I love my children. That’s what I’m supposed to say right out the gate, right? That’s the obligatory preface every mom must make before lamenting the difficulties of raising their children, correct? Look, I love them, even when we’re stuck at home. I’m glad they exist. I’m grateful to be their mother.
There. Glad I got that out of the way.
Because if you thought a global pandemic that has one in four Americans sheltering in place would give moms more room to complain sans the judgment of others, well, you’d be wrong. But this is a time for shameless complaining! I’m stuck at home inside a 700 square foot apartment in Brooklyn, New York with no backyard, facilitating e-learning for my 5-year-old while I try to keep my 1-year-old from inadvertently harming himself, simultaneously working from home while my partner continues to work at an Amazon warehouse where people have tested positive for COVID-19. So yeah, you’d be right that I have some not-so-positive things to say about our current predicament, even though we are in many ways incredibly privileged, and there are countless people who are facing greater challenges with less resources or support. It still sucks.
You’d also be correct in assuming I’ve developed some tried-and-true ways to make space for myself during the day. Because while I love my children, I do not love spending every single second with them. I need space. I need my personal boundaries to be respected and observed — boundaries that are difficult to maintain when you have a teething 1-year-old who just wants to be held and a needy 5-year-old who just wants to go to the park and play with his friends. I need to feel like I’m more than a mom, because, of course, I am many other things too.
So if you, like me, are stuck at home and need to practice some indoor social-distancing from your own family members, try your luck at the following:
1. Tap out and put your partner in
Of course, this isn’t an option if you’re a single parent. It’s also not an option if your parenting partner is an essential worker and is either gone during the day, or is quarantining themselves in order to make sure they don’t expose you or your children to COVID-19.
But if you do have a parenting partner and they are stuck at home during the day, have them focus on the kids while you take a few moments — or many moments — to yourself. When working moms are still handling the majority of the parenting responsibilities, and a 2017 study found that moms still sacrifice their careers for their families more than dads, you can lean all the way out of that “have it all” mess and give the kids over to your partner, especially if your partner is a cis dude who society would rather call a “babysitter” than a capable parent. Here are some helpful tips to maintain a level of communication that works.
2. Cover your kids’ rooms in chalkboard wallpaper
Chalkboard contact wallpaper is nothing new, but I am certainly new to the trend and embracing it with my full exhausted-mom self. My partner and I recently purchased a roll, adhered the wallpaper to the back of my 5-year-old’s bedroom door and one wall in our living room (so if the kids don’t want to color together, they won’t fight), dropped our feral children in front of their “chalkboards” with a box of chalk, and let them go to town.
Yes, you’ll have to deal with chalk dust, especially if you have toddlers. But the number of minutes of serenity this little hack will earn you will be worth a few more passes with the vacuum.
3. I’m saying it: SCREENTIME
Ain’t no shame in my Nintendo Switch game, my friends. Hand that baby over and let your kid go wild (and in endless debt to that bell-hungry Tom Nook) playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Sit your toddler in front of the TV and let the monsters of Sesame Street raise them for an hour (or two).
Most kids ages 6-12 are using screens twice as much as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and traffic to kids apps has increased nearly 70%. In other words, you won’t be the only parent relying on screens for some reprieve, so go ahead: sit your kid on the couch, place a tablet in their hot little hands, and give yourself a much-needed break.
4. Designate one room a “no kids” room
Perhaps you do this already, to which I say: bravo, and I am uber jealous of you. But if you’re like me, stuck at home in a very small apartment with not a lot of space, it’s nearly impossible to not open all the doors to every room in your home and give your kids as much space as possible. Mom guilt, if nothing else, demands this from you.
But it would be a mistake, in my opinion. You deserve a space that’s just for you — one your kids won’t destroy or smudge with their food-covered fingers or dump a ridiculously large number of toys in. I’ve stopped keeping my bedroom door open so that my boys have a little more room to walk, play, and/or run inside our apartment — they can be in the kitchen, their room, or the living room. But that’s it. Mom and dad’s room is off-limits to those lawless hooligans.
5. Put on GoNoodle
I discovered GoNoodle courtesy of my son’s kindergarten teacher, who used the service in her classroom to appease and calm 25 unruly 5- and 6-year-olds. The service, which provides a seemingly endless amount of work out, games, and mindfulness videos for kids to follow along, is a godsend, especially when we can’t go outside as often as we’d like and my children are filled with energy they don’t have the space to release.
When things are getting particularly out of hand or I need some space to myself while stuck at home, I’ll put on GoNoodle’s “Poppin’ Bubbles” or “Showstoppers” or “Rainbow Breath” videos and sit back while my boys dance or play along. My 5-year-old loves it. My 1-year-old loves the music (and the fact that his big brother loves it). And I love it, because for at least the duration of a video my children leave me the hell alone.
6. Just let them make a mess
Some might call this “giving up” — I call it “sensory play.” I mean, that’s basically what it is, right? Let the kids destroy a small portion of your house (safely, of course) and deal with the mess later. They, like you, need some space to just be kids, and because space is in short supply for so many of us at the moment, the next best thing is making pizzas and throwing flour and sauce everywhere, coloring on each other, throwing cat food in the cat’s water bowl, or whatever form of mischief they fancy.
Look, there’s no “right way” to deal — this is unprecedented and it’s difficult and parenting is hard under normal circumstances and nothing about what we’re enduring is normal. So do your best, and when you can’t just do what you can, and try your hardest to prioritize yourself and the space you’re owed as a human being, even when society has, by and large, told you you don’t deserve it. Because you do. You really, truly do.