- Stephanie Lemmo
HOW TEAMWORK MAKES THE DAYS WORK
Coping with kids at home during isolation by changing your perspective.
Last week, I picked up both of my daughters’ belongings from their school, where labeled garbage bags filled with books, supplies and the contents of a little desk, rested on the gymnasium floor under the first letter of our last name. As I left the grounds, holding grade 2 and (the last year of) preschool in my hands, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of profound sadness. In addition to the postponement of important milestone events, there would be no carefree bonding with friends after school, no magical spring walks home, no exciting build up to summer.
My mother passed away on January 20th of this year, the same day they announced human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus in China resulting in 200 people affected. Of course, at this time, coronavirus was a world away, and for the next several weeks, my family and I accepted and welcomed the waves of grief that would visit us. These weeks were about my mother and I’m so fortunate to have had them. I began to adjust to a new emotional reality and as a family we longed for celebrations, connection, spring and sunshine more than ever. Then all of this happened, time froze, people froze, and everything around us intensified.
Now we all find ourselves grappling with different challenges in our day-to-day lives, in a situation that is far different than a carefree summer break. With nowhere to go, nobody to visit, no outside noise or commitments, I started to observe my kids just existing with one another and me existing with them. I realized very quickly that with one parent home for most of the day, a top down communication approach with three kids simply doesn’t work. It's exhausting, depleting and discouraging for parents and children. Sibling rivalry, tantrums, defiance, yelling and tears - no thanks.
One of my major “ah ha” moments, was to approach our little family unit as a team, nourishing the same leadership qualities from teams I’ve led in the past. It seems like a given, but when you are in the thick of it with young kids, it really isn’t. For me as a parent, this became a learning opportunity to begin a new relationship with my children, a more collaborative one. One of the most important skills in life is the ability to work with others as a team – the ability to respect one another, to problem solve, exercise emotional intelligence, and to be agile. Let this foundation be set at home.
I started to reinforce to my kids that as a family we are a team, as a community we are a team, as a school we are a team, as a city and a country, we are a team, and as global citizens, we are team.
We discuss how every member of our family team is a leader and each member has their own special skills to share. For example, my oldest daughter has started to make breakfast for herself and her siblings (she’s the breakfast leader and inspires her siblings to participate), my four year old daughter enjoys setting the table for dinner (she’s the dinner leader and involves her little brother with arranging cutlery), my two year old hates putting on his shoes to go outside, but when I tell him he can be a leader too – voila, shoes are on and his sisters are cheering! Teams celebrate the wins together.
I talk with my children daily about problem solving and finding their own solutions without coming to me for every poke or accusation - I can’t step in to solve everything. Our sleep-deprived patience can only handle so many disruptions and meltdowns before we as parents take a turn for the ugly. Home isolation has taught me to do the opposite of hovering over my kids, making sure every nuance is corrected, it's forced me, for my own survival, to step back. I encourage them multiple times a day to find a fair solution amongst themselves and I often support the process (take a deep breath first, parents). I cringe when it doesn’t always work and feelings get hurt, but am pleasantly surprised to find that they really are making an effort to find solutions to problems that they would otherwise bring whining to me. In three short/long weeks, I've noticed a very positive and collaborative shift between three children who deeply value each other's company.
As a family we've also been discussing the ways in which our community is a team and had the beautiful example of a friend supplying hot meals to frontline workers at our major hospital. This inspired my daughter to think about how she could contribute too, so we brainstormed and she proudly chose to donate her cases of boxed Girl Guide cookies to a local lunch program that serves families in need. There are so many positive examples of our community coming together to help others, from people sewing masks for residents and workers in the Downtown Eastside to caring neighbours shopping for those who are unable to leave their homes, from stores implementing senior shopping hours to neighbours cheering at 7pm for our healthcare workers. Don't dwell on the pervasive fear and the fight-or-flight behaviour that is always a focal point in our news, there is so much light to share with our kids.
Our next adventure into the unknown, homeschooling, is a new, evolving form of teamwork for everyone, our dedicated teachers, our children, our partners and fellow parents. I still have yet to fully unpack the belongings I picked up last week, set up the computer for learning and sift through the many administrative emails waiting in our school's online platform - on the list for today. In all honesty, I'm not sure how much we will actually accomplish with young, loud siblings orbiting around. Some of the greatest lessons our kids will learn from this, however, might not be found on a computer or by completing another math equation.
If you haven't already, talk to your kids about your family as a special team regardless of size or siblings. Give your children special 'leadership' roles within your family, make the creation of schedules a team effort. Teach them that a team weathers the storm together. It's not rocket science, but as parents, even by switching your perspective, you may develop greater appreciation and tolerance for your children, and they may develop the same for you. Remember, all the things we long for - normalcy, celebrations, bonding with friends, privilege of going to school, privilege of going to work safely - will return and we will be so much more appreciative for them.
Enjoy your Sunday slow-down today.
PS - a special shout out to my dear husband, my greatest collaborator and my favourite birthday boy (tomorrow). This one is for you, honey.