Sheltered Diaries: Sisters of Red Talk About the ‘Blended Day’

Erin Duvall and Molly Duvall Thomas have seven children between them, and just like most of us, have been trying to blend working from home with teaching from home.

The sisters, who live in Dallas, founded Sisters of Red in 2017 as a creative outlet and platform for inspiration, fashion advice, travel tips, music picks, design, fitness, and “all things real and beautiful.”

More recently, though, the two have shifted their focus to helping their avid followers navigate life during the pandemic, promoting positivity and encouragement.

And like the rest of us, they’ve found that trying to achieve balance can ultimately be pretty stressful – so they’re looking for more of a “blended” day that allows for getting all the “work” done, keeping kids entertained, and promoting family harmony (even when you’ve all been staring at each other for going on two months).

The sisters sat down with us for a virtual chat about what their pandemic days are like, what they miss, and what they’ve gained.

PN: I’m sure you’ve all seen the various posts about how we’re not doing school and work at home, we’re doing it during a crisis, which is different. But at some point, we want our homes to be kind of havens from the stress – how do you reconcile the stress from this entire situation and the desire for home to be this family-friendly haven away from that?  

Courtesy Sisters of Red

Molly: Every week we seem to run into the same problems of too much technology in the house. Now that school is taught electronically, I struggle with the kids wanting to also be on Xbox or their devices. I have made a point to keep that to a minimum and make sure that they are outside as much as possible throughout the day.

We have definitely had days of bad weather and we have to accept the unavoidable ‘parenting fail’ that they are stuck inside without friends and spending way too much time in front of screens. It has definitely been a struggle with my two boys, who are 10 and 11, and my 7-year-old daughter. 

During the week we try to wake up and get the school day going early; and we do our best to knock it out by 11:30 a.m., which includes breaks outside when needed. I leave time in the mornings to help the kids with schoolwork and set aside some time midday for my own work. Afternoons are filled with bike riding, outdoor art, and cooking meals.

The more activities together, the better.  When we are playing and having fun together, it takes away from all the stress and the “unknown” surrounding the virus with all of our unanswered questions. There are challenges with focusing on schoolwork, but we are trying to have a sense of humor about being our children’s teachers.”

Erin: “I think it is super important to stick to a schedule and compartmentalize homework, schoolwork, and home life. We do homework pretty early in the morning when my kids are fresh and awake, and it helps keep everyone from getting frustrated. My children range in age, and I find it helpful to get the boys started with their school work knowing I will have to give extra attention to my twin girls who are toddlers. They are amazing, but they are a handful.

Three-year-olds always bring a level of excitement into your life, but with that excitement can also bring a lot of daily struggles and frustration. As a single mother of four kids, balancing work and all four kids’ needs while we are all at home can be a struggle, and sometimes I have to take a step away from the twins to focus on the boys or vice versa.  And a mere minute away from the twins has been known to bring on some not so pleasant surprises.

The other day I stepped away to help my oldest son with some of his homework. In the short three-minute period, one of my twins had covered her whole body (face included) with permanent marker. I didn’t even know we had permanent markers in our house, so obviously this came as a huge surprise to me. Multiple days/baths and a lot of scrubbing later, it all finally came off. Haha!”

The more fun they are having, and the more time we spend doing things together, the less anxious and frustrated they feel, and the smoother the days go.” – Molly Duvall Thomas

PN: Can you guys explain the “blended” day? How does this help your families?

Molly: With the stay at home order with businesses and schools being closed, we have struggled to find balance in our lives. Our days are no longer broken up by school, work, playdates, dinner outings, etc. as we shelter in place at home. Instead, we have turned our focus on how we can have a blended day. Erin and I are similar in our parenting and really seek for a “blended day.” There will never be perfect balance, but finding the perfect blend makes the hard days a little easier. 

What can we do to take this virus day by day and keep our families entertained and feeling at ease? One important thing we’ve been doing is having the kids read every day. Whether it’s a chapter from a book or something informational in a magazine or newspaper, we’re having them read and retell what they have learned with the family.

We’re also coming up with creative activities that everyone can enjoy and keeps the kids active. Making a dance floor out of old Amazon boxes and learning Tik Tok dances, collecting coins all over the house, and learning how to count money, are a few ways we’re getting the kids moving.

The more fun they are having, and the more time we spend doing things together, the less anxious and frustrated they feel, and the smoother the days go.”

Erin: “The world had started to spin at such a rapid pace. I felt that with all of our activities, work and school, we were running out of time every single day and along the way missing some of the small yet very important things in my kiddos lives. We kept saying we will get to that when we have a little bit more time. So it’s been nice to have that – without the distraction.

