From Thriving to Surviving: More Musings from a Single Dad in Quarantine (Part 2)
June 4, 2020
BY: Alexander Zarwi
Guest blog post by Alexander Zarwi
As my home state of New Jersey starts to tactfully reopen, the Governor has also announced that schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year. As a working father of two elementary school-age daughters who has had more than his share of common core arithmetic, the news was not surprising but nevertheless served as a reminder that life as we used to know it is still months away.
While I am grateful that I can work from home and care for my family, the challenges of staying productive professionally and personally are ever-present. There’s a reason working parent, part-time working parent, and stay-at-home parent are three different things: working, teaching, and parenting are three distinct jobs that cannot be done at the same time. We are all making choices moment-to-moment about which job to prioritize…and it’s hard!
Since it’s impossible to thrive in this environment, I am doing my best to survive by lowering expectations. Recently I shared some thoughts on navigating daily life as a working parent in the first part of this guest blog post, Office For Three: Musings from a Single Dad in Quarantine. As we continue to operate under stay-at-home orders, I have found more ways to keep some order and stability during this challenging time. My hope is that some of my additional thoughts on caring for yourself and your children will be useful for you, too.
1. Keep moving. Physical activity, even for a few minutes per day, has had a tremendous impact on my mood. Recently I started a daily plank program for 3-5 minutes; while it might not seem like a lot, I have found that achieving a small daily goal has led to a greater focus on larger daily assignments. It’s especially rewarding when my kids join in or climb on my back for an added challenge.
Feeling accomplished in small ways also makes a real difference in my attitude: when I know I’ve achieved a task, I crave the satisfaction of completing new ones, professionally and personally. To that end, I’m almost always more productive with my workday, and I get excited about performing other physical activities, like a run around town or YouTube yoga. And when I add the girls to the mix, impromptu dance parties or a round of the tickle monster game are equally fulfilling.
2. Teaching is hard! But don’t worry, you are not a real school. I will say this: teachers should earn $1 million per year. All of them. I do my best to engage my kids to learn, but without real teachers, they can’t have real school. At the same time, no one expects me to provide real school, so I don’t drive myself nuts trying to make it the same. Instead, I play to my kids’ strengths where possible, and I try to utilize the times of day when I can maximize their potential.
The average attention span of a child is about two to five minutes per year of their age. That means if I can keep my five-year-old engaged for 10 to 25 minutes at a time for learning, it’s a win. My third grader thankfully is more self-sufficient, which is a real relief when I also have my own work to do.
At day’s end, I invite my girls to recap for me what they learned in their school day that I probably missed. I have discovered that they each naturally do more on different days; for example, some days my nine-year-old will tell me more about her class book, and other days she is focused more on geometry. Ultimately, my hope is that all of their required learning evens out so that they can be ready for the next school year. And that’s good enough for me.
3. Don’t stress over stress. As we all know from 10th grade English class, the best-laid plans of mice and men (and women) often go awry. While working from home with kids, dozens of things affect your output: you feel cooped up; technology frustrates; kids fight, don’t listen, or just generally interrupt your workflow; you feel alone. Sometimes you’re stuck indoors on a sunny day or feel miserable on a rainy one.
It’s natural and normal to feel uncomfortable. There is no magic formula to relieve your symptoms, which are actually there to protect you. But there are ways to work with your hard feelings in order to limit their impact on your health. Meditation, frequent mini-breaks from tasks, body movement, routine, virtual socializing, and sharing an activity/tv show/workout with friends or loved ones are some great stress-relievers. Mental health professionals are also available remotely.
I have made use of all of these resources while trying to stay positive, and I still deal with a good bit of agita regularly. The key is to acknowledge your feelings so you can work with them as part of what makes you great. (End of the therapy session.)
4. Find teaching moments where possible, and teach what you know. With so much time spent around my kids in quarantine, I end up making more visible mistakes. The other day (I think it was Blursday), my daughter overheard me say a curse word when talking to a coworker. She was offended, but I taught her that words are just words; how you use them is what gives them meaning. My lesson completely backfired when she repeatedly shouted the profanity while running around the house; nevertheless, talking to her about how adults make mistakes was significant.
As at work, teaching moments pop up all day long at home, especially in moments of conflict. When those happen, I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to step back and allow my daughters to practice the skill of resolving disagreements on their own (and leaving me out of it!).
Before bed, my girls and I always have a conversation about gratitude. My eldest and I also have journals where we note some positives from the day. There is much to be said for having our health, responsibilities, each other, and enough toilet paper. It’s important to me that my girls appreciate that there is a lot to be grateful for despite the challenges, and we acknowledge our luck often.
5. Dance like no one is watching…then share with someone. If there is one activity that keeps us occupied collectively more than any other while in quarantine, it’s dancing. We have had so much fun with our own dance parties that we started making videos. This experience has been awesome on so many levels: we spend time moving and laughing together; we create art; we experiment with video editing software, and we interact with like-minded people on social media. In short, we work, we learn, and we have fun. The kids always have cool ideas, and I can say with confidence that it’s my favorite activity together.
To be fully present during an activity like dancing will also improve your focus when performing other tasks. Just like regular exercise, cutting loose has a positive impact on your health and work productivity. If dancing isn’t your thing, any activity you enjoy together will do. And it’s fun!
These days are all about survival first. Our collective top priority is literally keeping people alive, even those we don’t know, and we are all in the same boat together. While staying at home, each of us has also had to change the way we live to keep our own mini-worlds turning.
In quarantine as in life, daily planning almost never plays out as expected, but there are beauty and opportunity in the chaos. As odd and exhausting as your life seems when the day is done, you can take comfort knowing you survived the day. Your kids are smiling. Your boss and clients are okay. You have air in your lungs. And you are ready for another strange day tomorrow.
Keep laughing. Keep working. Keep hanging in. With a little grace, tomorrow will be an easier day.
Alexander Zarwi makes a living in commercial real estate in northern New Jersey. When he’s not at work, he likes to produce content that connects with others and makes people smile. He’s a dad to two young daughters who bring him smiles every day. You may find him on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.