Last night, as I was mindlessly scrolling through social media, I came across a post from Bob Rice that inspired me.
What was it?
A simple photograph of his family’s schedule, with the caption, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
There is a lot of wisdom in that.
Our family is going to be spending a lot of time together over the next three weeks. That will be an incredible blessing or it will be a terrible trial. My prayer is that for my family, and yours, it will be a blessing. With that in mind, we are planning for success and growth. Here is what we are doing.
Limiting Screen Time
I don’t know about you, but I have been stuck on constant information-seeking loop since this crisis began. I have gone from checking news sites to Twitter to Facebook, back to news sites over and over again. It’s not healthy. My other temptation has been to pull up an online news channel and leave it playing in the background.
My kids, on the other hand, want to disappear into cyber reality. For the younger ones, this means Netflix and Disney+. For the older ones, it leans more towards constant texting and online gaming.
News, TV, texting, gaming, none of these things are bad in moderation. There is, however, a point where they can become destructive. We want to make it through this without prolonged bouts of lethargy and depression, so we are limiting our screen time to blocks in the morning, noon, and evening. It is not so much that we are trying to eliminate screens and connections. We just want to be intentional about them.
I cannot help but see this entire situation as a wake-up call for the Church. We need to draw near to the Lord. Father Leo Patalinghug, in his Sunday homily (webcast from his parent’s basement), put it well. We should spend less time worrying about who our leaders are, and more time praying that God would grant our leaders wisdom, whoever they are. I would add, we also need to be aware that the COVID-19 crisis has come upon us at a specific moment in history. It is Lent. It is a time of repentance. So, we need to look at this crisis as a call to repentance as well. In this extraordinary time, we need to be an extraordinary people of prayer.
Our first response as a family was to pray a daily decade of the Rosary together in the evening. But, when I saw Bob’s family schedule, there were an intentional fifteen minutes devoted to family prayer in the morning. It was a little convicting. If I was planning a retreat, I would plan times of prayer. So why not look at this “social distancing” as a retreat for my family. So, we have followed the Rice family example.
Each day, after breakfast, we are gathering to spend a little time in prayer. About fifteen minutes. That looks like a brief time of spoken or sung worship, a simplified lectio divina, and a decade of the Rosary. The skeleton is worship, listening, and intercession.
There are eight people under our roof. We eat a lot. I have two teens, two elementary kids, a preschooler, and a toddler. You might be tempted to think that the toddler doesn’t count that much towards our food consumption. You would be wrong. He never stops eating. NEVER.
Before the panic set in, we slowly stocked up on meal components. Rice, beans, flour, eggs, potatoes, meat, and so on. We think we have enough set aside to last us three weeks. Because our four-year-old is on chemo and has a compromised immune system, we are deadly serious about social distancing. Eventually, I know I will have to head back out into the world, but the goal is to last as long we can on the supplies we have.
If we do not plan, that is not going to be very long. So, we have set specific meal times, just like we would on retreat or at school, and we are limiting grazing from the cupboard. Our meals are hardy, and we make enough for there to be some leftovers. That works out because instead of eating more of our stores for snacks and lunch, we typically can get by on what was left from the previous night’s dinner.
Sorry to say, but unless we are intentional about staying physically active, there is a good chance that we won’t. So, we have added some physical activity/outside time to the schedule. For the kids, that means basketball in the driveway, going for a walk, riding bikes, or jumping on the trampoline. My wife, high schooler, and I are doing a more structured bodyweight work out three times a week. It is a free program offered by trainer Don Saladino, on the playbook app. I have been training with Don for about a year, via the app, and I like it a lot.
Physical activity plays a vital role in staying positive. Getting outside and soaking up some vitamin D is essential. We are blessed to live in South California. The weather permits us to go outside. But even if you are in a colder, wetter part of the world, take some time to get moving every day.
Family Game Time
We love board games and try to play regularly. Having a family that is spread out so much in age can make that a challenge. But the thing is, it is worth it. Game time is not about the game. It is about intentionally sitting down with everyone and connecting. Most of the time when you play a board game there is conversation. Sometimes it is related to the gameplay. Sometimes it is not.
If you have traumatic childhood memories from playing Monopoly, then don’t play Monopoly. Play party games like Apples to Apples, Mad Gab, or Scattegories. Don’t have party games? Play card games. Heck, if you are a smaller family, every now and then, you could even get away with playing Mario Cart or Super Smash Brothers together. But remember everyone plays. That means Mom and Dad too.
Family game time is community forming time and it is an easy way to assess your clan to see how everyone is doing.
I still have a job. My high schooler still has school work to do. That isn’t going away. So, we have to set some boundaries on the family schedule to make that happen. The balance is hard. Making sure my wife is supported with six kids all at home, and getting my work done are both important. Scheduling boundaries and assessing how they are working is essential. If you have never worked from home before, this can be challenging.
My recommendation is to try to implement a physical boundary. Work in a separate room from the family. Close the door. Lock it, if need be, and wear headphones if your work situation allows it. As I am writing this, I am sharing my workspace with my fifteen-year-old. I am typing with my headphones on. I don’t want music to distract me, so I am listening to the “Binaural Beats: Focus” playlist on Spotify. He is on a laptop, with his textbooks opened around him.
These Are Just Some Ideas
These are just some of the things we are trying to take into consideration as we plan our time together. We are living through some strange days. But, the truth is, this can be an incredible time for families to get stronger and healthier (as we avoid getting sicker). It can be a time of revival in our lives and the lives of our children. Or it can be three weeks of watching Netflix, compulsively scrolling through social media, and eating garbage as we wait for the virus to pass. I like the first option. So we are intentionally setting our course.
What are some of the ways your family is planning to thrive and grow through this time?
This article was first published on everydaycatholic.com.
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Chris Mueller is a youth minister from Murrieta, California. He crafts dynamic talks that communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that resonates with teen and adult audiences alike. Chris is the president and founder of Everyday Catholic, an organization that calls Catholic families, young adults, and teens into a deeper relationship with Christ and his Church. Chris and his wife, Christina, live in California with their five children.