Healthcare professionals and common sense tell us that health is a comprehensive issue. Mental health relates to physical health. Spiritual health influences emotional health. Intellectual health cannot avoid its relationship with familial health. The health of a person pertains to the whole person, even if we can make distinctions and differences as to what needs attention. The coming weeks will be an opportunity for parents to get creative in maturing the health of their families and the individuals therein. Families that dig their heels in, who fuss about the opportunity, who complain about the circumstances, who do not find joy in the suffering, will indeed spread a virus among the family’s members, a virus worse than what any child could physically contract. The family who sees this as an opportunity for growth, for maturation, for creative parenting, will reap the benefits for years to come. Here are a few suggestions on how to keep a home-bound healthy family.
10. Keep a good routine. This does not mean running a make-shift military academy. This simply means not being aimless, not allowing long stretches of idleness, keeping good structure, in which we know humans, and especially children, flourish. Create a family calendar. Be balanced about it. Plan time blocks of various activities. Plan down time. Plan time outdoors. Plan movie times. Keeping a good routine is the first step to balanced activities and balanced emotions in the home. Going along with keeping a good routine is setting aside physical space for certain reasons. It is likely mom and dad may have to work from home, and so there should be space set aside for that to happen, space the children know is reserved for that activity. Set up a temporary curtain, set up a folding table in the corner of a room, make a temporary work space that can allow activities in the home to be separated, along with the routine of those activities.
9. Go for a family walk. This is a simple and enjoyable way to get outside, in the sun, with a bit of exercise. This is important for every member of the family, especially children, whose energy must find a purposeful and periodic outlet. This also gives movement to a neighborhood and allows those in the neighborhood to see the continuation of life. As you go on the walk, set some basic rules: 1) we keep a healthy distance from neighbors, 2) we do not run our hands on large surfaces, 3) play a game or enjoy nature, 4) when we return, wash our hands well.
8. Clean and organize some things you’ve neglected. When the Lord confines us to something, it is an opportunity to focus on something we’ve neglected, to look around our physical space and consider something we’ve left “unloved.” Humans must work within confines, always, and being more confined now does not mean we cannot still ask ourselves, “What around me needs to be better cared for?” This time of focus will show there are ares which need our attention, both physical and non-physical.
7. Pray and sing. Our homes and neighborhoods, though now more isolated, should have all the treasures of humanity therein. And this is most especially true for those human activities which lift the spirit, care for the soul, and further bind the members of the family in basic friendship. If your family is looking for something to guide its time in family prayer, you can find a helpful guide here. As for singing, play music around the house. Learn the doxology. Search Youtube or other platforms for recordings to sing along with.
6. Don’t be a boring person. Boring people get bored. N.D. Wilson once said that “If you are bored it’s because you are boring.” Make a house rule that no one can say “I’m bored!” Have a list of things for “bored children” to do, and you may quickly find they aren’t all that bored: clean the baseboards, clean out the refrigerator, draw a picture for a friend, dust the fans, memorize a passage of literature, do ten push-ups and ten sit-ups every time you say you are bored, sing a song a capella in front of the whole family, write a one-man-play to perform in front of the family. This can be your “Remedies to Boredom” list, drawn from a cup at random.
5. Learn to have good conversations. Conversations are not just a lost art, but a lost human activity, a lost political necessity, a lost fertilizer for the soul. Set aside time each day to learn to have good conversations with your family, to teach them to not interrupt, to listen, to be still and focus on a single train of thought, to visit and share stories of your childhood. The “down time” afforded us in the coming weeks can truly be a time to rest, and they can also be a time to recover many of those basic human activities we often neglect in our bustling modern lives.
4. Serve your neighbor. Love will have to become more localized in this time, more immediate. While we sometimes think we are loving our neighbor by flurrying throughout the city and going serve our neighbors way over there, we now have to serve the neighbor that is on the roadside, or next door, or in the room right next to us. I encourage each healthy man in the family to put a note in each mailbox on their street. In that note, let your neighbors know you are there if they need help. Be prepared to go pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor, or simply call them and visit, or check on them if they are feeling ill. Leave the family at home, and go out and help, in your health and strength. Keep healthy boundaries, of course, and do what you can to stay well, but go serve. Your family will see you do this, and it will stimulate not just ongoing health in them, it may even foster virtues in your children you otherwise may have missed. Bring the family to do some landscaping for a neighbor. Let the neighbor know you will not be coming in the home or getting close to them, only coming over to beautify their yard. Perhaps the service some of us will be required to provide will be even more sacrificial than these suggestions, and for that we ought to be ready.
3. Limit screen time. It will be a temptation of many to ramp up screen time, to put the raucous children in front of a movie so they stay out of our hair and off of each other’s nerves. But this will make for an unhealthy family, and an unhealthy child, even if there feels to be short-term reprieve. Limit screen time to a small portion per day, or isolate it to only certain days of the week. In our home, Friday and Saturday are movie days. Our children can choose from a group of movies we allow. And we allow them to watch one or two movies that day, depending on what else we have going on, if they are sick, etc. Other than that, the television is off. They can play games, sing, read, go outside, build, create, argue with each other and learn from it, bug us so we can grow as parents, make a mess they will have to learn to clean up, etc. Limiting screen time also goes for adults. Get off social media. Stop reading your emails. Stop scrolling the endless hole of the internet. Put the screen down and attend to your family. Be creative. Don’t be boring.
2. Be good soil. Your children are seeds, and your home has always been the soil. You may now realize that more than ever. Be purposeful in creating the soil your children need to be great adults. "[A child's] character is forming under a principle, not of choice, but of nurture. The spirit of the house is breathed into his nature, day by day. The anger and gentleness, the fretfulness and patience - the appetites, passions, and manners - all the variant moods of feeling exhibited around him, pass into him as impressions, and become seeds of character in him; not because the parents will, but because it must be so, whether they will or not. They propagate their own evil in the child, not by design, but under a law of moral infection...The spirit of the house is in the members of the children by nurture, not by teaching, not by any attempt to communicate the same, but because it is the air the children breathe...Understand that it is the family spirit, the organic life of the house, the silent power of a domestic godliness, working as it does, unconsciously and with sovereign effect - this it is which forms your children to God." (Christian Nurture by Horace Bushnell)
1. Be who you want your children to be. If you are grumpy, and bored, and anxious, and annoyed, and short-tempered, and ungrateful, and fussy with your child or spouse, or depressed, or idle, your children will be the same. However, if are thoughtful, content, creative, patient, forgiving, purposeful, and pleasant, you can expect your children will mirror that. When they do not mirror you in that, or at least when that one child does not, you will be in a healthy place personally to respond and parent properly.
Unless the reader gets confused by the title, it must be stated that there is no healthy family without a home. That is, the healthy family is always, in a sense, home-bound. However, I have refrained here from the important argument to prove that the family is, in its essence, home-bound and that the modern family would do well to recover that tether. I have also refrained here from too many lengthy and important quotes, from speaking of the home as Homer did, as Augustine did, as Chesterton did. I have refrained from that so that this post could put our feet on the ground, where we will have to be the next few months. But it ought to be stated that what those men said of the home, and the centrality of the home for all humanity, will be built into our children if the above counsel is heeded, and the modern man may once again realize that there is no such thing as a healthy family without a healthy home. In all this, the aim is simple: treat even dark providence, unexpected turns in our lives, as gifts from God, opportunities to teach our children the great privilege of being fully human. The world has given us a crowned virus; let us fashion the time to give our children crowns of righteousness.