Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Learning to accept the new normal

Coming to terms with the current reality is challenging

The following post is all about my personal mental health experiences. For the latest information on COVID-19, please visit www.cdc.gov.

In the chronic pain community, we often talk about the “new normal.” While the term seems straightforward, accepting it is challenging.

We must adjust to life with pain and changes that none of us wanted. Because nobody deals with chronic pain and illness on purpose.

Adjusting to the new normal looks different and takes a different amount of time for people. It often involves going through the various stages of grief from anger to denial to sadness until finally we reach acceptance.

While we may still fight to feel better or even for a cure, at some point we work to get to a place where we can say, “OK. This is life now. It isn’t over and I’m going to move forward in spite of it.” At least that’s the goal.

For almost 20 years, I have lived with this new normal, and I’ve felt all the feelings that go along with it. Sometimes the stages even repeat themselves. I still have times of denial, sadness and anger. But, I let go of those feeling quicker than before.

Another new normal: parenthood

When I had my first child back in 2009, I remember talking with some other first-time moms about how motherhood requires yet another version of the new normal. While I loved my daughter so completely and fully (still do!), I had to get used to somebody coming first always. I had to adjust to the new normal where things I want to do (or even need to do) get shifted to low or no priority. Again, it’s an adjustment that has phases just like any other: anger, sadness, acceptance.

When my son was born in 2013, adjusting was easier because I’d already gotten into the new normal of parenthood. Of course I had to make other adjustments in dealing with a newborn and preschooler, but the new normal wasn’t as dramatic. I knew what to expect for the most part in having a new baby to care for.

The difference between the new normal of chronic pain and the new normal of parenthood is the time factor. With chronic pain, I can’t be sure when the pain will stop or start or get more intense. Flares can hit out of nowhere and last for days or months.

With parenthood, I have more parameters. Having children is unpredictable in many ways, but I at least have some idea of timeframe. We usually go into parenthood knowing things like about when our kids will be able to talk, when they will be starting kindergarten, when they will be graduating high school and so on. And parenting phases also don’t last forever.

Both dealing with the new normal of chronic pain and the new normal of parenthood have been on my mind lately as I am adjusting to the new normal of life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The beginning of the pandemic new normal

March 11 was when everything started changing for me and got very real. It was also the day my husband had surgery to repair his rotator cuff in his shoulder. I was even more vigilant than usual about using hand sanitizer throughout the day. In the waiting room, I talked with my mom and my in-laws about how the new travel restrictions would impact their various travel plans.

That evening, the university in our city announced plans to begin online learning the following week. The next day (Thursday), my children’s school announced plans to follow suit with the university.

Suddenly the reality of COVID-19 was very real. I contemplated taking care of my recovering husband, schooling my children and doing work. It was overwhelming.

I had no idea how long this journey was going to be. I was clueless at how much it would turn our lives upside down. As I write this, two months later, I still don’t have all the answers. I’m contemplating questions like when I will feel comfortable enough to let my children be out in public. I’m wondering what it will take for me to confidently go somewhere without wearing mask. I don’t yet have those answers.

The continuing pandemic new normal

Last week, I marveled at how things have changed. I’m used to working at home and being at home. Reality hits me when I leave the house.

I decided to pick up Chinese food for us. It was something I’ve done many times, but this time was different. This time I went into the restaurant and found the tables and chairs put away. I saw newly erected glass surrounding the cash register and both the employees and I wore face masks.

This is the new normal. It’s the kind of stuff we do to try and stay healthy. I can easily forget it as I have adjusted to life at home. We have a school-at-home routine fully underway now. I have figured out how to do my work. I can navigate the various technology needed for the kids’ school. My husband has now recovered well enough that he doesn’t need much help from me. It doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary.

Then I go to get food wearing a face mask. And I remember the world has changed.

Like with chronic pain, I don’t know when the change will end. My state’s governor is working toward a plan to have things all reopened by summertime, but even then says masks are necessary.

Nobody can say what will happen with the school year in the fall, yet. It’s too soon. We are waiting on things like better treatments and vaccines. We are doing our best, but we don’t have a precise or predictable timeframe with COVID-19.

And that’s hard. The unknown is scary and hard. It’s even scarier when I start thinking about all sorts of what-ifs and worry about loved ones. I’ve seen all sorts of articles floating around about both how it isn’t as bad as the media says and how it’s way worse than the media could report. I’ve seen conspiracy theories and scientific articles. But the truth is that nobody can predict the future. Nobody can say for sure exactly how this is going to play out.

