By Adam Chamberlin
As I write this, my wife and I find ourselves in the same predicament that most parents are struggling through in this challenging time: the art of pandemic parenting. I can say from my own experience and the stories of other parents, that this is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. As a parent you want to provide support, comfort, joyful moments, discipline, opportunities, stability, and most of all, love. The art of parenting is rough without a pandemic. Now, the day-to-day routines that used to bring us comfort have now fallen away. In its place is uncertainty, fear, and change. However, all is not lost. We used to hit quit points as parents prior to the pandemic. Those quit points are just much more likely due to the circumstances that we all find ourselves in. Acknowledging and accepting those quit points can empower us to develop strategies to reduce the negative impact if not avoid them altogether.
So the first thing that should be recognized is that despite feeling like a failure as a parent, you are probably doing the best parenting of your life. You wake up and continue to overcome obstacle after obstacle, day after day in order to take care of the people that we love most. That shows amazing resilience and strength in the face of staggering odds. In some cases, so may be leaving your kids in the trusted care of others while you work outside the home. You fight back the fears and anxieties that accompany the human mind in time such as this, managing to provide security for your kids despite all of your own insecurities. If you’re working from home, you’ve experienced the unique challenges of helping your kids navigate remote learning while balancing your work schedule around it.
Just the other day, as my wife worked from the dining room table, my sons were on Zoom calls in their bedrooms, and I was in my bedroom attempting to teach a group of high school students about American government, my 6 year old son opened the door to show off his new haircut that he gave himself. My feelings ranged from rage to apathy, disappointment to sheer amusement. I don’t know whether to discipline him for cutting his hair on Zoom in front of his class or praise him as a leader (apparently another child down the street decided to give himself a haircut after witnessing my son’s barber skills.) He had a problem (his “Covid haircut” was in his eyes) and he solved it (two snips with school scissors). Had this same thing happened prior to the pandemic, I’m sure it would have been the “worst” thing to happen that day and I would have freaked out. Instead, my wife and I laughed, hugged him, patiently explained to him why that might not have been the best time to give himself a haircut, and most importantly, we just loved him so much. Somehow, parents are finding the strength and energy to be parents, teachers, playmates, counselors, and everything else our kids need, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no time off. And to top things off, we’re doing all of this while attempting to balance our own work schedules, physical and mental health, and fears about a world that was turned upside down earlier this year.
So here are a few strategies to help you navigate your life as a pandemic parent.
1. Focus on what YOU control: There is so much that we don’t control, most notably the fact that a global pandemic has our brains in a constant state of fight or flight. Setting goals that involve other people or external circumstances sets us up for failure. There are simply too many moving parts. Instead, focus on what you control.
2. Redefine success: Be willing to change your measure of success. Maybe work isn’t measured by time, but by quality. Maybe your kids’ school work isn’t measured by the number of assignments completed, but by the amount of learning they are achieving under extreme circumstances. And when things just aren’t going your way, maybe success is punting in order to start fresh and try again tomorrow. Sometimes success can simply be not making it worse.
3. Short term goals provide optimism: Simply knowing the end is in sight helps us persevere through challenging times. Since we don’t know when life will begin to resemble our pre-COVID existence, don’t focus on life “returning to normal.” Focus on today, one task at a time. I can’t express the feeling of ease that washes over me the moment my kids have ended their last Zoom call for the week and they can just get to the business of being kids. When we set goals that are too big, we look at those mountains in our moment of weakness and hit a quit point. It’s too big, too much, too overwhelming.
4. Give your children, your partner, and yourself a bit of grace: If you’re stressed under the current circumstances, imagine how a child feels during these uncertain times. How can we expect our children to be at their best while we as adults are routinely struggling. Everyone around us, particularly those people we love most, deserve some grace. Most importantly, give yourself a bit of that grace too. None of us are perfect, particularly in a pandemic. Give yourself a pass to not be perfect, and focus on just being your best, whatever that may look like as a pandemic parent.
For a small fee, my son will show you how to cut your own hair via Zoom.