Ulysses S. Grant and Family portrait
PHOTO: National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian

No matter where you live, your home has likely become a little more crowded recently — especially if you have school-aged children. With many schools shuttered and a newly remote workforce appearing across the globe, the home environment has changed dramatically. What used to be a place for everyone to get some much-needed rest has become part school, part office, part restaurant and total chaos.

This new normal is going to require some readjustment. Here are some tips for balancing your new work-from-home life with your suddenly ever-present (and probably bored) children.

1. Loosen Up ...

You’re going to have to reassess your house rules and norms. Your children might need a little more screen-time and a few more snack foods here and there. Allow yourself to bend the rules a little. If your children are old enough, have candid conversations with them about these changes. “We normally don’t do television on school nights, but because things are so different these days, you can watch for an hour. This is a temporary change in the rules.”

2. ... But Also Maintain a Routine

While the boundaries don’t need to be as strict as they were before this, it’s still important to set boundaries both for your sanity and your children’s. Routines and rules will be important with a full house, but those routines and rules are going to have to change a little right now.

As always, prioritize sleep and a healthy diet. Bedtime is just as important as ever, even though no one has to rush to get to school in the morning. All children, but especially younger ones, feel more secure when they know what to expect, so be sure to repeat some daily activities at the same time in the same way.

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3. Require Outdoor Time When Possible

Thankfully, many places across the globe are experiencing a shoulder season, meaning the weather is a little milder. We are getting some cool, sunny days where I am, in New Zealand, and in the northern hemisphere, spring has nearly sprung with warmer days and blooming flowers. If you are lucky enough to have a yard or a safe neighborhood in which to take a walk, everyone in your family needs to do that every day.

Myriad studies have proven that time spent outside in nature is good for both mental and physical wellbeing. Never has this been more true, and a little fresh air could be the saving grace for your family in this strange, secluded time. This can be time that you can all enjoy separately, as well, providing everyone with some much needed “me” time.

Take turns with your spouse walking the dog on your own. Allow one child to watch their favorite show while the other child plays in the yard for an hour, then have them switch. Find ways to incorporate sunshine and greenery into you and your child’s day whenever and however possible.

Related Article: Virtual Workspaces: How to Do More Than Just Meetings Online

4. Meal Prep (at Least a Little)

This is the wrong time to take the “eat whatever is in the fridge” approach, and not only because you need to avoid the grocery store if you can. When you have multiple mouths to feed, and they are around all the time, your fridge will quickly be decimated. Children — whether a growing teenager or a busy six-year-old — have no sense of how to ration groceries. When all you have left is a jar of pickles and two lemons, it’s going to be hard to put together a meal.

This can double as an entertaining activity for children of almost any age. Let your children give input on what they’d like to eat for snacks and meals and prepare them with you. Even if it’s just as simple as separating snack foods and meal ingredients, it will help give you a better idea of how long groceries will last and what’s for dinner.

5. Use Your Resources

One benefit is the fact that your experience is somewhat universal right now. There are resources to help parents get some work done at home while their children are around. The options are diverse, to say the least. Many shuttered libraries are hosting virtual storytimes. Children’s book author Mo Willems is doing a daily Lunch Doodle on YouTube. Here is a good list of learning websites for children.

6. Forgiveness

A distinct theme needs to permeate this strange time: forgiveness. Forgive your kids for acting out and bouncing off the walls — when was the last time they had a play date? Forgive your spouse for forgetting the laundry in the washing machine — they had a dozen Zoom meetings yesterday. But above all, forgive yourself. Just because you’re home more doesn’t mean you have more time to get things done — in fact, it probably means your schedule is wrecked and you have less time than ever. Don’t begrudge yourself that extra glass of wine and don’t beat yourself up about falling short in your parental or work obligations. You are living in a new, unprecedented reality, and it’s OK if a few things slip through the cracks.