Our New Normal

Our New Normal: 2020

Today is the first day I’ve sat down at the computer to write anything in over 3 weeks.

It feels much longer.

To say that the last 20 something days have been surreal would probably be an understatement, and the fact that I can’t even say that with any form of certainty underscores the shaky ground we all feel like we’ve been walking on.

For us, it started 3 weeks ago when our Spring Break plans to visit our newest nephew in Ft. Worth were dashed. Our family was really looking forward to the trip. In addition to meeting our new nephew/cousin, my wife’s brother, his wife, and their daughter were going to be flying in from Indiana – and her parents were driving up from Houston.

It was going to be a par-tay!

But there was just enough chum in the water so-to-speak regarding the coronavirus stuff that my wife’s brother and sister-in-law in Ft. Worth were a bit anxious about hosting a big family gathering for a week. My wife’s other brother and his wife in Indiana were, understandably, becoming less and less excited about getting inside a giant flying tube in the sky.

The exciting Spring Break par-tay we had been looking forward to was postponed.

But we made the best of our Spring Break week.

We stayed local and visited the zoo and the botanical gardens and local parks. We even took the kids to see Frozen 2 at the dollar movie theater one night. Into the unknown, indeed!

But by the end of Spring Break, the coronavirus news had grown significantly worse and we got the email that school was going to be closed for an additional 2 weeks.

So Spring Break Week 1 seamlessly rolled into an unexpected Spring Break Week 2. For the most part, we continued engaging in fun all-day adventures to local and state parks within an hour or 2 of home.

Finding our New Normal

But by day 10 and 11 of being out of our normal routine and essentially pretending it was still Spring Break, we realized this wasn’t sustainable.

Of course, now we know how fast things moved with the coronavirus and by the end of week 2, we learned that school would be closed for closer to 6 weeks.

Honestly, we’re expecting a notification any day now that just says, “Peace out! We’ll see you all next year!”

Quarantine procedures were soon announced, followed this week by full shelter-in-place measures.

We quickly realized that lying around in our PJ’s all day or taking off on all-day adventures was not going to be sustainable long-term.

As a former teacher, my wife took the lead and created a family schedule to help us get back into some kind of routine.

Our 3rd and 4th graders are doing some schoolwork each day on the Chromebook we picked up from the school, but all this has done is confirm how stupid computer-based-learning is for kids this young. We’d prefer to throw the Chromebook out the window and create our own lessons for the kids – an idea we still bat around almost every day. (Creating the lessons, that is. The Chromebook can live to collect dust for another day.)

While our 4-year-old and 2-year-old were in a Kids Day Out program 2 days a week, the inconsistency of their schedule – along with the fact that neither of them knows what day of the week it is – has meant that the extended break from school has been less jarring for them.

The biggest change for them is that their big brother and sister are home every day, which makes it feel like every day is a weekend, or that it’s summertime.

Confined to the house, most of our time has been consumed with imposing the new family schedule and keeping the kids learning and growing and not just sitting in front of the TV all day. In fact, our kids might actually watch less TV now than when they were in school.1

The biggest change for me and my wife is that all of our passion projects have basically come to a halt, thus my neglecting the blog these past 3 weeks.

Our project time was coupled very tightly with the kids’ school schedules, so as soon as those went away, the time we had carved out for our own efforts did too.

Choices From the Past

But we’re not complaining. We recognize that we are extremely blessed to be able to both be home full time during this crazy crisis.

We are blessed that we don’t have any work-from-home responsibilities to attend to while also fulfilling the role of home-educator and primary-entertainment-coordinator for our kiddos.

We see the stress in our friends and family that are coping with work responsibilities (many of which are compounded by new work-from-home logistics) while also juggling the daily needs of their children.

The balance for working parents has been completely shattered, and it doesn’t look like it’s coming back anytime soon.

We are all operating in a new normal that we are going to have to sustain for some time.

That prospect seems dire for many people.

For us, this crazy time has been an overwhelming confirmation that the hard choices and sacrifices we’ve made over the last 15 years were abundantly worth it.

Some of those choices include:

  • Taking control of our money by doing a budget, even though it sucked.
  • Choosing to live off of only one income even before we ever had kids.
  • My wife choosing to be a stay-at-home mom so she could be available as needed for the kids.
  • Buying a house that was worth much less than the bank was telling us we could afford.
  • Paying off all our debt and never going into debt again, even paying cash for our cars.
  • Paying off our house way early to eliminate our mortgage payment and secure our home against possible financial struggles.
  • Living off of 60% of our income and investing the rest for years and years.
  • Building up an emergency fund of 2 years of living expenses in cash just in case something crazy happened. (Welcome to crazy!)

All those decisions, some of which we made way back in 2005, are paying dividends right now in 2020.

I don’t know what your situation looks like right now, but I’m hoping that you are seeing some positive results from healthy money choices you’ve made in the past.

Or maybe this is the wake-up call you needed to start thinking about managing your money differently.

Making one good money choice and stacking it on top of another, again and again, is the only way to make progress. Over months and years, those choices will result in a solid financial foundation that you won’t always feel like you need – until suddenly you do.

If you’re looking for a way to take control of your finances, my How to Do A Budget tutorial is a great place to start.

If you’re already familiar with budgeting, but want to find an app that will help you get organized and start moving forward, here are 3 great apps to check out. Pick one and start making progress today.

If you’re more of a spreadsheet nerd and don’t want to pay a monthly fee to manage your own money, sign up here to get my Live Your Wage Budget Spreadsheet for free. It’s a fantastic way to get started.

And finally, if you’re just overwhelmed and stressed out with all the change and uncertainty right now, take a moment and walk away from the computer or put down your phone. Find a moment to step away from your work, your kids, your spouse even, and breathe.

Stop reading and thinking about all the things you can’t control. That list is never-ending.

Instead, focus on 3 critical things you can control

  1. Your Attitude
  2. Your Words
  3. Your Actions

It may sound impossible, or downright silly, but you can choose to have a good attitude today. Think about 1 or 2 of your blessings and focus on the bright side of your personal situation. My wife has been documenting “The Bright Side of Ample Family Time” on Facebook, making a list of things she’s grateful for during this time. Even though there’s likely a much longer list of things that are frustrating, she’s choosing to dwell on the good things.

Choose to use positive words and words of encouragement when speaking to your co-workers or your kids, or even yourself as you think inside your head. It doesn’t feel like a very positive time right now, but being negative to others or yourself isn’t going to improve the situation.

And finally, choose to take action. Some things in this life simply happen to us, but how we choose to respond will undoubtedly shape our future in ways we can’t imagine today. Choose to do things today that your future self will be proud of.

To The Future!

Hopefully, it won’t be another 3 weeks before I’m back here writing again, but who knows. I’m choosing to write today and that’s all I can control right now.

We’re all living in a new normal and figuring things out day by day. Let’s make the best choices we can today, then try to do that again tomorrow.

In the meantime, I hope you and your family stay safe and stay motivated to keep moving forward even as it feels like everything around us is grinding to a halt.

Header photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

  1. When they were in school, we felt like they “deserved” some downtime in front of the TV 2 or 3 days a week. Now that we see everything they’re doing all day, we have tons of activities – puzzles, games, art projects, etc. – for indoors, and we’ve got the trampoline in the backyard or to the sidewalk chalk and basketball hoop in the front. No time, or need, for TV.

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