Let’s face it, this was not how any of us had imagined the first half of 2020 going. Back in January, I was not planning to teach my classes online for the last two months of the school year. I was not planning to be stuck at home with my family 24/7 for weeks on end. And I certainly was not planning for the massive mental and emotional toll social distancing has had.
No. This was not the 2020 we had imagined, but this is the one we were given. And I personally am trying to find the good that has come from this social isolation we were forced into. Which is why today I am going to talk about how to take advantage of one of the unexpected benefits of having spent the last three months at home.
Before I begin I want to make clear that I think the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are terrible. Many lives have been lost because of this disease, as well as jobs and financial security. My goal, in this blog, is not to deny that COVID-19 was a horrible tragedy, but is rather to find some silver linings during these difficult times.
When I was a child my family had a “Family Night” tradition. It was one night a week that we were not allowed to ask to go to a friend’s house or have people over. On that night, we would come together as a family and draw a slip of paper from a jar. All the slips of paper in the jar had different activities on them that we could do as a family. These activities ranged from going to the community pool to playing Pictionary to taking a nature walk. But no matter what the activity was, we did it as a family.
As I got into my teens and my siblings got older, family night activities changed a little, but we still had one night a week that we got to be all together. Then when I entered my sophomore year of high school family nights slowly happening less and less until eventually the jar with the activities started to gather dust on a shelf. Honestly, I haven’t thought about these family nights in a long time.
My husband and I are both teachers with side jobs. In December, I was working 80+ hours a week between teaching, lesson planning, coaching, and writing for www.LoonyLearn.com. There were days when I would leave the house at 4:45am and not return home until 10:30pm. Between working and getting housework done, I almost never had a moment to just sit down and relax with my family.
Like many other US citizens, I have found myself lost in the workflow. We, as Americans, often find our value to be attached to the work we do. It is ingrained in many of us from a young age that how much we work is related to our worth. And this idea that time is money has changed the way we view relaxing.
Think about it, for many jobs, you get paid by how many hours you spend at work, not based on how much you accomplished in those hours. Even salaried employees are expected to be at work during certain hours, even if you have already completed your tasks. You don’t hear your friends talking about how they closed ten home loans this week, you hear them say “Oh man, I put in sixty hours this week.” Our value is measured by the hours we put in and not the quality of work we achieve, and this has led to people working longer hours and spending less time at home. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the order to shelter-in-place was given in mid-March, many workers were sent home full-time. Yes, people were working and spending ridiculous amounts of time trying to adapt to an online model, but they were also spending more quality time together. All of the time that had previously been spent commuting was now spent at home. Coffee breaks, bathroom breaks, and lunch breaks- all at home.
What did we do with all that extra time? Spent it with our families.
This week I was chatting with several friends of mine about the ups and downs of quarantine and was surprised by how much positivity there was. These friends were all working mothers who had kids at home. They have spent the past three months navigating the struggles of being a full-time mom AND a full-time employee. But somehow they were still, overall, optimistic about certain parts of their quarantined lives.
Below are some of the comments that were made during this conversation:
Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of talk about the difficulties over the past three months. Kids missed their teachers and friends. Parents struggled to keep the kids occupied during the day. Motivation to do school work plummeted, and everyone craved being able to leave the house. But the thing almost everyone mentioned was how quarantine made them re-evaluate how they spend their time.
When I read the comments above, I think about how sad it is that it has taken a global pandemic to make it so a family has time to sit and eat together. If the COVID-19 crisis had not happened, would we have noticed how much happier our kids are when they just get an extra hour of sleep each night? Does it really take a world crisis for us to consider the benefits of a slower pace and more family time?
Something I learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is that if we aren’t intentional in setting aside time to just be in the moment with our loved ones, that is often the first thing that gets pushed to the wayside when life gets busy.
I bet these past few months have been difficult for you and your family. Maybe your kids spent many nights crying because they didn’t understand their school work. Maybe you had a high school senior who didn’t get their prom and graduation. Maybe you lost your job or lost someone to COVID-19. These have been trying months. But I also bet that you have talked more in the past couple months with your loved ones than in the time leading up to quarantine.
My challenge for you in the coming months of continued social distancing and the eventual return to normalcy is to intentionally dedicate time every day to be present with your family. I’m not kidding when I say to be intentional. I mean take a pen and write it in your calendar or set a reminder in your phone. Or just maybe, make a family tradition of once a week coming together to draw an activity from a jar. Because if you are anything like me, no matter how well-meaning I am in the beginning, I will often get blown off-track by the winds of day-to-day life. If we don’t schedule time to be present, it will pass us by.