This post is written during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. These tools and encouragement are still useful for any holiday break, weekend getaway, or down time with your children or extended family.
Some of us are very organized parents with dutiful kids. You can type out color coded homeschool schedules, plan regular meals & snack times, organize family field trips, keep your house relatively tidy, possibly have an understanding spouse actively co-parenting with you, and still have time for extra personal reading, your favorite hobby, or keeping up a blog. Your children are mostly compliant, self motivated, thoughtful, organized, and easy going. If that is you, you can stop reading now.
If, on the other hand, you have trouble coming up with a plan with your kids at home, usually rely on their extra activities or screens to keep them occupied, have a husband or spouse who is always busy or distracted by work, have at least 1 difficult or special needs child that throws a loop into every carefully drafted plan, and feel overwhelmed at the prospect of remote learning from home, you can keep reading. The following tips might be useful.
When I first had children, I dreamt of long, leisurely days. I am not a crafty person, but maybe by birthing a child, an artistic gene would magically insert into my body and I could brag about amazing creations my children could make with beads, paper, and a little imagination. When I first had children, I toyed with the idea of homeschooling. Even though I am not an educator, somehow bearing the responsibility of feeding and bathing these kids would suddenly mean I could also teach them to appreciate Shakespeare and quote poetry at an early age. Yes, I was completely delusional.
I am a very intentional parent who often has to parent alone. It’s not that my husband isn’t involved; he is just busy and called to change plans at a moment’s notice. I know lots of moms (and some dads) in the same predicament as me: spouses of doctors & lawyers, families with their own businesses, other pastors’ wives, working parents who are struggling to find combined quality time with their kids because of different work schedules. We all want that idyllic life, but reality brings a cold, harsh truth: you need to start with where you are, not where you wish you could be.
What are my tips for surviving unending family time with your kids? I have read lots of great tips from other pastor’s wives, moms who are crafty (can you tell that is a sought after dream of mine?), lists being posted on Facebook, news articles about helping teach your kids at home, but how do you execute all of this?
I am very sensitive to the parenting trap of failure and stress. Moms are more susceptible to this, but I see fathers who struggle too. We can do one of two things. We can make grand plans that our children are not used to, will therefore resist forcibly, and lead us to feel like failures. Or we can allow our children free rein to do whatever as long as they are out of our hair, and we use wine, mindless scrolling, retail therapy, hobbies, or constantly complaining to other parents about our stress level to avoid feeling guilty that we aren’t really parenting our children as much as giving them the essentials (food, rest, clothes, some form of entertainment, and carting them to school & activities) and hoping for the best. I tend to fall in the first category most of the time, but in the summertime, I can fall into the second category.
If you are going to survive spending lots of time with your children, you need to be realistic. I have found these tips to be essential in any parenting style. Maybe you are not crafty or a homeschooler at heart or terribly organized. Maybe you have older kids or a special needs child or a child struggling emotionally in this current season. You can still create great space to bond as a family.
Create a daily routine with 2-3 touch points that are realistic – and stick to it regardless of the complaining you will get initially. Do not hear this as license to start a ruthless chore chart, suddenly force kids to do 3 hours of homework a day, or expect your spouse to supervise activities you rope them into.
One simple idea: eat every meal – or at least 1 meal – together as a family. This is harder than it seems. Getting everyone to the table, having a meal everyone likes, and making sure no one is throwing food, antagonizing another under the table, or throwing toys across the room (all which happen regularly at our table) is a feat! Eating together creates natural moments to share emotions, jokes, stories and more. It can even be a takeout meal that you all sit down to eat together – just do it without phones handy or the TV on and see what happens.
Another idea: ask your entire family to help with 1 new chore consistently for one week. You will get lots of complaining if 1 person is assigned to something they do not like and yes, they will point out how it’s unfair. Nobody likes to do chores alone, so make it a chore that everyone can help at the same time. If everyone is helping fold clothes, it becomes a family bonding activity. If everyone helps clear the table and load the dishwasher, you can put on your favorite Spotify playlist and laugh together. I am going to try to make cleaning the bathroom a family activity sometime soon, and we will see how that goes!
Another idea: plan some quiet family time daily for at least 1-2 hours. This means everyone in the house has to find a quiet activity – playing legos, playing a quiet video game if you are comfortable with that, reading a book, taking a nap (my favorite), building a fort and putting stuffed animals in it, and even watching a good film with headphones. If everyone knows there is a time of rest planned, it builds greater frustration tolerance for the entire day.
Another idea: ask everyone to get dressed & ready in the morning as if they were leaving to go to school or to work. It seems so simple, but one of the hardest things to do every day is get started. We all want to be leisurely, hang out in our bathrobes or pjs, stay in our beds, but it lends itself to later chaos because we feel like the day has never really started and you get the inevitable, “What are we going to do today?”. This one is the hardest for me. I love to stay in my pjs and binge watch TV all day; it’s partly because my family of origin would do this as their rest day. But if I physically get dressed in real clothes (not yoga pants), supervise beds being made, and have a real breakfast, then I find I am mentally more willing to plan for the day.
These are just a few ideas. The best thing you can do is gather your family for a short meeting (ideally over a meal), and ask them what are 1-2 things they would like in the daily schedule. You will be surprised by the creativity of your children and your spouse. A schedule is important, but don’t get crazy with fancy charts or a slew of new adventures your children or spouse aren’t used to. Change is hard for all of us.
