Many parents of minor children are facing a new challenge to care for their young people at home when that maybe hasn’t been the case since before preschool. That’s a big change for a lot of families and none of us know how long this will last.

I don’t know all the challenges that go with this; my kids have never been in school outside of my home. And, as I read recently from someone wiser than myself, this is much more of an adjustment and struggle for everyone dealing with a completely different routine.

These are struggles that I don’t have a clue about, but as a mom stuck at home with a bunch of kids, I am not immune to the stress of this situation and I do have the power to encourage. Friends, this CAN be done and we have an incredible opportunity in this moment.

This big lifestyle change for families in Douglas County has the potential to create a new family culture in every household. Whatever the family looks like, the parents or caretakers that are staying at home with these kids can create something new — maybe something that’s never happened in your family before.

One thing I’m learning about family culture is that I can dream and push all I want, but as my children develop interests and a sense of identity in their pastimes, they start to pour that energy into the family culture stew. I don’t get to choose what we are about all by myself anymore.

These people are developing their own personalities and values, and while I can point them in certain directions — social and moral values, for example — I am not controlling who they become.

So I watch them. I look for what sparks their interest and what lights them up. I know it can be overwhelming to suddenly have these developing minds and personalities at home, and I imagine that making room for kids that ooze hormones can add a new level of crazy to that. But it isn’t impossible.

It would be easy to put them in front of the TV, throw them in the backyard to play when they get rowdy and then just feed them and pray bedtime comes soon so you can be done. I do it sometimes. And as they adjust to a new routine at home, that might be what everybody needs for a while. Personally, I know sometimes it feels like that’s all the energy I have to give.

But I don’t have to stay there. I don’t have to accept that forever. The world —ok, the local community — is still my oyster, even with social isolation in place. I can create a world for them to explore in my backyard and I can give them tools to do it themselves.

Does one child like getting dirty in the backyard? Does another prefer to listen to stories and work on puzzles or a game? Do they light up when I tell them about making sock puppets as a kid or maybe jump at the chance to get into my toolbox and take apart a broken toaster or other mechanical item we have hanging around?

We may take up scavenger hunts and obstacle courses around the house. We will likely start writing to cousins and develop penpals. We might take up cat’s cradle and see what we can do with a shoelace today. Or, you know, if we have leftover cardboard boxes (don’t lie, I know you’ve been to Costco lately) I can just give them scissors and markers and announce that I expect a complete kid-sized car or play house built by the end of the day.

The point is, I don’t have to stay in this stressed, overwhelmed place even with kids at home. I can take steps to start something — who knows? maybe something long-term — that changes our family dynamic, learn what excites my kids and give them the opportunity to learn how to amuse themselves.

Sometimes day-in, day-out school can drain the joy of their interests out of them. I hope it doesn’t, but as parents, we have a responsibility to see what sparks our children and to nurture that.

This doesn’t have to be a lonely, friendless quarantine. It can be a great opportunity to relearn our children and challenge them to use their busy minds and bodies to create something new using their own ingenuity.

And if we choose to do that, we choose to renegotiate our family culture. We change our future and we make the most of the present. Our lives are shaped by the hours we spend, one by one. And while we have the power, we can shape the patterns of their future.

You’ve got at least a few weeks, Douglas County. Your kids will not forget this time. Engage with them if you can, believe in them and empower them to build their own little world while there are no distractions. This doesn’t have to be a tragedy for your children, even if that’s what it feels like to you.

It can be a memory they will take with them into their adulthood and have an impact on how they look at the rest of their life.

Adrienne Tratz is a full-time Catholic homeschooling mom to four daughters.

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