I would love to let my four kids have a free-for-all during social isolation, mostly so I could get some much-needed me time. In a perfect world, they’d play and learn harmoniously all day. Then we’d gather around the kitchen bar and chat cheerfully over a snack or meal before dispersing into our own corner of the house or yard. However, the reality is, there is no freaking way this is happening.
I’m that Karen who has a strict quarantine schedule for her children. You know, the one that a lot of other moms are making fun of. Schedule-schmedule, they scoff. And I get it. My reliance upon a daily routine sounds uppity and unrealistic to enforce during an unprecedented global pandemic where our kids are distance-learning and many parents are working from home. However, without our schedule, I’m pretty sure my entire family would fall apart.
One of the misconceptions is that moms who choose to create and adhere to a quarantine schedule are some sort of 1950s mom who makes homemade sourdough bread and does crafts with her kids, then later orchestrates a show-tune singalong. I’m not wearing pearls, heels, or an apron. My children aren’t in pressed rompers as they frolic through the yard playing croquet and picking dandelions. Not even a little bit.
The other misconception is that I’m trying to do it all by implementing a strict schedule. That is also not the case. We aren’t doing it all. Not even close. We have let many, many things go out of necessity. For the sake of our mental health, we’ve missed several school assignments, rescheduled FaceTime “dates” with family and friends, and had too much screen time and too many snacks. Having a schedule doesn’t mean there’s no flexibility.
You’re probably wondering, why bother? It seems like the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket. So why in the world would I prioritize structure over survival? It’s because for us, structure is how we are surviving and staying as balanced as possible.
Two of my four kids thrive on predictability. One of them needs very clear expectations and feasible tasks. All four of them are distance-learning, which means, yes, there are four different schedules and assignment lists. Plus, I have my own job responsibilities, as does my husband, whose full-time job is now one-hundred-percent done from home. (You can find his home office on a card table in our closet.) Not to mention, we have the day-to-day tasks, like chores and meal prep.
Our to-do list is long and seemingly growing. Every morning, I wake up to at least six e-mails with additional school instructions and changes. That’s before I’ve had my coffee. Then more e-mails trickle in throughout the day. Meanwhile, I’m bouncing between each kid, trying to help them with whatever they need. There’s a lot that’s constantly changing.
Our schedule means that all of us, including my child with special needs (and myself, as I grapple with generalized anxiety disorder), have something solid to fall back on. Reliability is what sustains us. That website my son is supposed to learn spelling from may not work when it’s supposed to, but dammit, we are having a snack at 3:00 PM no matter what.
One of my children has ADHD and another of my kids is definitely high-energy. When there isn’t enough movement, it’s obvious. It’s incredibly disruptive for everyone in the house when behaviors tank and moods swing. Thus, we have three scheduled “recesses” a day. This isn’t a luxury for us; it’s an absolute necessity. Plus, it’s good for all of us to move our bodies, get some fresh air, and be in the sunshine when we can.
Our routine is structured around meals. We get up and have breakfast, get dressed for the day, and immediately do some gross motor. In the morning, my well-rested kids have more pent-up energy than the Hulk. After we get the wiggles out, my kids start schoolwork, music practice, and do one of their two daily chores.
Around noon, we have lunch. Then, we repeat the morning schedule with schoolwork and a second chore. When we’ve wrapped those up, we have an afternoon snack. Any residual schoolwork or chores get completed after that; then we play outside (weather-permitting), and the kids shower.
Next, they get their beloved tech-time while I work and then prep dinner. After dinner, we watch a movie and then the kids head to bed. They’re usually pretty tired, worn out from all the exercise. Plus, we’re not setting an alarm clock in the morning, so they can sleep in a little more if they choose.
How do I know it’s working? On the weekends when we’ve tried to chill out more and not follow the routine to a T, there’s some serious fallout. The kids are either “so bored” or they’re literally on top of me.
It’s been well over a month since we’ve been isolated, and I realize how difficult this situation has been. All of us are struggling, sometimes more on one day than another. The schedule we’ve put into place gives our family the backbone we need to keep going when the rest of the world feels like it’s upside-down.
Don’t get me wrong — despite our well-curated routine, there are still plenty of mood swings, meltdowns, bad attitudes, and refusals. Oh, and don’t get me started on the sibling arguments and mom-child power struggles. We are hardly living in a magical fairyland. I’m trying to survive each day just as much as the next mom. Creating a routine wasn’t so I could be better than any other parent in the same boat. Our schedule is so that we can maintain some order in an overwhelming, depressing situation.
If you’re finding yourself inching toward creating a color-coded chart for your family, you aren’t alone. Don’t feel guilty for needing to generate some sort of organization to combat the madness. We’re all doing our best to thrive in the midst of a global pandemic. If our schedule makes me a Karen, I’m OK with it.
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