For most of us, COVID-19 struck like a tonne of bricks, sweeping through our comfortable lives with a rugged whirl and in the process, flung our sense of normalcy and control aside.
Even the familial terrain of home is not spared a drastic overhaul. Instead of the predictable humdrum routine of a typical work/school day, the average family has had to grapple with a “new (stay-home) world order” – where adults and children try to live, work and function harmoniously under one roof.
In the past few months, we have had to navigate this change on the fly. Not surprisingly, we faced multiple challenges on the homefront.
A research study by EU agency Eurofound found that 22 per cent of parents teleworking with younger children reported difficulties focusing on their jobs all or most of the time. Multi-tasking between work, home and kids has caused parents a fair bit of stress lately and escalated tensions at home.
Perhaps the million-dollar question is: How do we parent well in a pandemic?
Admittedly, with all things in perspective, the things that used to bother us before bear less weight now. In comparison, our family’s health and well-being has risen to the top of the charts.
As a couple, we had to come to a united decision to let some things go while we ramped up on other areas in this season. Here’s how our priorities have shifted:
1. Prioritising connection
With most of our family activities on hold or scaled down, we have been trying to make the most of it and to carve out some undivided time with our children.
We found ourselves scheduling family time with more frequency to engage in shared activities within the home. Board games, watching “free” live musicals and performances have been a great hit.
2. Prioritising values
Working from home has allowed me to be in a more relaxed mode. I get to play more with my younger children and enjoy a good laugh over doing silly things together.
I run an education business, so this COVID-19 season also presented me with a unique opportunity to process the news with my children. I felt compelled to share real-life perspectives and challenges that I’m facing as a business owner, so they can learn first-hand what resilience truly means and looks like in a crisis.
As an avid newsreader, I also enjoy having family discussions on issues that different groups of people such as migrant workers, lower-income families, the elderly and healthcare workers could be facing.
Taking this further into real life application, we took time to observe the different needs amongst groups of people in the community around us and brainstormed ways to reach out and to show care.
Living out the values of compassion and kindness to our neighbour and the less privileged took some intentional effort but in doing so, our kids learnt how to extend love and kindness beyond the confines of our home.
They decided to make two family video projects for both sets of grandparents, to send greetings to them and connect with them in a special way. It was precious to watch and even the baby participated!
3. Prioritising life skills and independence
Instead of bemoaning the difficulties of keeping pace academically over this period, we can turn our focus to life skills.
Shelve assessment book drilling for another time and get the kids to plan and cook a family lunch. Involve them in family chores and build responsibility and independence at the same time.
Since our part-time cleaner hasn’t been able to come round due to circuit breaker measures, the kids have been taking turns to wash the toilets weekly and help out in daily chores. This has helped ease my work load a great deal.
We have confined learning to schools for too long. The home is rich for learning on so many fronts: We just need to look out for the everyday teachable moments.
Engage in a book or news article on the pandemic, write a poem or song, pick up still-life drawing or calligraphy (from YouTube videos), or apply mathematical conversions in recipes when baking – the options are endless.
Since we could not visit the hair salon for a haircut, I decided to buy a hair clipper and teach my older children how to cut each other’s hair!
Thankfully, they managed to do a decent enough job. The end products weren’t exactly salon-worthy, with the jagged edges and all, but everyone was game enough to learn and were mostly happy to get some “load” off their heads!
Apart from cutting hair, I also got the children involved in composting our fruit and vegetable peels in our back garden. These are practical skills that we don’t often find the time to engage in, so I must say this circuit breaker has brought its own unique surprises as well.
4. Prioritising social-emotional health
Just recently, my four-year-old teared suddenly upon seeing her three-year-old cousin via a video conference. She couldn’t understand why she could no longer go over to play at her house.
I had some difficulty explaining why we were not allowed to visit right now but thankfully in the end, a big hug and comforting words got her back up and bouncing.
Children, like us, crave social connection. Being stuck at home and missing their usual social groups and physical gatherings for a prolonged period can take its toll and cause them to turn inwards or act out.
I realised I have to be more understanding of the changes and emotional swings that our children may experience and adjust our expectations accordingly. We also need to give them timely encouragement and room to cope with these new routines.
For our older children, we had to be more mindful about their usage of technology. While they would rely quite heavily on Zoom meetings and Whatsapp messages to keep in touch with their peers during this period, we tried to balance that by having intentional one-on-one time with them.
It can be as simple as just availing our listening ears to them whenever they have something to say. I must admit that had it been life as usual, parenting in such an unhurried manner is usually the exception rather than the norm.
Parenting in a pandemic need not be reactive and stressful, provided we choose our battles wisely.
Given a choice, we would not choose to live in a world with COVID-19. However, its existence has made us reconsider how we manage our priorities. It has helped us take a good hard look at what’s truly important in life, and to go back to basics.
We're thankful that we have learnt to connect and relate to one another at a deeper level. While it continues to wreak havoc across the globe, this pandemic has also given us a gift – the gift of starting over, and I hope we will continue to nurture the hearts of our children well.
© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
- How have your parenting priorities changed because of COVID-19?
Married for 17 years, Tracey and Jayce have six kids. Jayce runs an education business, and Tracey is a full-time stay-home mum, and part-time dreamer and writer at her blog Memoirs of a Budget Mum.
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