In just a matter of a few days, our lives were turned upside down. The world was forced into a new way of doing things because of the threat of a new virus. For our family, one of the biggest changes was that our two adult kids came home. One was away at college, the other was serving a mission for our church. We welcomed them home with joy and created space for them in our house. While it was difficult for them to adjust so quickly to family life again without their usual freedoms and social connections and they definitely went through some grief and sorrow, I saw it as a precious opportunity. It was a chance for us to bond as a family in a unique way. We had never all lived together under one roof, since our last baby was born after the oldest two moved out. I doubted that something like this would ever happen again and I rejoiced! I began to look for ways to find joy in our situation and to help my children see and feel that joy too.
Prior to the quarantine, one of the sad realities of our family life was that my husband, Brian, was required to travel every week for his work. For years, we just knew that he would be gone. We had to accept his absence. I had to pick up the slack and act as a “single mom” for much of the time. So the second major change brought about by the pandemic was that his travel was banned and for the first time in about 15 years, Dad was home all the time. His company was forced to adopt a new way of doing business and Brian relished in the opportunity to make it work well. We all were so happy and saw this as a brilliant opportunity for our family life.
While it has been hard to be so isolated from others, we have made the most of it and will likely look back at 2020 with fond memories in spite of all the hardship. I realize that there are many who have suffered much from the pandemic and my heart truly goes out to them. I am so grateful that my husband kept his job and nothing really changed in the education of my children since we were already homeschooling. I want to share what we did and are still doing, in hopes that it provides support and ideas to other families also trying to make the most of this crazy situation.
- We got to work. Nothing brings a family closer than getting dirty and sweaty together! Before the summer temperatures began to climb, we planted 40 trees in our yard. It was such hard work, but so good too. We had just moved into this house before the pandemic, so we already had plans to improve the seemingly barren backyard. Having the kids home and needing things to do just sped things up. We will enjoy these trees for years to come. Now, we are on to work projects inside the house!
2. We shared our favorite books, movies, and music from the past. Our older children really missed their friends and social atmosphere. Friday nights were now spent with their parents and younger siblings and after the dating and parties they were used to in college and high school, this seemed worse than boring–it was desolate! In addition to our family reading time where we read aloud children’s literature and stories, Brian and I decided to share with them our favorite movies and music from the 80s and 90s. We started having dance parties with music from Michael Jackson and other classic favorites. We held sing-a-longs starring music from Barry Manilow, Karen Carpenter, John Denver, and some country favorites from our high school experience. (They mostly rolled their eyes at this, but did laugh a lot with us.) Movie nights with old favorites like Back to the Future, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Princess Bride, and the Muppets were big hits with all the kids. If anything it made us all laugh!
3. We found nature. One of the hardest things for the kids came when the temperatures got too hot to allow playing outside much. We live in the desert, so triple teens are common in the summer. Since our summer vacation had been cancelled (because it required international flights), we pulled out the camping gear and headed for the mountains. Camping turned out to be a fabulous way to rejuvenate and also maintain social distancing. Being in nature was therapeutic to our souls. It made us all realize that finding ways to be in nature needs to be a priority in our family life. It was definitely worth all of the preparation.
4. We started some new traditions. With all of our usual extra-curricular activities cancelled, we got creative. One day we set up an economy system within our household. Kids earned money by doing schoolwork and chores, and then they had to spend their money in the restaurant Katelyn and I set up for the day. We had so much fun with a cute cafe for breakfast, a New York deli for lunch, and an Italian restaurant for dinner. The kids loved eating the special dishes and for the most part had fun with the money system. A couple of our kids actually contemplated fasting all day so they could keep the money! But, it was fun and broke up the monotony.
We decided what we really needed to create fun and happy memories was to have a Christmas in July. We chose a Scandinavian theme since we are trying to learn more about our family heritage. We set up the tree, made homemade Scandinavian ornaments, listened to our favorite Christmas carols, and made Danish meatballs for our “Christmas Eve dinner” and Danish pancakes on “Christmas morning.” We even drew names and the kids all gave little gifts to each other. I intentionally kept things very simple so that our Christmas in July was not as stressful as the one in December can be.
5. We made connections with cousins. When my sister said she was coming into town with her 5 kids, we excitedly welcomed them in our home for a week. It was so fun to play with cousins that we hardly ever get to see. My little seven year old was purring like a kitten to have a live-in friend for a whole week. My teenagers stayed up late laughing and talking with their same age cousins who turned out to be pretty darn cool. We hope we get to do that again sometime. We are much more likely to keep in touch through technology now that those relationships are stronger.
6. We deepened our spirituality by worshiping at home. When churches were closed, our family really felt that something big was happening. We have been attending every week our entire lives, and we never thought there would ever be a time when we could not attend church! We set up church services in our family room. It turns out that we were able to have a deeply rich and beautiful service every week that many times surpassed anything we felt at regular church. The children sang sacred hymns together and felt the Holy Spirit so strong as they gave talks and bore testimonies to each other. One time, a daughter felt to apologize to her brother during her testimony. The relationship took a big step forward in the healing process. It was so beautiful to witness and it happened because we were not in public and were not being rushed.
We also set up time each day to have a Sunday School type experience around the kitchen table. Since we did not have time constraints like we usually do, the stories and truths from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, were shared in beautiful ways. We even took the time to tell the stories in a simple, childlike way so that our 7 year old could participate and enjoy them too.
7. We deepened our family bonds by enjoying our baby. In our home, the baby is the center of our family life. We all love her so much! She brings such light and joy to our home. Everyone can hardly wait until Emma wakes up from her nap, especially my teenagers. My boys all crowd around to play with her and see what funny thing she will say or do next. They would defend and protect her against any harm and all take part in caring for her and teaching her. After a long afternoon of studying, this is such a welcome part of the day. We have all laughed together and found joy in the presence of this little one.
I want to be totally honest and transparent here and confess that there have been so many hard and stressful moments for our family during this pandemic season. We have had arguments, boredom, and loneliness. We have been afraid for what this all means for our country. It is not easy to watch the news and see the destruction and decay of our society and the corruption all around us. It hasn’t broken us, though. I know that the family is designed to safeguard us from all of that.
Strong and intentional parenting is so needed right now. Having a core set of values and meaningful family traditions will get us through in relative peace and joy. Our family feels so very blessed that we were prepared for the pandemic. We were already grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cleave to Him at all times, and especially during hard times. He is our source of peace and joy! Our fervent hope and prayer is that we can share this knowledge with others. Life can truly be so sweet!