I didn’t expect the coronavirus pandemic to make me a better mother, but it did.

As a momma to both an almost 4-year-old and an almost 1-year-old, our pre-COVID life was bustling with homeschool activities, work, and time with family and friends. We scheduled one activity after another, living exactly the way we had the year before, and the year before that.

If there hadn’t been a pandemic, we would probably still be living the same way. I’m not sure why it took a virus to change things up, but I am certainly glad things changed all the same.

We woke up one morning in March to learn that our playdates, weekly library visits, preschool co-op, and homeschool field trips were cancelled. Everything I had been looking forward to in the spring was suddenly gone, and it shook me. I like to stay busy, and the empty weeks stretching out in front of me were terrifying.

I was scared by everything taking place around the globe, but I didn’t want my fear to creep into my children’s lives. We chose not to share the news with them, and my preschooler didn’t even realize anything was different. I didn’t let my children see me worry. We prayed over our home, and we invited our children to pray with us.

And then, we pivoted.

Adapting to change

Instead of bemoaning all the things we couldn’t do, we made space to do things we hadn’t found time to do before. We set up a weekly FaceTime call with my grandmother in Oregon. We did more crafts and danced to Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf ” every day. We made our own library by swapping books with friends, so that our children could enjoy new books. We celebrated Easter, we made matzah for Passover, and we planted a garden.

Every morning after breakfast, I set a blanket on the grass outside and read to my daughters. We collected sticks and leaves, dug for worms, and watched flowers grow. We spent more time outside than ever before.

The news made it seem like the world was falling apart, but our home became a sanctuary. I fell in love with the empty weeks stretching out in front of me, giving us time to create and dream and grow together.

Even now, as life feels mostly normal again, the events of the spring changed me and the way I homeschool. It made me realize that I am a gatekeeper, a steward over my children’s hearts. I am a guardian of their imaginations, a cultivator of their minds, a gardener tending to their young souls. As they grow and mature, I know they’ll gradually learn to take over this gatekeeping for themselves, but right now as preschoolers, they depend on me to be their guide.

Understanding my gatekeeper role

COVID-19 gave me space to appreciate the role of gatekeeper over my home. As a gatekeeper, I can choose to open the gate to fear, chaos, and stress, or I can decide to open it to love, peace, and joy. Throughout the day, I ask myself the same question: what am I opening the gate to today?

My husband and I often remind each other of this. If one of us is stressed or upset, we’ll whisper to the other, “You are a gatekeeper. You set the tone for our home.”

If I’m stressed, my children pick up on it and often become moody themselves, but when I am mindfully pouring out love and joy on our home, my children follow suit.

Being home during the lockdown reminded me of the importance of a home’s atmosphere, from the music we enjoy, to the books we read, to the media we consume.

As a gatekeeper, I can choose to open the gate to fear, chaos, and stress, or I can decide to open it to love, peace, and joy.

Everything I put in front of my children sets the tone for our day. The very things that set the tone for our days create the pattern for our weeks, which ultimately establishes the rhythm of my children’s childhood.

So, what exactly am I opening the gate to?

When I put on a TV show or a movie, I am choosing to open the gate to that particular show. But there are also other, perhaps more important, considerations: What is this show letting in? Is it cultivating wonder in my children’s hearts? Is it opening their eyes to beauty, courage, and goodness?

When I choose books for my daughters, I am opening the gate to each story. Is it instilling good virtue in them? Is it giving their imaginations something to feast on? Is it giving them heroes to admire?

When I play music, I’m opening the gate to that artist and song. Is it fostering an atmosphere of peace in our home?

The words I speak also open the gate. My words can inspire my children and build up their hearts, but if I am not careful, they can also cause strife, cut down, and create insecurities.

Closing the gate

And just as it is important to open the gate to other things, it’s important to sometimes close the gate, too. Precious things, like marriage and motherhood, require protecting. Guard your time together, which may mean occasionally saying no to friends or turning down additional work commitments. Look for ways to protect your family’s core connection moments (for us that includes marital and family Bible studies), which means closing the gate to things that distract. It might be as simple as turning off phones during meal times or not allowing phones in the bedroom at night. Whatever it is for you, protect it.

I ask myself these same questions in our homeschool preschool. When I say yes to a preschool activity, play date, or field trip, it’s because it is something I want to open our gate to. I choose things that inspire wonder and build virtue in my preschooler’s heart.

And I’ll be honest: I open my gate to less now than I did before the pandemic.

For us, homeschool preschool revolves around the teachable moments in everyday life. I teach my preschooler to fold tea towels, can peaches, memorize scripture, practice kindness with her sister, and value good literature and time in nature. While we do these things, we talk about animals that hibernate in winter, the life of Jesus, and ideas for making her room “fancier” than it already is. We have a curriculum we sometimes follow, but we primarily work on age-appropriate skills that flow naturally into our life.

Being a gatekeeper isn’t always easy. When my feet hit the ground in the morning, I am in warrior-mode. No matter how exhausted I may be, I want to open the gate to things that are good.

You are a gatekeeper, too. Rise up and open your gate to things that are good and true and beautiful. Ensure your gate opens to heroes that inspire and virtues that stir young hearts.

By guarding over your gate, you are establishing rhythms that will equip your preschoolers to wonder more deeply, love things that are good, and become young people who are brave and kind.

Note from the author:

As a Christian family, we also love it when things we let through the gate—like TV shows or music—are revealing more about Jesus, turning our kids’ hearts toward Him, and teaching them more about the beautiful world He made for them.

I know that I am not enough to be a perfect gatekeeper, and I also know that’s okay. My go-to solution: I ask the Lord to help me each morning, to give me grace for the long day stretching out before me.

Although I don’t always live up to the standard I desire for my home, I know His grace covers me. There’s always grace for me, and please know that there’s always grace for you—and a fresh, new day tomorrow.