There is A LOT of talk these days about how to get through isolation. Self-care has been in the lexicon for a while, but its use has been skyrocketing. People are looking for all sorts of ways to get through this with mental health and relationships intact. Social media and publications abound with all kinds of ways to approach isolation. “Relax and enjoy this time; don’t feel like you have to do anything,” says one publication. “Don’t waste this opportunity, lose weight with this daily regimen,” Says another. “Eat healthily, and have a routine,” says another video from some Instagram person promoting her nutrition consultation business. Messages of how to get through are overwhelmingly everywhere….
How you get through this is going to be totally unique to you. This moment is dull, draining, relaxing, anxiety-producing, crazy busy, or depressing for some. It is mentally exhausting, physically challenging, emotionally taxing, and frustrating to no end to others. Sometimes, it is a combination of many of these on the same day. So how you get through is entirely up to you to sort out based on your experience.
I’ve worked from my home/boat and homeschooling my two girls since 2015. We’ve sailed from San Francisco to New Zealand on our 43ft boat. We’ve lived in an RV covering over 17,000 miles. Self-isolation has been a personal choice for a while now. Here is what I’ve learned about being in small spaces for long stretches with my family.
This post features some throwback photos from the last 5 years
Do One Thing Well
Until recently, I’ve found it impossible to work while parenting. I found that doing both things poorly is a lousy substitute for doing one thing well. Engineering time to work can be disguised as “family quiet-time,” adjusting your sleep schedule, or using your noise-canceling headphones.
Service is a Gift
I’ve been hearing about self-care over and over. I think it is vital, and I’m a big fan! But, let’s not forget the gifts to be given and received by the acts of service that we provide to our family. There is a reason that service is one of the founding pillars of so many widely adhered-to world religions and philosophies. Doing the dishes with a loving heart, making the meal with grace and compassion, cleaning up someone else’s mess without comment are all gifts to your family. Your attitude around service will fill your heart with love and joy, and your family will respond to it in beautiful and surprising ways. This does not mean that you must be a slave to your family. Clear, loving communication about your own needs have to be produced and heard. This takes a lot of self-control and compassion; it is not always achievable.
So that is why:
Failure Is Okay
Forgive yourself and your family, it’s just inevitable that you and the people around you will fail in some way. Forgive yourself and forgive your family and ask for forgiveness from those you’ve hurt. We all have to be able to have our little meltdowns within our family and still be loved and protected. Constant forgiveness is the foundation for long-lasting love.
Those are the basics, and everything else flows from that, but if you want to read more, here are more tips on living in small spaces with your family with no breaks hardly EVER.
You Are Not the Entertainment
Boredom has been the best parenting tool for my kids. If you have a good supply of books, a stock-up of art and craft supplies, duct tape, string, cardboard, and some toothpicks, then you are golden.
Here is what I say when my kids come to me, saying, “I’m bored.”
“Only boring people are bored, you can’t possibly be bored! You are the least boring person I know!” For my pains, I usually get an eye roll. “I have lots of things to do if you want me to give you a job,” I say.
“But Mom, I want something FUN to do!” says my child.
“Not my job!” I say. “You know where the arts and craft supplies and games are – have fun, use your imagination.”
If you feel it is necessary, you can add, “If you ask me again, you will have to empty the dishrack before doing anything else.” That usually gets them. They typically become creative after that.
ITS OKAY TO BE BORED, there is more and more research about the importance of boredom to our creative brain. This week my kids have created boats powered by rubber bands, baked apple tarts, made piles of origami, written stories, played instruments, read funny poetry to each other, and produced videos for YouTube. Don’t fear boredom, boredom is your friend!
Put Them to Work
Kids participating in a real way in the running the house (or boat) is valuable for so many reasons. I give my kids daily jobs. It may be a bit rough to get it started, but kids thrive on routine, and after a few days of encouragement, it just becomes part of what they do.
Routine Routine Routine
Here is ours:
Everyone rolls out of bed when they feel like it. Breakfast is often a serve-yourself kind of affair.
