If the internet is to be believed, you have so much extra time available to you and what you do with it says a lot about you. The productive people are working out at home, deep cleaning their houses, expertly homeschooling their kids, and finally getting around to all those home renovations they have been putting off. Just this week, our family fielded dozens of emails from schools with assignments, scheduled zoom calls for our children, were inundated with video how-to’s of workout challenges, and received sports home drills to help keep our son’s soccer skills sharp. As a result of the forced isolation brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic, parents are facing a sudden and unexpected consolidation of roles that are altogether overwhelming. School lessons that were once led by teachers, music lessons taught by professional musicians, and dance or athletic leagues facilitated by trained coaches, are now weighing on the to-do list of parents. And if you spend any amount of time on social media, the message you received is that you are supposed to be doing ALL OF IT. From posts about how some families have (nauseatingly) angelic children that “just love” doing their school assignments, to others about how they are facilitating zoom pitching sessions for their kid's budding baseball career, to the hundreds of ads reminding you of how productive you could be if you just clicked to learn the “seven secrets.” It is hard enough to keep perspective and get things done under normal conditions, let alone when there is global panic, employment uncertainty, and a greater than usual stress gravity pulling on all of us. So, let’s take a step back and understand what is actually happening here: 1) People are under extreme stress from the daily news cycles, work stress from uncertain employment conditions, or if nothing else, transitioning to working from home with organizations that were never built for that.
2) We have a drumbeat herd culture that is driven by “alpha doers” who deal with their own stress by compulsively seeking productivity. Stressed? Clean your closet. Rinse. Repeat. For the rest of us, we’re left with the Sophie’s choice of feeling crappy about ourselves for not keeping up in this breathless dance, or feeling crappy because we simply have a case of the “f‘ its” and give up on the to-do list.
3) We have seen an increase in social media consumption due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the social isolation it has introduced into our lives. According to Pew Research, 55% of U.S. adults are getting their news from the echo chamber of social media, up from 47% in 2018. Collectively, we are more aware of the various threats that surround us, and the "epically crushed" to-do lists of the alphas among us. We need to call out this “hustle porn” approach to family life for what it is: toxic. We talked last week about how the world has hit the reset button on your family’s routine. Maybe you are like our family, trying to find happiness and health while sifting through an overwhelmed and excessively striving culture that tells us we are to continually push our children so that they can become some perfect adult-in-miniature. Maybe you’re like us and wondering how to best teach them to contribute meaningfully in this world, how to make time for intellectual and physical challenges, how to reflect, and plan, and love in a world obsessed with busyness. I was talking with a friend yesterday about how we have been managing the wide-open nature of these quarantined days. I told him about our schedule for the kids, directing when breakfast was served, when there was to be school work, when the screens were allowed, when chores must be completed, and when they need to get outside and enjoy these sunny Spring days. We post everything on a magnetic chalkboard that hangs in our kitchen. We came up with this schedule essentially to save my children’s eyeballs from drying out by staring at a screen all day, which without any other sense of overriding order instructing them otherwise, they would do. I am quite proud of this schedule. I’m thinking of adding it to my LinkedIn profile as “maker of the family quarantine schedule.” I’m not sure how else to say it. It’s kind of a big deal. My friend smiled and asked me, “So are you following the schedule?” Well, damn it. As parents, 10% of what we teach is communicated by talking. The rest, we teach by living.
We instruct our children on how to live their lives by allowing them to watch us go about our own. The respect you show others, the way you stay healthy, the way you show love, all are masterclasses in living well for your children. So how do we teach them to set up their days in the middle of great uncertainty? By first publicly acknowledging the obvious, but still elusive truth that we cannot do it all. No one can, not even the alpha doers among us. We must always choose how we devote our energies or else we will default to a social-media informed autopilot marked by over-work and stress. Teach your children how to focus on the vital few contributors to healthy intentional living by first doing it yourself. Yes, there are a lot of expectations being put at your feet these days. You get to decide what you pick up though. Try not to worry so much about how much about creating these magnificent experiences and marking through your to-do list, because to put it bluntly, your children won't remember any of that.
What we know about childhood memories is that aside from the big ticket items (Disney vacations, 16th birthdays, or that hospital trip for a broken arm), children recall the ordinary routines that are most repeated with their loved ones. I remember with amazing clarity how I used to eat breakfast with my grandfather every time we would visit him, and he died when I was very young. I remember how we would always be the first ones to awaken in the morning and how he would have a bowl of Fruit Loops poured and ready for me. He would sit with his coffee and talk to me as I ate up every bit of the cereal and his attention. This is how ordinary, but repeated routines become the foundation of relationships. And this is the opportunity that is right in front of you as a parent.
Take walks. Draw on the sidewalk with your kids. Help them count their blessings by asking about what was good about their days at the dinner table. Ask them what their favorite thing to do with you is and then do that.
Tell the rest of the noise to go to pound sand.
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