Parenting in the midst of a Pandemic
Updated: May 2, 2020
As parents, we find ourselves in uncharted waters. We are having to navigate parenting in the midst of a global pandemic. All sports, day cares, schools, offices, and life we formally knew, our sense of ‘normal’ is temporarily shut down. We have a tall order of filling in the gaps. Can we pause for a moment and take a breath?
A deep belly breath.
In fact, take a couple of them. Let’s just pause for a moment and ground ourselves before we continue.
If you’re anything like me, I am in survival mode. I’ll be honest, since this is a place of honesty, I have been pretty judgmental of myself and my parenting lately. I mean, parenting is already hard enough in normal life. The ‘mom guilt’ and the “mom comparisons” are sometimes too much to bear in our regular lives, let alone in the midst of a quarantine.
So can we just pause, take a breath, and validate ourselves in the fact that this is not normal and we are doing the best we can. Some days we will be on point, and others, well, let's just give ourselves some grace.
This is not normal. This is not a normal time.
Over the past two weeks, in particular, I have found myself saying, “I quit” more and more frequently. (I am sure I’m not alone in that.)
So here I sit at my dining room table, coffee in hand, embracing the quiet before the chaos of the day begins, reflecting on the past 7 weeks. Can you believe it’s already been 7 weeks!?!
Over these past seven weeks there are some things that I have noticed, and since there isn’t a “how to parent in a pandemic” handbook readily available, I figured we could share our thoughts together.
I don’t have to paint the picture of what our homes look like in the middle of this, as we all have our own level of chaos. Let’s be honest, the last thing we need to do is compare our levels of chaos to each other.
My heart goes out to you mamas with the little's at home, who are trying to just keep your head above the loads of laundry, the house picked up enough to keep your sanity while those cute little tornadoes whirl through your already cleaned rooms. I can’t imagine trying to home school them via online distance learning. Trying to keep their little butts planted in the chair and trying to keep them focused. My hat goes off to you. If you don’t hear anything else in this post, hear this: Well done mama! You deserve much praise and a standing ovation.
My home is a bit different as my kids are a bit older. We are preteens over here, so they are a bit more independent and self-reliant. I can give them a direction and they should be able to follow it, whether they do or not is a totally different story. But, I find myself playing more of a therapist/counselor role, then I do a teacher, at the present moment. This has not been easy for my girls. Especially my social butterfly that’s not quite old enough to know that this will eventually end. Everything is very permanent and absolute to her. Phrases like, “I will never see my friends again.” “We’ll never get to have a play date with them.” “She isn’t calling me back because she doesn’t like me anymore since I can’t play with her.” The desperation to just play with her friends and connect with them, breaks my mama heart, as I hear her devastation and wipe her tears in the midst of all this. I have another daughter who is loving the home time. She is actually thriving in the middle of this. No busy schedules. Home with mom. She is on cloud nine! Then there is the dynamic of their step sisters. Usually we have them everyday after school, but since school is out, they don't get to see them as often as they would like, and there you have it, another layer to the onion.
So how do we make it out of this in one piece?
Regardless of the age group that your kiddos are in, they each present a different challenge. Whether it's the toddler age, the elementary age, middle schoolers, high school, or college age, as parents we find ourselves having to navigate different challenges. Different emotions. Different needs.
Luckily, there is hope. Breath. Relax your shoulders. Grab your coffee, and let's chat.
I feel like the first thing that needs to be said is this, “They’re not bad kids, it’s just a bad attitude.” I don’t know about you, but as mom, I tend to get the brunt of the bad attitudes. The frustration. The anger. The annoyance. It whittles my mom-confidence down like flood waters erode well supported hillsides. I have found that during this time those bad attitudes are on a whole different level. My husband come home from work the other day (because his job is ‘essential’) and I launched into my “I quit’ campaign. God bless him, my husband calmed me down, like he usually does. He told me to take a breather, and he just listened as I continued my rant. But something happened mid-rant.
My perspective changed. This revelation. The epiphany. My kids aren’t bad kids. These are just bad attitudes. They are actually really sweet, creative, funny, active, beautiful little souls. These are just bad attitudes.
Can we take a moment to remember who are kids before all of their friends, hobbies, and normal lives were taken away?
Sometimes we need to take a step back to take a look at the bigger picture. Our kiddos are typically at school while I am working. They don’t know what my job actually looks like. How much time I devote in my day to work, and keeping a house running. In fact, if I’m being honest, they probably think I don’t do anything all day. I drop them off at school. I head to my clients, or pick a coffee shop to do computer work from, go to the store, do some laundry and then I pick them up. I have noticed that during this time, while they are home, and I am working from home, they are frustrated. “Mom, you’re always on the computer or the phone.” *Eye rolls for days* But what she really is saying is, “Mom, I just want to play with you all day.”
Please hear this: Emotions are not bad. They are road signs, helping us navigate the journey of parenting. They are warnings, letting you know that something is not right inside.
Parenting is a journey, and right now, there are a lot of detours. That’s OK! The detours do end. This will not last forever. Schools will reopen. Sports will commence. Play dates will pick up again.
This too shall pass.
