What does it take to stay home with your kids 24/7 and survive it? To me, the answer is : Mindset Change. As opposed to just coping. Coping means you try to take certain measures to get through the situation. Mindset change requires you to see things from a completely different perspective and think of new ways to adapt to the situation. To me, mindset change requires a change of heart and expectations. Coping, on the other hand, will not lead to any long term change. Once the situation is resolved, things will be back to the usual.
“How can I do anything when my children want my attention all the time?!”
To be honest, there were plenty of times when I wish my children could just go off and play on their own and leave me to do my stuff. But most of the time, I have accepted the fact that I will have them by my side all the time. In fact, I want them with me. So when I had to get things done, I just learned to do things together with them.
Mindset Change : It is ’togetherness’.
We found ways to adapt and enjoy the togetherness. A quick trip to the supermarket could involve getting a toddler into his shoes and a baby into my sling and all of us taking 15 minutes to walk to the supermarket that would normally take me just 5 minutes to do so on my own. But the kids enjoyed the short trip out, we took the time to make observations of what we saw on the way. A trip to the shop was always fun for them when they were that young. I have fond memories of going everywhere with them.
When I had to be busy in the kitchen, I moved the small table into the kitchen so that #3 could do some maths work to keep him occupied and homeschool going.
When I had to wash the bathroom and there was no one around to help watch #3, I took off his clothes, gave him some washable paint and let him paint the bathroom wall while I wash the other parts of the bathroom. When all was done, a quick spray washed all the paint off and I gave him a quick shower. Playing with paint and water was always fun for a kid that young.
Sometimes they really want you to sit down and play with them. And you do. 5 minutes may feel like an hour when you are playing the nth round of pretending to eat pretend meals. But if you made up your mind that you were going to focus on playing pretend for, say, 30 minutes, it is less frustrating than having your mind half on things you thought you could be doing instead. When 30 minutes is up, I think even the child would be open to suggestions of other activities.
I used to make use of my children’s nap time to do things that I must do without a child alongside me to distract me. And I learned to be fast. When they were awake, I did things with them. Even chores. When they had to have me within their sight – you know that stage of toddlerhood – I set them up to play in the same area where I did my chores. And then we moved together.
The alternative was to grumble about how having them underfoot all the time meant that I could not keep the house tidy and it was all their fault, and lament to everyone that the kids were demanding and I could never keep up with both housework and kids. It was not a “my work” vs “kid’s demand” mindset, which was sure to lead to frustration and anger. It was more an ‘our thing’ mindset, but most of the time I had to adapt more for the simple reason that I was the adult and therefore should rightly adapt more to the child.
“My kid cannot focus on her work for 30 minutes!”
Maybe you are hoping that your child can spend an hour or two on their school work so you can focus on your own work. When things do not work out, you wonder if your child have attention deficit issues because he cannot sit still and focus on his work for 30 minutes.
Mindset change : they are children.
They have a shorter attention span. And if they have never been trained to focus on a task for a period of time, they will have an even shorter attention span of course. Parenting young children can be like guerilla warfare sometimes. Once we understand that, we just need to learn to switch mode. Frequently change out the activities and try to slot in times when both can work at the same time.
On that note, I cannot stress enough the importance of routine in maintaining sanity for everyone. Routine means stability. It means predictability. Stability and predictability reduces the stress level for everybody. So have a routine that will work for you and your kids. But keep in mind the needs of the children. E.g. if you have preschoolers, it is unrealistic to tell them that they have to do their school work from after breakfast for 3 hours.
Also, a routine is not necessarily a time table with specific things to be done at specific times. You may end up getting even more frustrated when things don’t work out according to the time table. Routine is just the order in which things happen throughout the day. E.g. we all wake up at around this time, and have breakfast together. After that, we go out for a short walk. We wash our hands and feet after we come home. Then you play for a while so that mummy can prepare your lunch. After lunch, you can take a nap. After you wake up you can have a snack and then do some work. After dinner, you can watch TV…….You get the idea. The adults probably will keep an eye on the time. Lunch does not have to happen at 12 noon on the dot. But it will not get delayed until tea time. Without a routine, a preschooler, even a lower primary school child, with only a vague concept of time, will constantly be wondering ‘what shall we do next, can we play? Can we play? Can we play now?” and you will be constantly explaining why they can or cannot do something.
“I am always fighting fire when it comes to my kids.”
The demands are varied. One moment they need a snack. The next moment they claim they cannot do their homework unless you help them. Before you can settle down to doing some things that you need to do, they start quarrelling and yelling and you have to break up the fight. It feels like being a parent at home is a constant fire fighting exercise. It is exhausting and frustrating.
Mindset change : Listen and pay attention to your children.
