Pandemic. Epidemic. Outbreak. Social distancing. Isolation. Flattening the curve. Terms rarely heard before are now circulating our homes. Our new normal is anything but normal and anxiety is unexpectedly creeping in. Advice for parenting in a pandemic is prolific and – often – conflicting: take it easy, make a schedule, homeschool, unschool, fight fear, let yourself feel, more tv, less tv, be grateful, learn something new, Netflix and chill.
Frankly, all of this advice echoing in my head often triggers more anxiety, making me want to just hide under the covers. So, what should parenting in a pandemic look like? Compassionate, flexible, adaptable, and loving.
Easy, right? Ideally, we’re all self-isolating at home with our nuclear family, surrounded by comforts, and essentially vacationing. Except, we’re not. Families face all kinds of unique challenges, from food insecurity, to essential workers, to lack of technology, to mental health issues, to daycare concerns, to job insecurity.
I can’t pretend to understand everyone’s situation. I recognize my privileges in this situation and I feel guilt for giving into fear, depression, annoyance, anxiety, uncertainty, boredom, and stress. Except they’re still there and I know my children are struggling with these feelings too. Sometimes, we’re feeling that vacation vibe, and days, hours, or even minutes later, we’re sitting on the edge of losing control.
So, what can we do to make it through this emotional roller coaster while parenting in a pandemic?
Be compassionate. Most importantly, be compassionate with yourself and others. Nothing is normal right now and we will – and should – have an emotional reaction. Let yourself and your kids know that it’s okay to feel uncertain, scared, and even sad. Child Trends recommends we practice the 3 Rs: Reassurance, Routines, and Regulation.
“First, adults should reassure children about their safety and the safety of loved ones, and tell them that it is adults’ job to ensure their safety. Second, adults should maintain routines to provide children with a sense of safety and predictability (e.g., regular bedtimes and meals, daily schedules for learning and play). And third, adults should support children’s development of regulation. When children are stressed, their bodies respond by activating their stress response systems. To help them manage these reactions, it is important to both validate their feelings (e.g., “I know that this might feel scary or overwhelming”) and encourage them to engage in activities that help them self-regulate (e.g., exercise, deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation activities, regular routines for sleeping and eating). In addition, it is essential to both children’s emotional and physical well-being to ensure that families can meet their basic needs (e.g., food, shelter, clothing).”
Be flexible. Need to slow down? Slow down? Feel better busy? Be busy. Does this change daily? Let it. While it is best to have routines and activities, these shouldn’t wear you down emotionally. Routines, meal and bed times, types of activities: let these be flexible.
Know you can’t (and shouldn’t) be everything to everyone. Juggling kids, work, self-care, community, marriage, relationships, home care, and more is exhausting. If your family is suddenly together 24-7, you can find your every moment scheduled or demanded. It is okay to find “me” time and to relax expectations for everyone, but especially yourself. Pandemics are not normal. You can create a new normal and allow others to help make that happen.
Shower them with love. This looks different for every family. Showering people with love may look like extra hugs or “I love you”s. It can also be stopping to read a book unscheduled, letting a child have a little more down time because they clearly need it, cereal for dinner because you’re tired and they requested it, or playing one more round of Monopoly.
Let it go. I want my students to have the ideal online learning experience. I want my kids to flourish while learning at home. I want my house to be sparkling clean. I want less screen time. I want to be grateful. I want to learn new things. I want to lose weight. I want to make all of our desserts. And I am accomplishing some of these things. But not every moment. And sometimes I binge watch Tiger King on Netflix. I adapt my teaching to our new normal. I let my kids stay up a little later and drink soda in the living room. I take a break to make rubber band bracelets no one will wear. I stop and read memes. I see when I’m reaching a breaking point and let myself just be.