are a lot of moms out there who feel alone, inadequate and like a failure.

Andrea Gyertson Nasfell can totally relate to what Emanuel is describing. So, she joined forces with director Jon Erwin to write the script for a movie. 

Moms’ Night Out is the story of a frazzled mom, Allyson (played by Sarah Drew) and her friends. They long for a peaceful, grown-up evening of dinner and conversation . . . a much-needed moms’ night out. But in order to enjoy high heels and food not served in a paper bag, they need their husbands to watch the kids for three hours. What could possibly go wrong?

“This movie was so encouraging to me,” Emanuel said. “My husband and I laughed out loud at so many of the scenes. We felt like they must have been stalking our family because those very things happen in our home. It felt good to know it isn’t just us.

“The craziness we experience happens in every home in America. It really made me know it’s OK if things get a little crazy. I need to give myself a break. I have continuously beat myself up over my own definition of being a ‘good mom.’ I am a good mom and what I do is important.”

If you need some reassurance as a mom, a good laugh and a moment to appreciate the beautiful mess we call “family,” Moms’ Night Out is one movie you’ll definitely want to see.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!