An ‘unexpected new normal’

Parents working at home juggle family duties during extended spring break

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With children on an extended spring break and people working from home, parents everywhere are modifying daily routines and schedules to accommodate both child care and career success simultaneously.

“It’s a lot for everybody,” said Batya Stepelman, a parent of two children who attend Teller Elementary School in Denver’s Congress Park neighborhood. “But there is comfort in knowing that everybody is going through this.”

About three years ago, Stepelman launched a home business called Walltawk, which is a wallpaper boutique for which the showroom is in the family home. On March 13, Stepelman stopped hosting her in-person appointments and switched to her online business model that was in place for her out-of-state customers.

Normally, Stepelman was able to do most of the work her business required while her children were at school, and had some family time in the late afternoons and evenings. But now, preparing for an expected slowdown or cessation of the supply chain for her business, Stepelman is working 10- to 12-hour days.

And with the children on an extended spring break, Stepelman’s husband, Matt Berman, has taken on the role of scheduling and overseeing the children’s daily activities.

“For the most part, they (the children) have been pretty good, and understanding,” Stepelman said, but added “there were definitely a few meltdowns with not getting to see people and having their playdates canceled.”

In addition to Berman taking the children out for bike rides and other types of outdoor exercise, the family has developed a routine to keep Otis, 10, and Theo, 8, occupied. It includes reading time, a movie night and networking with other parents from the children’s classrooms to implement creative playdates such as virtual chess or Monopoly games and online Pokémon.

“We’re also traveling the world from our house,” Stepelman said.

As the room parent for Theo’s second grade class, Stepelman created Passport Thru Denver. Using Instagram, it is a way for students to learn about other countries by experiencing different cultures locally, such as ordering take-out from ethnic restaurants.

“I’m going to continue with this project and I’m sending it out to all the families,” Stepelman said. “It will be fun to see what people come up with in terms of projects, music, artwork, etc.”

The family is also connecting with out-of-state family members. The children receive math lessons from their grandmother, who sends printable worksheets to complete, and virtual piano lessons from their grandfather.

“Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation,” said Sara Reed, a parent of four children. “Teens and tweens need their social time, and we’re fortunate that many have personal phones and iPads so they can connect socially with their friends.”

However, it is also important to place limits on the time that teens and tweens are spending on their personal devices so that the extended spring break does not become a “24-hour screen time vacation,” Reed said.

The Reed children — Eli, 17, and Georgia, 16, who attend Littleton High School; and India, 13, and Henry, 11, who attend Slavens Middle School in Denver’s Wellshire neighborhood — are old enough to not need constant parental supervision, but still must find ways to keep themselves occupied.

Normally, the family has a busy daily schedule — all four children are involved with a couple of different sports each, are taking advanced placement and honors courses, and are involved with additional extracurricular activities such as student council and tutoring others.

“It has been an adjustment with them having to keep in touch with their friends virtually,” Reed said. “But they’re spending more time together as siblings.”

Together, the family has been baking, doing puzzles and walking the dogs, as well as doing chores around the house and yardwork.

“We are working toward a more organized schedule that will include some academic, athletic and family time each day, but we’re still evolving that schedule,” Reed said, adding some of the activities already planned include virtual museum tours, phone calls with grandparents, watching documentaries and a spring break book report.

Reed works part-time as audiologist, and as of March 19, is still commuting to her workplace. Her husband Emile is a CFO of a banking organization and is currently working from home.

“The challenges for him have been keeping the kids quiet when he’s on the many, many conference calls required to keep his staff, the regulators and auditors moving forward,” Reed said.

This “unexpected new normal” can cause fear and anxiety of the unknown, Reed said.

“It’s important to be both honest with your children about what’s going on, and a source of calm for them,” Reed said. “Taking time to enjoy this forced family time creates lifelong memories and in these overly busy times we live in, it can be a real gift to slow down and reconnect as a family.”

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