My governor has a date to have everything reopened. However, as he announced his plan, he was quick to remind all of us many times that the plan will be constantly reassessed and we may have to take steps back. He, too, doesn’t have a crystal ball.

Managing the new pandemic normal for the foreseeable future

In the midst of all of this, I’ve also seen all sorts of advice articles about how we should have our kids continue with schoolwork for normalcy or that we should just let them do what they want because living life is enough of a struggle right now. I’ve read how this is a great time to organize my house or binge watch seasons of shows on Netflix.

For me, the truth of all those things lies right in the middle. My kids do their schoolwork as required, but they also have downtime. I’m not organizing my house, but I am cleaning well as I go. I don’t have time for major binge watching, but I have watched the entire season of “Supermarket Stakeout” with my family over a few weeks.

I’ve felt the feelings from panic to terror to anger to sadness. I’ve stayed awake at night pondering how we’re going to get groceries or what we’ll do if we can never find packs of toilet paper. I’ve gotten choked up listening to my kids doing a Zoom call with classmates instead of being in school with them.

I’ve stressed out about going into the store and wondering if I made a huge mistake in trying to get supplies for my family even though I sanitized and sterilized myself and my purchases. I’ve felt anxious about not wiping down every piece of mail with a bleach wipe. On and on the list goes.

Managing our feelings about the new normal

If nothing else, COVID-19 has certainly brought a slew of feelings for all of us. We are learning a new normal. There’s a chance that COVID-19 could change things permanently. No matter what, clearly this new normal is going to stick around for a good while.

And so we have to feel all the feels. I have to navigate through the feelings to get to acceptance. Because no matter how anxious or anger I feel, reality is reality and the sooner I can get to acceptance, the better. But just like with chronic pain and illness, it’s an ongoing process.

Sometimes feelings are going to creep up again. Feelings and issues I’ve thought I’ve worked my way through are going to surface again. I’ll have moments when I’m still shocked at wearing a face mask in public even though I’ve done so for months. I’ll have moments when I’m angry at having to sanitize and sterilize everything that comes into my house in hopes of keeping my family safe.

There will be days when I want to smack someone who says that we are in this together because if we were, couldn’t they come to my house and make dinner or do dishes or monitor schoolwork?

But I am going to do my best to get to acceptance and get back there as much as possible.

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Living in a new reality

Life during quarantine

The following post is all about my personal mental health experiences. For the latest information on COVID-19, please visit www.cdc.gov.

While life during the health crisis has been real for me over the last couple of weeks with the kids home from school and our contact with the outside world very, very limited, today the new reality set it for me even more. I’m processing information, which I best do through writing.

Life during quarantine

Right from the beginning today was different. My husband had an early morning post-op appointment with his surgeon. When he had his rotator cuff surgery on March 11, we received the paperwork that included today’s appointment time. I remember thinking that an 8 a.m. appointment meant we’d take the kids to school then go to his appointment.

Life has changed in those two and a half weeks, though. And it has changed dramatically for such a short time. Like all of us, I am off-kilter. The kids are no longer going to their school building and instead e-learning from home.

Venturing out

As we headed to the appointment today, we wondered why there were so many cars out. We assumed they were people headed to jobs our governor deemed as essential.

At the orthopedist’s office, I was turned away at the front door; only patients were allowed in. While I completely understood and respected the decision, it was yet another reminder of our new reality.

I don’t always go with my husband to doctor’s appointments, but he’s still in a sling and not allowed to drive. I knew he was having stitches removed, and I wanted to be there in support of him as he’s done for me so many times. Instead, I was sitting in the car. I wasn’t upset, but it was definitely a new reality.

Going to the grocery store

His appointment was pretty quick, so we made a quick trip to the store on the way home. We’re down to about half a pack of toilet paper. It should get us through this week, but it gets a bit dubious after that. We were hopeful that being early in the day would mean we’d find some.

However, no toilet paper was available. We did pick up a few other things, though. I happily noticed the shelves were better stocked than they had been on my previous visit about two weeks ago. I was thankful for that and relieved to see that things weren’t staying so dire.

I was thrilled to get some napkins since I’d just lectured my kids about how we needed to start rationing them since I hadn’t been able to find any to buy.

