These days, my expectations are low. To survive this season of isolation, I have learned to put so many things aside—schoolwork, a clean house, and personal projects among them.
Truth be told, I wish I could throw myself into a new hobby or use this time to teach my oldest her sight words with all the rigor of a drill sergeant. But that’s not where my heart nor my head are at these days. In lieu of an awe-inspiring to-do list, I find myself prioritizing only two things: my family’s emotional well-being and as much plant-based, healthy eating as we can muster.
The rest, I have to concede, is just gravy.
Here’s how I’m getting through each day with two children, ages 5 and 20 months, a working-from-home husband, and deadlines of my own.
Break Up the Day
In my house, there are four times of day: pre-nap, nap, afternoon, and the wee hours of the morning. I am lucky that my youngest sleeps like a true champ, going down around 8:30pm and staying put until about 12 hours later.
While my husband signs into work, I enlist my oldest to babysit the little one and for 10 quick minutes, I get ready for the day. Washing my face, putting on sunscreen and concealer, and changing out of my pajamas are, I’ve learned, integral to my mental health. Before I go downstairs in the morning, I have to feel as comfortable with my appearance as if I were heading out the door. This is not a sick day, so I don’t want to look like I just rolled out of bed.
Delete Quiet Time
In ordinary times, my youngest’s nap would mean quiet alone time for my kindergartner too. Now, asking her to retreat into her own world seems counterproductive and even unkind. Her anxiety has spiked since school closed, and I know she is reeling with 10 million overwhelming feelings.
So, I ask her for enough time to put her sister down—and during those quiet moments, I invite her to plan special “Mom time” with me. Sometimes this means we adventure through the yard; sometimes I paint her nails or we pull out a game or puzzle; other times, I collapse onto the couch, and we just snuggle and watch TV.
Whatever it is, it’s sacred time we spend together, and it goes a long way toward helping even her out throughout the day.
Bring on Bath Time
Let’s say the world feels heavy on our shoulders and tantrums rule the day. Or the little one starts dive-bombing off the furniture (moms of toddlers, you feel me, right?). In these moments, we take to the bathtub. There’s no kid mood a bubble bath can’t reset.
Make it Mini
Instead of front-loading the day with school activities and homework, I lean on mini-lessons throughout the day. Over lunch, we’ll run through sight words. In the afternoon, we’ll research sea creatures, pulling out the measuring tape to stretch their length across the driveway. We make lists where my daughter can practice writing, and we read every chance we get.
I recognize that not every parent can have this casual approach to learning. My daughter is a kindergartner in a Montessori program, so we feel less academic pressure at this time and do not have specific lessons we need to complete. Instead, we embrace the Montessori mantra to follow the child and her natural curiosities.
If it were possible to harness the buzzing energy of our collective anxiety, my oldest and I could power the neighborhood. Getting outside, therefore, is crucial to both of us finding balance and calm throughout the day.
So, come rain or shine, we’re in the backyard digging in the dirt, sourcing materials for building, and generally running around. The healing power of nature means we are all calmer, happier, and better sleepers when we spend our days outside.
Have a Dance Party
All that pulsing, anxiety-made energy I mentioned? We dance it off right before bedtime. On most nights, we turn down the lights, crank the Frozen II soundtrack, and have a ridiculous 15-minute dance party that leaves us all panting and red-faced in the end. It has been a joyful way to connect at the end of the day and get everyone’s wiggles out before turning in for the night.
Harness That Anxious Insomnia
I get it, I do. A good night’s sleep can be the most healthy thing you do. But at this point in time, when my anxiety runs the show, I’m just leaning into it: I’m not going to sleep on time anyway, so I might as well make the most of it.
In the wee hours of the morning, long after my family has gone to bed, I do as I please. Oftentimes it’s working; other times it’s yoga; sometimes it’s a long shower and my latest book. If you’re lucky enough to have an easy go with sleep, then I absolutely do not advise you to interrupt that.
But if you’re like me and climbing into bed is followed by hours of tossing and turning, then reframing your insomnia as a gift may make it less maddening.
When I catch myself worrying that we’re falling behind—that my youngest isn’t hitting some developmental milestone or that my oldest is missing an academic building block—I force myself to readjust. Who the hell knows if my way is a good one, but my focus has to be on this: ushering myself and my family through this moment with the least amount of emotional harm.
These are scary times, indeed, but I don’t want my kids to know that. Here’s hoping that all of these efforts amount to something greater in the end—a stretch of time I protected my kids from fear and uncertainty simply by showing up for them in the best way I can.