The New New Normal
Everything feels so strange right now and, for some of us, overwhelming - everyone’s experience is so different. There does however seem to be a common thread emerging, the idea that, like other disasters in history, the corona virus crisis has revealed what is not working in society and opened the possibility for change. In some ways we, as individuals and as a collective are now at a fork in the road.
Since his book was published in 2009, Simplicity Parenting author Kim John Payne has spoken about the ‘new normal’ of ‘too much, too fast, too soon’ but since the very foundations of our society have been uprooted, we sense the possibility of a “new new normal”. Like the words recently posted on a Japanese subway ‘We can’t return to normal because the normal we had was precisely the problem’.
As things start to wake up again and the restrictions of the corona virus begin to be lifted we can take a moment to ponder what we would like to take with us from this strange time into the ‘new new normal’. Using the 4 pillars of Simplicity we can consider how we have been less attached to the unimportant things in life and more committed to the important ones, that our priorities have shifted and we can turn our direction however slightly towards living a life in accordance with our own values.
Firstly let us look at stuff, many of us have realised how much time we waste shopping, how good it is to use what we already have and how slowly our bank account goes down when we stay home. Being at home amongst the stuff we already have makes us realise how getting rid of things makes us happier than acquiring them.
Rhythm has also taken on a new meaning with no teachers and no school to do the work for us. Rhythm is the secret of discipline (how teachers manage 30 children at once) and without the rhythm of the school day, family life can become formless chaos. For teachers and for parents, rhythm is our best friend and the return on investment on the time we put into establishing rhythm in our family life makes it well worth the effort - getting your child to ‘school at home’ by 9 am can be a lot of work at the time but it makes the rest of the day a lot more manageable.
So many people I talk to are enjoying slowing down and the forced de-cluttering of their lives, realising that time is more valuable than money. We are tricked into thinking that we need to work harder to buy more things and so the treadmill goes round and round faster and faster and we don’t know how to get off. For the past few weeks many of us have been thrown off the treadmill only to discover that so many of the things we love doing don’t actually cost money at all!
What we have seen during this time is now nice it is to have days with nothing on, to go for a walk together as a family, to have open ended time at home to pursue our deepest passions or have an afternoon nap.
Easter - a shared family holiday
As we move into a 4 day Easter break which may well be the quietest time our families have ever experienced, it may work to create some structure around the days to hold everyone together as a family unit
Simplicity Parenting recommends creating ‘anchors’ of rhythm in the day, and the Easter break may turn out a lot smoother if you create say 3 rhythmical activities throughout the day for the whole family to enjoy together.
3 activities that come to mind are
A nice long family walk (in the morning)
Walks have become quite exciting now that they are basically the only thing you can do out of the house so it’s a great opportunity to get the kids walking, enjoying some outside nature time and also get some exercise for yourself. Hopefully it will be a chance to wear young children out a bit as well so that the rest of your day may be a bit more peaceful.
A family game (in the afternoon)
If your morning walk is challenging enough you might be able to get a siesta in the afternoon, then everyone can gather around in the late afternoon for a cup of tea and a family game. Make it something everyone loves to play – I always find ‘Uno’ a winner as it seems to be as much fun for adults as children but your family may already have a favourite, memory games are also fun for the whole family. The most important thing is that the adults enjoy playing it as much as the children so that the enjoyment is shared as well as the game.
A shared meal with everyone at the table
This can be the focal point of the day, whichever meal it is and everyone can be involved in preparing for it and cleaning up afterwards. You can talk about what you all want to eat the day before so that everyone is even involved in the menu. When you are all sitting down you can talk about things like what you were all doing last Easter, the things that are different about this Easter, what other people might be doing or what you are going to cook tomorrow! Parents can even talk about what they did over Easter as a child.
You may have other anchors you want to create in the day but 3 simple things should give your day enough structure to hold it together no matter what happens the rest of the time. This will also give the children a sense of security knowing it is still special family time and that you are all able to celebrate together no matter what happens. Try to do as many things as you can that you normally do at Easter - “What makes it feel like Easter?” is a good question to ask everyone. Who knows, despite the involuntary nature of the simplification this could be the Easter you have always wanted. As Clarice Bean’s mother says when asked if she ever gets bored ‘the chance would be a fine thing’!
Staying warm and close in our families
Social distancing laws will encourage us to examine what creates warmth and connection in our lives. There is no question regarding the link between warmth and immunity but emotional warmth may now also be a factor to be considered. As we approach the Easter holidays our attention will no doubt turn to how we can create warmth and connection in our homes.
