COVID-19 and Wisdom for Home

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This post is a sequel to “COVID-19 and The Call Home


I remember holding our newborn first baby in my arms and feeling a deep sense of being out of my depth. I wanted a manual, a step-by-step guide to show me how to really nail this parenting gig. It wasn’t long before I realised no five-step program was going to show me how to be the parent I wanted to be. I came to learn (and am still learning) that parenting is a process: sometimes a joy; sometimes downright hard work.

I wanted a manual, a step-by-step guide to show me how to really nail this parenting gig. It wasn’t long before I realised no five-step program was going to show me how to be the parent I wanted to be.

If we felt the need for a manual before, COVID-19 has made us desperate. How do we parent full-time, work full-time in the confines of our homes? What wisdom can we get from those who have gone before?

For help with these questions, I turned to three Christian homeschooling mothers: Catherine Reilly from the Southern Highlands of NSW, Barbara Somervaille from Toowoomba, QLD and Anna Hogbin from the Northern Rivers of NSW. Between them, these three have homeschooled 27 children for a collective total of 60 years. They know how to teach, work and live at home, and do so in a way that aims to glorify the God they serve.

Here are some of the practical recommendations that came out of our discussion:

1. Start the Day with God and with a Focus on Relationship

We are called to love our children as a reflection of the way God has shown his love towards us. We should take our cue from the way parents brought their children to be blessed by Jesus.

For us, that can be as simple as each child taking a different morning of the week to read aloud some of God’s word. It could mean praying with your children and asking them to pray for the things that you are worried about.

 If you are working from home, it might seem counterintuitive to spend time like this when you need to be engaging with your work. But engaging early will actually give you more time later. If you spend the best part of your morning, or even your day setting the routine and engaging in their set tasks, your children will feel connected with and supported in their learning—which will make them more ready to work or play independently. This works much better than simply encouraging them to play on their own because “Mummy is working,” (and exploding in frustration at their constant interruptions).

2. Set Realistic Expectations

It’s easy to look on Instagram and see happy families all smiling around their work; or to hear parents who have chosen homeschooling as a lifestyle rave about how wonderful it can be. But each of our children is unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses (just like us!)

Remembering this fact will help us as we school our children. It will encourage us to spend time getting to our children as individuals: What do they enjoy? What are their goals? Where do they feel frustrated in their learning?

It’s easy to look on Instagram and see happy families all smiling around their work; or to hear parents who have chosen homeschooling as a lifestyle rave about how wonderful it can be. But each of our children is unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses (just like us!)

The better we understand their strengths and weaknesses, the better we can adapt to them. If your child loves writing, give them some extra time to further develop their stories. If they love science, get them to research science experiments.

Don’t look at your friend’s children and question why yours aren’t the same, instead pray and ask God to reveal how your child is created in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully made.

As an aside, if your child has a shorter attention span than others, try to set shorter spurts of time, prioritising the ‘must do’ activities (reading, writing and maths) first up in the day.

Part of the setting of realistic expectations is also discussing the use of media in the home. For example, set a particular time of day and length of time so that you all know when your children can play their Playstation or watch the show they enjoy. As Anna Hogbin shares, “Limit screen time and make it a reward for completed work.”

 3. Find Your Family Rhythms

Every family is different. Some families have children up at the crack of dawn, ready to start their learning at 8am; while others enjoy slower paced mornings and working in the afternoon. Find what works for you and your family. Once you find your rhythm, set a routine and implement structure into your day. As Catherine Reilly explains:

Your children are used to structure at school so allowing them to settle into a holiday mentality where they can do whatever, whenever, will not be helpful for anybody. While you cannot fully replicate the school experience in your home, finding a balance with structure and routine will be the key. You know your children and their personalities. If they thrive on structure, give it to them. If they need lots of breaks and incentives, think creatively.

Come up with a general routine for the day together, including breaks, meal prep and meal times, time outdoors, and household chores. Embrace the fact that there is no travel time and most extra curricular activities have ceased, and add in some quiet time activities (lego, reading, craft/art, colouring). Allow screen time in carefully managed timeslots as age appropriate, and as rewards for completing work that has been assigned.

4. Share Your Passions

While we are social distancing, it is important that we have time to enjoy our own passions. Why not share this with your child? As Barb Somervaille suggests:

You and your husband can impart your gifts to your own children. Share your interests! Music, art, debating, engineering, politics or woodwork. So many possibilities!  

