Parenting in a Pandemic

Parenting in a Pandemic

Dear Parents,

Well, this kind of sucks, doesn’t it? Parenting is one heck of a hard gig and it just got a lot harder, huh? Parenting in a pandemic is not what we signed up for or ever dreamed we’d experience.

Feeling drained, overwhelmed, and foggy? Maybe you’re finding yourself a bit snippy (or maybe more than just a bit) or wanting to lounge about on the couch all day. No interest in crisis schooling or making dinner again (again, man, these kids constantly want to eat)! If you’re feeling any of this – you’re normal. I promise you, you are not broken and you are not doing anything wrong. These are all normal responses to trauma (and yes, this experience is traumatic even if everyone around you is “fine.”). 

What the heck is the “right” way to respond to being asked to stay home ALL THE TIME with your children, while working, with a spouse also working, while managing their schooling, without any normal coping outlets? Maybe you’re a single parenting who was just handed about 15 more balls to juggle (alone). Or you are an essential worker trying to figure out childcare, schooling, and your own schedule. It’s just a bit too much, isn’t it? Whatever your unique scenario is I can say with pretty strong conviction that it’s been hard. For some of us, it’s been monumentally hard for others more subtly hard. There is no RIGHT WAY. Hear me. Our brains truly don’t have a pathway/script for doing this. It’s new. So, if you’re feeling a little “ahhhhh!” you are responding in the right way.

None of the challenges negate that for some we’ve also found lots some joy in all of this. I’ve talked to many a mama who has found herself quite comfortable with the fact that maternity leave was essentially extended for 2 + months! I sure have appreciated not having to coordinate schedules (practices and concerts and play dates and…) and be the “mom taxi.” Acknowledging the tough stuff, doesn’t take away from the good stuff. They coexist and co-mingle. 

Now that we’re all roughly 2 months into this whole thing you’re probably feeling you’ve moved past some of those early shock moments and may have even found a bit of a groove with all of this. If that’s the case, I’m glad to hear it. However, even as we start to reopen and shift again we can all agree we’re not going back to any semblance of normal in any sort of a hurry. As we move into the summer months the stressors of managing your children’s schooling may lift, but other challenges will inevitably arise. Those summer travel plans may not be happening, kids’ camps may not be running, is the pool going to open? You get the idea.

We’re still in uncharted waters and it seems we will be for a bit.

In some ways, navigating uncertain seas isn’t an entirely new thing. You’ve inevitably done this before (probably often). It just hasn’t been this big and glaring. I say that to remind you that you do have the skills to weather the present storms because you’ve inevitably done it before (in big or small ways). You’ve got this. You’ve done hard things before and you can do them again. Though, we know darn well that’s not our preference. We’d much prefer to do comfortable well-known “easy” things. Sailing in those crystal clear waters. I know. I’m with you. But here we are in a storm. 

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind as you continue charting your course forward and parenting in a pandemic:

Stop trying to parent the way you were before.

My point here is to remember that we are NOT parenting under our normal circumstances. We don’t have the resources, routines, and supports we’re used to. These are foundational to our daily lives and our parenting strategies. It’s a lot easier to plan a fun family movie/game night when you’ve maybe had a hot minute to yourself all day. Here’s the point, now is absolutely NOT the time to thrive. It is time to survive. Thinking about doing more during this time may really be asking too much. Our children need the most basic of things right now (and so do we). Aside from the obvious – food, shelter, safety – they really just need connection. They need to know they are loved and cared for. Period. That’s it. End of story. I’ll let you in on a secret, that’s actually all we ever really need. All the other stuff we do is just bonus stuff. It’s great and if you truly feel you have the capacity to do (read: it’s not making you bonkers and you’re not guilting yourself if it doesn’t happen) then, by all means, GO FOR IT. 

If you feel like all you’re doing is hanging out on the couch and watching way too much screen time with the kids and then feeding them, that’s actually okay.  Make yourself available for some hugs and cuddles and toss in some attempts at genuine engaging chatter over a meal and you’re golden. All other stuff is in the optional column. And, yes, I do mean school. And that doesn’t mean that school and learning and education don’t matter – it just means they don’t matter the most (right now). What I really want to highlight here is that we are NOT parenting in normal circumstances so our normal parenting strategies and approaches aren’t going to be able to be applied in the same way (for a wide variety of reasons). This means that we need to be creative and consider other/new/temporary strategies to make sure we’re meeting the core needs of our household. I know that’s a big ask – get creative, are you kidding me! The suggestion is to think outside the box and not to feel that you’re falling short if normal approaches don’t seem to work the same way they used to. 

Grieve.

It is okay (and necessary) to grieve things that have been lost amongst all of this. I don’t mean mourning those lives lost (though, that’s certainly quite valid), but not getting to send a kid to their preschool graduation, prom, or the state sports competition are all disappointments and it’s okay to feel disappointed about those things. Missing a family reunion, that vacation you’d been saving and planning for, or even just the backyard BBQs with neighborhood friends. Honor those losses and allow yourself to grieve them and your children too. This is a great opportunity to model the wide-range of emotions that humans feel. Feeling sad about one of these, it’s okay to show that and say it out loud. Let your children know that it’s okay if they are feeling sad too. As the days drag on, you may notice them expressing their sadness in lots of ways (tantrums and rage are a common way for children to express sadness). Help them find the words to talk about what they’re feeling. Be a safe landing place for your children to share their emotions.

Compassion is key.

This idea is truly a mantra for life. More compassion, always. More compassion for yourself, for your children, for your partner, for others. You really can’t be “wrong” if this is the path you’re walking. What this means is going easier on yourself (and others) especially in these times. Give yourself some grace. Parenting is hard. Parenting in a pandemic is REALLY hard. This is where we need to be mindful of comparing ourselves to others, our narratives about “good” parenting, and any guilt or shame we might be piling on. Having self-compassion doesn’t mean you don’t want to better yourself and learn and grow from your mistakes and shortcomings. It means that you’re not going to waste time and precious energy shaming yourself for being a human parent parenting under unbelievably challenging circumstances. Did you “fall down” and have a bad day? That’s okay. Take a minute, when you’re ready get back up and carry on. Carry on with compassion.

About the Author

Amanda is the author of the forthcoming book Dear Mama, You Matter: Honest Talk about the Transition to Motherhood. She has been working with mamas and families as they transition to parenthood for over a decade through research and advocacy, as a doula, a childbirth educator, and maternal mental health professional. She has a Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies. Her doctoral studies and post-graduate work focus on childbirth, child development, parenting, and the intersectionality of these three. Currently, Amanda is an assistant teaching professor at Iowa State University and a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) with a private practice specializing in perinatal mental health (PMH-C). When not camping or traveling Amanda resides in Iowa with her two sons. 

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