FQW Shrout

Roni Lynn Shrout, right, and her family in Montpelier.

Stay-at-home mom and low-income advocate Roni Lynn Shrout, of Montpelier, discusses how the pandemic has affected her family.

How are you handling self-isolation?Our handling of self-isolation has fluctuated, but gradually improved as it continued. At first we simply grappled with the disbelief of the new reality and the bleak outlook for the near future, though through time we became more accustomed to the “new normal” and more conditioned to how to deal with it. Cabin fever sets in from time to time, but fortunately we can venture into the backyard or the sparsely populated area around our house. The kids have been wanting (sometimes seemingly demanding) more screen time, and we’ve given in to an extent to allow time to connect with friends and others. Our toddler keeps us on our toes and requires us to come up with plans and activities to keep him occupied and distracted. Overall, we’ve come to terms with these new restrictions on day-to-day life and think about the solution as a more sustained and long-term approach, not a quick return to how things “used to be,” so we’re able to be realistic about the near future, and deal with things relatively well now that the shock has worn off a bit.

What has been the biggest challenge for you?The biggest challenge for our family has been to get into a routine and somewhat of a regular schedule. Certain things were built into our schedule, namely school for the kids and any regular appointments/meetings we’ve been able to continue online that occur at a definite time. We’ve struggled with the surrounding open-ended and free time. One of the things we learned to do was set goals for the day, no matter how mundane, so that we felt like we were still accomplishing things. Figuring out screen time, like the when and the how long, with the middle-schoolers was another detail that had to be hammered out. We respect their need for connection to friends and things outside the house, but also didn’t want to cave to their desire to constantly be online. It’s been challenging for all of us to come up with or stick to other hobbies and worthwhile activities to pass and not waste time. Our toddler has posed a particular challenge because he is full of energy, doesn’t concentrate on any one thing for very long and has the tendency to “get into things” when he is bored. Coming up with a routine for him, beginning with breakfast and including quiet time in the afternoon, became a starting point. Dinner planning and eating at a consistent time has also been a struggle, sometimes the cooking can get a little too ambitious or begin a little late. Maintaining consistency has been the primary struggle.

What has been the most pleasant surprise?Surprisingly, there has been less arguing and especially less (middle school) drama since this all began. There is still plenty for the middle-schoolers (and us) to gossip about, but a lot of the negativity and obsessing over smaller things or the who-did-what-to-who has fizzled out for the time being. As for the arguing, we’ve still had our issues and struggled with a lot of the same push back, over things like when screen time can occur or doing chores, but these moments don’t blow up into full-fledged arguments the way they sometimes can. Everybody is finding a way to find some individual time, as well as participating in the activities together, and we’ve even had times when all the middle-schoolers did things together for a sustained period without any bickering!

How much of what you’re doing do you think will you carry forward after the pandemic?Honestly, I think that initially some things that we’ve been doing or changed will stick with us, then some will begin to fizzle away. I think health-related concerns will stick with us the most, including consciousness of space/distancing, weary of being in large crowds and generally thinking about clean habits, particularly handwashing. This, however, I think will be more pertinent with us parents, and probably sooner disregarded with the kids. I hope our scheduling and goal planning continue and grow because regardless of the situation, it makes for better productivity and more of a sense of accomplishment. I know the kids will want to be hanging out with friends and back to socializing as soon as they are permitted, but we will definitely continue at a more cautious pace.

And what do you feel the lessons will be that come out of all of this?The most simple lesson to come of all of this is that nothing is a given, that we don’t know how things will be even a week from now. This is something we are all told, and many of us have endured different life-changing experiences that reiterate this notion, but even through the tragedies or hard times, we personally have never encountered a situation where tomorrow and the foreseeable future was being confined to the house and not being able to work or shop or socialize relatively normally. We will also have to look at health and illness in a different way, and be more aware and careful when we’re out and about. We will have learned that we can maintain a normality among chaos, and that better planning leads to more production (which we’ve always known but haven’t been able to successfully practice all the time). We also have become more aware that there are things we can do without, or at least less often, that can make our daily lives a little less hectic. Once things settle and return to a more normal state, which seems to still be quite a bit away, we’ll have a much better idea of what we’ve actually learned.

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