Strong family rhythms are the ‘glue’ that holds our families together. Bed time is a good place to start so that everyone stays in synchronicity with each other. I recommend for now that your children keep their regular bedtimes throughout the holidays, parents also need to model strong bedtime rhythms. I recommend having at least a ten hour period where the phone is on ‘do not disturb’ so that you have an hour away from screens before bed to keep your natural body rhythms in tact (of course this also applies to children and teenagers). Also it is good to have an hour of ‘quiet time’ in the morning before the phones start to ring (or beep).
Keep mealtimes regular and connected with everyone sitting down together (no phones). Make them as ritualistic as possible so that they have an obvious beginning and end, this will help to keep everyone present physically and emotionally. Try to engage in conversation about how everyone is going and what things you are all finding different/difficult and what you are enjoying about this strange time.
Bringing love and goodness into the home life and a sense that ‘we are all in this together’, trying to help each other, will also warm the atmosphere of the home. Encourage children to help with family chores, creating beauty, order and cleanliness in the house - keep this high on the list of priorities by modelling it yourself. Creating the home as a pleasing space says that you all matter as a family and that you are all caring for yourselves and each other.
Children can be instructed (not asked but told) to make a daily call to the grandparents or someone who lives on their own to see how they are. This will help children with gratitude and expansion rather than shrinking into self obsession and entitlement.
Be aware of not letting screen time get out of control. The usual restrictions (from the ‘old’ life) should still apply as we need plenty of time without screens to create the emotional warmth of just being together connected as physical beings in our home environment.
Finally try not to worry about your children getting ‘down’ or bored. That is a natural reaction to the times we are in and it is always tempting as parents to try to ‘fix’ it with a ‘good idea’, a chocolate or some extra television time. Just being there as a warm and loving presence is the best remedy.
Rhythm and Discipline in the home
Now that most of our children are learning at home, parents will be looking to find and maintain a strong rhythm in their daily life. Rhythm is the secret key to discipline schools have always understood, it is also the secret to making children feel secure, it is like ‘a warm blanket’ we can wrap around them. It is a message to their nervous system that some things are still the same in the world and that the life they know really matters.
As parents many of us have a tenuous hold on the sort of rhythm and discipline children experience at school but this is a wonderful opportunity for us to reclaim our dominion as we bring school into our home. Most of us have had school at home for a few days now and it may have been a bit chaotic or formless but it is never too late to map out with your child/ren what the week is going to look like from now on. If you need some authority behind you, I’m sure ‘the school’ would be happy to take responsibility for the directions you are giving your child/ren.
As your child has the school rhythm already built into their body clock it is best to stick with that as much as possible. Insist that your child is dressed and ready to start learning at the usual school time, make sure you are free yourself at this time to see that everyone goes to their assigned place. If you have younger children as well they can also go to their play area at this time.
Keep to the morning tea and lunch times of school, and depending on how particular the instructions are from your teacher, you can do reading and projects first thing, music, art and craft after morning tea and then an outside activity in the afternoon. Outside of school times we need to engage our children in as much of the home life as possible to keep them occupied and to make our own lives easier. Children should be given as many tasks as they can manage like preparing food, cleaning up their rooms daily, packing away the dishes, looking after the garden etc.
The other secret we need to know is how to give directions to our children that they can understand and follow. We must be careful not to disguise our directions as questions (‘would you like to?’) or requests (‘could you please?’) use terms like ‘now its time to’ or ‘you need to’ so there is no ‘wiggle room’. As Ronald Morrish says in his book ‘Secrets of Discipline’ “start small (small request), stay close (don’t get distracted), insist (no room for arguments) and follow through (make sure it happens again next time)”. Once you have established these actions over a few days (it takes longer the older the child) they will become habits. Also try to talk to your children as little as possible, you will see as you try to do this how many unnecessary things you say during the day. If you only speak when necessary, you will notice how your children will start to listen to you.
For children in kindergarten or younger, the rhythm will of course be very different but it is still good to establish a predictable daily rhythm as advised by your teacher or playgroup leader. You can even say to your child ‘you need to play by yourself now until I finish my work’ (this time will depend on the child’s age) and they will know that they cannot disturb you for that time. So long as children have good solid blocks of your undivided attention they should also be able to cope with blocks of time while you do your work. When you do spend time with them you can spend that time doing household chores like hanging out washing or putting it away so that you have the chance to get things done while also being with them. If you spend your time doing chores with them they will be even happier to have some ‘downtime’ to just play while you leave them alone.
