Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman’s life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we’re considering how the pandemic has impacted our priorities and views of leisure in the lives of single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each other’s experience. The reflection from a single woman can be found here.
Like many parents, my heart dropped in my chest when I heard school was closed for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus. Questions swirled in my mind about how I was going to work while my two children were home, how they were supposed to continue learning while away from their amazing teachers, and how in the world I was going to juggle the jobs of mother, teacher, and my own occupation. Then their extracurricular activities were cancelled. Then all my travel for my job was postponed. Everything I had to do and places I had to go were indefinitely put on hold. My busy life, the one where I barely had time to breathe, was stopped in its tracks.
After the initial shock wore off, a feeling I didn’t recognize took its place: peace.
This isn’t to say that life in quarantine is easy—it’s not. It’s also not to say I’ve all of sudden become a calm person—I haven’t. I also know that for many people quarantine is not a peaceful experience because of personal losses, fears over health, and financial concerns. But I’m thankful for what I’ve been afforded in this time: the freedom of having zero places I need to be, no obligations outside of the home, no sports or practice or traveling. It feels peaceful.
Overcoming the cult of busyness
In our culture, being busy signals importance and status. A study by researchers at Columbia, Harvard, and Georgetown University published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2016 found that “positive status inferences in response to long hours of work and lack of leisure time are mediated by the perceptions that busy individuals possess desired human capital characteristics (competence, ambition), leading them to be viewed as scarce and in demand.” In other words, busy people are viewed as important; their time is viewed as more valuable than the time of people who aren’t busy.
I’ve had jobs in the past where I was afraid to say what I did over the weekend or after hours because if it wasn’t work, then maybe I’d be viewed as less valuable. I had to at least be perceived as busy. It was exhausting. If I wanted to succeed in the professional world, I felt I had to be overscheduled with little time for leisure, or at least be perceived that way.
The sense of always being busy extends far beyond work; it pervades families in many ways, as well. Parents schedule their kids for all kinds of activities, from baseball to gymnastics to soccer to music lessons and everything in between, then run themselves ragged trying to get from one activity to the next. For many families, these activities crowd out leisure time or quality time spent together as a family, perhaps playing a board game or cooking dinner together.
But for the last few months, under the directives of state and federal governments, most of us were forced to put everything but the necessities on the back burner.
It’s not an easy adjustment. I’m naturally a person who is always on the go, always looking for something to do. I hate sitting down. I don’t like watching movies because I can’t do just one thing for a couple hours when there are so many other things I need to be doing to run a household. The concept of relaxing is a foreign one. To recharge, I prefer to get outside, go on a hike, or paddle my kayak, and though I miss those things, it’s like a giant pause button on life has been hit—and I’m wondering if that’s a bad thing.
The forests and lakes will still be there when this is all over, but this mandated lack of busyness will be gone. The question I’m pondering right now is, “Do I want to go back to the way it was before COVID-19?”
Finding leisure in our family
Sure, the adjustment of having my children at home during this time has been stressful. Some days are really hard—I need to get work done and I have to lock myself in my closet while they fend for themselves for thirty minutes, and I just hope they don’t burn the house down. Some days I just want to cry because it’s overwhelming.
But the pressure of getting them ready for school each morning, packing lunches, picking them up from school, and taking them to gymnastics and their other activities has been lifted. I don’t need to do that right now. I’m not even allowed to do that right now. Honestly, it feels so good not to have those obligations.
Dave Hollis, former Disney film distribution chief and husband of Rachel Hollis, famous for her book,Girl, Wash Your Face, wrote on Instagram: “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” He’s right. This time we have right now is truly unprecedented, and there are parts of it I want to keep. I’m not ready, or even willing, to jump back into the rat race, into those mornings where my kids just won’t get ready for school on time or where I’m stressing about childcare because of a trip for work.
I’m never getting this time with my little kids back. The hard days are balanced with days full of bike rides, long walks around our neighborhood, planting our garden, learning new board games, painting pictures, and attempts at early morning tennis lessons by this mom who is terrible at the game. I’ve taught my oldest daughter how to crochet and my youngest how to write those letters and numbers she’s been struggling with. We write letters to their grandparents, who just love getting mail from us. I’ve learned how to set aside even the shortest of times to pray and thank God for our health and safety.
The busyness of life has given way to intentional productivity and the elevation of things that matter. So now I’m asking myself, what parts of normal are worth rushing back to? And what parts aren’t?
After we all get out of quarantine, keeping boundaries in place between work and family is high on my list. Since I work from home, that line is often blurred. I take calls while making dinner when I could be talking with my kids or spouse about their day. I work late at night while sacrificing needed rest. I waste time on senseless social media. In this time on pause, these are practices I’m working on cutting back. Getting outside daily with my children while doing something they enjoy, like riding bikes, is one activity I plan to continue. I’ve learned things about my own children during this time I may not have known otherwise, just because they see I’m wholeheartedly listening and not distracted by anything else during that time. When we get out of quarantine, I want to stay fully present to their conversation.
The busyness of life often cannot be avoided, but making intentional choices about being busy can help to avoid the trap of crazy schedules. This time is teaching me that it’s okay not to be always on the go. It’s okay to schedule time to work and time to play. What are my children going to remember from the coronavirus crisis? I hope it’s the letters we wrote, the new skills they learned, the endless bike rides, the planting of flowers, and the slower-paced days where Mom listened a bit more and learned how to be present.
Do you have an experience about rethinking your priorities after quarantine that you'd like to share? Tell us here, and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.