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Cabin Fever

March 20, 2020
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Even if you’re in a fabulous cabin, by now in the “social distancing” thing, you’re having cabin fever. The requested quarantining feels like 2 years, not 2 weeks. It feels worse to your kids than it does to you.

“When they’re bored and cooped up, you’ll have such a great time with them!” Only people not cooped up with their kids can say that. And when they say it, somebody should probably smack them. Or better yet, just lock them in your house with your kids and tell them to do the best they can. See you in 3 months.

The Pollyannas who promote this happy talk aren’t completely wrong, though. Maybe 90% wrong, but not completely wrong. The 10% they’re right about is that if you’re strategic about it, you could harvest some good things out of this forced isolation. That’s what I’m writing about today. I’ll do my best not to be Pollyannaish. Just a few simple suggestions.

But before my suggestions, here’s something one of my favorite Christian counselors and psychologists, Henry Cloud, posted that I think is top-drawer advice. It’s a 5-minute read and worth every second of it.

My suggestions…

First of all, don’t be the cruise director. You don’t need to be and your kids don’t need you to be. If you take on this role, you’ll end up failing and feeling like a failure. It’s not necessary. Don’t be the designated entertainment chairperson whose job it is to make sure everybody’s happily entertained if they’re awake. One of the things kids need to learn so that they can develop and grow up is how to entertain themselves and what to do with boredom. Granted, some kids are better at this than others, but all kids can learn how to do this. Most kids won’t as long as somebody else does the entertaining, or provides it, though. So don’t take on this role. Remind yourself that a little boredom is a good thing, and you can’t make life a happy cruise. So don’t try.

On the non-entertainment side of this, don’t be the superintendent, principle, teacher, guidance counselor and nurse of your one-room school. If you’re a home-schooler, life will go on pretty much as normal through this lock-down. You were doing home schooling before the crisis, and you know how to keep doing it. So go ahead and do it. But if you’re not a home-schooler, and you’re not a trained teacher, you’ll likely struggle with running your family school. Do what you can, which will occasionally (maybe even often) include pressing your kids to do the work. But be careful that you don’t set yourself up to resent them and be resented by them because of it. It’s a tough dynamic balance.

There are tons of ideas about how much school work is enough through this time. I’m not an educational expert, so my opinion has to be taken with a grain of salt. I’d be content with an acceptable minimum. By this I mean what wouldn’t be adequate if school was open, but isn’t nothing. Like I said, take it with a grain of salt. I’m also the dad who told my daughters’ 1st grade teachers that I tried never to let school get in the way of my girls’ education. You might guess that this wasn’t taken well…

Here’s another piece of advice that’s a lot easier to give than to do. Don’t let the TV be your free babysitter. Set limits. Too much TV will make your kids dull and irritable. This isn’t just my opinion. There’s solid research that bears this out. So decide how much you think is good and then cut that back by 30%. Or just go with it. But you’ve got to be the decider. You’re the parent. Set limits.

I think this applies even if you have teens. You already know they’re not going to like having limits set on them, so brace yourself. But if you don’t set limits – or at least negotiate limits with them – they’ll be sucked in by the mesmerization of the TV, hours will pass and their brains will turn to mush. So negotiate limits on how much of what you’ll be watching.

I’m not a video game hater, but this bit of advice goes for video gaming, too. For younger kids, you set the limits. My advice is that the limit should be low. A few small chunks are better than one long one. For older kids, negotiate limits. But don’t just let them play all they want. That’ll come back to bite you on the bottom.

Get outside as much as you can. If the weather’s lousy, consider going outside, anyway. You’ll have to bundle up and maybe get out the rain gear, but you can do this. Farmers in northern Minnesota figured this out 200 years ago. You can make it happen on your block.

Here’s one that might work. The operative word is “might.” Play some table games. Or cards. Or put a puzzle together. Turn the TV off and play some music and play something together. If your family isn’t in the habit of game-playing, this may be challenging, but you might be able to pull it off with the right kind of incentive. Things like snacks and their music, not yours, maybe.

One more, and I’ll leave you alone about it. Utilize technology in a couple of ways. The first way is to give your kids a topic and challenge them to make a video about it. Maybe it would be a Bible story, or a story from American history. Or maybe it would be a purely fictional story about something. Or a fantasy. Or maybe your kids will come up with something you’d never think of. Turn them lose to be creative. If they need your help, help them. But if they don’t need your help, just get out of their way and let them produce their masterpiece. Older kids will probably want to do some actual production on the computer with video editing software. If you’ve got that, encourage them to go for it. If you can pull it off, play the finished product on your TV. If you can’t do that, just make everybody gather around the device they used and have a watch party.

The second technology thing is to do video chats and calls with your extended family and friends. As a grandfather, I can tell you that it puts emotional oxygen in a grandparent’s heart to hear and see their grand kids. There’s a bunch of apps for this, most of which are free. Get online and figure it out. Even an old guy like me can do this, so if I can, I know you can. You’re probably already using these apps. Your kids can probably help you figure this out.

Bottom line: do what you can to harvest what you can from how life is right now.

I love the post I picked up on my Facebook feed about how in 10 years from now a parent will say, “Remember how tough that COVID-19 thing was?” And the kids will say, “I remember getting to eat all our meals together and laughing a lot.” Believe it or not, even though 30 minutes ago you were contemplating running away to join the circus, if you play this thing right, your kids just might say something like this in 10 years. But probably not today or tomorrow.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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