As I sit down to write this, I can almost convince myself things are just as they were a few weeks ago. My laptop is on my desk in my home office. My dog is at my feet. I’m pouring words onto a page, just as I have for the past six years as a full-time writer and financial educator who works from home.
But there are some clues around me that things have definitely changed. For example, there’s a desk to my right that’s full of kindergarten worksheets instead of my tax forms. And, instead of silence, I hear sounds of my daughter’s Zoom ballet class coming from the next room.
My husband, exhausted from a 24-hour shift at the hospital, is asleep upstairs. That’s pretty typical, but it’s also different, too, knowing he’s taking care of people in the middle of a pandemic.
My house is a bit cluttered, but that’s pretty normal for me. The big difference is my browser tabs are now cluttered, too, as I try to flip back and forth between my work and homeschool instructions from my twins’ school.
I started out my time with the kids home from school scared and worried. As the days went on and we found our routine, gratitude slowly replaced the anxiety.
I know I’m fortunate to have work, to have a home, to have food, and to have the Internet. I’m also thankful my twins are six years old and pretty independent these days. (Shout out to all the parents of toddlers out there making it work!)
Keeping this in mind, I’m going to share with you a glimpse into my life. Regardless of where you come from or what you’re feeling right now, my hope is that you come away from reading this with a shared sense of community and with the knowledge that you’re not alone.
Maybe you’ll see glimmers of your own life in here or maybe you’ll find it helpful. Perhaps it’ll give you permission and reassurance that you are, in fact, doing things just right for you and your family.
Keeping the Business Afloat
My husband is a doctor, but he’s still in training. In fact, he graduates from residency in just three months. What this means is ever since he started medical school nine years ago, I’ve been the breadwinner of my family. My business income pays for almost everything in our budget. It’s absolutely vital that I keep it running.
I earn an income through owning a few personal finance blogs, speaking engagements, freelance writing, and brand partnerships. My business requires constant pitching to stay afloat. The good news is I love what I do, and I love helping people learn about money. The bad news is it’s hard to write or make videos when you have 6-year-old twins who interrupt you with very important questions like, “Where do boogers come from?”
I find I can get some work done while they do their schoolwork in the mornings. It can’t be difficult work, though. It’s usually tasks like answering emails. (I’m not doing a very good job of it, though, based on the 771 emails in my inbox.) Then, I’ve decided that Disney movies are absolutely part of their education, so I let them watch one movie every afternoon. The movie time gives me 1.5 hours of uninterrupted work time. This is when I can turn off all my notifications and phone and do my deep thinking and writing.
And then, I work again after the twins go to bed. This was part of my regular routine before, too. Because my husband puts in long shifts at the hospital (and did even before the pandemic), I put my kids to bed by myself every night. Then, I sit at my desk and work some more. I’ve been doing this since my business was just a side hustle, and it’s a habit I’ve kept up all these years.
Homeschooling the Twins
My twins are in kindergarten, so our school day might look very different from yours. My overarching theme, though, has been not to overdo it.
Some of my friends have made really cool, color-coded schedules for their children. They’re also doing lots of crafts and science experiments, and I think they’re amazing. But, I’m not really a make-a-volcano type of mom. I’m more of a read-a-book type of mom.
I know this about myself, so instead of trying to be someone I’m not, I’m simply leaning in to what I like and enjoy doing with my kids. I give them their homework from their teachers early in the morning when they are happy and fresh. They know they have to do their work or else they don’t get to watch a Disney movie in the afternoon (ask me how they found out I was serious about this).
I don’t rush them with their work. They’ve had amazing teachers this year who have taught them well and helped them become self-disciplined. When I say to write their numbers 1–20, they sit down and they do it, not because of me, but because of the routines they’ve learned from their teachers in their classrooms.
I also haven’t corrected their homework or tried to teach them how to spell or how to carry the one. I just take a picture of what they do and send it to their teachers, mistakes and all. That way, their teachers know where they stand and how they’re doing.
Of course, if they have questions, I answer them, but mostly I try to make them think and find their own answers first. When they’re finished, I read to them and ask them to read to me. Sometimes they have a Zoom call with their classmates. Other times, they play with Legos or complete a learning game on the iPad.
