Week 1: Tips to Prepare your Family for “Stay at Home” due to COVID-19

My 14-year-old practicing social distancing as he perfects his backflips in the backyard (in his pajamas).

With over half the country being asked to stay at home (or in our case, “shelter-in-place”) for the foreseeable future, many might be wondering what it looks like after a week. Worldwide, we are all weathering the same storm and many are suffering, old and young alike (although there are fewer cases, COVID-19 can seriously affect young people, too). To help our community get through this crisis quicker, we will do our part. Social distancing, quarantine, lockdown. I’m an eternal optimist and try to find the bright moments in any bad situation. And this past week has given me plenty of opportunities. I’ve had the chance to recalibrate and rebalance, take stock of what’s important and “make lemonade”.

As with many families we know, our normal pace of life was hectic. Then our lives skidded to a screeching halt. Earlier in March, we were reflecting on how we were putting 1000 miles a week on our three family cars, and despite driving fuel-efficient hybrids, complaining about the monthly fuel bill. This week we’ve each left the house exactly once (for essential errands) and barely drove 10 miles.

Alongside our three children (middle school, high school, and college students), we’ve embarked on what seems like an extended “working” spring break, with no end in sight. We’ve started dusting off those board games the kids loved when they were younger (like Scrabble). We’ve extended our Monopoly games for days by finding ways to rewrite the “chance cards” to fit current events and practicing collaboration and negotiation tactics which is great for a good laugh or two (if you’re curious what they’ve done, contact me and I’ll provide examples).

We’ve gone through boxes of old papers and photos and enjoyed nostalgic journeys. It was interesting to hear what the kids remember, and my husband and I got an opportunity to fill in details they can appreciate now that they are older. We have a more manageable pace of life, we have time to pursue personal projects, and my kids are learning what it takes to be better roommates, spouses and world citizens.

And we are learning new things. I learned how to use Alexa as a home intercom device. My husband can now have Alexa make a grocery list and retrieve it on his phone. We have officially entered the 21st century. In fact, we’ve all gotten more tech-savvy. We’ve now gotten all of the grandparents on Zoom.

If you’re getting ready to “stay at home” for the next month or so, I thought I would share what it’s been like for us, with links to resources (especially for younger kids), how we prepared and how we’re doing after 7 days.

Working from home. Fortunately for us, my husband and I have jobs where we already work from home a lot. So there was nothing new for us to adjust to professionally. However, we knew that our challenge was having the kids at home and establishing a routine that would allow us to work effectively.

We assigned a dedicated spot in the house for each person to do their work where they would not disturb the others if they were on the phone, conference call, or recording/playing a video. Making sure that everyone had enough working space, a computer with a mic and camera, power outlets, headphones, neutral backgrounds for video calls was challenging but doable. Luckily, we had just upgraded our internet service in January.

We discussed the weekday routine. Everyone would observe school hours (working or quiet activities). Although they now have more time to do what they want to do, no video games, movies or loud music practice until everyone was done with their work (or schoolwork) around 3 or 4 pm. This encouraged the younger ones to focus and be productive and forced my husband and myself to wrap up work at a decent hour and not overcommit our meeting schedules as we usually do. Although our 14 yr old sometimes sneaks in some YouTube time before 3 pm, he’s getting his work done (according to the emails I’m getting from his teachers). Our kids have done their best adjusting to an “asynchronous” learning model (get assignments and turn them in at your own pace) and occasional remote learning video calls. And they have more free time to be creative. Everyone is doing their best, including our teachers, and that’s good enough.

Meals. We asked everyone in the family to write out menus for what they wanted to cook or eat over the next few weeks and made a list. Then we stocked the pantry and fridge. Now each day we ask for a volunteer who will make a meal, and the others volunteer to cleanup or unload the dishwasher later. As expected there were plenty of disagreements in the beginning about being “fair”, but after the dishwasher has been loaded and unloaded for the 15th time we kind of lose track of who has done what, and someone ends up just doing what’s needed so we can stop talking about it and move on.

Household chores. I created a list of jobs that had to be done daily and weekly. On the weekends, we pick an hour and everyone focuses on cleaning or tidying up downstairs on Saturdays and upstairs on Sundays. Since we’ve always had a cleaning service, this was a huge shift for us. But I am happy to say that after 2 weeks, even my kids have learned to pitch in without too much complaint if it means being able to enjoy a clean bathroom. So there is hope for everyone!

Family check-ins. After about 4 days we were craving more social interaction. Our families and relatives are located on the East Coast, West Coast, and Hawaii, so we’ve set up a Zoom call before dinner with the East Coast, and after dinner with the West Coast. Each day I reach out to 4–5 more people I haven’t heard from recently and email or text to find out how they are doing. This gives us all a daily dose of social interaction outside of the family, school, and work. Not as ideal as the real thing, but for now it will do.

For the less “tech-savvy”: some of the groups and communities we are a part of have started asking to compile email newsletters for everyone, with “update statements” from each member. A nice way to share, avoid getting too many emails and support each other during this trying time. It’s especially nice for those who do not have a lot of other family members sheltered in place with them. Everyone feels less alone.

Scout Meetings. A friend successfully conducted a troop meeting where 30+ boys dialed in from home. The first thing he did was let the boys chat and do silly things on video for 5 min, then he used the power of the mute button. I wish we had one of those instant mute buttons for in-person scout meetings, too! Using his professional skills, he facilitated the meeting (whiteboarding, raised hands, presenter switching) with aplomb. I hope he knows he is training our next generation to become effective remote workers. I have great respect for all of the teachers who are doing the same!

Community & Service. The homeless shelters are inundated. We’ve volunteered to purchase and deliver food to the community shelter nearby since they no longer allow volunteers inside to prepare meals. The local animal shelter is overwhelmed since fewer people coming in to adopt animals, so we will soon have a 5-month-old cat living with us as well. Our public school system has arranged lunch each day for 7,000 of the 35,000 kids in our district and requires donations to get through the next two weeks. Friends have donated blood at the local Red Cross to help relieve the shortage due to canceled drives. My sister has been sending me links to her pastor’s recorded weekly “fireside chats” which help remind us what other communities are going through and how we can help and support each other.

Looking for free resources and ways to keep the kids from getting cabin fever? I’ve seen dozens of lists and hundreds of links. But these articles had some really creative ideas that I want to try with my family.

Those with younger children have a tougher challenge than I do right now. Although I did work from home when the kids were younger so I do remember what that was like. My best advice is to establish a daily routine with set bedtimes and wakeup times and a schedule for activities (with a little more flexibility than school, to allow for projects and creative time) designed to fit your work schedule. Just schedule their time with you with a meeting on your calendar and make sure they are sufficiently occupied during your work meetings.

In terms of free resources for younger children, there are plenty to choose from. But here are a few unique ones that you might not hear about elsewhere:

The San Francisco Bay Area has been shelter-in-place for a week now, and we’re headed into week two. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones or have relatives in Europe or Asia or anywhere COVID cases are being identified at an increasing rate, and those who are suffering from economic impact or health concerns in addition to the uncertainty. We’ll do our part to not be carriers, to help and support others best we can during this crisis and hope for the day that we all emerge from this a stronger, kinder and connected society.

Catch up on our shelter-in-place in California: Week #2, Week #3, Week #4, Week #5, Week #6, Week #7.

Chief Growth Officer, Team Leader & Corporate Strategist | Passionate about helping SMB companies succeed | Lifelong learner, champion of innovative technology

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