Tired of being ignored by your small human? How a to-do list solved my quarantine parenting problems…100 days later.

In my previous life as a nursery owner and teacher of fabulous kids, I spent the majority of the past eight years creating activities and planning crafts for children. But even with that experience under my belt, I panicked when I learned about the school closure. Even though the Wild One is very independent, and often finds ways to keep herself busy…she also has the energy of ten olympians and the curiosity of a mad scientist—any long stint at home makes her stir crazy (there’s a reason I call her the Wild One).

Heck, it makes anyone go stir crazy.

So, when the school closure turned into the government mandated, military enforced quarantine, a little seed of panic firmly planted itself in my brain and started to bloom. The thought of no school, no swimming classes, no gymnastics, no playgrounds, no Menú del Dia deliciousness, no sunday mercado, and no play dates sent me in a bit of a mood. How was I going to expend all her energy if we weren’t allowed to go outside our gate? I spent the first day grumpily slamming doors and cupboards. I sighed and pouted and paced all around the house. I was frustrated and easily irritated, and all around pretty unpleasant to be around. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to spend any time with my daughter…

…it was just that I’d really grown accustomed to my alone time (and now I would have her and my husband with me 24 hours a day!). I realised that I was grieving the uninterrupted moments of time. I was grieving all sorts of things I used to do alone. My morning routine, cleaning the house, listening to my podcasts, watching bad TV, learning Spanish and eating. Not to mention, I had recently found a belly dancing school, and had started some fitness classes. In one television announcement by the President of Peru, it was all gone.

Now we’re on Day 100 of shelter-in-home, social distancing, self-isolation, lockdown, or quarantine (or whatever creative name you’ve come up with, I personally like Groundhog Day) and our days go a little like this: wake up, re-enact scenes from both Frozen movies, eat breakfast while watching Sci-Show Kids, make a to-do-list, brush teeth, get dressed, construct some LEGO, eat second breakfast, look at school work, zoom sessions with teachers, construct with DUPLO, go on a virtual art expedition (Thanks YouTube!), read a book, elevenses, finish school work, make art or do a science experiment, eat lunch, read a book, re-enact the whole story of The Lion King, draw, Disney karaoke, eat dinner, shower, brush teeth, pajamas, brush her Rapunzel length locks, read stories, cuddle, talk about how much we want to travel again, talk about Covid-19 again, supper (Aka “May I have a snack, please mama, I’m hungry” just before I turn the light off. EVERY. NIGHT.) and finally, if I’m lucky she goes to sleep. Only to wake up and start it all over again the next day, like being on a permanent loop.

I never knew staying at home could be so exhausting. I know many, many of you are going through the same existence, dealing with even more difficult situations, and possibly pulling your hair out…and  who can blame you? Chakka Khan sang, “I’m EVERY woman. It’s  all in me!”  I am now firmly convinced she was being  quarantined with small humans who apparently have the same eating schedules as hobbits, and therefore, she had to prepare different snacks and meals multiple times a day, which meant she had to do the dishes and clean the kitchen multiple times a day. And then she had to get them to complete their school work, and plan fun and engaging activities to stave off restlessness, and the inevitable groans of boredom.

So, how are we doing?

Charlie, like most of your children I’m sure, likes to be in charge. She likes the idea of controlling her environment and making her own decisions and decisions for others. And for the most part, I play along, and provide as many opportunities as I can (within reason) for her to make her own decisions—because I believe it’s important for emotional development. I’m a firm believer of children’s capacity to make the decisions that will determine their future as they discover the many wonders of the world by following their own instincts through play and self-discovery. Yet, there are things humans instinctively desire but sometimes the natural environment prevents the acquisition. 

Thus, came my struggle. I had a child who desired to control her environment, and I had me, who wanted peace in this—now ever shrinking—environment, and to make sure it meets the individual needs of the household…all while homeschooling.

Well, I figured out my problem and now I had to find a solution. It wasn’t easy, especially from my hideaway in the closet…

(Ha! Just kidding. There is no escape!)

For a few days (okay, maybe weeks) I lost  sight of what respectful parenting looked like. And so, we fought. I was short-tempered and we were both stubborn. She is her mother’s daughter, and so we had battles, upon battles, upon battles and I was sick of trying to make her do things. After days of frustration, tears and so much guilt, I picked myself up and reminded myself that I am the adult in this relationship. I can control my behaviour and I can control my reactions to situations. I have learned how to emotionally regulate (I still debate this at times, but let’s just say I have). The Wild One has yet to learn all these skills. She is four years old, and it is my responsibility to help her work through her big emotions by identifying her feelings and find ways to get past the frustration. And in turn, help to keep my sanity… so that every woman in me can work together harmoniously in this crazy lockdown time-loop. 

The solution? Meet her needs. Sometimes I really need a reminder that it’s just that simple.

She wanted control, so I gave her control….with limitations (of course! I’m not insane). Every morning we watch/read all the tasks she has for school. Then I tell her about all the other activities I have planned for the day. Next, we create a To-Do List, and she decides the order that she wants to do all the activities, but with a caveat that the school work must be completed before dinner time. Then she makes her way down the list at her own pace, ticking tasks off as she completes them throughout the day, all while still making time for “non to-do-list play”. Thus, fulfilling her need for decision-making and the need to have a sense of control. It also provides her with a sense of accomplishment and makes her feel very responsible for her day. She doesn’t always complete her list, but she does work very hard at it, which is what we encourage the most, because in our home it’s the process, not the end result, that we celebrate. That said, I’m happy to report she completes all her school work before lunch time, which gives us the rest of the day to make, create and experiment.

And now it’s time for a funny anecdote… 

…A few nights ago I was complaining to my husband about how the Wild One frustrates me when she tells me, “I’m not ready to do that yet. I’m busy.” And he laughed (the nerve!)….and said, “You created this person. You wanted her to be a strong-willed, independent person who stood up for herself and made her own decisions. You gave her the tools and educated her. You created this wild one.”

He laughed. Because it’s true. And I love it (most days!).

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