Coping with One Parent Down…

It happens to people. We've supported friends or family when it happened to them. Right now this is our story and we are in the 4th week of a 'new normal' that will go on for another month, minimum. Thankfully this situation for us should come to an end after my husband has recovered from back surgery. Although this is a very difficult time for us and distressing for us both and for our children, the end is in sight now surgery has happened.

So changes had to be made immediately our crisis started. Somehow I needed to design our new normal. Here are my suggestions and plans to surviving a time like this. I would love to read about others' plans to get through these times – especially large homeschooling families! School adds a whole extra dimension – and actually a welcome one – but school was the first thing that needed tweaking to give us a head start on survival.

Immediate action.

Calling an ambulance late one Sunday afternoon came on a day that found our house in post-moving chaos – and after a day of baking, kids playing, and a busy week of more of the same.

Immediate action for me was:

  • Give all the children jobs
  • Packing a bag in case we all ended up at the Emergency Room for hours
  • Tidying up things that weren't supposed to be all over the floor
  • Getting everyone's shoes on
  • Getting coats ready
  • Waiting outside for the ambulance
  • Checking on our casualty
  • Lining up a friend to come over and look after the children indefinitely, including dinner and bedtime, so that I could go to the hospital

This all worked well. The kids responded well in the crisis and part of the reason for this is that they all take part in running our family team. They could follow instructions without being told how to do what they needed to do. We don't require 'immediate obedience' in the way it is taught by some. But they knew this was a time for "Yes Mummy!!".

Emergency over, and realising this situation was not going to change without much medical help including diagnosis and treatment decisions, I knew I could not handle the family running the way it normally does. Normally there are 2 parents on board. Even in shifts. At this point, there's no sign of my husband being able to do anything except keep the children company reading, or watching documentaries / TV / films (which of course can easily count as part of our school curriculum if we choose the right content.

Plan a New Normal.

Nothing can work quite the way it normally does in our family at the moment.

Even though it was officially a term break, after the initial few days of chaos and grief over plans and health changing, we decided school was back in. Our maths program virtually runs itself as there's a big online component. The children have log ins that remember their work, they are working through topics and lessons and need only occasional help. Good. More please.

More online work had already brought with it the realisation that we no longer have enough screens for our growing up family to 'do school' at the same time without creativity, turn taking and management. No thanks. Engage emergency fund. We ordered 3 more iPads, refurbished from the Apple Store, and although we had to wait a few days longer for the privilege of refurbished goods, the price made it worth it. School is back in, easy to do, and (whispers) more children can have ipad play time at the same time. Which I am afraid right now is happening more than it does in my ideal intentional lifestyle.

With school back in fashion daily, including weekends if we want to, the children have more routine and it's giving them some familiarity in a new-to-all-of-us situation.

New habits
I have inevitably had to embrace new habits, or be better at practising old ones.

Craft and pretend play
I had been delighted that the children were proving all those people right who say children need to be left alone to be bored. THere had been more 'hands off' time from engaging with the children while I got the increasing amount of housework done. Lovely that the girls were dressing up and the boys were crafting… and then the girls were crafting while they dressed up… but the mess greeting me at bedtime in their room, and in the dining room every mealtime was overwhelming at a point I was already exhausted.

We now have a 'crafting hour' between 2-3 that they can do if they want to. Not ok at other times because we can't clean up continually all day. Dress ups also reduced. Sadly I can't leave the girls playing for ages in their room either, no matter how happy they are. Because it's a full scale family working bee at bedtime otherwise.

So now I have to schedule creativity. 😦

15 minute working bees
It's exhausting making kids do jobs all the time. NOrmally I don't have to make them. Normally our family know exactly what's happening and what needs to be done and we all just get on with it. Kids dont mind helping. Right now the jobs are essential not desirable – and the kids can't take the pressure. So I came up with the idea of regular 15 minute working bees. We all do jobs for 15 mins together, smash through the things that need to be done to get the kitchen or downstairs ready for the day, ready for tomorrow or bedrooms ready for bedtime. No-one minds giving up 15 mins and working together.

Shiny Sink (otherwise known as Kitchen Zero)
We have long since known (and reminded ourselves the hard way) that if a baby is expected any day, or if there's a nasty bug going through the house, that it is essential to go to bed with a perfect kitchen. You never know what is going to happen in the night or tomorrow.

Right now my sanity and ability to keep food going is coming from totally clearing up, loading dishwasher, and washing remaining dishes – every mealtime. Crazy. Sounds obsessive. We are finding it life giving. It makes me (and everyone else involved in kitchen duties) much more productive. More food can happen. Feeding kids really helps things. Feeding them more often helps even more.

Time together
Cup filling. Everyone's emotional cup has got a leak in it at the moment. I need to spend more time intentionally with all of my children, individually and in different little groups, as well as all together. We all need time as a family at formative points in the day. We have begun really enjoying morning prayer and devotion time together and our evening devotion has become more ordered as well, with the use of liturgy to help us frame our time, as well as leading us into informal prayer and sharing.

Help from friends
Friends have offered meals as well as other creative ideas. I've used friends' help when I needed someone to stay with my husband because of the side effects of medicine and/ or danger of accidents – so that I could honour commitments with the children or take them out somewhere for a break. I've had a friend do laundry for me, and another drop off some school books to loan. Another organised my pantry (I asked her to help me with a Tupperware pantry demo after moving house) and yet another helped me organise my kitchen cupboards. Many post moving jobs have not happened and with me simply struggling to survive each day – I can't take on the extra organising and tidying tasks that come after moving.

Food from friends has greatly facilitated me getting all of the other things in order (enough to survive, not how I actually want it to remain) and also to spend time with our children to help them process their feelings / let their hair down. Not to mention deal with the crazy number of medical appointments we've had and continue to have in the diary.

Self care
I have paid attention to when I need to stop, spend some time doing something for myself, and am being intentional about who I spend time with. I'm sending emails to a group so that I don't have a large number of individual updates or phone calls to deal with. I'm choosing whether to make commitments depending on how it fits with my own energy levels, and I'm making selfish choices. Some friendships are not as life giving as others. I can't hold other people up and I can't make arrangements the children will rely on, but will be at risk of cancellation with great disappointment. The kids are sad enough. This happened one weekend with disastrous consequences. Lesson learned. We need concrete people and concrete plans to rely on as much as possible right now.

What we discover about our friends, at times like this, is very interesting. Turning that in on itself – its also been a time to reflect on how we respond in friendship to others when they are in hard times. Storing up insight that cannot be gained any other way.

More about friendship another day, I think.