Many people were wearing disposable gloves. Most were careful to stay at a distance from each other. In the car, we used hand sanitizer. I even coated my phone with it since I’d used it in the store to look at my grocery list.

Different home life

When we got home, I pulled out items to stay in the garage for our deep freezer and pantry shelf. The rest came into the house where I wiped it down with bleach wipes, threw away the sacks and wiped down the countertops.

I used hand cleaner two or three times then washed my hands incredibly well. While I’m always vigilant about cleaning my hands after being in a public place, wiping down my groceries and cleaning my hands so many times is definitely a new thing.

I settled my kids at the kitchen table with schoolwork while I got to work on my laptop for my annual Monday morning deadline. Usually I work in my home office, but while I’m also playing the role of homeschool teacher, working at the kitchen table is easiest.

At lunchtime, my daughter and I moved to the home office so she could Zoom meet with her fourth grade class while I finished my last half hour of work. Many conference calls have happened in the home office I share with my husband, but this was the first one that was for my 10-year-old.

By dinnertime, my head was pounding thanks to the weather change and my delightful fibromyalgia symptoms. I made some food and we watched a science video while eating.

A public faith display

After dinner, we turned on our local radio station just in time to hear our pastor begin talking. This evening was a prayer event at our local hospital. We opted to stay home and pray. I was overcome with emotion as I listened to my pastor and heard him praying over the airwaves. I never would have imagined this local top 40 station would even be broadcasting a very Christian prayer, yet here we were.

My husband, children and I all prayed together. My son came over and snuggled next to me. Just as he did so, my pastor was praying for God to give us strength to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves during this crisis.

God reminded me that I am needed to take care of my children now more than ever. At 7 and 10, my kids no longer need me as dependently as they did as infants, but they certainly are not able to take care of themselves through this crisis. I am needed also to take care of my husband who is still not at full capacity from his surgery. I take all of those responsibilities very seriously.

Feeling all the feelings

This is the new reality. It isn’t forever or for always. We don’t know when life will start to get back to normal. We are talking about things like whether to keep the kids enrolled in their ninja and gymnastics classes that are now meeting virtually. We’re speculating on big events that might get canceled.

The current reality is challenging for its newness and suddenness. For me, it has less to do with not being able to get out and go places, though even an introvert like I am gets cabin fever. It has more to do with a total shift in my thinking and reality.

I find myself being careful to not waste food.

I find myself thinking about how long we can truly go before we need to get out.

I find myself rationing some items to last longer before I get to the store again. (I forgot to get more mouthwash, for example.)

I find myself wondering how this will affect my kids.

I find myself wondering if everyone I love will make it through this.

I find myself noticing when my neighbors are leaving and wonder why they’re getting out.

I find myself being thankful that my son’s good friend in the neighborhood lives a block away and not right beside us so they don’t see each other and want to play.

I find myself noticing full grocery shelves on television and in commercials and wishing that was still reality.

I find myself feeling raw sometimes for seemingly no reason and then realizing that it’s for all of these reasons and new-ness that I’m having all these feelings.

I find myself overwhelmed at the outpouring of love and prayer from a community that doesn’t always show respect for Christianity.

I find myself utterly exhausted more than I’d like to admit from trying to be mom, teacher, wife, homemaker and professional writer.

I find myself feeling God in the moments when I most need Him. I hear Him speaking through the prayer of my pastor as my son snuggles next to me. I am reminded of Him as I listen to a video lesson with my children. God opens my heart and eyes to His presence as I listen to worship music.

I remember that even though this is a difficult time of global proportions unlike anything I’ve lived through before, it is not the hardest thing I’ve personally lived through. The same God who has always been with me is still with me.

I have learned to trust in God and His faithfulness even when things don’t make sense.

I have learned that if I keep my hope in Him, I won’t be disappointed. Life may not go as I want it to. God may say no to some of my prayers, but He won’t change who He is and He won’t leave me. I just have to look for Him.

Want to read more? Check out these posts:

15 Ideas for spending time at home with your family

Advice from an introverted work-at-home mom on self-isolating

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In an effort to contain the COVID-19 virus and keep from overwhelming healthcare facilities and workers, a good portion of the U.S. population is at home for work and school right now. Along with that, health and government officials are recommending that we self-isolate — basically stay home and avoid contact with other people.

And that is pretty much a normal day in the life for me. I work from home and have since 2003. The last couple of years, my husband has joined me in working from home as well. Add in that I’m also an introvert who recharges with time alone and have chronic health issues that sometimes keep me from being able to get out, and I’m pretty much the poster child for self-isolation.