A little ‘win’ for us is that both of my boys learned to tie their shoelaces. And that my youngest son finally mastered bike riding. It wasn’t rocket science, it’s just that we had the time and patience to devote to it, and his huge smile made it all worth it. I will definitely take this forward with me when we resume life as we knew it.

We want our kids to look back at this time and not think about how scared, lonely, bored, or frustrated they were, but remember all the good times they had. Everyone is going to have off days and moments where they struggle, but we are trying to end each day on a high note. Whether it be watching a movie together as a family, putting on a puppet show, or going around the dinner table and each sharing one good thing that happened that day, we want these days to be only great memories.

We understand that balance will never be achieved, so I like to celebrate the little victories. It’s not about finding balance in your daily schedule, but finding what works specifically for your family to keep them happy and safe. For us it’s a lot of running around in the backyard and doing outdoor crafts.”

“You will not win every day. In these situations, it is not possible. And most importantly, you are not alone.” – Erin Duvall

PN: What is your biggest piece of advice for parents who feel like they’re struggling? 

Molly: “Take it day by day. This is a hard situation for all of us and we can only do our best! I do think it works best in our house if we have Monday-Thursday be our school days and have longer weekends.

I have two boys who are pretty self-sufficient which has made the process easier! My first grader needs a little more hand-holding during the school hours.

The benefit of this time together has been to get outside more and enjoy the beauty of our community over bike rides and walks. We are usually so busy with sports and activities during the school year, so this has been a nice change of pace.”

Erin: “We are not the best at coming up with constant activities for our kids and actually believe that a child’s imagination is their best asset when it comes to idle time. We believe in turning off the TV, making them go outside and just have fun…whether that means they get the water hose going and end up completely drenched, or they play a game of horse at the basketball hoop.

But there are a lot of days where we are just not all in sync and there are tears or resistance over having to do homework, tears over feeling overwhelmed, tears over just being a three-year-old and some days it is so loud and no matter what I do, I can’t seem to quiet the noise.

Those are the days that I just accept the hard day that it was and say we will try again tomorrow – and then I usually have a glass of wine and call a friend to vent. Nine out of ten times, my friends are feeling the same way.

You will not win every day. In these situations, it is not possible. And most importantly, you are not alone. We are not superheroes. We are human. Stay connected with your people. It makes it much easier to get through it all.”

PN: I read a piece a few days ago that talks about how disproportionate the labor distribution is during this time, with women doing a lion’s share of the homeschooling, extra meals, etc. How do we even that playing field a bit? And how do we make sure we’re still drawing boundaries for ourselves to allow for “me” time, even though we’re all in the same house?

Molly: “My husband is very hands-on with the kids, so that has been a huge help. We have been grilling more with the beautiful spring nights, and he enjoys doing that for the family. It helps that I’m not always doing the cooking.

I allow myself  ‘me’ time every day with a run, a workout with a friend or by myself! It’s important that I get a workout in every day.”

Erin: “Again, I believe it is about setting boundaries and compartmentalizing your time. If you are upfront with what everyone needs to feel heard, needed and not completely overworked and under-appreciated, then you will remain balanced much longer than if you were not deliberate with your wants and needs.

My children have an understanding that I need their help more right now with the dishes, laundry, household chores, so it frees me up to do other things I need to do. It is about teamwork right now more than ever. 

There is never enough alone time for anyone right now. But I do try and work out every day and take a few minutes in the morning to myself while I drink my coffee (this does not always happen, but is a win in my book when it does). I try and wind down at night by watching a show, talking to a friend or reading a book to recenter myself before having to do it all again come the morning sun. And wine or some tequila always helps, haha!”

PN: What is one thing you miss the most right now?

Molly: “I miss playing tennis in the mornings and then going to a fun lunch at Le Bilboquet with my girlfriends. I also miss date nights with my husband and sitting on restaurant patios with our dear couple friends.”

Erin: “I miss date nights with my significant other or having a fun girls night out. Catching up over a glass of wine, without the constant interruption of work or family. I also miss having family get-togethers where kids can run freely and parents can sit side by side catching up on life.”

PN: What’s one surprising thing you love right now – a silver lining, if you will?

Molly: “How casual the day is. There is nowhere to go so I typically stay in my workout clothes all day long.”

Erin: “Because of the state of the world, it has forced my family to slow down a bit and really appreciate at a much greater level the people in our lives and how blessed we truly are.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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