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“Before the lockdown, there were two rules that were never broken,” says Lisa Torelli-Sauer, a mom of two and editor based in West Grove, Pa. “Homework was always finished by the end of the day. Bedtime was non-negotiable.”
Then shelter-in-place orders, school closures and homeschooling happened. Now, Torelli-Sauer and her husband are letting their boys, aged 6 and 8, enjoy more flexibility, not to mention later bedtimes and weekday lie-ins.
“My husband and I both work, so getting their daily school work done each day is next to impossible,” she tells Yahoo Life. “As a necessity, we’ve eased up on our same-day homework rule. Now, we let the kids complete any remaining assignments on Saturday or Sunday.
“We’ve also eased up on a strict bedtime. We need the extra time in the evenings for schoolwork. The kids catch up on sleep in the morning since they don’t need to get up early for school.”
In the nearly two months since stay-at-home orders began taking effect across the country, parents find themselves juggling full-time childcare and homeschooling responsibilities with their own workloads. Children are cooped up and often understimulated, mom and dad are maxed out and house rules once considered iron-clad are now being abandoned in several homes, even by parents who have typically considered themselves to be strict. Fixed schedules, limits on screen time, and early wake-up calls are falling by the wayside in favor of flexibility, freedom and fewer meltdowns for everyone, many tell Yahoo Life.
Parenting blogger Amanda Seghetti is a mom of four kids ranging in age from 1 to 18. Though accustomed to running a tight ship built on “routines, schedules and clear expectations,” the Georgia-based former teacher says she’s learning to ease up.
“When the quarantine started, I was that mom who created a color-coded schedule to help us have structure to our day,” Seghetti tells Yahoo Life. “I wanted my 10-year-old son to do his best with online school assignments and wanted to continue preschool learning with my 3-year-old daughter and 22-month-old son.
“That lasted about a week,” she admits. “Now we do what we can to survive. Instead of waking up at a certain time, I let the kids sleep in (but we are still up by 8 a.m.). Lunch is whatever the kids will eat without a fight, but still includes at least a healthy fruit. Sometimes I put together a fun activity or exercise, and sometimes they jump on the couch while I drink hot coffee. Educational games on tablets sometimes goes well beyond the recommended hour-per-day guideline.”
The philosophy she’s imparting to her kids during these unique circumstances is to “just do your best,” rather than striving for perfection. “For right now, half-a** is OK,” she says.
Amanda Ponzar, a chief communications officer in Alexandria, Va., is letting her 8- and 12-year-old boys enjoy more screen time — both as a family and alone. In addition to family movie nights, which she says help break up the monotony of the week, the boys are allowed to have video calls with cousins and classmates for the first time. Limits on video games and TV time are no longer strictly enforced, while baked sweet treats — courtesy of her own quarantine “baking therapy” — are in regular rotation.
“We definitely give them more grace if other things aren’t done or they take a break in the middle of the school day,” she says of giving her sons the freedom to enjoy more leisure time, which she sees as beneficial to their mental health right now.
Cate Rosales, an affiliate marketing specialist in San Diego, describes herself as a “Type A, super-organized and relatively strict mom of two small kids.” These days, however, the family is in “survival mode,” with a 2- and 4-year-old previously barred from handheld devices now connecting with friends and family over FaceTime.
“It’s all about surviving this chaos with our sanity intact,” she says of their expanded cartoon allowance and snack breaks. “Loosening the rules isn’t a bad idea! We’ve actually all enjoyed and benefited from these little adjustments.”
Jayme Albin, a New York City health and behavior psychologist with a 2-year-old son, reasons that “it’s hard to force him to have the same routine when our life is not the same” during the pandemic. Despite typically being a stickler when it comes to bedtime and a diet of homemade organic meals, Albin says her toddler is now free to munch on other snacks and go to bed an hour later than usual. But while she tells Yahoo Life that her more lax approach is helping her and her husband “maintain some balance” in their own lives during this stressful time, they’re not willing to throw all the rules out the window.
“I do think we need to maintain some supplements of normalcy in our routines as parents,” she says. “So while he’s up on some of the rules, I still may maintain a boundary. For example, he does not go to bed at 10 at night and eat chocolate chip cookies all day long. Just like anything else, this is an opportunity for us to teach our children about flexibility and adaption in life.”
That’s a lesson some parents are learning for themselves. Melissa Mueller-Douglas, a licensed social worker and a mindfulness business owner in Rochester, N.Y., tells Yahoo Life that while the rules for her kids, aged 3 and 7, haven’t budged, she is figuring out how to cut herself some slack when it comes to her own chores.
“Generally, I get in all my daily steps by walking around the house and organizing, doing dishes, laundry, cooking, until I say ‘bedtime,’” she says. “And now, the pandemic has opened my eyes to the reality that my kids are experiencing. When I say, ‘I cannot play until the house is clean,’ I’m telling them my priorities. Our kids are what we show them. Now instead, I am setting a timer and for two hours I am taking care of these tasks, and if they don’t get done I am accepting this and taking the kids outside for a walk, bike ride or to play with bubbles. The last thing I want my kids to remember from this time is that mom tidied the house when no one was coming over while we had this gift of time to bond and create lasting memories.”
This new attitude was inspired by her own mother’s reaction to a devastating ice storm in 1991.
“I remember being 3 years old during the Rochester Ice Storm,” she says. “The electricity was out and our house got down to 40 degrees. That’s not the memory that stuck, though. I remember ‘camping out’ in the living room with a tent, sleeping bag and flashlight, pretending my mom and I, we were looking for bears ... My mom gifted me that experience, that mindset shift from a deficit to an opportunity for adventure. I want to offer this same blessing to my kids.”
Lindsay Powers, a Yahoo consultant and author of the book You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids: A Judgment-Free Guide to Stress-Free Parenting, says that parents shouldn’t feel guilty about bending the rules. Compromising on certain issues, such as allowing a later wake time when there’s no need to rush off to school, can help keep the peace and give both parents and kids a small sense of self-care.
“Now is the time for all parents to cut ourselves some slack,” she tells Yahoo Life. “You don’t have to throw every single rule out the window, but trying to keep our lives exactly as they were pre-pandemic is an uphill battle. Ask yourself which two to three rules are most important to you, and try to abide by those and let the rest go.
“Most kids operate best with some kind of routine, so in my house, we’ve kept bedtime at the same time every night,” Powers, a mom of two, says. “But I’m not as strict about most things. We’re watching more screen time, we’re staying in pajamas longer. We have to be flexible right now for our sanity. How can we take care of our children if we don’t take care of ourselves? This is a surreal moment in time. There’s no way we’re going to look back on this time in 15 years and say, ‘I really wish I didn’t let my kids eat so many cookies during that global pandemic!’ Right now our job is to love and support our kids, not to stress ourselves out when so many things are out of our control.”
And being more lenient in the short term doesn’t mean sabotaging discipline once and for all.
“When the pandemic ends, we can go back to our typical routines,” Powers sats. “And if our kids push back, we can simply say, ‘This was how we acted during the pandemic, and now that’s over!’ If we stand ground, our kids will follow suit eventually too. Kids are resilient and adaptable.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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