Today, they created a carnival in the backyard with a bunch of cardboard boxes. They put all their stuffed animals outside and tried to “win” them by completing different tasks, like throwing a ball into a bucket from far away.
I had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of their carnival, and yet, they played out there for two hours. I’m pretty convinced after three weeks at home that the less I hover over them, the more creative and independent they are. I’m really enjoying the slower pace, and to be honest, I think they are too.
Protecting Our Mental Health
Although I make a living teaching people about personal finance, it’s really less about money basics and more about human behavior. What I aim to provide to my community is akin to the motivation of a big sister — nice and supportive but also full of kicks in the pants when they need it.
One thing I’ve been speaking about daily is the importance of getting up and getting dressed. I received a lot of pushback in the beginning, but now I’m starting to get pictures from readers and followers who are doing it and loving it. My daughter even inspired me to start #WearADressWednesday on Instagram where we get up and get pretty fancy on Wednesdays. That includes earrings, a spritz of perfume, some bangles — you name it. I try to remind people that you’re not getting dressed for the day for other people. You’re doing it for you.
Finding the Gratitude
When we first started this journey of staying at home, I felt so anxious in the beginning. I could feel the worry I had for my husband as he headed into work in a knot in my chest. But, as the days went on, I leaned on my habits, my discipline, and the years I’ve spent doing personal development.
I remind myself daily that the only person I can control is me. I can’t stop other people from social gathering. I can’t control whether or not my husband treats a patient who is positive for this virus. I can’t make companies I want to work with answer emails faster.
All I can do is wake up and greet the day with gratitude, try to move my business forward like I do every day, love my kids, and continue to avoid the laundry (because hey, I’m still me). I’m not seeking any type of Instagram level of perfection. I’m simply waking up and giving myself the gift of coffee and getting dressed. I express gratitude for my health. Sometimes I do yoga.
In truth, social distancing has just been an extension of my daily life. I’m a serious introvert who has been working by myself from home for six years now. My only “co-workers” are my fellow online entrepreneurs who I talk to and rely on for emotional support as we build our businesses alongside one another. I’ve been living 1,000+ miles away from my family for many years now. My parents and in-laws were already “FaceTime grandparents.”
I empathize with those who are used to being highly social, who miss their co-workers, and the children who can’t see their grandparents who live down the street. But that’s also why I wanted to come and give advice, because social distancing is not too dissimilar from how I normally live. There is beauty in not having a full schedule. It’s very nice to take the time to focus inward and take care of yourself and those closest to you. When you’re forced to sit in the stillness, you realize what you actually enjoy doing and what’s most important. Suddenly, the emotional wellbeing of your family seems a lot more critical than the number of extracurriculars your kids have or whether or not they’re wearing the nicest clothes.
In some ways, this time is a gift. It’s a reminder of what you value, something that’s easy to forget in our world of competitive parenting and Insta-fame.
Yes, I’m still scared for my husband’s health, but the pride I feel in the work he’s doing far outweighs it. I’m so impressed with how he’s handling this crisis, with how brave he’s been. It’s given me an entirely new level of respect for him, something I didn’t think was possible.
Ultimately, I want my children to look back on this time as a moment when they were really proud of their dad and when their mom was always there for them with hugs because they couldn’t hug dad after work anymore.
I don’t think they’ll recall how many worksheets they did, but they’ll remember the environment I created for them that made them feel protected and loved. I don’t think they’ll ever realize how scared the world is right now or that their mom didn’t do a ton of crafts with them while they were home for weeks on end. But they might recall all the time we spent on the couch flipping through books and how they got to come cuddle with me in my bed in the morning because we didn’t have to rush through a morning routine.
If you take the time to appreciate little things like that, I think you’ll find your mood lifting. Think about how there’s no commute, no traffic, and no rushing to grab a drive-through dinner because your day was so full.
Perhaps we all needed a pause but didn’t have the courage to say no or to clear our own schedules. Now, it’s been done for us, and I for one, am going to try to see the beauty in it, even on the days when it’s hard to do so.
Catherine Alford is a nationally recognized financial educator who partners with top brands to encourage, educate, and inspire people to take on a more active financial role in their families. She is also the founder of CatherineAlford.com, an award-winning personal finance blog that she created in 2010. Follow her on Instagram @CatherineCAlford.