Are they climbing the furniture yet? Whether they are used to full-time nursery, a part-time child-minder or a whole host of classes and activities, our youngest family members have a lot to adjust to right now. A home filled with video-conferences, phone calls and suddenly always-present older siblings is a lot more for them to process on a daily basis.
This week, my younger daughter got out her lunchbox. It has sequins on the front that she likes to play with, so I didn’t think too much of it. As she plays with the sequins, she tells me “Mama, we haven’t packed these in a while.” She was right. Our activities were cancelled for over a week before the lockdown was announced. As a family, we are now in our second full week of physical distancing and staying at home.
Today I packed a lunch. My daughter helped select her snack and zipped up her lunchbox. She carried it out to the grass in our garden and we all ate together.
For an inside version, try a winter style picnic on a blanket in the living room or under the dining room table. It might not be a packed lunch for your little one. It could be a song you always sing in the car, or an activity they do every day at nursery. You can bring back a little of their familiar, to anchor their day.
Things get messy in a family kitchen at the best of times. Three meals, plus snacks every day, for everyone, is asking a lot of your space. If you know you have three meetings, a bathroom to clean, an insurance call to make and an extra load of laundry to wash because your children are home all day and their clothes are multiplying when you sleep, do a little food prep.
My children are not keen on last nights’ dinner for lunch, so I eat that! But you know the drill; chop a few extra vegetable sticks, double up on the tuna mayonnaise, pre-wash the fruit. It will cut down on day-to-day debris in the kitchen too and go a small way to help keep stress levels in check through the day. It can be difficult to think of a quick lunch if you’re working with a different pantry and fresh food situation to your own normal.
When a meeting overruns, or everyone is hungry an hour earlier than expected, everything is ready to go. Which means you have more time for a cuddle and a story on the sofa before heading back to work.
We still have a baby in our house and two naps a day to accommodate. We use a sound machine with a constant feature to mask the noise of the dishwasher being unloaded or the sound of a conference call.
We have stayed away from home without the sound machine before and used a YouTube video or an App to fill the void. If you have napping children and don’t already use something like this, I encourage you to try one of these first. They are more accessible right now and you’ll know if it works for your little one before you invest in a single use machine that takes two weeks to arrive in the mail.
Using a sound machine has improved the quality of our daily life, as our youngest is well rested and we can get on with life at home in the meantime.
How much one-on-one time did your little ones get before everyone was at home all day?
It might not be possible to match the time you usually spend directly with them, but a small amount of time every day is manageable. My not-yet-one-year-old helps me unload the washing machine. He thinks it’s a game and we chat together as he pulls everything out one at a time. Your first coffee break of the day could coincide with their snack time, you could take a screen break to help them settle down for a nap.
After nearly five years of balancing work and home life together, we’ve realised that in each season of life our day has a hot spot. Our youngest is currently teething and wants to be held a lot in the afternoon. Our youngest daughter phased out her naps recently. Our hot spot right now is dinner time. Sometimes we’ll get food ready in advance, but most days we try to move preparing dinner around my husbands work schedule. We’ll agree a time earlier in the day, I’ll do what I can one-handed and then my husband will head to the kitchen and either finish dinner, or get some quality time with our youngest. It would be possible to get dinner on the table on my own; the point is more that I don’t have to. We use the flexibility of working from home and the absence of commute time to support our family’s day and limit the impact of that hot spot on the rest of our evening.
Small children can be very visual. Take a few moments to scan your home for items they might not be able to use right now. Our swimming gear is usually quite prominent and always ready to grab and go. I’ve popped it in a cupboard for now. The change of weather in recent days has also been a good excuse to rotate the outdoor gear, leaving out just what we use for small walks and garden play. I spoke to both of our girls about this process, relying heavily on the sunnier days to bring a bit of positivity to the situation.
I doubt our swim gear will stay in the cupboard for the duration of the UK lockdown. Our girls have been known to play pretend swimming on a blanket in the dining room, and we’ll be making the most of our garden with some water play once the weather heats up. For right now though, my youngest daughter in particular has a break from that visual reminder that life this spring is not quite normal.
Be inclusive if you can be. It’s not going to buy you a whole day, but it will involve your younger ones and they’ll enjoy mirroring your behaviour.
I wrote some of this blog post in a notebook at the dining room table. My youngest had slept through lunch, so he had a snack in his highchair. My toddler and oldest daughter joined me with some of their own work (read: colouring). I made a pot of fruit tea for the girls to add a little something to the experience for them.
It was half an hour of peaceful working and learning together, and that’s all I needed. Whilst I doubt this would remain enticing for a whole work day, it’s worth keeping in your back pocket for those days where you have just one more email to send or one more box to tick before clocking-off for the day.