My wife and I have a long-standing policy that if one of us is about to crack because of the kids, we tag the other out. We’ve done this for years, and I must say, it has worked wonders for our marriage.
Here’s how it works. If I’m home and my wife looks like she’s about to bury the kids in the backyard, I take all three of them to the park. Or to a movie, or for a walk, a drive, or a mix of these things … really, whatever I can to give her an hour or two just to reset. And if I’m having the same struggles with the kids, she does something similar for me. It’s a pretty simple policy that we established several years ago.
Unfortunately, it’s been more or less derailed by the quarantine. Mel and I are now working from home while also homeschooling our three children. (Honestly, at this point we shouldn’t even call it homeschool. We should just call it yell-school.) We could both use a tag out more than ever.
Anyway, 90% of the places I used to take the kids during a tag out are now off limits. I can’t take them to see a movie because the theaters are closed, along with the parks. Anywhere I could take them for a quick treat is only curbside or drive through, which means I’d have to be stuck in the van with the little nut jobs. I can handle that for 30 minutes or so, but not an hour. And let’s be real, giving a stressed out parent of three a 30-minute break is nice and all, but not nearly long enough.
A few days ago I thought Mel was going to drop the kids off at a church. Not that it was hard to figure out why; I’d been in a long Zoom meeting upstairs for work, and kept having to mute my microphone to keep co-workers from hearing my children battling over who knows what.
I came downstairs once the meeting was over to find my daughter screaming at her younger sister over a stuffed llama, and my 13-year-old son refusing to clean off the dining room table because he thought it was stupid. Mel had the look in her eye that only a mother quarantined with her children can get.
I knew she needed a tag out, so rather than take the kids on a two hour drive through the country, or a million mile walk with the dog, I just dragged all three children upstairs. I told the girls if they went downstairs they’d lose every toy they ever loved, and I told my teenage son that I’d disconnect his cellphone.
They stayed upstairs until bedtime so Mel could have some time to just breathe.
Naturally, this is not going to solve the stress that goes along with having our children home 24/7 with zero out-of-the-house obligations. But what I can say is that it made a big difference in my wife. By morning, she really was like a new person, ready to take on the challenges of loving our children during a pandemic.
We are lucky enough to have two floors in our house, so it was pretty easy to just block off the stairs; this exact method won’t work for everyone. But regardless of how you execute the plan, the lesson here is to realize that parents need breaks — and I know for a fact that if I were about to crack at the level Mel was, she’d have done the same for me.
Sure, we need to be watching out for our family’s safety. We need to be staying indoors, washing our hands, all of that. We need to practice good social distancing if we are going to smash the curve. But we also need to realize that parenting is still stressful — in many ways, probably more stressful than before. I mean, come on. We are now the teachers and the parents. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I personally have a new respect for teachers after fighting with my children all day, every day, just to do a few worksheets.
So my suggestion is, sit down with your spouse tonight and discuss the tag out. Talk about the mechanics of it: putting one parent in the bedroom behind a locked door, making the kids stay in the backyard, whatever it may be. Figure out when it needs to happen, and how it will happen. Because parents need it more now than ever — and your spouse will thank you.