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By Helena Smrcek

I remember the strange trend dominating the reality show programming following several preppers through their bunkers and storage lofts. Many of us shook our heads. But how do we feel now? Where they correct to hoard gas masks and medical supplies? Our current situation, as serious as it is, is still a far cry from the apocalyptic scenarios the doomsday prophets prepared for, yet many of us struggle to find our new, be it temporary, normal.

As I look around our home, I see a full pantry, a fridge in need of re-organizing, toilet paper in the bathroom, power and water running as always. Yes, there have been dramatic changes to the way we do things, but honestly, life in Canada during a pandemic is not bad. All levels of our government stepped in. Could they do things more efficiently? Perhaps. Is our already strained medical system experiencing a crisis? You bet. But let’s be truly thankful for those who tirelessly show up for their shifts and face the danger head on, doing their jobs, keeping this country going.

Let’s zoom a little closer to home and see how we are handling this crisis, following our leaders’ orders to “stay home”.

Our kids are grown up, but yes, there had been an adjustment period for all of us, as they moved back home, full-time, given the shift in their employment as well as education. How about the families struggling with the younger children and the indefinite school closures? How are the parents coping with this public health crisis, working from home, dealing with layoffs, business shutdowns, and the added responsibility for educating their children?

A few days ago I got a message from a friend. She was overwhelmed with the task of mothering her teenagers, while now having to become their teacher as well. Apparently, she felt she wasn’t up to the task. And I bet she is not alone.

Parenting has changed over the past few decades, yet the core values of a civilized society had not. We expect our fellow citizens to listen to the strong suggestions of our medical officers. I love hearing the stories of neighbours looking after each other. Canadians are taking this calmly and respectfully. But how does that translate to our homes?

I thought of a long-time friend of mine, who homeschooled her four children. All of her kids turned out to be high achievers, the three girls earning degrees, working in highly competitive fields. Their son helps to manage the family business. They all get along, support each other and enjoy each others company. Isn’t that what every parent wishes for? Their story reminded me of the parable of the sower, and I wanted to know how she and her husband ensured early on, that they will reap a harvest as great, as expected.

So, I did call my homeschooling friend Pam and asked her for some tips. We spent an hour on the phone and although my kids are adults now, I felt that I have learn much that can be applied to our own family.

First thing she suggested was to make a plan. Pam used to have an annual binder with a lesson plan for each child. We are three months away from the official end of the school year, given that things may change in a few weeks, it might be prudent to set a lesson plan for one month at the time.

The second step? Create a schedule for every week. This gives children a freedom of choice. If they have to complete two units in math, write a book report and study one unit in science, let them choose what they would like to do first. The only rule Pam implemented was that all schoolwork had to be done by Friday. A noon deadline is great, as that gives the procrastinators an afternoon to finish, but without the reward promised for those who kept to their schedule.

Thirdly, she stressed the importance to make things fun. Every child is different and needs an individual approach. And who knows the kids better than their parents? Motivate them with what they love. Is your child into crafts? Talk about what kind of projects would they like to work on in the afternoons. Could they make decorations for the house? Paint the windows? Or would they rather shoot hoops on the driveway?

As Pam stressed, your child will not need a full day of school. If the parents keep checking their work, and pick up on missed concepts right the way, they can go over the lesson right there and then, and not wait till the quiz to find out. Hands on approach might help your child communicate their struggles better, and your encouragement will definitely boost their self-esteem.

Pam’s fourth suggestion was to share family chores. Now that many parents are working from home, there might be less of a commute, but more time needed to prepare meals, clean up the dishes, and keep the house tidy. While Pam’s children were growing up, each family member took on the responsibility of preparing a dinner, one day a week. Those who didn’t cook that night, took care of the cleaning. At first, she suggested, you will need to help the children a little, but don’t do the work. Let them make the meal, and simply keep and eye on things from a distance. You might be surprised what your eight-year-old can do.

Here is a final suggestion. Hold a family meeting once a week, to check in on everyone’s school progress, their mental health, and plan for the next seven days ahead. Ask what meals they would like to make, make a list of ingredients, then a shopping list for the one person who will make the grocery store run. Plan family fun, such as game night, music night or video game evening. You can incorporate exercise, yard work, or dog walking duties. Most importantly, make sure that all family members have an equal say and feel heard.

Who knows, perhaps spending this unplanned time together has a silver lining. It may teach our kids more about true relationships, away from their gadgets and social media platform. Getting along with real people is a foreign concept to many youngsters these days. Clear communication face-to-face, without emotional outbursts, demands and pouting is achievable. Limited screen time is possible, adhering to basic family rules, such as being kind and helpful, respectful and obedient may not be the thing of the past.

Families are the cornerstone of our society, and we need to stick together through thick and thin. As parents, we have to keep a careful eye on the emotional state of our children. Limit the exposure to scary news. Keep them informed, but do not add to their anxiety. Reaching for the Bible and reinstating family prayer and spiritual discussion time may be the perfect antidote to all the statistics reported daily.

Assure them that God is still in control. We all need to do our part, and He will do His.

About the author...

Helena Smrcek, a journalist, author, and screenplay writer, believes in the power of a well-told story. Her readers can expect a captivating page-turner, filled with thrilling suspense, and heartwarming romance.

She started in publishing as a high school student, freelancing for her local newspaper. Her journalism carrier took off in 1999. Within three years Helena accumulated over 100 by-lines and interviewed Ann Graham Lotz, Carol Lewis, Cec Murphey, Kelita and others. Her stories, many of them covers, have been published in Canada, USA, Bermuda, New Zealand, and Australia. In 2002 she accepted a position at Listen Up TV, a current affairs program.

Helena became a founding member of Write!Canada, and The Word Guild, a Canadian national association of writers and editors. She is a graduate of Jerry Jenkin’s Craftsman Class, Act One, Donald Maass’ Fire in Fiction, Writer’s Police Academy, and several mentoring programs.

She regularly attends writers’ conferences and is a past or current member of such organizations as Word Weavers, American Christian Fiction Writers, Sisters in Crime, Toast Masters International, Boni, The Writer’s Guild, and others. Helena loves to participate in NaNoWriMo and hosts a writers’ group.

As an entrepreneur, she is familiar with marketing, branding, and social media. She has volunteered with YMCA, mentoring new Canadians pursuing their business dreams, and was an active member of her local Chamber of Commerce.

When not at her keyboard, Helena loves listening to audio books. Working on her hobby farm, and traveling. She lives in the Waterloo Region, Ontario, with her husband, two adult children, two dogs, several cats, and her favourite goat, Rosie.