There have been tweets, memes, and questions, as well as more than a few cries of despair from parents about being secluded with their children during this pandemic. Quality time and quantity time have at last become equal in the family home; however, many parents not used to having their progeny with them so much are reaching the end of their tether.
Here are nine ways to navigate the path of parenthood under lockdown.
1. Be happy. King David describes the transformation of laughter and joy are the best ways to raise their barren wife into a glad mother of children.1 When Isaac was born to Sarah and Abraham, “Sarah said, ‘G‑d has made laughter for me; whoever hears will laugh for me.’”2 With the birth of the first Jewish child came laughter. Isaac comes from the root word of “laughter.” Children are a joy. (Yes, they really are!) “The heritage of G‑d is children; the reward is the fruit of the womb.”3 Laughter and joy are the way we both merit children and show gratitude for them. But most of all, they are the best way to raise them.
2. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Rediscover your inner child and play along. Be flexible. Resisting is not going to help in this particular situation. Get on the floor and do a puzzle, crawl, play hide and seek, and fingerpaint. Sarah died at age 127. “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years and seven years, the years of Sarah’s life.”4 According to the Midrash, the years of her life are recorded in this manner because she kept the beauty and innocence of her youth even at her advanced age. Just because we’re older doesn’t mean we can’t keep our more innocent youthfulness and draw upon it when necessary. Like now.
3. Keep your perspective. There’s a Chassidic story about a man who went to complain to his rebbe about how crowded his house was. He lived in a small house with his wife and many children, and there was just no room. The Rebbe told him in turns to take in his goat, his cow, his horse, and his chickens. Each time the man returned to his rebbe more distraught until finally, the Rebbe told him to remove all the animals from his lodgings. Afterward, he came back to the rebbe gushing with gratitude as he now had so much more room. If you need extra space, you might want to rearrange your furniture and move some of it up against the wall so there’s more room to navigate and play (and so you don’t start climbing the wall).
4. Set boundaries for “me” time. The Holy Temple had many designated areas and they allowed entrance to specific groups of people: the men, the women, the Levites, the Kohanim, and the High Priest, who was the only one who could enter the Holy of Holies and only on Yom Kippur. Our homes are like our own personal Temples. There should be times and places where only you are allowed to go. Make sure your children are safe, then go into your bathroom and take a long bath. Go take a nap in your bedroom, or call a friend and tell your children that you’re not to be disturbed. You’re allowed some private rejuvenation time. You can only take care of others if you, too, are healthy—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
5. Channel your children’s energy. Believe me, this is harder on kids than it is on you. Kids need to be running, playing, and learning with their peers. Find a way to spend their pent-up energy in a constructive way. Teach them to do something that requires concentration and physical acuity—gardening, sewing, baking, painting. Participate in an exercise class with them in the living room or take daily walks, if you can.
6. Have children help with chores. Before the 20th century, children were apprenticed at a very early age to learn a trade. Give your children age-appropriate tasks to help you. Set up a chart with chores, and let each child fill in their weekly contributions and expectations. Help them to organize and keep their rooms tidy. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said, “I do not want followers who are righteous, rather I want followers who are too busy doing good that they won’t have time to do bad.” Keep your kids busy doing something productive, and they won’t have time or energy to drive you crazy.
7. Create a story hour in your home. Download stories to read to your children with extra points if the story has positive lessons for them. Chabad.org has lots of Chassidic stories. Whatever you’re complaining about, other people are praying for They’re entertaining, hold a child’s interest, and are great teaching tools. Print out a story, sit on the carpet with your children around you, and read to them. You can start with the one about the man who went to his rebbe to complain there was no room in the house. Older children can have this time to relax and read on their own.
8. Be grateful. Remember whatever you’re complaining about, other people are praying for. Your children are healthy and at home. Offer up a prayer of thanksgiving, along with your prayer that G‑d gives you the strength to cope. Whatever is going on, if you a.) have kids and b.) they’re well enough to be home, then c.) you are blessed. Anytime is a good time to pray and be grateful for the blessing of children. Let your children see you praying and set a time on the schedule for family prayer when each child can focus on something that they have to be grateful for.
9. Finally, reorder your priorities and change your expectations. Our No. 1 priority right now ( but really always) is to stay safe and healthy and keep those we love safe and healthy, too. Everything else is gravy, including the gravy. Keep your “To Do” list on the short and basic side, and enjoy this extra time spent with your wonderful children. Before you know it, life will return to its hectic pace, and you’ll actually find yourself missing this special time together. (Yes, seriously!) Getting through the day with everyone intact should be the most you aim for. And you know what, that’s still a pretty big achievement.
By Rosally Saltsman ( Chabad.org)