As discussions begin around how to open up society and return to our public spaces, we should take a moment to consider the impact this will have on our family life. Over the last few weeks our children have created a new normal, and it’s about to change again.
First of all, I know there will be a lot of relief in the air when schools reopen, when people can return to their offices, when we can visit friends and family and arrange shopping trips and dentist appointments with a little more ease than we have been able to recently. I am looking forward to it myself. My girls are so excited at the prospect of a swim in the pool over summer!
These are all steps towards a new normal that will bring a lot of joy back into our lives. I step cautiously because I know that it’s not going to be like slipping on an old pair of comfortable shoes. I know because we regularly change our “normal” and have to adapt to new working hours and expectations every few months.
Our family working life is sporadic. My husband’s career involves long periods of 50+ hour weeks, followed by longer than average breaks. We have leveraged these breaks to make the most of paternity leave over the last few years. We took an amazing eight weeks as a family together when our youngest was born, spending the first two moving house.
When we take this time as a family, my husband is working on projects, building a network and job hunting. It’s rarely the siesta from working life it was intended to be. The bottom line, though, is that we can create our own schedule. My husband can be more readily available to our children and actively involved in daily life, without the constraints of office hours. When he returns to work, usually office based, this flexibility disappears.
We all have to readjust to a new schedule. We do it happily because we appreciate the opportunity for long breaks together. It suits our lifestyle. It’s not always straight forward though, particularly with young children to consider.
These are the habits we have learned to adopt, each time we change our “normal.” It creates a smoother transition for our children, and my husband and I benefit from a little extra awareness too.
A mid-week return
Any given Monday has a lot to answer for. The first Monday of the new normal will be carrying a hefty load. Public transport commute times are likely to be longer too and there are discussions about staggering work starting times. They’ll be a lot of people and much more “working it out as we go,” in our day-to-day lives for a while.
If you return to your new normal working week on a Monday, it will be the start of the longest five-day week in your life.
If you are fortunate enough to have the option, begin your return to the office adventure on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. The weekend will come around a little faster for everyone in your family. This was the first adjustment we made, and it was a great start to a healthy transition.
Consider how and when you use technology
On the face of it, a “Daddy’s stuck on a train that’s moving nowhere and it’s bedtime” video call seems like a great idea. In reality, Daddy’s stuck on a very busy train and all of the children are tired and a little cross that they won’t get to see him now. We really tried to make that call work but for us, it always got hectic. It wasn’t a valuable connection at bedtime and it certainly didn’t help anyone relax or prepare for sleep.
What we did instead
We pulled the video call forward, calling my husband earlier in the day for a few minutes, working around work schedules and moods. We then record a minute of video where our daughters say goodnight.
We split the bedtime routine 50/50 when we’re both at home, or working from home. It’s a big change for our children when it’s just Mama and this routine helps to settle them ready for sleep. This worked very well for our younger daughter in particular. At two years old, she would be far more restless at bedtime on nights when we didn’t include these additions to the evening.
Include everyone in your daily family rituals
When we are all regularly at home together, we develop rituals in our day. We discuss favourite parts, we share achievements at lunchtime, we eat together often.
We pull these rituals through as best we can, when my husband returns to work in an office. We text our favourite parts of the day to each other at bedtime, so that the children know that they’ve been shared just as they are when my husband is home. I’ll share any of our children’s achievements with a photo message. If our new schedule means missing dinner, then once a week we’ll push dinner back and eat all together. Midweek works best.
These changes help ease us into our new normal, whilst valuing the things we enjoy the most about spending more time together.
Build-in time for extra life admin
Manage your expectations here - there will be extra tasks you haven’t been able to complete in lockdown. Dentist trips, arranging non-essential house repairs, library trips, stocking up on all those family essentials after weeks of arts and crafts, outgrowing clothes and tearing through supplies.
Time moves differently when you enter a new normal. I don’t try and do any life admin for the first week. We let the dust settle on our new routine first. Of course, I don’t usually have such a backlog of life-admin, so this might not work well here. I know enough to not try and do it all in that first week, on that first day though. It all adds up and if it’s waited this long the life-admin can be distributed across a couple of weeks in the name of stress management. It will be fine. It will all get done eventually. In the meantime, we’ll have more time to catch up with family and friends and visit the local park.
For the babies in the family
When family members return to work and school, spare a thought for your littlest. Some may be young enough to have spent more time surrounded by their family than not.
If they’re used to a lot of noise with everyone at home, play music. Pull out the family photos. Be prepared for either a clingy baby or one who freezes out the working parent when they do return from the office. We’ve had both of these experiences in our family and it is only ever momentary. They will adapt to their new normal given time, smiles and cuddles.
Be kind. Be patient. Be ready. The new normal will take time before it feels right for your family. If we walk towards the next few weeks purposely, if we are ready for a family-led transition, we stand to benefit more easily from changes that need to happen over the next few weeks. We can embrace the benefits of opening our public spaces and experience the joys of extended family, friends and society again, knowing that they will be part of our families’ new normal in time too.