Try to resist the temptation to put children in front of screens as this will just make their behaviour worse the rest of the time, reduce their capacity for deep play and encourage them to whinge and whine hoping for more screen time. If you normally have some screen time at night or on the weekend just stick with that, do not allow your screen time to increase as you are bound to regret it. If you do need your child to be occupied in the afternoon for a while without you, audiobooks are a good compromise – use the opportunity to expose your children to some of the classics you may not have had time to read like ‘Swallows and Amazons’ or the Narnia series.
This is not an easy time for parents who are going through their own anxieties, trying to work from home, managing different age children, sickness and trying to keep family life manageable. Of course it will be 3 steps forward and 2 steps back a lot of the time and we can’t do it all at once. Concentrate on school rhythm at first as that is already established and then add your own family rhythms one by one as you see where they are needed. Ultimately this will be healing and relaxing for the whole family and, once an element of predictability has been established there will be a lot more room for love, compassion, kindness and fun in the home.
Staying Warm and Connected
“All is well” is the message we, as parents, need to be giving to our children at this time.
We may need to assure them that good people who know what they are doing are working on this problem and know how to take care of people if they get sick. Also they may want to know that young people are not getting very sick from this and that ‘Grandma and Grandpa’ are being very careful.
Most of us understand the importance of keeping our children away from any news coverage of this ‘very scary stuff’ but we must also remember the importance of limiting our own exposure. Every media report we hear (even if it is information we already know) will trigger anxiety and release the hormones that put us into fight or flight. As our children’s hearts ‘beat to the same drum’ we can secure our children by staying as regulated as possible and use the time together to move into a much deeper connection with our children.
In his podcasts on Coronavirus Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, looks at the ‘Four Pillars of Simplicity’ and how healing they can be in the current situation whether our children are attending school or not. If you are already practicing even some aspects of Simplicity Parenting in the home, you have already built ‘your family’s ark before the social flood’ he says. If you have never been exposed to the ideas of Simplicity parenting there has never been a better time to start.
Because our children are going to be spending a lot more time at home and because, with the world ‘pressing in on them’, their cups will be full to overflowing, children will need plenty of space in the home. An orderly de-cluttered environment signals to a child at the bedrock of their nervous system that ‘all is well’ and that their parents are taking charge. Fewer and simpler toys create more space for the imagination and children can move deeper into play, this state of deep imaginative play also awakens the part of the brain that fosters collaboration with other children.
With so much unpredictability we need to wrap ‘a warm blanket of rhythm around our children’. They need to know that home is a safe harbour from the world. We need to be more aware than ever of the rhythms of bedtime, dinner time and getting to school. A strong rhythm will give us as adults something to lean into ourselves and to regulate ourselves when it can feel like there is nothing to hold onto.
If you have been working with simplicity and your children have not been absorbed into the ‘fast paced life’ of the modern child then you are in good shape for this time because your children already know how to self motivate and do not need constant external stimulation.
Apart from the fact that so many extra curricular activities are being cancelled, children are going to need downtime and decompression time more than ever. For people who have felt that the pace of their family life has been too rushed this is the perfect opportunity to experience life ‘in the slow lane’. As things return to normal we can remember that the ‘new normal’ is not normal at all and we can be more discerning about what we return to.
FILTERING OUT THE ADULT WORLD
It is important that we protect our children from hearing about corona virus related information in adult conversations. We can prepare family and friends ahead of time by asking them to ‘help us out’ by being very careful what they say in front of our children. The questions we need to ask ourselves before we say anything to our children are ‘Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it securing?
We need to be extra vigilant about screens at this time because corona virus information is everywhere. Also children will be spending more time at home so they will be bugging us to have more screen time. More than ever we need to be ‘rock solid’ in our boundaries and resolve. Payne’s advice is to have less screen time than usual because we need to bring more calm into our children’s lives - to soften the edges and to increase our sense of wellbeing. If our children are older and too much screen time has crept into our family now is the perfect time to adjust that by telling them that ‘we need to be close together as a family’.
This ‘dark night of the soul’ could be a turning point in our lives if we stay awake and discover the opportunities to create something good out of a difficult situation. We have a chance like never before to take a reflective look at our values as parents and who we are as protectors of our children and the ‘gatekeepers’ of their lives.
Filtering out the Adult World
The general view of self isolation seems to be that virtual reality is incredibly useful but that it doesn’t come close to the real thing. Real human connection feeds the soul and it is worth safeguarding even during this crisis by putting screen free time into our days.
Soon the time will come when we can return to business as usual and there will be pressure on everyone and everything to ‘get back to normal’. But this is our big chance, this crossroad, this moment of truth when the world has stopped, to define a new version of normal, to enjoy the fruits of the ultimate de-cluttering, to only bring back what works for us, what makes our lives easier, our hearts warmer and our children happier.