Schools are closed, restaurants are serving carry-out only. Movie theaters, ice rinks, bowling alleys, and even parks are closed. There is no public Mass being held. Weddings and funerals are on hold. We all have to stay at least six feet away from each other, if we are even supposed to be leaving our homes at all.
To say this is an unprecedented moment in history would be the understatement of the year. There is literally nothing happening in our country, our world, or our individual lives that feels very “normal” right now. Most of us are facing a new reality (one that we always said we wanted, but probably not quite in this way or to this extent) empty calendars and more family time.
While it has its own elements of difficulty, I actually think this forced pause in all of our busy lives could prove to be a very valuable thing. It might help us all to recalibrate our schedules and remember the value and beauty in having time to just be still. But when that “being still” actually translates to being stuck in a house with your kids (practically) 24 hours a day, it can seem far from a blessing. And that is fair — I experience moments each day when I think, “How am I going to keep doing this for another day, let alone two or three more weeks?”
So know, that if you are feeling this way too, you are not alone. You are not crazy. You are just a normal parent — and surrounded by so many other parents who are thinking and feeling the same things as you right now.
If we, as parents, are feeling this isolated and alone during this time, it is very likely our teens are too. They are literally cut off from the social circles that define so much of their adolescent identities, and stuck at home with the very last people most teens want to spend all their time with — their families! So how do we create a time of meaning and purpose that is not just lost hours streaming shows on Netflix or endlessly scrolling through TikTok and Instagram?
Good question. And one that I, as the mother of an almost 16-year-old, 11-year-old, and 6-year-old, am asking myself every day. Some days I succeed and other days I fail miserably, but I keep on going.
So here are a few suggestions I have for you during all this family time together:
Family movie or game nights. Always a go-to in our house. Even without the stay home orders, we often will pile onto the couches with a big bowl of popcorn and put on a family film to watch together, or gather around a table to play Sorry, or Uno, or, our personal family favorite, Tripoly. The best part about these nights is not always the games or the movie, but the memories they bring up and the stories that get told around the table as we enjoy time together.
Zoom Game Time. This has been a great thing for my 16-year-old daughter who is craving time with her friends! They set up a time in the afternoon to all get on FaceTime or Zoom and play games together. While it is technically a “screen-based activity” in these times, it is also as close as she can come to actually being with her friends. It involves her actually talking and interacting with real, live, people, and it makes her smile and laugh more than just about anything else right now. As a bonus, many new apps are coming out that make this even easier — allowing teens to play games, watch movies, even scroll TikTok together, creating a virtual community while our actual one is on hold.
Get them cooking, baking, or creating. Being stuck at home together is a perfect time to explore new hobbies and interests with your teen. I love to cook and bake, and I encourage my kids to get in the kitchen with me. My teenage daughter loves to play around with new flavors and recipes, and the best part is you get to eat the delicious results! Not a chef? That’s OK! Pull out the arts and crafts. Sew, knit, woodwork, plant a garden — whatever interests you, or your teen, get into. Don’t have the supplies at home? No problem, I am sure they are just an Amazon order away.
Journal about COVID-19. Recently my husband and I talked to our kids about how this is a time that their future children will be learning about in school one day. That they are literally living through a historic moment in time. We encouraged them to take time every day to write a couple of paragraphs about what life is like right now, what they are doing, how they are feeling, what is good, what is hard, what they miss most about “normal life,” really whatever they want to share. It is creating a living record, a first-person account that they can one day pull out and give to their own children as they study this period in our history.
Stay active. Any mental health professional will tell you that one of the best ways to minimize the risk of depression is to exercise and stay active every day. Whether it is a workout in your living room, a brisk walk around the neighborhood, or a bike ride on a local trail, just changing your heart rate and your surroundings can go a long way to changing your outlook on the day. One of the race groups near us is even putting on a virtual running event called “The Social Distance Run” where you can sign up to get a training program and then run on a specific weekend the distance you commit to, from a 5K to a 50K. My three kids and I signed up to do it together, which gives us a good motivation to get out and exercise every day and some direction on how to do it.
Help others from a distance. With so many people in quarantine or shelter-in-place, there is a huge need for help providing meals and supplies to our homeless and hungry brothers and sisters. Get online and see what your parish or your local agencies need. A few things to think about are cooking meals to be dropped off on the doorsteps of shelters, collecting toiletries to be donated, and even making rosaries and cards to be passed out to the doctors and nurses on the frontlines of the fight against this virus.
Develop a habit of prayer. I know this seems obvious, but one of the biggest challenges I have had during this time is sticking to a routine of prayer when nothing about my life is routine. But it is so important in this time to stay connected to Christ because it is so easy not to feel connected to anyone or anything right now. Encourage your teen to find time each day — either with you or on their own — to spend time talking to God. Remind them that He is always with them, and always going to help them through their hardest times. Maybe decide as a family to do a rosary novena, as the pope has encouraged us to for the end of the pandemic. Or designate a time for the whole family to come together, say an Our Father, and then spend time in prayer together, either silently or out loud. Find whatever makes sense for your family and your teen because the most important thing we can be doing right now is praying together, not just as a household family, but as the greater family of God.
Nothing about this time is easy or normal. We all know that. But we also know that this time will ultimately be what we make of it. We can run and hide, secluding ourselves in our individual corners of the house with earbuds in and reality tuned out, or we can embrace the opportunity before us to connect and grow together as a family. This time will pass — and on the other end, all of us will be a little changed by how we utilize our current days. So let’s strive to make the best out of a bad situation so that when we do reemerge, we come out with families and relationships that are stronger than ever.