The effort pays. Really. Be here, right now, with your children. Not with your heart half wishing to be elsewhere or wishing your children can be back in school. Or scrolling your phone. You will have less fussing and tantrums to deal with. Even when you have to multi-task, switching attention on both tasks constantly, give full attention to your kids when you are giving them your attention. Learn to listen and pay attention to what is going. Listen with your heart not just your senses. You may end up discerning the real reason for your child’s behaviour. Then you will be able to deal effectively with any problem that may come up. You may not realised if you are not paying attention, that it is already the nth time the older child has to give in to the younger sibling and she has had enough of the injustice and is now throwing a huge temper tantrum. And you reprimand her for not behaving like a good big sister, which is of course not the right action to take. It breeds anger in the older child, and then you get more behavioural issues down the road.
“They make such messes/noises, it is driving me nuts! And why must they be so clumsy? Why must they do such (meaningless) actions?”
Just when you thought you finally cleared the mess in the room, a new pile of mess appeared. The house is in a constant mess. When the kids are playing, they just cannot play quietly so that you can focus on your work. They are constantly quarrelling and quibbling over the smallest things. Even when they are playing nicely with each other, the noise they make is just as bad. You cannot hear yourself think.
Mindset Change : These are kids!
I am naturally a quiet person. I do not mind silence. I like a quiet house. With 3 boys, one of the questions I get most often is : how do I cope with 3 boys (assumed to be rowdy)? First of all, my boys are not as rowdy as people expect. I do teach them to use their ‘indoor voice’ where appropriate and avoid screaming as much as possible. Secondly, it is a given that children will be children and when they play together, it is not going to be like a game of chess. For boys, you can expect all kinds of sound effects. When they play together, there are bound to be quarrels and fussing at times. There were times I felt like I could not even hear myself think of course. I learned to tune out where necessary. Even for a quiet person, I have a tolerance for the noises of childhood because I have accepted that it is part of them being kids. I learned not to get distressed by their daily quibbles and noises. Sometimes, when I listen to them, I find the most amusing conversation going on, which I love.
Childish behaviour is also to be expected. They are children after all. They will quarrel with their siblings. They will prefer to play and watch TV instead of doing their school work. They may get really emotional. They could be more accident-prone. If you are with a bunch of boys, and you all walked past a slope, boys are honour bound to have a go at running up or down the slope just for the fun of it. Adults may get irritated by the ‘misbehaviour’. But really, they are just behaving like boys. (This is a true story. I am not making it up.) Don’t expect your children to be like mini-adults. Also, choose your battle.
I found this photo the other day. This was the state of my coffee table for the longest time. There was always a mess of books on it and I left it that way because my children would rather pick up a book from this pile of mess to read than to pick out a book from the bookshelf. So I learned to not think of this as a mess that needed to be cleared.
“I find myself constantly scolding and punishing my children because they are so naughty. I must have the most unmanageable children on the planet.”
If this is you, at some point you will be wondering what did you do wrongly, maybe you need to read a new book on discipline, or attend another seminar/webinar on parenting. You may think that you need to punish harder or more often for your children to finally learn.
Mindset Change : Training is a long term thing.
When it comes to children, there is no such thing as ’teaching once and be done’. A lot of parents get angry with their children when they misbehave because they think that if they have already taught their children how to behave properly, then they have every right to be angry when their children misbehave. Teaching children is a training process. Training takes time. It takes reminding over and over again and then again. It takes explaining where necessary, and explain again and again and again. You may have to mete out the consequences of bad behaviour again and again and again. If you have the mindset of being in it for the long term, you are less likely to get angry and will have more patience, even understanding, to deal with behavioural issues.
If you have tried to break a bad habit, lose weight, get on a better habit such as exercising more, you know that even as an adult, even when you know it is the right and good thing to do, it is not easy and you are likely to fall off the wagon again and again. So why do you expect your children to be instant saints? Train your children with lots of love and grace.
I have been a stay home mom for nearly 20 years now and some things come naturally by now that I may actually take for granted. Maybe because I did not have another life that I had to get to (job life) I accepted the situation as was given to me and worked with it. This is why I thought maybe there are two mindsets and the coping mindset is not really helping things. Therefore, I have no intention to tell you what you can do to cope with the lockdown. If that was the intention, I would have published this at the beginning of the Circuit Breaker and not when it is now over. Suggestions such as having regular game time, family movie nights, cultivating a new hobby with your children are plenty out there I am sure. My intention is to highlight the difference between having a mindset change vs a todo list to make things work when you have to be with your children all day every day. Talking about it now is not to tell you where you might have done wrong. I have no intention to judge anyone. It is simply sharing some thoughts so that you can compare with your experience and see whether they resonate with you. If they do, a change of mindset will still work for you even beyond the Circuit Breaker.