As my kids get older, I get out of the house more often to take and/or pick them up from school. They each also get to pick one extracurricular activity a week that we take them to, but even that my husband and I usually divide so we only are going to one activity a week.

But my happiest days are the ones where I never leave the house. I love to find ways to be productive and to be lazy. I feel most free at home.

Of course, my feelings are not shared by everyone. Statistically speaking, introverts are a minority (and even among introverts, my INFJ type is the least common). So I can only imagine that there are a lot of extroverts being told to stay home right now that are kind of at a loss.

Folks who are constantly on the go and seldom home. I once joked that our neighbors (who have since moved away) were a family who was almost never home and they probably thought we were a family who was always home. I’m sure we seemed different to them in the opposite way they seemed different to us.

So, I’ve been thinking about what to do at home. What do I enjoy about being in my own house with my husband and kids? What makes this my happy place? The answer has nothing to do with the actual house itself and everything to do with the people inside it, my attitude about it and the activities going on within it.

1. Do some work.

This is probably a no-brainer. Right now, people are working from home and schools are sending home assignments. So, clearly one of the the things you can do at home is work. One of the things your kids can do is schoolwork.

Finding the motivation to do that while at home can be a challenge for some, so I offer things I’ve learned through the years.

Get dressed. You’ll be more likely to be productive in clothes versus PJs, even if it is yoga pants and a T-shirt.

Designate a work area. If you have a space dedicated to work then your mind will go to work when you get there.

Work together when you can. While I usually work in my home office, when the kids are doing e-learning, working at the kitchen table is easier so I can help them. (Plus it creates a feeling of solidarity that we are all working together!)

Minimize distractions. Keep the TV off and, if you play music, go for something not distracting. Instrumental music works really well!

Have set work times to help you stay motivated to start working when you’re supposed to. Set work time also helps you stop and switch to home mode.

Communicate with your family. If you have a time busier than others or calls scheduled, let your family know ahead of time. Work out a system for what they should do if they need you during that time.

Keep realistic expectations. When my kids are home for e-learning or off on a break, I know that I will not be able to get quite as much done as when they are not here. I modify my priorities accordingly.

If your kiddos don’t have schoolwork sent home with them or need additional ideas, finding educational apps they can use or things you can print out for them to work on while you work. Check out the following:

Scholastic Learn at Home
– Free weekly broadcast with do-at-home activities through the Cincinnati Zoo’s Facebook page
12 museums that offer virtual tours
List of over 30 virtual field trips
PBS Kids Daily weekday newsletter

2. Enjoy family meals.

Eating together for dinner can be a challenge for some families. Having a chance to eat breakfast and lunch together is impossible for a lot of families. Times at home are great for togetherness over food. Even if you’re just having bowls of cereal together for breakfast counts. Turn off electronics and chat.

3. Read together.

Even if you’re kids can easily read on their own, reading a book out loud together is special! Check out your local library’s website to download e-books or consider signing up for Kindle Unlimited through Amazon, which I LOVE! If you need ideas of books to read, check out this list of more than 100 children’s books worth reading; it has ideas for toddlers to tweens.

Another great option is Epic!. Right now, Epic! is offering a month free. It has all sorts of books for school-aged kids and includes the option to have the book read aloud, which is great for early readers and non-readers. We love Epic! so much that we’ve had a monthly subscription for a couple of years.

You can also have a nice time just sitting snuggled together or in the same room reading to yourself.

4. Watch movies together.

Thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus, you don’t have to leave home to watch a movie together. We love movie nights at my house and having a chance to have them more often when we are all home together is nice. You can combine it with mealtime or snack-time with easy finger foods while you watch. And then, of course, you can also snuggle together!

5. Find new television shows to watch together. (Or watch family favs you are behind on!)

We’ve found a few shows our family enjoys watching together through the years. Recently “Green Eggs and Ham” on Netflix was something we all four enjoyed. We also like baking competitions, “America’s Funniest Videos,” “LegoMasters” and pretty much any of the Scooby-Doos series.

You can also get some culture in by watching one of the Metropolitan Opera’s free nightly broadcasts being offered right now.

6. Cook together.

My kids have loved helping in the kitchen since they were toddlers. They like a chance to bake with me in particular, but even doing meal prep can be fun for them. Cooking with kids usually takes a bit longer, so times being at home are ideal to do so. This is also a great time to try out new recipes or old favorites you haven’t had time to make for a while.

