By Sapna Khajuria
With physical distancing, lockdown, Covid-19, working from home, and news updates dominating our lives and conversations of late, some of us may be going stir crazy because they don’t know what to do with their time, or their children’s unexpected free time. There may be others who are finding it hard to suddenly cope with not only their work, but also the relentless set of chores that make them wonder how anyone can complain of being bored.
Before you groan at the prospect of reading yet another preachy article about how the Covid-19 lockdown can suddenly turn all of us into art and craft creators with all the free time in the world, this one is more on the lines of how it isn’t exactly smooth sailing, and how you can manage to not lose your mind while you deal with stress inside and outside the home. I experimented with many ideas over the past week of lockdown. Many ideas that seemed wonderful to me were a big flop with my teenagers (craft work, for instance, bombed big time).
It’s still early days in the lockdown, so please take most of these with a giant pinch of salt – every day is a work in progress. Some tips to adjust to the new normal:
Set a routine: Lockdown or no lockdown, the household has to function, and your work calls still need to be completed. It’s tempting to hang around in your PJs, but adopting a routine will make sure there is less chaos. Change in routine during such situations can mess with your biorhythms, and the one thing that is in our control is to try and sleep on time and stick to some form of a routine. Some parents recommend waking the children as per usual school routine, tiring them a bit in the morning; and then finding a window to work. Others prefer to let them relax and snooze a bit longer and finish parts of their work during this window. Try whatever works for your family.
Keep it simple: Keep the meals simple, delegate household tasks to every family member, and accept that it’s okay if your house doesn’t look like it’s straight out of a design magazine. Don’t feel pressured to keep up with those who are rustling up Masterchef style meals every day – which, according to a friend, is the new avatar of posting holiday photos on social media! Practice positive gender role models at home – moms and dads both stepping up to divide the workload.
Cut the children some slack too: As much as I am a list and routine junkie, I’ve realised that letting my teenagers get more downtime than ever before during their current school break has really helped. Most children today lead highly overscheduled lives. This is a chance to step back and take a break from the rigour. If your child has online classes during the day, maybe let them take some extra free time later in the day. It’s hard for children to be cooped up too – there’s the combo of energy that’s not been expended, some nervousness at all the Covid news they’re hearing, and teenage hormones. Balance the parental need for structure with a very valid need for greater downtime for children.
Use online resources: For a virtual tour of art, culture and history – The Sistine Chapel, the Louvre, Yosemite National Park, our own National Gallery of Modern Art, the British Museum, and live streaming of shows by the Met New York, the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow – it’s all available at your fingertips.
There’s a treasure of books, blogs and videos for readers to explore – Harper Collin’s Harper at Home and their YouTube channel, Neil Gaiman’s official website or National Book Trust are just a few with fabulous content for children, Audible has free content especially for children. If you have the time, you can catch up on podcasts while you complete a chore or two.
At home learning guides – you can take your pick from Scholastic, Khan Academy; there are literally thousands of worksheets and printable fun learning sheets for children of all ages, or dance, yoga and arts online specially designed modules for children, they can opt for virtual music lessons too. If your child has been engaged in music / dance / theatre / other such classes, why not speak to the teacher and request a virtual class? My boys and I have been using the Duolingo app to learn French – we log in whenever we find some free time. I doubt we’ll reach any levels of proficiency, but it’s our very own special 15 minutes a day. Since there’s likely to be more time spent online, keep talking to your children about online safety.
Watch live-stream gigs by some top music bands – Coldplay, Yungblud, Christine and the Queens, Keith Urban, among many others – went live on Instagram with their gigs. More are bound to follow – you not only get to hear them play live, but some of the music stars even take questions live.
Bonding over board games: Nothing compares to the bonding time that does not involve a screen — board games. Go old school and battle it out over Pictionary, Taboo, Scrabble, Ludo; or bring in the big guns with Catan. Whether it’s a post-dinner board game night or during a quick break in the middle of the day, some of our loudest laughs and epic sulk sessions this past week have been courtesy board games. The other advantages of board games? They teach impulse control, accepting defeat, taking turns, being flexible according to changing circumstances – life skills that no textbook can teach.
Bond with grandparents: My children used to do something interesting every winter vacation – they would interview their grandparents, asking them about their childhood or embarrassing stories about their own parents; and make cute notes in their mini diaries. Even a short video call every day will mean a lot to the grandparents and will leave the children with memories for a lifetime. Gently nudge them to bring out their notebooks and ask their grandparents about their experience during tough situations – maybe their time during the ’71 war, or just after India’s independence, depending on their age.