But while we are on this detour, we need to pay attention to the road signs. To their road signs and to ours. The only way we make it out of this alive and thriving is by paying attention to those road signs and letting them direct our next moves. For instance, If you are having to meet a deadline for work, and your kids are all up in your space, have a movie day. That’s OK. You’re not a bad mom for not engaging them 100% of the time.
We are a very active outdoor family, and we rarely have screen time. Let me tell you, these past few weeks, I think they have had more screen time then they have in their entire lives. I’m OK with it. It won’t last. This doesn’t become our new normal. And to be honest, sometimes it’s actually the kind thing to do. For my daughter who is really struggling right now, she just needs a “check out” outlet to take her thoughts off of missing her friends so much. So if she watches 'Mako Mermaids' too much right now, that’s OK. It doesn’t mean this becomes her new normal. She just needs me to sit with her and let her know she isn’t alone in this.
Hear this: We all need “wins” right now.
It’s how we break the anger/frustration cycle. When my girls start on their tyrants, I have to pause and read the road signs. If I don’t, we will just launch into World War III. They need a win. I need a win. What we are really talking about here is attachment. They need me to tune into what is going on with them. They need me to help navigate it for them. To validate it. To calm it. To love it. This is a foundation for creating healthy, emotionally secure adults. There is a sense of excitement for me to parent during this time. I have a passion for inner healing work, freedom work, changing people's lives from the inside out, and we are literally living in the greatest environments for this. It’s amazing, when I look at most of my clients, have never had proper attachment or attunement (helping to navigate emotional needs, and giving good care to them) with their childhood caregivers and from that comes a wide range of ‘issues.’ Whether it’s abandonment, codependency, self harm, rigid lifestyles that they really don’t enjoy, addiction, shattered self worth, the list is endless. The foundation holds such similarities.. It stems back to the family of origin. So, in the midst of a global pandemic, we get to help our kids learn how to validate feelings, process them, and then act out of that space in a healthy way. We get to teach them what "good care" looks like.
You can think of it like the sonar in a submarine. The submarine navigates underwater by sonar. This is basically what attunement is. Your kids have emotions and they don't know how to navigate them without pinging off of you. Your response becomes the road map for how they navigate and deal with certain emotions throughout their life. This is such a tall order, especially as most of us are already in survival mode, but this is also a sweet one. It's how attachment and bonds are formed. The type of care that we give during this time can either set them up for success emotionally, or it can cause emotional disorientation. It's the difference between emotional maturity and emotional immaturity.
As parents, we need to readjust our perspectives. The negative emotions that are flying around need to be tended to with good care. We need to let up on our ‘rigid’ structures and systems. I’m not saying schedules go out the window, but I am saying that we need to hold loosely to our ‘house rules’ and allow for grace in the extenuating circumstances. It’s how we show love to our kids right now. My girls don’t need to get straight A’s in this semester, if they are emotionally struggling.
The pressure and focus shouldn’t be on school, it should be on caring for their emotional needs.
Why? Because that is a life lesson that will help them become successful adults.
Is distance learning causing more of a fight and takes all the energy out of the home? Then put boundaries on it. Don’t have them strive for perfect grades right now. It’s going to be OK. This is not a normal time, so school expectations need to adjust as well. They are not going to fall so far behind in their academics right now, that they become 3rd grade drop outs. God bless our teachers in the fall, but I know they are going to do their due diligence in recapping the concepts that are being taught right now. It's their passion and their gifting.
My daughters in elementary and middle school are not going to miss out on a scholarship at the end of their high school years because they didn't do their grammar online during COVID. But I will tell you, that they may never make it to college if they don't have a love for learning. They won't be confident enough to chase after their dreams or be able to accept failures in life, if they are not taught good care and how to navigate those hard emotions.
Like I mentioned before, my daughters are handling this time very differently. When it comes to home school and distance learning, my struggling one, barely does any traditional school, while my other one has workbooks she does. However, during this time, they have caught 7 wild lizards (that currently find their home in our upstairs shower). When they asked if they could keep them, I said yes, but they had to research them. They had to find out what they ate, what they were called, what the differences are between males and females, etc.. Do you see it? Science. Reading. Writing. A research project. They did ‘school’ without having to sit and get angry or frustrated at a computer. In fact, it was just the opposite. They loved it! They were so excited to learn.
Let that last statement ruminate for a moment.
They were so excited to learn.
That's monumental. A kid cannot become a successful student if they don’t have an excitement to learn. I’m not saying school is not important right now, and they shouldn’t follow guidelines, but those guidelines should be help loosely. As their parent and their advocate, you need to advocate for them during this time. If something isn’t working, then readjust.
This is not a normal time. It will not last.
What we do, how we parent in the midst of this pandemic, will last a lifetime.
We can either help or hurt our kiddos. I’ve made different arrangements with my daughter's teacher in order to help her be successful. They need wins. We need wins. So if that means saying yes to lizards in the house right now, then whatever. So be it. If it means saying yes, to a movie day so you can recharge, then so be it. If it means saying no to putting away loads of laundry so you can play a board game, then so be it. The laundry will still be there when you’re done playing. But I can guarantee you, your kiddo will feel validated, seen, heard, and loved. What more do our kiddos need from us?