Being expat

Staying home with teens in times of COVID19 #3 To plan or not to plan, that’s the question


At the moment our teenagers have term break. We have spent many holidays at home in the past, but during COVID19 the social distancing and extra precautions when going out for walks etc. feel way more limiting for my teenagers (and me!). Also, they just got into the new routine of remote learning and this additional change is not making the situation any easier.

What can they possibly do during these long hours, if they don’t need (or want) to study every day, can’t meet up with friends, or do any of the activities they did with friends in the past…

We have a great collection of board games, but what if nobody wants to play at the same time?

I must confess that during the first days I thought that a stricter schedule for everyone would help us “stay connected” and would be beneficial for the whole family. Those who know me, know that I like plans...

But my children and this situation taught me that flexibility and compromises are key these days.
The more I let them just be and decide about what they want and need to do at different moments of the day and week, the better for us all. The only restriction they have is: no loud music, playing table tennis, being louder than “normal dB” when my husband or I have online meetings.

We now have what I call time pillars where we meet and connect: breakfast and dinner.

We also have regular random moments of one-on-one or small group time, where we play table tennis in the garden, board games, card games, where we watch a Netflix series etc.

I know that regular random moments sounds silly and impossible (how can something be random and regular?!) but we try our best to have a conversation and a bonding moment with at least 3 persons per day: that’s the regular part of it. Only that this can’t be scheduled and it doesn’t happen every day! If one misses out one day for some reason, he or she will try to make up for it the following days (note the plural: no need to be strict!).

The decision not to plan doesn’t mean that all is chaos. We allow more space and freedom to everyone. This is actually what I like in having to stay at home with my three teenagers: I don’t have to be around them all the time, their attention spam is quite long (!) and they have their ways to either cope with boredom or keep busy – I need to work on my tendency to be OCD and “let it go” when the kitchen is a mess and I have to clear spaces before I can sit, eat or anything else… (I hear my children already complain… “but that’s not so bad, mum!…”)

The other day, when one of my daughters couldn’t get her siblings to play a game with her, she made a cake. At another time, she rearranged the pantry. – There is so much to do in a house where 5 persons and a dog are constantly moving around…

One of my initial plans consisted in distributing tasks equally among all of us: it failed because I didn’t assign the tasks depending on the skills of the individual person, but was rather focusing on what everyone should contribute, and there is a continuum from tasks I don’t like at all to tasks I really like. All I had to do is find out who is where on the continuum for every task on my list.


If I had handled the situation in the same way I distribute tasks among collaborators, it would have worked like a charm! And so it does now. Everyone has tasks they like, and that they’re good at. Surprisingly, those tasks I don’t like were happily taken by two of my children: everyone is happy now.

Last but not least: it’s all in the way we say things…

I should know this as I train people become more effective communicators, and still… when we deal with our own family, we always hope that they read the air (= understand without us needing to explain why, when etc.). It won’t happen. Not even with our dearest ones! Therefore: it’s better to never assume things are clear if we don’t use a clear language…

What I learned so far with planning and not planning:

  • having a plan does not guarantee that it works, and that everyone is happy with it…
  • it’s more a combination of plans that works best with teenagers and adults: everyone has a (different!) feeling for “time” and doesn’t need to be bossed around (and honestly, I need that energy for other things)
  • my family is my team, and if I am a good leader, teamwork works like a charm
  • it’s all in the way we communicate with each other: “wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus”/ what goes around, comes around.

How is it with your family these days?

Do you have a set plan, a clear routine?

What works for you, and what not?
Please share in the comments – yes, I’m curious…

Categories: Being expat

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