Note: Marieke and I got divorced in 2020. This post might not reflect the current situation.
We’re seven weeks (or six, or eight … I lost count) weeks into our Corona lockdown in Belgium. And oh, man, I was dreading it. I am used to traveling on a weekly basis (I even have a separate blog about it), working long days and only spending 3-4 days per week at home in Belgium. On top of that, I have had difficulties concentrating and getting work done at home. Where I have no issues working from hotels all over the world, on the beach or pretty much any other location, my home office has never done it for me. And then there’s our family – with me spending an average 200 days away from home per year, we were not used to spending so much time together. Despite all this, the past weeks have been relatively easy for us as family. So here are some things we have been doing as a family to stay sane during Corona times.
Communicate very openly
We are firm believers in communicating openly. My wife and I also have a semi-annual review we use to discuss all aspects of our relationship and family life. I think the open communication is one of the key elements for us to stay sane during Corona times. I will highlight some of the elements that have helped us.
Inclusive and engaging
We have a 3 year old (Gust) and 6 year old (Ella) and have been including them in most of our decisions. Whether it is in small things like what we are going to eat or bigger decisions about that Marieke and I need to get some work done and that someone who sits in the office should be left alone.
We try to lunch and have dinner together every day, which are perfect moments to discuss the day and discuss how we all feel and what we need from each other. It is quite interesting to see how more and more, the kids are bringing up their own ideas. Like “oh, mom, it would be really great if we could go dancing in the rain again” or “oh, I would like to eat that pasta next week”. It is also the perfect moment to discuss things like “how long will this Corona virus take” and at least give a simplified version of the reality that nobody really knows and that it depends on how the virus spreads and how the hospitals are being able to deal with the massive challenges they have.
Also discussing “big” things openly helps them prepare. We have discussed several times now that it might be the case that they won’t be going back to school – at least not until summer. Although that is not a nice message, it seems to help them mentally prepare. They now – over the weeks – have gotten used to the idea. Same goes that we probably won’t be able to go on holidays this summer – but we spent already quite some time planning “even cooler” things – we’ll have a night in tents in our garden, we’ll have a movie night with popcorn in our living room and we’ll be creating a fortress from a carton box in the attic.
What I need from you
One of our first meetings with the family was discussing what each of us would need for the coming weeks (or months … or whatever).
- What do you need to be happy now?
- Are there other things you need?
- Do you need some time on your own?
Doing this openly, helped see what everyone’s needs are and open up the lines for future communication. It would allow Ella to say that she really needed some time on our own in her own room, just to relax. To have the kids tell us they really needed some new markers because they were running out. To have Marieke tell she needed some time on her own to call some of her friends, etc. Just being able to tell what you need from someone else helped us a lot to stay sane.
It also helped us define things that we agreed on would help us keep sane. E.g. maximizing playtime outside in our small garden (in any case, there would be more than enough time inside, so every moment outside would be a win). Going to the bakery together with the kids, the importance of being able to do schoolwork, etcetera.
For me, over the years, I have learned I need structure and clarity in my work, so one of the things I asked for is a clear week plan – who would be able to work when. That would not only help me to get any idea how much work I would be able to get done, but also would help me communicate clearly to clients what they would be able to expect from me. E.g. that there would be moments on specific days that I would only be able to call with our kids by my side.
Making it ok to complain and whine
I think one of my proudest moments in one of these weeks was when I was putting Ella to bed and she started crying. I asked her what was going and she told me “I am sorry daddy, but I am just having a tough moment, I really really miss my friends from school”. I really appreciated the fact that she was so open about that. It was one of the moments that helped us normalize just being sad for a moment. That it would be ok to cry because you hate the situation. It helped us create some sort of family principle “it is ok to whine for five minutes, then we move on”.
It also makes it ok that Marieke and me are sad for some moments. Our kids will even come to us, comfort us and say “it is ok to whine for five minutes, then we move on”.
Create a week plan
One of the first things we did, was creating an overall week plan, mainly focussing on work. From the start, we had realized that minding the kids while working would not make any sense. Being able to do some deep work during the week would be essential. As my work as a freelancer was more flexible, we started out from Marieke’s working hours and starting to plan for the week.
It would quickly give us the rough overview for the week. Marieke would be easily able to have her “normal” 22 working hours and would be able to squize in some work while attending to the kids. We decided to expand the working week to 6 days, which would allow me to get in 36 hours of deep work, with plenty of room to work in the evenings or when attending to the kids.
So, several things we decided on:
- Marieke would be able to have her “normal” 22 working hours.
- My hours would be flexible, but I would still have at least 36 hours of deep work per week.
- We would be able to get some work done while attending the kids.
- Tuesday afternoon would be our set moment to go grocery shopping.
We discussed this with the kids so they understood the concept behind it. They were not to disturb the parent that would be working in our home office and the week schedule gave them a clear idea of which parent was working when.
The exact same might not apply to your situation, but expanding the workweek to 6 days and deciding on deep work/focus moments might help to at least get some work done.
Create a day plan
Every morning, Marieke and the kids started to make a day plan during breakfast. It would incorporate things like school work, going to the bakery, play time outside, specific tasks to be done that day, etcetera. Again, by including the kids in this, it will help them embrace whatever we’ll have to do that day. This at least helps to focus on day to day activities and enjoy every single day, very useful to stay sane during Corona times.
Create things to look forward to
Apart from the practicalities, we believe it makes sense to have some highlights in your weeks, some things to look forward to to stay sane during Corona times. It can be really simple – as simple as the dinner plans that week.
Our week menu
Our kids love food and cooking. And in the first week it was their favorite question: “What’s for dinner tonight?”. So every week, Marieke (yeah, my cooking skills are limited to heating specific kinds of food – like eggs) involves the kids in what the dinner planning for that week will be. It helps us limit our visits to the
Marieke and I usually have our monthly date nights (I wrote a separate post on my travel blog about it), but we decided to make it bi-weekly. It helps us at least to have some forced “we”-time in Corona times. We found actually that just lighting a lot of candles, having a good glass of wine (we decided not to drink alcohol during the week) and some order-in food, makes for a perfect setting for a date night.
The simplest things are usually the most fun. A movie night with popcorn in the living room, baking cupcakes, creating an airplane from cardboard, building the highest LEGO Duplo tower ever, dancing in the rain … there are so many things to entertain kids. We try to at least have 2 or 3 of these activities per week – just to have something to look forward to.
There are several things we thought about, but have not done yet.
- We sometimes use a surprise bowl with kids activities, we have not used it yet.
- A similar thing: IKEA sells lottery wheel / wheel of fortune kind of things (see picture). I have had the idea to use it for kids ideas as well, but have not used it yet.
Some final considerations
During the weeks, there were some changes we made:
- No alcohol during the week. In the first two weeks, we would be drinking a glass of alcohol pretty much every evening. We decided to stop that and only drink during the weekends.
Conclusion: how we stay sane during Corona times
Everyone is trying to stay sane during Corona times. And for every family, there are things that make staying sane easier and some that will make it harder. For us, what makes it easier is the fact we have a small garden, the fact I have flexible hours and my wife only works part time. What makes it harder is that working from home was something completely new for us, the fact that all of us are not used to me being at home that much and the fact that I am a freelancer puts some potential pressure on our income as a family.
For us, basic things like open communication (including the kids in the discussion, make it ok to complain) and a clear structure with week and day plans helped us a lot. I hope it might inspire you, but also looking forward to your tips and ideas.