Pandemic Parenting

Mom adjusting child's mask

My hometown of Seattle was the first major city to be hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the beginning of March, I celebrated my birthday with lunch and a few IPAs with my husband. By the time my husband’s birthday came ten days later, we were on a lockdown with our two school-aged children distance learning.

It was fast.

And slowly, as the time stretched on, it became clear that this would not end anytime soon. As I write now, my children are learning in the basement, as I work from my *new* home office (a table in my bedroom). It’s Fall. We are nearing 8 months of this. And the wave of viral infections is skyrocketing, meaning this is not going away.

I have been asked a lot lately what parents can do, what pandemic parenting is, and how we can continue to slog through this moment in time. Parents are worried – rightly so – about the long-term effects of this.

How can parents help their children in the pandemic?

I think the big thing to point out is, what is required to be a good pandemic parent is no different than what is required of non-pandemic parents. The skills that are required of good parenting are the exact same as they were before the pandemic. We need to be loving and kind to our children. We need to set up a structure at home and support our children to succeed in that structure. We need to be attentive to our children’s current needs and adapt accordingly.

What is different about parenting in a pandemic is that we are being asked to parent under overwhelming personal, professional, social, and family stress.

It is hard to be loving and kind to your children when you are stressed.

It is hard to set structure and support your children when the structure of work/childcare/and school have shifted so dramatically, so quickly, and are constantly evolving.

It is hard to be attentive to your children when you have so many things on your plate.

The fall spike of cases seems to be upon us, and in any news cycle, cities and states are instituting new rules to try to keep the virus from spreading.

This means we have a long way to go.

Can we survive this without damaging our children or our family dynamic? Is there a way to thrive in this? Can we set up our families and children to come out stronger and smarter on the other side?

I think the answer to all of these is yes.

But you do have to make change. We must take action to ensure that we are ready to be the best parents we can be under extremely difficult circumstances.

As we enter the most challenging time in this pandemic to-date, you need to start today.

There are 5 things that I believe are critical to surviving and thriving in this stressful time.

  1. Fill up your own cup. Plan for self-care for yourself. Yes, you. You, the parent. Your needs are a high priority. It is not selfish to do so. Rather, it is critical so that you can continue to perform at your highest level as a parent. You cannot pour love and kindness into your family unless you take time to fill up your own cup. So, do something kind for yourself as often as you need. A bath. A walk. Watch trashy TV. Call a friend. Don’t use this time to clean closets or toilets. Don’t make to-do lists or online grocery shop. Those don’t refresh you. Take a break and do something that allows you to be refreshed.
  2. Practice gratitude. Find something every day that you can be grateful for. Encourage your children to be thankful for something each day. Formalize it by discussing it throughout the day. The world is very overwhelming, but focusing in the controllables, the good, and the basics is a research-validated strategy to help us to be resilient in challenging times. Use this strategy for yourself and encourage your family to participate.
  3. Be reasonable. Give yourself permission to make more mistakes than usual. Lower your standards for yourself. Apologize for mistakes and move on. Feel free to serve mac and cheese and carrot sticks for multiple meals a week. Write a work report that is “good enough” instead of “revolutionary.” Opt out of the optional activities for your child’s school. Do your best. And let that be enough.
  4. Move your body every day. Make sure that you are moving your body. Make sure your entire family is as well. If it means more screen time, that’s ok. Find a YouTube video for Minecraft yoga or do a family Peloton cardio workout. Ideally, though, you will get outside for some part of every day. Physical activity combined with nature has an especially powerful effect on promoting healthy mental health. Play sports outside. Walk the dog as a family. Do what you have to do to be physically active. We know that physical activity is a critical stress management tool. The time spent moving your body is well worth it and will leave ready to continue tackling your daily challenges. It’s worth it. It will help everyone manage their stress.
  5. Talk about your feelings and ask your children about their feelings every single day. Take time to communicate to your family how you are feeling. Ask your children to communicate how they are feeling. If you are having a particularly hard day, say so. It allows the entire family to know how you are feeling and to give you more leeway. Same thing for your kids. If your child is having a hard-emotional day, hear that, and be a bit more loving to them that day.

These 5 simple things add up to a better state of mind for you and your family. It allows you to maximize your coping mechanisms, so you can be attentive to your family and their needs. If you do these things, you will be setting yourself up to be the best pandemic parent you possibly can be.

We have a way to go until the stress of the pandemic subsides. But taking time to practice these five strategies will improve your pandemic parenting, and your own mental health.

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