Parenting is never easy. If parenting in 2019 could be compared to herding kittens, parenting in 2020 as a fire family can be compared to wrangling tigers while juggling flamed torches on a balance board, am I right?!? As fire families, we’re a diverse group of parents, with a variety of ages, situations, and lifestyles. So, when Bonnie asked me to write this piece for the Grapevine addressing parents in this time, it was important for me to convey helpful pointers that could apply to as many of you as possible. My hope is that you can find at least one tidbit that will be applicable to your life.
First, if you don’t have one already, implement a gentle rhythm to your family life. For kiddos, especially those who regularly attend school, there is comfort in the predictability of how a day unfolds; the lack of rhythm and predictability can leave them feeling untethered and confused. A rhythm provides comfort in knowing what to expect from one activity to the next. Note, rhythm does not have to mean a minute-to-minute schedule and not every family’s rhythm will look the same! When thinking of what your rhythm might look like, involve your kids; talk to them and get their input. Ask if they have something they’d like to add to the routine and give them choices for things that you feel comfortable releasing control over. For example, where would they like to work or what subject would they like to start the day with? Some general suggestions for adding rhythm and predictability might be adding in a family walk after dinner or having each day of the week correspond to an activity such as a hike on Monday, art on Wednesday, baking on Friday.
A daily flow will often have periods of work interspersed with down/free time. In our family, we have some routines that we adhere to when our firefighter is home, some that we adhere to when he is gone, and some that remain constant no matter what. This also creates a sense of predictability around the unpredictability of our firefighter’s schedule.
An important aspect of a daily rhythm, especially in times of high stress, is to be intentional about finding time where your attention is undivided and open to your children. For young kids this may mean a quiet snuggle on the couch with a story or engaging in pretend play with them.
For school-aged and teens, it may look like playing a video game together, watching a tv show, finding a recipe to make, or going on bike ride. Again, since all families have different schedules and needs, each one’s rhythms and points for connection will look different. The most important thing here is that it’s natural and comfortable for whomever is at the helm of the ship. Shipmates will feel more comfortable and secure if their captain does as well. Strive for calm comfortable leadership in your time together.
Secondly, I’d like to encourage you to be conscious of your expectations. It’s important that our expectations for our children match what they are capable of developmentally and situationally. Remember that this is a hard time for kids as well as for adults. For those families who are not used to schooling at home, know that homeschool hours are very different from “in-school” hours. Actual work time at home does not equate to the time your child would spend in school.
You’ll find that the majority of homeschoolers do much less “schooling” hours than you’d think. Also, don’t expect that all learning will take place within a book or a formal lesson! Remember that real life presents necessary and important learning opportunities for older kiddos (cooking, being involved in bill paying, budgeting, making grocery lists, cleaning) and that play is the real work of young children. Never underestimate the benefit of allowing a child to explore their imagination and inner world while having free time to be curious and play! With so many things being delayed and/or cancelled during this time, we are presented with a unique situation of an abundance of free time. I challenge the expectation that every moment of a school day must be filled with formal learning and I urge you to let free time be truly free.
It’s imperative, especially for the older children, that you make your expectations very clear, verbally and maybe in written form as well, for more visual leaners. For example, do you expect them to be checking in with you each day in regards to work, do you expect them to assist with specific chores, will you be expecting them to join you on the after-dinner family walk? What expectations do they have for themselves? Check in with where they are, try to meet them there, and use their ideas as a base for compromise.
Finally, I’d like to remind you that times of stress and upheaval are when we can really benefit from gathering in community. As fire families, we can think outside the box and create solutions together. Let’s share ideas and, as comfort and safety allows, share schooling and child-care responsibilities amongst ourselves.
Above all, remember that though the world is ever-changing, your relationship with your child is a constant. School skills can be caught-up, there will always be dishes to do, and the laundry pile is never-ending, so take heart and feel confident in choosing to prioritize your bond with your child whenever you can.