Dr. Jeanie Tse shares advice for parents on how to manage social distancing and urging them to create a flexible schedule that includes some precious “alone time.”
Social distancing presents an opportunity and challenge to city parents experiencing “two worlds colliding in our space and in our face.”
NEW YORK CITY — A Manhattan mom paused from her telephone interview with Patch to quiz her daughter about online learning classes and chastise her husband about clipping his nails in the living room.
“How’s it working?” said the mom, who asked not to be named in this story. “I’m at Day 3, and it’s already toenail clippings.”
This is the new normal of parenting in New York as the fight against the new coronavirus has thrown children and parents together in compact city homes for an unknown period.
In the weeks ahead, families across the five boroughs will be tasked with turning their apartments into schoolrooms, offices, playpens and restaurants, all while struggling to pay the bills as the city works to curtail the spread.
“No one can tell you when you’re going back to work,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told New Yorkers last week. “No one can tell you when this is going to end.”
That’s the concern of Gail K., a 61-year-old mom and grant writer from Queens who said her battle will be an economic one.
Both she and her husband Jim, a psychologist, are self-employed and supporting their 22-year-old daughter Emma, who attends City University of New York’s School of Professional Studies from home.
“My husband is 66, I’m not sure if he should be going out to see patients, but we need the money,” Gail said. “There are a lot of people like us.”
Gail worries about her daughter, who should be going out with friends, and that if work dries up with nonprofits — including one to save endangered Ecuadorian parrots — she won’t be able to pay for her $1,700-a-month health insurance.
“We could tap into retirement, but that means we’ll be stealing from our retirement,” Gail said. “It would be bad.”
These economic fears are not Gail’s alone. Mayor Bill de Blasio compared the coronavirus crisis to the Great Depression, and experts fear that the state’s closure of all nonessential businesses could trigger an economic crisis unlike any other.
But if the fight against COVID-19 presents a challenge unlike any other, it also presents an opportunity, according to Dr. Jeanie Tse, a psychiatrist specializing in childhood issues at the Institute for Community Living.
“It’s a special opportunity to have lunch with your kids every day,” Tse said. “Discovering your kid. That’s what having a kid is about.”
Tse, who’s also figuring out how to do her job and take care of her young son, has spent the past few days sharing advice with friends suddenly faced with taking care of their children and working full time from home.
The New York psychiatrist and mom urged parents to create a routine — one that “has to be flexible so you don’t drive yourself crazy” — that includes time for play, interacting virtually with friends, exercise and, with luck, some alone time for everyone.
“Everyone is going to need timeouts,” Tse said. “Find your space where he can go to cool down and you can escape when you’re getting angry.”
But it can be easier said than done.
Mom Melissa Hatter told Patch she’s put the focus on routine, trying to create balance for her son while she and her husband work from home, but is still figuring out how to make time for three lives in one home.
“It’s a lot of juggling and pretty stressful,” Hatter said. “Right now, it’s less day by day and more hour by hour in how we are coping.”
Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, believes creating an online community is going to be the key for struggling parents and their kids, and to that end published a parent’s guide to surviving COVID-19.
Her recommendations include virtual babysitting with grandparents — she’ll be making pies with her grandkids this week — doing online yoga classes and taking virtual tours of the world on GoogleMaps.
Working and parenting from home also will take some creativity, which is why she wants families to start making art with their kids.
“Art is a release,” Hirsh-Pasek said. “They’ve experienced a loss. If that’s inside them, they get a chance to express it.”
Music is another way to keep the kids engaged that studies show will teach them coping skills they’ll need in the months ahead, such as self-control.
“I have to make sure my pattern goes with your pattern,” she said. “We need some self-regulation skills to do that.”
Finally, Hirsh-Pasek told parents not to expect every day to be a win and to have patience with themselves.
“Trying to get children to wash their hands for two ‘Happy Birthdays’ and to not pick their noses and lick their fingers won’t be easy,” she said.
“This situation requires a Herculean response,” she said. “There are at least a few things to put into place as we fight these two worlds colliding in our space and in our face.”
Space is the issue for the Manhattan mom — who suddenly has found herself living with two teenage daughters and a husband armed with a nail clipper — which is why whenever she has an important phone call to make, she turns on this sign:
“How do we cook while we’re all working from home? Time the laundry while your husband has a meeting?” she said. “We need cohesion.”
To that end, the Manhattan mom tries to give her kids choices whenever possible so that when she says she needs a quiet space or the dishwasher unloaded, they feel like helping.
Just as an example, one daughter has set up a squash wall in the apartment, she said.
“So many decisions have been taken away from them,” she explained. “They’re supposed to be looking at colleges.”
Before hanging up the phone, and after issuing her nail clipper directive, the Manhattan mom detailed the romantic gift her husband recently gave her on their 20-year anniversary: a hand sanitizer dispenser.
“You just have to show gratitude,” she said. “I’m doing as much as I can.”