Parenting during the pandemic

How Your Structure Determines Success in the 2020-21 School Year

Regardless of your political affiliation, your beliefs on mask wearing, the re-starting of the economy, and everything else pandemic related, your kids are starting school in some capacity. You may not like what it looks like, how it’s being handled, your options, or any other number of things.

It’s happening.

Your attitude and actions are key players in how your child will succeed, now more than ever before.

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You may be one of those parents who simply wants to send their child to school and not really have to think about it. Or you have no choice in the matter because your school is the only place your kids get food, while the rest of your income goes to shelter and clothing. The variance in what school provides for families is vast and finding one solution to meet all of those needs is not likely any time soon.

What can you do?

Look at your circle of influence first. Keep coming back to this, knowing that when things start to feel out of control this will re-center you and bring it all back to what’s important. In her article, Psychologist Claire Newton describes how to use the Circle of Influence, and most specifically how to hone in on the center circle, the Circle of Control.  Being clear about the center circle brings one back to what they can actively create and change in their lives. Being able to do this brings a sense of empowerment and ease that each one of us needs right now.

Once you have a sense of what you can control, you can start building a structure that supports you and your values. Assuming that you want to make it through this school year in an intact relationship with your kids, and they with what they’ve learned, keep those specific values in the forefront of your mind when you build daily structure.

Before you get all gung-ho or freaked out by creating a schedule or structure to live from, take a moment for reflection. Do you know how you work best? Have you stopped to realize that just because you work that way, your kids may not? We need to think about these things so what you create works.

Take a moment and answer these questions:

  1. When do you focus best? What is the environment like when you do? What time of day is it? When did you eat last? What did you eat last?
  2. Do you need to have everything in order, or do you do best when life just comes your way? When life blows up, are you able to stop what you’re doing and manage it then return to your work unfettered? Does any distraction when you’re focused cause you to loose everything?
  3. Are your kids demanding of your time or are they self-motivated and self-directed? Can your kids find an activity that doesn’t require you to be fully present that isn’t device related?
  4. How much flexibility do you have in your work tasks? Can you shift and build in a way that supports online learning for your kids, or do your kids need to shift around your work?

Take a moment and look at your answers. This may help to organize a thought process around your needs and the needs of your kids that will begin to build a schedule. Remember, you have control over how you respond to all of this. Look especially at the parts where you feel helpless, defeated, or have an automatic “This will never work,” or “I have to give this up because of that.” These places need special attention and creativity.

There will be compromise. Let’s make sure that the compromise isn’t done in such a way that you lose the connection to yourself, or to your kids.

Get out a sheet of paper and build a 24-hour set of time to fill in. Now, do it again on another sheet. And again, so you have at least three of them to look at.

Step One in creating structure is to look at your needs first. Remember the constant saying to put your oxygen mask on first before anyone else’s? This is that part. You will only create disaster for everyone including yourself unless you thrive on martyrdom. If you’re a creative, choose a color or marker that represents your time. If you’re not, then just go with it.

What are your needs? Sleep really needs to be the first and foremost piece. Plan out a minimum of six hours per night. Block this out on the first sheet. We’ll re-build this on the second and third in a minute. Notice where you put sleep, this is likely your current sleep pattern at this time and you may change it.

Step Two is sustenance. Food. Are you in charge of food for your whole family? Just you? Take a moment and look at that. When I have my kids (I’m a single parent 50/50 of the week, so I have two schedules that I’m building), I make meals for everyone. When I’m planning for all of us, I’ll consider what they can create on their own for breakfast or if I need to cook, making lunches the night before to maintain “school structure” and they can grab-and-go as if they were in the classroom, and meal-prep for the week so dinner is simple and easy.

Back to what sustains you. What do you need for breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner? Does it help you to make lunches for everyone so you have it too? Or is work so demanding of your time that taking a break and making lunch with your kids will give you a moment of connection that is needed during the day? Depending on how you answer this, block out 30-60 minutes for lunch on your first page.

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How about breakfast and dinner? Are you able to start work and end work consistently? Do you need to work early in the morning and/or after dinner to make room for the demands of the kids? Consider this as you block out a minimum of 30 minutes for those two meals, add more if you’re prepping it and cleaning up (your kids are capable of doing some of this too, at the very least by age 7).