Some of our favorite foods to cook or bake together include the following:

Pumpkin bread
Whipped pudding pie
BLT pizza
Peanut butter honey nut cereal clusters
Pizza subs
4-ingredient lemon squares
Cookies, especially toffee cookies

7. Organize or clean together.

Cleaning isn’t so fun, but the more time I have at home, the better condition my house is in. Time at home is great for cleaning and organizing. Work on tasks you need to do but never get around to. Clean out and organize your pantry. Sort through your kids clothes and pull out things that don’t fit. If you feel really ambitious, clean out toys!

In the end, you’ll all feel satisfied with a job well done and be able to do something fun afterward to relax like watch a movie and eat snacks.

8. Get creative together.

Remember all those Pins you saved on Pinterest of stuff you want to make with your kids? Being home together for a while is a great chance to do them. Or pull out craft kits your kids have forgotten about and finally have time to do.

If crafts aren’t your thing (they aren’t mine), then make art together in a low-key way. My family enjoys coloring together. We all work on pictures we want. I use crayons and don’t get detailed. My husband uses high-quality markers and adds lots of detail and shading. My daughter and son each have their own styles as well. But we all have fun!

9. Play games together.

We love games! Being home is a great time to pull out board games, card games and even video games you can play together. We have a wide variety of games our kiddos like. Various types of Uno card games are one of their favorites at the moment. (If you’ve got a younger kiddo, consider getting a playing card holder to help them out. My first grader loves it!)

My kids also love Story Cubes and Toilet Trouble, which are easy for non-readers to play as well! If your kids are solid readers, consider Fluxx, which is a fast-paced card game where the rules constantly change.

Another family favorite of ours is Mad Libs. These are bonus, educational fun because your kiddos have to identify parts of speech!

10. Have unstructured play time together.

Having time at home without other things going on is great for just playing together. My kids’ love any chance for one-on-one playtime with us. My husband and I will set a time for 30 minutes or an hour and play with one child during that time. When the timer goes off, we switch and do the same with the other kiddo. My kids absolutely love it!

11. Make a list of independent activities.

I’d love to say that having extra time at home means we will be doing fun and productive things with our family all the time. But that’s not reality. We still have to do things like work, shower, clean and even just relax! I’ve found having a list of ideas (either written or in my head) that my kiddos can do on their own helps when they come to me and tell me they’re bored.

This can include chores, things they want to do, activities you know they’ll like, etc. You could also encourage them to do something nice for others. Maybe they could make cards to mail to extended family members or those in nursing homes right now.

12. Shop online together.

Sometimes our downtime at home involves online shopping. With warmer weather coming, my kids are going to need some new clothes. While my 7-year-old son doesn’t care so much about his wardrobe, his 10-year-old sister does! Having a chance to look online at some clothes together is always good. Showing my son a couple of options to pick from or scrolling through items with daughter works.

You might not buy everything right now. (Hello, budget!) But, at least you’ll know what you need or want to order over the next couple of months. It can also be a good time for kids to plan what they want to save for or how they’re going to use their spending money.

13. Have spa time.

OK. Maybe not spa time, per se, but being home is a great time to do some beauty sort of stuff you don’t usually get to do or don’t always have time to enjoy. You can do this with or without kiddo involvement.

My daughter and I have recently started doing face masks together and it’s so fun! We also enjoy painting our fingernails. Once I did temporary hair color gel in my kids’ hair. It doesn’t have to be complicated or over-the-top. Just have fun with it!

14. Blare some music.

When my kids were toddlers, they loved dancing around the house with me. Even now at 7 and 10, they still do sometimes. If you’re bored or doing something physical, crank up some fun music and let loose. I can’t tell you how many times I have danced around while baking. One of my favorites is the soundtrack from the musical “Wicked.”

15. Just be.

My favorite thing about time at home is the chance to just be. I love having a chance to just fully be myself. Home is the place where I can be dorky, crazy, quiet, silly or anything else. I can be me.

Some of our best memories have been made during times we aren’t doing a darn thing. We all pile onto our bed or the couch and giggle over silly things. These days the puppy get into the mix and adds some craziness. We just have fun together.

My goal is to let my family just be themselves at home. Of course there are rules to follow and chores to do and all that responsible stuff. But above all, I want them to feel free to be who they are in their own spaces.

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