Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a single father and I’m going crazy. Like almost everyone else in the U.S., my kids — 9 and 14 — and I are under lockdown. We’ve binge watched every family-friendly show, streamed every superhero movie, done indoor camping and treasure hunts, and we’re taking our dog out for walks five times a day. I’m doing everything I can to keep them busy, entertained, and off their electronic devices, but I’ve completely run out of ideas. What can I do to retain my sanity?
A: These are definitely challenging times, and while first responders and medical professionals get plenty of well-deserved kudos for the work they’re doing, parents deserve some recognition as well. Here are a few ideas I think you and your kids will enjoy:
· Spend time in the kitchen. We all have to eat, right? So why not make it a group activity. Try new foods or new twists on old favorites. And this is the perfect time to connect with friends and family and create your very own COVID cookbook.
· Play games. I’m a big fan of puzzles, escape-room-type games (there are tons of options available), and classics like Monopoly. And a good, old-fashioned deck of cards offers nearly unlimited possibilities. Whatever you do, be sure that you rotate between a game one of the kids picks, one you pick, and one that’s news to all of you.
· Learn something. Since most schools around the country are shut down for the rest of the academic year, your kids probably have class meetings, school projects, and homework. But there’s no reason why you can’t add in some additional learning — as long as it’s fun. Whatever the subject, I guarantee you’ll find plenty of educational resources online.
· Talk — and listen. Tell the kids things they don’t know about your life, your parents, where and how you grew up. And ask them to tell you things you might not already know about them.
· Get outside. Yes, you’re already doing plenty of dog walks, but instead of focusing on finding trash cans where you can toss those full dog-poop bags, look for strange-looking plants, unique animals (even roadkill), out-of-state license plates, and more.
· Go someplace new (online). Dozens of museums around the world have posted virtual tours of their galleries. And many cities have virtual tours of famous and not-so-famous landmarks. This is a great time to put together a post-lockdown wish list of places to visit.
· Story time. Your kids are getting to the age when they think they’re too old for bedtime stories. But reading out loud is a wonderful, calming, bonding activity that doesn’t have to be limited to bedtime. If you don’t feel like reading, make up a story of your own. One person starts with the first few sentences, then each person adds a few more sentences, going in whatever direction they want. You’ll be amazed at how creative you can be.
· Bend the rules. There’s no question that, in general, kids (and adults) spend too much time on our phones, computers, and other devices. And I applaud you for your efforts to keep your kids from getting sucked into the whirlpool of games. But in moderation, there’s a place for electronics.
· Finally — and perhaps most importantly — give up on the idea that you need to, as you put it, “keep them busy and entertained.” All of us (including our pets) need down time. You need time (kid-free and pet-free) to yourself to keep from burning out. And your kids need time to themselves as well, if for no other reason than to think. Some of that time can be spent reading, some video chatting with friends, some doing homework, and some, yes, mindlessly playing on their devices.
©2020 Armin Brott