Step Three is movement. Working from home in addition to stay-at-home orders are taking an already sedentary society and making it even more so. “Pandemic Pounds” is akin to the “Freshman Fifteen” right now and it’s not funny in an already obese society (I’m assuming most of my readers are American). Movement is not an option, it’s a priority, a must for your health, for your immune system, and your attitude. Stop right now and set your mind straight that movement is mandatory, for you and your kids.

Break it down so it’s fun. If you “hate” movement, know that it’s your brain telling you that being comfortable is easier. Movement releases all the happy hormones, so that voice is lying to you and resisting change. Now that it’s clear, ask yourself this:

Do I like exercise alone, guided, with others, silently, with music, inside, outside, slow, vigorous, pushing/pulling, stretching, jumping, etc…. Get honest about what inspires you to move. Then commit to something. It can be an online guided exercise group (Kinergy, Alo Moves, Vimeo, Egoscue), or going to the staircase in or near your home and committing to 10 flights and step-ups with ankle weights. If you’re tight on space, you and your kids will love a mini trampoline. The benefits I feel from just fifteen minutes of jumping are mind-boggling. It’s also a great addition to an obstacle course that your kids get to do once an hour.

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Now that you’ve got this, put it in your calendar. Are you a first thing in the morning mover? Does moving first thing in the morning set your day? Does movement help you sleep? Does it get you through the afternoon slump? Put it where those happy hormones will benefit you the most.

Step Four Decide what takes precedence, your work schedule or your kids school schedule. Do your kids need a lot of support to get through their work and you need to support them (especially these first few weeks)? Is your boss uncompromisingly horrific or on calls/meetings that can’t shift? What can you control or create shifts in? Are there times of the day that your job needs to come first and times when your kids school needs to come first? Do they need you to help them get set up for a morning meeting, or to just check in with them every few hours to see that they’re on track?

This may change from day to day. Having structure doesn’t mean being rigid in the day-to-day. Structure is a framework that can shift and mold to what takes priority, and it’s a place to come back to when life happens.

Build out your first schedule to meet up with your work priorities and your kid’s priorities. You may want this to be step one if it’s the piece that creates the most anxiety. Make sure if you do this first, you get each of the other steps in as well. Remember, movement is not an option.

Step Five is a place to create the joy and the play in your life. This is where you block out the time to focus entirely on your kids, your partner, yourself. Kids will likely remember the time that you focused only on them to play hide-and-seek, board games, reading in bed, reading their schoolwork with curiosity vs criticism, painting a wall in the garage, or any other random thing. They will also remember you consistently telling them that you don’t have time for them, or half paying them attention. Committing to an hour every day with them where they have your undivided attention goes a very long way in their emotional development, and yours as well.

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My me-time happens in the hour before my kids wake up and the hour after they go to bed. I have an exceedingly difficult time sharing that with anyone else, and it’s the first to get compromised if I’m not careful at guarding it. The time you create for yourself is a lot like the time you give to your kids, the impact is deeply meaningful to your self-worth and personal growth. This time is yours to do with as you wish. If you feel better when your kitchen is clean, then you might do that. If you want to connect with a friend, read from a high-quality news source, journal, drink tea in silence, any of that can fill you back up.

Fill in your schedule with this very important time to connect with those you love, including yourself.

What do you do with the other schedule sheets you made?? Well, the first one you made won’t likely be perfect. Look it over again and get really honest with yourself. Are you really going to exercise for an hour every day? Do you need eight or even ten hours of sleep every night? Is your boss actually not the demon you think he is and is he more flexible that you think? Build your second schedule with a little more honesty, or playfulness. Then do it again with the third. Start thinking outside your preconceived notions about “how it’s going to be” and build a structure that allows for creativity.

Now get a notebook, yes the $1 ones are perfect, and at the end of each day take 10 minutes with or without your kids and review how the day went. What part of the day was the best? What was most productive? What was the most challenging? Ask why to each of these. There’s gold nuggets in them whys. Then keep adapting to what works.

Keep the structure of when you wake and when you go to sleep. Sleep is the most important. Then the morning and evening routines (they set up the day, and take the worry away so you can rest). Then you fill in the rest for how and when.

Notice when you commit to this (at least a week if not a month), you can still have room for unstructured time, we all need a little bit of that too. Creating this also makes it easier to understand expectations, demands, and still connect with the values that drive you to live with passion and purpose.

Share your experiences with me. I’d love to see the schedule you created!! I’d love to hear what works and what doesn’t, I may get a little gold nugget from you. You can share on my Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter pages. Or send me an email at Emily@consciouslivingllc.com. I love hearing from you!