COVID-19 has done a number on time. For parents lucky enough to be healthy and employed, a key challenge has become spending so many hours at home with children. Some time flies, some crawls. Either way, we’re faced with more “underscheduled” family time than ever.
For inspiration, I like to revel in a memory made several years ago. There I was, lost in a vintage clothing store in search of an all-star-husband gift for my wife. But I quickly realized I would probably make another rookie mistake, so I just started chuckling at the platform shoes and feathered hats.
Soon a salesperson asked if I needed help. In the middle of his question, my eyes landed on an amazing sight on the wall behind him: an exact replica of the hexagonal, multi-colored kitchen clock that hung in my childhood home in Niagara Falls, N.Y. While the salesperson chattered on, the clock transported me back to that kitchen, complete with the light orange walls, the pale green fridge, the black Formica table my brother and I would play paper football on, and the constant asking of “What’s for dinner, Mom?”
The clock also recalled our family obsession with “6 o’clock sharp.” That is the time my mother somehow managed to have dinner on the dining room table for our family of eight every single night! (As a former stay-at-home dad of only two children, I have never approached my mother’s dinner prowess.) Beyond the sensory details I associated with the clock, it was the feeling that flooded me most. The feeling of home, of a caring place where the ritual of a shared dinner brought all eight of us together for the only time of each day.
The power of that memory illustrates the importance of family routines, especially during a time like the coronavirus. Granted, even “regular” times have changed, and a tech-free dinner with all family members at 6 o’clock sharp may not be possible. But parents at this moment should still strive for some consistent family rituals — whether shared meals or snacks, game times or simply check-in meetings. In the process, take advantage of the extra time at home to re-examine your family life.
Assess how your family spent time in days before
Since COVID-19 has cancelled so many of our usual extracurricular activities, we can reflect on what is truly beneficial and what is not, as well as what we continue to be thankful for. Surely we miss some activities, but many of us may also realize that our families were “overscheduled” without knowing it. View this time like you cleaning out your pantry: you are restocking it with essentials and letting the non-essentials perish. In the same way we try to imitate what our parents did well and discard what failed, prune the less healthy habits that have creeped into your own family life. Some of us might have more pruning to do than others, but now is the time for establishing family routines and traditions worth keeping.
One of the ironies of the pandemic is that even though being homebound for so long can be incredibly tedious (and that’s on a good day), this time may become the most memorable period in all of our lives. So here’s a question for parents to ask themselves: How would you like your children to remember it? From a wider view, if your children enter a vintage store decades from now and see a reminder of their childhood home, how do you want them to feel?
My mother passed away three years ago. That day in the vintage store, I bought that clock for a few dollars, put it on my home-office wall, and set the hands to read 6 o’clock forever.
Photo: Vincent O’Keefe.