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Survival Techniques for Reverse Isolation by Beth Moran

Having worked at home for nearly 20 years, my transition to a lockdown life has probably been easier than most. I’m used to going all day without speaking to another person, and often only went outside to walk my dog.

In a strange sort of ‘reverse isolation’, my biggest challenge is no longer being Daytime Queen of the House, following my own particular routines and weird habits, with all the space I want to think and no-one to hear me talk to myself  the dog.

With my husband now working at home, my 17 year old off school and my older children (age 19 and 21) back home for the lockdown, I’m now trying to work around 4 other adults in the house.

And, while of course having everyone around for every single second of the day is lovely, and a time I will probably look back on and wish I’d appreciated more, 5 independent, opinionated adults together under one roof isn’t always the most conducive atmosphere to working creatively. So, I’ve ramped up my Tools to Enable Getting Any Work at Home Done Ever, and come up with the following list of survival techniques. You might find it helpful. If you’re trying to balance work with caring for small children, you might find it depressingly impossible – hang on in there, your time of toileting and breakfasting alone will come. If you’re on furlough, then you can read it and smile smugly to yourself. If you live alone, then my heart goes out to you. I hope you can arrange to ‘coincidentally’ stand in the queue for the supermarket behind someone you love.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, this is how we’re surviving so far:

  1. I still remember the challenges of coming back from uni to live at home (I lasted 3 weeks before moving out again). My 19 year old is supposed to be living here next year, studying with the University of British Columbia:

Instead he’ll probably be back in Birmingham. Enough said. My daughter was meant to be teaching in Spain before starting her Barrister career. Both are now up in the air. This whole thing is mentally and emotionally exhausting for everyone. I’ve raised children with vastly differing personalities. Thank goodness their dad is so laid back. But kindness is key. Buy each other treats. Understand we have different priorities. Express our gratitude and appreciation often. Say sorry, whenever we need to, which in my case can be often, too.

2. While I’ve cooked for a houseful of teenagers before, we’ve never had a time where all 5 of us are eating all meals and snacks at home, every day. Also, if we’re being honest, treats are what’s going to get us through this thing, and in our house that primarily translates to food. So, we are all taking turns with the endless shopping, cooking, baking, being the one to suggest another takeaway. We also eat together every evening apart from Fridays. It’s 30 minutes when everyone has some face-to-face human interaction, creates a tiny bit of routine, plus I get to remind them of all the things they swear I never told them in the first place.

3. The Sunday before lockdown, I cooked a roast dinner, sat everyone down and asked how they wanted housework to be shared out. Having had COVID-19 early in March, I was (and still am) far too knackered to be doing it myself or having to nag people to do it. While we could argue that the state of the house doesn’t matter when no-one but us is going to see it, a certain measure of tidiness/cleanliness is important for my mental health. Because some mess is inevitable with so many people and the contents of 2 students digs about the place, I’ve resorted back to my tactics from when they were small, and have relocated my desk/Queendom from the main house to the conservatory, so I can control the environment in at least one room (when they were pre-schoolers, I used to keep the kitchen clean and tidy while the rest of the house went to pot).

4. Social anxiety as a young adult resulted in me tending towards something of a control freak within my own 4 walls. Too often this turns me into a naggy wife/mum. So, I’m reminding myself constantly that this is an unprecedented season. My family are old enough to decide when they want to sleep, shower, exercise, study and join in with family quiz night. As long as they don’t wake me up by turning the bathroom fan on after 11.30, it’s cool. I’m also extending this new chilled out regime to myself, having abandoned to-do lists (to give an idea of how significant lists were in my pre-lockdown life, my system included a minimum of 3 lists at any one time).

5. As an extreme introvert, I’ve always needed bucketloads of time alone. With 5 of us, that just isn’t happening. Hence me setting up my desk in the conservatory, which feels that bit separate from the rest of the house. Starting the day off with a long dog walk is vital, and I’m guarding my headphones fiercely. Eyes closed, podcast on, I can pretend to be the only person for miles.

I could offer suggestions on whether to get dressed or stay in your pyjamas all day. Whether to create a set routine or take each day as it comes. Whether to impose targets and deadlines before clocking back onto social media or taking another cake break, or to just be chill about the whole thing. But the truth is, like all of the above, if being stuck at home with 5 adults all day has taught me anything, it’s that we all need to find our own way of getting through this. I think the only golden rule is the one that’s got us through 21 years of family life so far: be respectful, be kind and find plenty of moments to laugh together. Oh, and stay safe, everyone. I’ll hopefully see some of you soon.

Beth Moran’s latest novel How Not To Be A Loser is available now in ebook, audiobook and paperback. Get your copy today by clicking on the cover below.