Quarantine and the Family Dinner: Guidelines to Maintain Parental Sanity

Despite the fact our son has two ears and only one mouth, he has not mastered the skill to use them proportionately. Suggestions on how parents can maintain their sanity and keep the peace during the era of quarantine.

The phrase cited above, two ears and one mouth, was something I’ve been using since my son was two-years-old. After four years, the message has yet to sink in; Connor is a talker.

My mother-in-law noticed this during his infancy. Somewhere around the second or third month after his birth, she said, “Oh! You’ve got a talker here.” I questioned her wisdom back then.

Ever since that moment, when her wisdom proves true, which is roughly 1,231 times a week, it represents a ‘Newman’ moment for me from the show, Seinfeld. That’s when Jerry realizes Newman somehow managed to zing him.

My mother-in-law ‘got’ me… because she ‘got’ Connor before anyone else. He has turned out to be quite the talker. Last night, on a lazy drive through our deserted town, we asked him to stop asking questions. I challenged him not to speak during a Paul McCartney song. “Don’t dishonor McCartney! All hail Paul!” I yelled. My wife gestured in respect as we drove along.

It lasted two minutes. Had the song been, ‘Live and Let Die,’ my ears would have chosen the latter given they were raw and bruised from the bombardment of inquiries we’ve fielded from my six-year-old during the quarantine.

During this era, I’ve come to one conclusion. Normal rules do not apply when it comes to the family meal. Dinner should now represent a time for everyone to sit down, shut up, zone out, and speak only when necessary.

If you’re managing children as a parent, as a teacher, and as a disciplinarian… and you’re trying to keep a clean house, maintain your sanity, stay in touch with loved ones, and stay distant from every person on the planet outside your home… here are three suggestions that run counter to everything I’ve ever advised. In normal times, I would not recommend the following, but the world is upside down so these represent short-term exceptions:

Dinner Time = Zone Out Time: Put Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, or Family Feud on the TV and eat. I’ve always advocated eating at least one meal together as a family. I’ve also suggested no TV or technology when this meal is shared with your loved ones. When this takes place three times a day, and parents answer 803 questions between each meal, dinner does not represent a Q&A session. “Focus on the boob tube… little ones.”

A family, dining in a proper manner during quarantine. Note the silent children… ah.

‘Yard’ Time: When inmates are free to move about in ‘the yard,’ it simply represents an outside excursion within the confines of a larger cage/prison. We are not inmates, but everyone deserves time to move about. Whoever is homeschooling the kids deserves an hour and a half or two-hour break. They can do whatever the hell they want, sans polishing off a bottle of scotch: drive, bike, nap, anything.

The Kids’ Quarantine Playbook: There’s one constant in the life of a child – they gravitate towards structure. Give them something to do, every single day, to help with the home. If it’s straightening up toys, helping out in the yard, walking the dog, or cleaning out waste bins, task them with a daily chore. You can espouse a valuable life lesson – everyone has to pitch in when times get tough.

That’s where we are, and unlike those who are single, parents are managing a three-pronged beast: parenting, maintaining or finding employment, and staying healthy. But unlike fun and carefree singles who must remain six feet apart and can’t hook-up with anyone, the majority of us are married and share a bed with someone… every night…

…which leads to suggestion number four, which takes behind closed doors, on the bed, on the carpet, or on the floor. In other words, I hope during this quarantine… you ‘score.’ 🙂

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