Respect that natural resistance we all feel when our automatic routine is disrupted. Plan some fun, realistic touch points daily that everyone can enjoy together. If you ask for everyone’s input, you will get everyone committed to making it happen. This is a big deal in my family. I often come up with grand plans that John Hugh learns about the same time the kids do. Do I get help from him? Begrudgingly, because I didn’t include him in the decision making. Nobody likes to be the person nagging, so make sure everyone has a chance to share their ideas and input. You need to see having the family meeting as an accomplishment in itself.
Find 1 fun activity that entertains everyone and plan for it once or twice a week – and just make it one activity. We can read articles about a mom planning to have her teens watch a movie a day that focuses on history followed with special articles. Another mom may post her family is making photo books online. Another mom has organized a daily family workout routine with YouTube & a nature walk that includes botany lessons. Some moms can accomplish this, but honestly, a lot of us just need 1 simple activity for our family a week and be heartened to consider that a success.
What are some ideas that you can plan for 1-2 times a week? Go for a bike ride as a family, go for a walk and play a game while walking, watch 2 movies that are family friendly and educational (hard to find, but we will post some favorites on another blog post), compete with board games (or video games) for 1-2 hours marveling at each other’s skills, get your playing cards out, create a family music video (and a blooper reel), bake together, learn a magic trick as a family, create a mini-golf course inside, play charades, or have a water balloon fight. None of this is novel. You have seen this type of list before.
The key is picking ONE thing. Change is hard, but small steps build momentum. My family now plays Uno, Candyland, and Sorry together, goes for bike rides together, plays miniature golf together, does simple chores together, hikes together, skis together – all with a special needs child included! Each season, we add something new to try as a family. It’s hard for us because I can’t always convince my middle child to stay involved and my other family members to be patient enough to wait for his involvement. But if we can find success with a special needs child, you can too!
Look at your child with the attitude problem as the one that needs the most connection and time from you. Don’t ask your kids to be anymore perfect than you are as a parent. Some of my favorite quotes are from Kathryn Purvis of The Connected Child.
When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos. Don’t take it personally.
Mistakes are how we learn as parents.
Teach the behavior you want to see. Offer choices.
Start the healing process by keeping a journal of your child’s daily activities and behavior, marking down routine events along with the behavior that accompanies these events. After about a week or two of journaling, parents find that patterns emerge.
“Use your words” is a favorite catch phrase Dr. Purvis wants parents to use because it teaches children to ask for what they need instead of using tantrums, lying, or acting out to communicate.
When you connect to the heart of a child, everything is possible.
Watch this video to feel inspired (no pressure to execute). At the bottom of every difficult child is a heart that needs to connect. That difficult child needs your extra time, your ear to listen, your hugs and presence. The child that gets on your nerves the most with unending family time is the child who needs your greatest attention. Don’t ignore the opportunity – even if you have to give up something sacrificially. But to lead a child to a place of healing, we need to know the way ourselves.
Most of us need to be honest with ourselves about our personal struggles and how those struggles keep us from seeing our children clearly and fully. I encourage you to give yourself grace and kindness in the areas where you struggle. I will share my parenting struggles in future posts, but I can start by saying I never wanted be a special needs mom. It has exposed all my serious failings and taught me the road to healing starts with connection. For me, I am thankful my model for connection starts as a child of God.
As a parent, you need time for restorative self care. You cannot give to others what you don’t give to yourself. We tend to automatically numb our feelings – a glass of wine to end the day, binge watching TV or sports, gaming endlessly, obsessing about the news, over working, over exercising, emotional addictions that lead to gossip and highly reactive relationships.
Restorative self care means feeling and examining emotions instead of automatically reacting or numbing them. As simple as it sounds, you need to stop. You need to breathe. You need to sleep. You need to go into nature. You need to have 15 minutes or more a day where you just listen to your own emotions without judging them. For Christians, this should be your quiet time; but for so many, it’s just a checklist and not a spiritual encounter.
I keep a list with me all the time. It’s a list of what I am learning about myself every day. I create one small promise I can keep for myself the next day. The key is the promise has to be small. Something I know I can keep, but even though it is small, it usually takes great intentionality to keep. Some promises I have made and eventually kept after consistent intentionality:
forcing myself to stop and close my eyes instead of eating for extra energy
taking a deep belly breath before responding to a rude child
spending 10 minutes a day just letting my mind rest without any screens or distractions.
I have seen great growth in small promises. You can do this even with children by your side all day.
So what is my final word on surviving unending family time with your kids? Don’t try to enact all this after one reading. Come back to this blog post regularly and pick 1 item. Just one. You aren’t alone in your struggles in parenting. Start looking for connection & conversation in your family – be honest about your heart – and you might discover treasures hiding inside your family.
ARE YOU STILL MOVING?
Yes, we are still planning on moving to Paris to start an international English speaking church. Yes, we hope to move this summer 2020. There are so many unknowns. We have only 1 known about our departure date: We cannot leave until we raise 80% of our support. We are committed to this mission, regardless of a pandemic or other deterrents. If you are interested in partnering or told us you plan to partner, please join us today on this journey by clicking here.