Re-Establishing Balance after Illness Strikes
For 1.5 weeks, a stomach bug ran its course through our family. Each of us had it and it was not a fun time. It seems to be annual thing and I’m so thankful that this particular one only lasted for 8 hours, though that relatively brief amount of time left each of us weak and exhausted, and needing an additional 1-2 days before feeling back up to snuff. Needless to say, our family routines were thrown off. A lot.
The last one to get it was MrH on Thanksgiving day. That weekend I felt cranky, needy, and overwhelmed. It took me a few days to realize what was happening, but once I did, we were able to start the slow process of re-finding our balance, as individuals and as a family. For the next time we all fall ill, I hope I can follow a similar process, though being more proactive about it in order to prevent those few days of short tempers.
First, realize what’s going on and empathize with yourself. This was really important for me. I had to really acknowledge that it was completely natural for me to be feeling this way. After all, for 1.5 weeks I had not had the chance to socialize with my friends, missed out on exercise (what limited amount I get), had no alone time during the day, and had rearranged my normal evening routine in order to recoup some of the previously mentioned losses. Oh and then there were the nights spent up with vomiting children (or myself…). I was not a pretty picture, and once I stopped to think about why that was, I could stop berating myself for it.
Second, choose to let some things go. While laundry had to happen, I chose to only do the dirty stuff resulting from the illness. All other laundry had to wait. Our drawers were empty and pants had been worn a few times more than usual, but we were still all dressed. We switched to disposable diapers. We continued to do dishes but didn’t do our usual weekly chores. My Eldest bought a few more lunches, and we all had a bit more take-out than usual.
Next, find some ways to take care of yourself, even though it’ll be less than you would normally do. One evening, I sewed. Many nights, I went to bed only shortly after the kids were down, relying on MrH to do the dishes. I worked hard but also made sure to sit still every day. I made coffee at home and savored it. My kids were allowed to watch more tv so I could get some uninterrupted time (now I need to reduce that again!). MrH and I continued to touch base each night, talking together without interruptions for at least 15 minutes. Oh and we covered up the clocks in the kids’ room so we could get them to bed early. One night it was 45 minutes early! Ah, the beauty of clicking into a routine. They didn’t even question it.
Fourthly, work to get the house back together. MrH tends to go on a cleaning frenzy and I’ll gladly be the beneficiary of that! Though I also worked hard, maxing out one day at 7 loads of laundry. Starting to actually maintain stuff again, asking the kids to help out by doing a few chores. Making sure we’re putting our toys away, etc. During this stage I tend to be most desperate for help and least likely to get it. Once the house is a disaster zone, the kids stop doing their share completely. So I had to really work to remember that this is only a temporary thing – they haven’t turned into entitled bratty children suddenly. They’re just trying to cope in the chaos, with a lot fewer tools than I have at my disposal.
Lastly, return to the normal rhythms and routines. This shouldn’t really be last. Re-establishing those rhythms and routines happens at each of the four previous steps. Eating dinner together continued throughout the illness, as did our pre-bedtime routine. Mornings returned to normal as soon as the kids were caught back up on sleep. Putting toys away after using them was quickly re-established once the house started being clean again. MrH returned to playing basketball and I scheduled time with friends. We’re still working on our family’s Saturday chores. And reducing screen time.
Being a mother, in our family at least, means that I set the tone for our family. For better or worse, the kids feed off my energy. That means it’s critical for me to have the self-awareness to rebound from illness, to re-establish our balance even after we’ve been thrown all out of whack. This time it was just a stomach bug, who knows what it’ll be next time? That time, I hope to be more successful faster, with fewer cranky days before we find our peace again.