One of the biggest concerns for parents during this pandemic has been the well-being of our children.
For many I’ve spoken with, this has little to do with their potential for catching COVID and more to do with prolonged social isolation – especially, in many places, the lack of in-person school.
While you occasionally hear some express frustration that having their children home is slowly driving them crazy, I must admit I don’t mind it. Actually, I’ve been enjoying this time together.
A key to making it healthy and fruitful, however, is to compensate for that lack of interpersonal engagement and intellectual or creative stimulus. I certainly don’t claim to be getting it “right,” but there are a few things that seem to be working in our house.
The first is to limit screen time as much as possible, which is nearly impossible. It used to be that we heard how children’s daily screen time should be limited to two or three hours.
Now, it’s how they attend school. We were fortunate to get our older kids into a Christian classical school that’s having in-person classes twice a week. But our youngest remains in the public system, where a return to the classroom is being discussed in terms of 2021.
Meanwhile, it’s lots of “asynchronous learning” (i.e. videos), kicked off by a morning Zoom meeting. Quality is another matter, but the sheer amount of screen time is of obvious concern.
Whenever instruction and homework aren’t occurring, prying the devices from everyone’s hands is therefore a priority. Since you can’t take things away in a vacuum, what do you replace them with?
Well, there are these wonderful things called books. People used to sit and read them. If you look around your house, you may find some. We try carving out an hour each evening to sit and read. Not on a device, but something made of paper.
Weather permitting, another simple outlet has been having fires in our backyard.
We’re blessed with space for a little pit, and there are always enough fallen branches to keep it supplied. A special treat is roasting sausages and having dinner outside when possible.
Once the flames have died down, and the evening has gotten quieter, we sit and look into the coals, and perhaps share a thought. Before screens and flashing diodes came along, this is what humans did in the evenings.
Think of that when you sit gazing into some program: this is my substitute for fire. Am I even interested in the show, or just pursuing the primal hunger for evening light?
That isn’t to say our household is violently anti-television. We never made the analog-to-digital conversion, so we said goodbye to actual television a decade ago. And we don’t subscribe to streaming services. But the public library has some great documentaries and classic films on hand.
I admit my kids didn’t jump for joy over each installment of Ken Burns’ National Parks or Civil War series. They often preferred reading. But the occasional questions asked over following months showed they picked up more than they let on. I don’t think we tortured them.
A final element of home life we’ve doubled down on during this pandemic has been what you may call ‘domestic enrichment.’ Some call it ‘chores,’ but there’s more to it than drudgery.
Shouldn’t parents train their children for adulthood and families of their own? I feel I owe it to mine, if not to their future spouses. And while I certainly believe boys should know their way around the kitchen and girls should be able to handle tools, I’m happy my eldest finds joy in her cooking.
Sometimes, she just needs to bake! And I do my part by eating the results.
Yes, they’d benefit from more time in the classroom. Yes, they express a desire for socialization beyond other kids at church. And yes, we want this pandemic to end.
But meanwhile, I know they’re growing quickly, and I’m grateful for this time. And I hope that whatever challenges my fellow parents out there face, at the best of times you feel the same.
The Rev. Barnabas Powell is a freelance writer who began his career at The Chieftain, while pastor of Pueblo’s St. Michael’s Orthodox Church. He now lives in Washington state and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.