Corona chronicles: What the world is going through right now, is one for the history books. If your child can keep a diary, writing about their routine, how they feel about being in lockdown, it’s a good way to verbalise their emotions; and an excellent record for them to look at later. Not a fan of writing down stuff? No problem – let them make a vlog.
Learning life skills: If there was ever a time to teach your child about life skills, this is it – whether it is helping with the dishes, or basic cooking, or managing with lesser material things than one is used to, you have the best possible opportunity. If you have more than one child, divide the chores and get one on one time with each child; and keep those gadgets away during these times. When you narrate fun incidents from your own life, remember to also tell them about the times your efforts were not successful. Research shows that it is very important for children to know of their parents’ failures – it reduces the pressure to live up to their perception of their parents’ successes.
Social responsibility: Chat with your children about social responsibility – how one person following health guidelines can save many lives. In the midst of all the negative and heart-breaking news, there are some fine people and organisations who are working towards helping those in need. Try to contribute in any way you can – monetary assistance, your time, your expertise – for someone helping out a senior citizen living alone, or arranging food for those who are rendered helpless by the lockdown. Older children can help more actively – by speaking to senior citizens, making a list of items they may need, or volunteering their time online with such organisations.
Embrace positivity: Remove any negative connotation from the situation – instead of saying you’re stuck at home, think of it as bonus time with your family and with yourself. I agree it may not seem much of a bonus time after the 100th chore, endless work calls, and bickering children. Take a breath, try to see the positive, and give yourself some me time, even if it is a few minutes to yourself. We are trying to create some distance between ourselves and the constant cycle of negative news; and have resolved to read / watch at least three items of positive and inspiring news every day. This isn’t to say you should shield your child from the state of the world, but a dose of news about humanity at their best helps keeps spirits up.
Be connected to your happy people: Social distancing does not have to mean emotional distancing. Book clubs, friends, families can catch up over a post-work from home aperitif, or meet virtually to catch up on the latest news. Many apps have made it a breeze to connect with friends and family. You know your tribe- the ones that keep you sane. Now’s when we need each other, even if it means to meet virtually and unwind.
Wellness of body and mind – We’re all at risk of cabin fever and what has kept us sane is exercising daily. There are many online workout and mindfulness options that are free during this period of uncertainty, like Chris “Thor” Hemsworth’s app Centr, the Sweat app, Nike and Fitbit’s premium services, Yoga with Adriene, the meditation app Headspace. Get your children to exercise at home too. Once the novelty of an unexpected break from school has worn off, being forced to stay home will become isolating for children. Talk to yours about the many emotions they may feel, including sadness or helplessness, and how that is perfectly okay. The school counsellors from many schools are in touch with students to help them navigate their emotions.
No news at night is very good news: After a few days of reading up on the latest news at night and not being able to sleep very well as a result, I decided to not end my day on a tense note. Yes, there is a lot that is changing every minute in the world; but I can wait until the next day to be informed of it.
Gratitude: The past week has shown us that we can very easily manage our lives with a fraction of the items we have at home. I am sure many of us have sent out a silent thank you for small blessings. We have incorporated a gratitude chat as part of our bedtime routine with our boys, when we speak of all that we are thankful for – the medical fraternity, teachers, farmers, suppliers of vegetables and groceries, support staff all over. Try a gratitude chat to warm the soul, as you appreciate the small things like a simpler routine, bright blue skies, or stars in the night sky.
No judgement: More than anything else, I tell my boys not to judge someone else’s situation. Everyone has their own struggles and ways to cope with them. Whether you choose to pick up a new hobby or just relax, to learn a new language or to catch up on sleep, to cook gourmet meals or devote your free time to Netflix with a cup of instant noodles; to Marie Kondo your entire home or just manage with a quick spring cleaning – don’t let guilt or judgement come in the way. Above all- follow the advice of doctors, and try and keep WhatsApp university notifications on silent if you can.
Get to know your children one on one. You may be surprised by changes that slipped under your radar in the past few months. For instance, I only learnt during an extended Lego making marathon with my boys (very therapeutic, btw) that my twin boys continue to use their special twin language, with secret names being given to different bricks of Lego (which I am totally forbidden from revealing here). Be with your child, fully, and free from all gadgets and distractions.
Stay virtually connected: We live in a totally interconnected world, and this isolation sharply highlights just how reliant we are on this connection, and how fragile / vulnerable we become when faced with a disconnection. Don’t think of our current state as a negative, but count our lucky stars we can use technology to stay as normal as we can.
(The writer is a lawyer by training, who would rather be a full-time globetrotter, and mom to 12-year-old twin boys who share her love for all things filmy.)