5. Remember that You’re not Doing this Alone

Schools across the world are rethinking the way school is done, coming up with resources, lesson plans and the learning opportunities that will help your child continue to learn and grow in their understanding of the world and content. Catherine Reilly recommends that we take the time to communicate with our childrens’ teachers and with your children themselves so that everyone is aware of the expectations.

6. Spend Time Outside

Enjoy time with your children outside. Go for a walk, plant a garden, play handball. Barb Somervaille encourages us to make these opportunities to “whet [our children’s] appetite for the beauty and wonder of His creation.” Your children may not be able to go to the park, but they can stare at the clouds. Depending on their age, you could give them time outside with no objective and their creative minds will take over.

The other day, we sent our children outside for their 30 minute play and for the first 5 minutes, they were walking around like it was some alternate universe. However, 15 minutes later they were making crowns out of vines, scaring me with their rushing down the driveway on their too small toy car, skinning their knees. All the while, they were getting fresh air in their lungs and enjoying being creatively outdoors together. It was great.

7. Enjoy Reading Together

God has communicated through words. As people, we have been created to delight in stories. So, enjoy stories together. There are so many great books you can read together with one child or as a family. Anna Hogbin suggests choosing a chapter book you can read each day over the coming weeks. There is a great list put together by Sarah Clarkson here and another by Justin Taylor over at TGC.

8. Set Quiet Time

As part of your routine, set time for your children to do something on their own. This may take training but, as Barb Somervaille observes, is a good and necessary habit. Since we are all pretty much confined to our homes, it is important that we each have time on our own to regroup and rest.

We started off with a small amount of time with our children (say 10 minutes) and have gradually increased it. To begin with, we set a timer and explained that when the timer goes off, they are allowed to come out. Nowadays, they are so used to spending time playing on their own after lunch (and enjoying it!) that they actually don’t rely on the timer. It is amazing to see their creative play and interests emerge; somedays, they enjoy reading, others doing finder-words or playing with their Barbies or Lego.

9. Extend Grace … to Yourself and to Your Children

During this time, we need to extend grace to ourselves and to others. It is easy to set amazing expectations and feel disheartened when they don’t come off. Remember this is something we are all adjusting to—our children included! As Barb Somervaille encourages us to remember:

Don’t do God an injustice by thinking you are incompetent. You are well and truly able to love your children and to teach and train them at this time in things that matter.

In a similar vein Catherine Reilly encourages us not to feel guilty about needing or taking breaks: “Having a cup of tea and 10 minutes down time may well keep everybody’s sanity intact.”

As we venture through this period of being called home, may we grow in grace; being reminded day by day that our God is working on us just as he is our children.

10. Be Consistent in Discipline

Many parents feel overwhelmed because they are concerned their children don’t follow the tasks they set. Love your children, teach them the ways of God and discipline them. The Bible clearly links loving your children with teaching them to obey you.

Obedience has become a bit of a problem word, bringing images of overbearing or abusive parents into our minds. However, discipline should be about setting clear boundaries with clear consequences—both good and bad.

Children thrive when these boundaries are clearly stated and consistently applied. Dr John Townsend explains that children with boundaries learn a sense of self, self-control and how to have great relationships.

So, decide what you and your husband believe to be the right consequences and have a family meeting to explain these. In our family, as our children have grown, we have used the biblical principle that with obedience comes blessing and with disobedience comes consequences. Rewards have generally involved relationship-based activities between us and our child. Consequences for bad behaviour, on the other hand, have been immediate and administered privately, with an explanation of the sin and expectation of apology, leading to restored relationships.

These negative consequences should in no way tear the child down.

Conclusion

In this season of our family social distancing in the home, it is easy to feel anxious or overwhelmed. Relatively overnight, we find ourselves trying to work from home, teach our children and remain at home, all without the luxuries of eating out and having a social life. There is also the added stress of a pandemic.

Yet in this time, we can take comfort that we serve a God who knows the beginning from the end; who controls all things and will give us wisdom and grace if we ask. Tomorrow is a new day and God’s mercies are new every morning. As we walk day-by-day with him, may we see this as an opportunity to reevaluate our lives prior to the pandemic and invest in the lives of our husband, children and families that will live on in our lives post COVID-19.

 

 

 

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