Alpha, Beta, Delta, Lambda, Omicron… sadly, I’m not ru-vealing the new cast of Rupaul’s Drag Race here. I’m talking about the ever-mutating variants of Covid that seem to be lasting longer than all 12 of Cher’s “farewell” tours. But If I could turn back time to the beginning of all this, I’d say stop being so damn hard on yourself as you parent through the pandemic.
We’re approaching two years of pandemic parenting (happy Covidversary). It’s upended our daily lives, our routines, our everything. It has been a frustrating, confusing, scary, all-consuming, and constantly changing ordeal that has tested our families in unprecedented ways. Everyone is feeling depleted during this unending chaos. But for parents, it’s not just about maintaining our own safety and mental health—we’re also responsible for keeping our kids safe and mentally sound. And there’s only so much fear, anxiety and pressure we can take on before we self-implode. It’s enough to have you questioning your parenting prowess. Well, I’m here to tell you—don’t—you’re doing just fine. Given the circumstances, you’re doing better than fine. You’re doing great in a time when greatness is nearly impossible. You’ve managed to keep it together under incredible adversity and you deserve much respect for that. Can I get an amen!
I’ve gone through all the phases myself. As a dad I can be very hard on myself. When the pandemic first began, my husband and I were advised to keep our son on a strict schedule (pre-pandemic wake-up time, online school, playtime, chores, lunch, homework, exercise, a little TV before bed, etc.). We believe that structure and consistency are important for kids, as it helps them feel safe and secure. But somewhere along the way, as the months wore on, and our own work demands mounted and my grad school assignments began to consume me, we found ourselves becoming more lax with rules and schedules. I’m embarrassed to say there have been a few times—okay, fine, a lot of times—where screens have become a de-facto babysitter. It’s not ideal, but it’s reality. That said, the more time we allowed TV and video games, the more guilt we felt, like we were failing as parents. That guilt led to us being even more permissive, creating a precedent… a cycle where our eleven-year-old boy decided how he wanted to spend his time. We told ourselves, “as long as he was occupied.”
This is when I started to receive unsolicited affirmations from my non-parent friends. They’d say well-intended things like, “You got this!” and “We’re all dealing with it.” At first I was annoyed by their tone-deaf words of support. I thought they have no idea how bad this is for parents like me. But then I stopped being so self-righteous and remembered that they’ve got their own stuff to deal with—work stuff, money stuff, relationship stuff, and the health of their loved ones to worry about. They are right, we are all in this together. Covid is a universal problem. It’s cutting across race, class, religion, geography and political affiliation. No one is immune.
Parenting is never easy. But the fact that Covid oscillates between sorta over, sorta still here, and sorta getting worse is exhausting. But you deserve to give yourself a little grace until this is officially behind us. These past two years have taught me how important it is for us, as parents, to not hold ourselves to an impossibly high standard. When things are outside your control, it’s what you do with what you can control that goes on to shape your children.
Here are 10 parenting in a pandemic tips I learned along the way that might be exactly what you need to hear right about now:
- Children are resilient—they will bounce back from this. Kids have always dealt with stressful situations. From divorce, to bullying, to experiencing grief, they can go through an array of things and come through those perils unscathed. The key is having a good support system. That’s where you come in. Make sure they know you’re available. Make sure your kids feel seen and heard and give them the space to have and sit with their feelings. That’s the support they need.
- Getting Covid is not a sign of personal failure. Shit happens, even when we do our best to protect ourselves. Just like you don’t shame people who catch a cold, don’t assume that just because someone catches Covid that it somehow means they live their life irresponsibly. It can happen to any of us, even Tom Hanks.
- Lower your bar. Being a good enough parent is the bar right now. Now’s the time to change your impossibly high expectations. It’s okay for kids to be bored sometimes and it’s not your fault, nor is it your problem to solve. If they end up on their screens a little longer than usual, they’ll be okay. We’re still in the middle/end of a pandemic, people—it’s not the time for parenting perfection.
- Give yourself what you want for them. If you’re desperately encouraging your child to incorporate self-care into their routine—bike rides, reading for pleasure, listening to music, walking the family dog, watching silly cat videos on YouTube— try taking your own advice. Wellness is important for everyone in the family, and that includes you. So whatever it is you want for your kids, try giving that to yourself, too.
- Be thankful for the small things. You didn’t get fired today! That’s a cause for celebration. Your kid read a book, without pictures, on his own accord. Pop the champagne. Ben & Jerry’s was buy one get one free at the market. Count your blessings. Being grateful for the small things makes you more resilient to the things you cannot control.
- Acknowledge and accept that the pandemic SUCKS. Look, there’s a reason why suicide rates are up, the divorce rate is up, and psychotherapists have never been busier—compromised health and economic stress aside, we biologically need to connect and the pandemic has become a barrier for connection. Naming problems is the first step towards accepting them. And accepting things as they are leads us toward a sense of peace and calm.
- Make choices that will make you calm today, not tomorrow. This is a time where we have to live in the moment, and get through each day as it comes. It’s not a time to worry too much about what the future holds because as this pandemic taught us, everything can change tomorrow.
- Quality over quantity. When it comes to spending time with your kiddos during a pandemic, rest assured that it’s quality over quantity. No child will get all the attention they crave—that’s unrealistic—but when you are with them, be truly present and go all-in. These are the moments that’ll stay with them.
- Model the healthy behavior you want your kids to emulate. If you’re impatient, short-tempered, and stressed-out in front of your kids, chances are they’ll mirror that behavior in their own lives. They say that toxic stress trickles down from parent to child. We’re all human—we’re gonna appear stressed-out in front of our kids every now and then, but it’s important to show your kids how you manage that stress in a healthy way. For example: “Dada’s going for a jog because he had a stressful day at work and exercising calms him down.”
- Let yourself off the hook. Of course you’re not operating at your usual standard—this is a global health emergency that none of us have had to face before. So stop beating yourself up. Instead, give yourself a round of applause for getting your family this far. By going easy on yourself you’re more likely to keep stress levels down. Less stress means happier parent. Happier parent means happier family. Happier family… you get the point.
Now that most people have access to vaccines, we’re beginning to see an end in sight. We also begin to reflect back on the damage that has already been done and we wonder about the impact all of this will have on our children. We wonder if we did enough. I’m here to tell you you have. Because doing your best is enough.
Look, I’m not going to tell you to vaccinate your kids (but, you really should vaccinate your kids). And I’m certainly not here to tell you to wear a mask when you’re out in public (but obviously you should wear a damn mask!). What I’m here to do is to remind you that you’ve got this. You’ve been through some shit, and you’re still standing. So the next time you feel like Calgon taking you away, remember to say to yourself what the incomparable—and totally inescapable—Adele says: go e-e-e-e-easy on me.
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