9am – Be dressed for the day. We have family prayer, then one of us becomes Simon, and we play a game of Simon says. This usually provides a few laughs and gets the blood flowing. If a parent is Simon, you can bet that brushing teeth and making the bed is part of the game. After this, the girls start their schooling, which has been laid out on Sunday evening as a daily checklist.
12pm – Lunch
1pm – Go for a Walk
2pm – More School, and when done, unstructured playtime, or jobs
5pm – Start on Dinner
8pm – If the dinner dishes are done without them killing each other, then we can watch a family movie or play a family game.
10pm – Bed Time
10:30pm – Lights Out
Personal Space = “Don’t Talk To Me Right Now”
When living in a small space, sometimes, you have to respect people’s personal mental space. That can mean not talking to them when they have expressed a need for quiet time. This also means supporting your spouse by redirecting the kids when they want the attention of the space-needing parent. On Banyan, sometimes we just say, “I’m in my bubble right now.”
We’ve struggled recently with squabbles amongst the girls. It can be very, very, very annoying and cause outbursts of exasperation from all parties. Two things have helped us with this:
Put Them On The Same Team
Kids lash out at each other in big and subtle ways when in competition for attention and love. They also clash in their imperfect process of learning to meet their own needs. Putting them in positions where they have a common goal (that they equally want) is key to teaching them teamwork and self-control. Our issues usually revolved around squabbles while they do dishes. It ends up taking them FOREVER, and Cameron and I just want to jump overboard. To put them on the same team, I instituted a family movie night during self-isolation. Usually, movies are only on Friday nights. The girls LOVE films, so this is a big motivator for them. I stipulated that dishes have to be done by 8pm. They have to work as a happy team – zero fighting – if they want to watch a movie. It has changed our lives…. (Really, this is just elaborate bribing)
Yes, Adelaide was the one who dumped soapy water on Isa’s head in the middle of doing the dishes together. But, Isa kept sending plates back to be washed again and again, goading her with mumbled comments about what a terrible job she was doing. Who gets in trouble? They both do. “Trouble” in our house usually means a long nauseatingly loving talk with Mom. During that talk, I try to understand where they were coming from, talk about their actions, how those actions affect others. Finally, what we could have done in that situation to meet our needs while NOT killing our sibling. Makes you want to jump overboard, doesn’t it? The consequence of not adhering to my loving and nauseating sermons on self-control and personal choice is – no movie – for both of them. (This is really just an elaborate version of a threat)
The First Year Is Just Hard
I really do hate to break this to you, but I don’t know a homeschooling parent who thought the first year was a dream. It takes time to sort it all out. It usually has nothing to do with the perfect curriculum or the mechanics of homeschooling. It is mainly figuring out the relationship side, the personal boundaries, the style of communication. Teaching your own child is challenging. They want Mom and Dad’s approval and love. Correction from Mom and Dad feels embarrassing and shameful, too near discipline. It takes time as the parent-teacher to learn the right words to bring when praising and commenting on work to inspire further growth and development.
And don’t let ANYONE tell you that what you are doing is not real homeschooling. A friend of mine told me recently that she has been informed by a long time homeschooling friends that what she is doing is not “real” homeschool. HOGWASH! If you are facilitating your child’s schooling, you are homeschooling. Homeschooling parents take drastically different approaches from unschooling to a highly structured curriculum. There is just no “real” or “right” way to homeschool. It is hard enough as it is, without thinking that you are not doing it “for real.”
Living in small spaces is a blessing, but it is a blessing that is clothed in suffering. One of the most significant benefits I’ve experienced living in small spaces with my family is that our relationships are tight. You have to address your own failures as a parent and partner. You have to have long conversations and really get to the bottom of things. You have to forgive and be forgiven. When we left cruising, someone told me I’d either come back divorced or with a great marriage. I think there really is something to that. Small spaces are catalysts for communication and relationship building. It can be used for good or evil:). Our prayer has been that this time will be productive in building stronger family relationships all over the world. May your relationships grow deep and broad, even while your physical world is limited.
Wishing all of you a Happy Easter!