Down here in New Zealand, we prize the ability to ingeniously solve problems. Being creative in our approach to problems is a matter of national pride. So much so, that no.8 wire; basic farm fencing wire, has come to symbolise our fixer-upper mentality. So it goes that there is nothing a self respecting kiwi can’t jimmy back together without a bit of wire. There are t-shirts and songs all about it. It’s what we do. We make the best of situations with what we have to hand. It might be because we are so geographically isolated from everywhere that the disposable consumerist culture has been slower to take hold here. When things break, we tend to fix them before we’d consider replacing them.
Mums and Dads all over the world embody this No.8 wire mentality. We make things work or fix them up using rubber bands or cable ties, a bit of modelling clay or the swipe of a sharpie. It’s what we do. We solve problems, we think creatively. It’s a parenting talent. Because sometimes, that broken wagon, the scratch on the favourite chair leg, the tragically legless giraffe are vitally important things for our little ones (and our peace). This is also why, when we do have to dispose of things we try to sneak them out under cover of darkness. In our house, even broken pencils have to be smuggled away!
When a parent is ill, the ability to think flexibly and solve problems becomes even more crucial. Maybe you can’t drive and it poses a significant problem for the family. Or being upright for more than a short time is impossible. Provided you have the financial ability, there are delivery services for things like groceries, you can shop online for the family’s clothing. But what can you do about things like playdates? After school sports practice? Being involved at school? It requires a bit of ingenious thinking. Here are some of the things that we do to help ease the illness burden on our kids.
1. Swapsies (You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours)
Arrange for reciprocal help with neighbours and friends. I can’t easily take my kids to their swimming lessons, but my friend can. So twice a week, her daughter comes to me for after school care (something I can provide, even if I am horizontal) and in return, they take my kids to swimming and bring them home again. Building good relationships with people in the community is so necessary for the whole family. It will increase your support network and also provide good social connection.
Always offer the help you can provide. Sometimes, that help is just being a good friend, being a shoulder to cry on, or a good listener. Reciprocal arrangements make for better long term viability. Swapsies work best when people truly understand what you are going through, so speak up, really help your community to understand. It’s worth the effort or possible embarassment.
For me, awareness month is a fantastic platform to get the word out. I find that the more people know about our struggles, the happier they are to help. No one can help you if they don’t know what’s going on. I hung on to that pride for far too long. And for what? Don’t let pride rob your kids of things they could do if only you let people know how things are.
2. Team Lunch Prep
Each weekend, we prep the lunches for the week. Each kid has their own big pantry box and into it go all the non-perishable snacks they’ll need for the week. Muesli Bars, snacks, dried fruit etc. Sandwiches are made ahead, wrapped and frozen, and fruit is in the bowl. Then each morning, the kids (or their Daddy, depending on their age) will fill their lunchbox with items to meet the ‘pick list’ requirements and pack them into their school bag.
We don’t have school cafeterias here so school lunches are always packed lunches. But this system could be useful to you if you have preschool children, if you homeschool, or during weekends. Packing lunch boxes means the kids have access to their own snacks without requiring you to get it. Once the food is gone, it’s gone, so it teaches them pacing and self control too. Bonus!
3. Not what you say, but HOW you say it…
In our house, we have a rule. If Mum whistles or calls, the response must be IMMEDIATE. Acknowledgment is not optional. Using my voice is my most powerful parenting tool because I cannot always race to the scene. Learning to project my voice without yelling was part of my teacher training but I really think all parents need to learn how.
Squeeze your voice out from deep in your belly. Keeping a calm tone will help to diffuse sibling spats, deliver important instructions and increase the careful listening from your children. A well projected voice commands respect. Hollering doesn’t.
Breaking down tasks into age-appropriate chunks is also really important. For instance, If I tell my son to clean his room, he will sink to the floor under the weight of overwhelm. But if I break it down “how big are your arms? Can you carry that whole pile of clothes down to the laundry?” and then follow that task with the next, the room is more likely to eventually get tidied.
4. Systems/ Routines
Examining the necessary tasks and coming up with effective routines is an exercise in creative genius. My husband is way better at this than me. He is the one who established the after-school-routine of bringing school bags into the kitchen to offload lunch boxes onto the bench and homework onto the dining table, school notices go straight onto the magnetic clip on the refrigerator. School shoes have a special place by the door.
The systems and routines in our house are designed to make it easier to find what we need when we need it. I just can’t cope anymore with the physical bending and rushing it takes to locate things in the last minute. So we check things off the list the night before the following morning. Organisation saves us, every time!
Do you want to get involved at school but you can’t go in? Maybe you could offer your children’s teacher help with the things you can manage. If it works for them and for you, it’s a wonderfully affirming thing to do.
Examples are cutting, pasting, laminating, filing and organising paperwork. Maybe you could be part of a phone tree initiative or provide admin for class emails. If you’re artistic you could offer help with display items like headers or borders, or mounting children’s artwork for display. Items can be transferred to and from the classroom via a wheely-bag manned by your child, provided the turnaround required is timely for you. Be flexible in your thinking about the sorts of assistance you can provide.
If you have a partner or spouse who is working, seeking flexible work arrangements can make an enormous difference to the family’s quality of life, too. My husband transferred from working as a permanent employee to being a self-employed contractor. Now he is able to take our son for sports practice two evenings a week and work those missing hours later from home. It also means he can attend medical appointments with me without the stress of dealing with his work about time off.
Regrettably, there are some problems we wish we could fix that no amount of ‘no.8 wire thinking’ will help. But when it comes to managing daily life in the home, maybe all you need is a little twist of ingeniousness.
How do you do it?