You know what I woke up to this morning? The leftover soup I labored over for last night’s dinner, stored in a tupperware in the pantry, right next to the aluminum foil. This is where my husband decided to store it overnight.
These are abnormal times. A lot of us are slightly out of our minds, in no small part because we are now around our spouses 24-freaking-7. We are co-working. Co-parenting. Co-homeschooling. Co-existing. It is a whole lot of “co.”
So take it from a person who has always worked from home — *by herself* — and cannot stand sharing the space with anyone: We are going to get through this. Here are some tips for how to survive being en famille all day, every day:
Do you have more than one room in your house? Good. Then make the person who is doing less of the childcare work in that smaller space. Maybe it’s your bedroom, maybe it’s a bathroom, maybe you have a fire escape. Use it. The person wrangling kids all day gets to take over the rest of the house or apartment because kids need to move and make noise; that on-duty parent needs to have the run of as much space as possible.
Do not actually co-homeschool.
You know the adage about working together? Well, ignore it. What I mean is this: If you have divided homeschooling duties and your husband is doing his 20 minutes of math with little Teddy, WALK AWAY. Do not participate. Do not oversee. Do not give a sh*t what he’s teaching. This is an opportunity for you to take a walk, make some coffee, get your own work done, take a shower, whatever. In other words, if you’re dividing the work, actually divide it and back off. Honestly, none of us have any idea how much our kids are going to learn academically during this period, and you know what? For many of us, it doesn’t matter all that much because our kids are learning a whole lot of other things, like how to survive in a house with their entire families for months on end. That’s much harder than multiplication.
Step away from HQ.
I’ve been taking “anti-anxiety walks.” When I feel myself getting that flighty feeling, I tell my husband I need to leave. Of course, this is not always possible at the exact moment the feeling arises, but it’s helpful to communicate that I have the need so that when the possibility does arise, he knows to step in and let me take off. Some families institute a safe word. Brilliant.
Wear headphones as often as you possibly can.
Wear them to cook, work, exercise, meditate, read, do laundry, or just to pretend you’re alone. Since you cannot always find your own space, you have to create it with a physical barrier. Headphones say “leave me alone,” and that boundary, while not as thick as a wall, is a beautiful thing.
Use your kid-free time wisely.
When the kids are in bed, take whatever time you need to be alone and recharge. Watch TV, read, get in the bath (without first overflowing your bathroom, as I did the other night because I forgot that I had turned the water on and walked away), call a friend, go on a walk. For goodness sake, don’t worry about clocking quality time with your spouse — you’re getting it in spades. Or maybe you’re just getting quantity time, but whatever.
Be kind. Then be even kinder.
As a person who has never prioritized “harmony” in my home — I tend to prioritize “being right” — this experience is a big learning curve for me. But I’ve already realized that we will not survive this intact if any of our nasty patterns make an appearance. Resentment, admonishment, anger, frustration, passive-aggressiveness… none of it will go over well when we continue to be trapped in our apartment together. This is hard on everyone, but this situation provides the ultimate practice in letting things go.
Be gracious and grateful.
If your spouse cooks a meal out of dried beans, old pasta and frozen peas found at the back of the freezer, tell him how delicious it is even if it isn’t. If your wife takes the kids on a scooter ride so you can have some peace and quiet, be sure to thank her. Make her a cup of coffee first thing. Tell him you’ll take care of the dishes. Use the actual words “I got it.” Those are beautiful words. Be of use.
Look, no one is at their best right now, but it’s sort of readily available?
Sure, when you married this person you probably weren’t expecting to have to weather a pandemic together, but here we are. Laugh as much as you can. Dance. Read books aloud to each other. Try to remember that you (probably?) still want to be married once this is over. And act accordingly.
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