Pandemic Parenting

Well pandemic parents – look at you! You made it to the one-year mark, doing something I bet you never thought you could. And doing it well. You’ve survived; your children are functioning! You got this, right?

OK, easy for me to say, I know; I’m a grandma.

No kids underfoot, no crazy schedules, no work/school from home. No breakdowns, tantrums, inertia. Well maybe the inertia. And a few tantrums, I’ll be honest. (You haven’t met grandpa.)

But when a silly commercial brings me to unexpected tears, or one more question from my roomie sends me right off the edge, I can only imagine what the stress of this pandemic has done to parents with actual children in their laps, in their faces, in their beds, invading their bathrooms, and strolling naked through their Zoom conferences.

As a dad I know likes to say, ”Parenting is HARD, Mom.”

Yes it is, if you’re trying to do it right. And a year-long stay-at-home order has made it 100 times harder.

But you’ve made it this far! – and the end may actually be in view – waaay out there, but there. So take a little time-out, and pat yourselves on the back – because you deserve it. And I have some thoughts for you, for surviving the 4 th quarter.

1. Take care of Number One

It should go without saying, so of course we’ll say it: The number one thing you need to do (or keep doing) is take care of Number One. (Sick of hearing this one?) It’s a cliché, but clichés get to BE clichés for good reason.

The truth is you can’t give away what you don’t have. There is no effective parenting, no good decision-making, no hope for harmony if you are out of emotional gas. So do what you need to do to fill up your tank and keep yourself in balance. Sleep. Eat right. Make sure you get exercise and some time alone to think your thoughts, meditate, indulge in your hobbies.

If you’re a couple, make it fair.

If you’re single, work out a plan, engage a friend or a grandparent.

If you’ve had a plan and it’s gone to pieces, regroup!

2. “Winging it” is vastly over-rated.

While I am not – at all – a fan of rigidity, there is much to be said for keeping generally predictable schedules. Kids need structure. Parents need to know the demands on them are finite. We all need things to look forward to.

One idea is to keep a big family calendar, one that includes ideas for food, plans for diversions (movie or game night; “sleepover” in a sibling’s room…), maybe a kids-make-dinner night, room to add jokes or inspirational sayings or cartoons, as well as the usual “projects due,” appointments, and chore rotations. Let everyone add ideas, suggestions, drawings and wishes. Add a few cool things to look forward to here and there. (ice-cream outing; “Dad’s Surprise Drive”) Have “Mom,” “Dad,” and “Kid Choice” days (define your boundaries!)

3. Rearrange furnitures.

OK. I see you rolling your eyes.

But this one goes back to my classroom days and is actually one of my favorite ways to change my perspective. When the kids were at that “blah” stage midway through the year, I would shuffle the whole place around. It worked for older and younger children, and sometimes just the desk being in a new spot, with a new view, getting light in a new way, or the centers rearranged from one spot to another, was enough to punch the restart button and give everyone a new outlook or a chance to rediscover things. The bonus here is that I was often re-motivated, through the shuffling process, to see how I could do some things in a new way. My teaching was reenergized, just by shifting the physical space. Your parenting can be as well.

I am acquainted with a family who creatively re-envisioned the garage and made clever spaces, – for music, video games, art, movies, and exercise – everything at the ready for escape or engagement at any time.

4. Staying Socially Connected

Being removed from friends and family has been enormously difficult and a cause for an alarming increase in depression. For kids, it’s especially hard to be isolated so much of the time. So, in addition to virtually hanging out or gaming with friends, ideas for staying socially connected could include an actual letter exchange through the mail, or participating in a fun/SAFE online challenge, or a “pass-it-on” chain of texts or emails that might include jokes, or crazy facts, or an add-it-on story. Laughter is a great medicine; laughter with friends, even better. One of the most fun things for me has been sharing meals via Zoom with my family. It really is almost as good as being there.

Sidewalk chalk messages for friends or older stay-at-home neighbors are a fun
surprise and fun to do, and easily hose off.

As things begin to open up, see what your community offers for safe interactions
and take advantage.

5. Get Outside

And really, people: Get outside. Exercise and Vitamin D! Release those endorphins!

Kids who have been glued to their chairs with online schooling, on their phones, engaged in video games or the TV NEED the break and the movement. Hike. Take a bike ride. See how fast you can walk around the block.

Learn something new like pickle ball or skipping rope. Be sure to make goals achievable. Add interest for reluctant hikers by making it a scavenger hunt. There are a ton of online resources for ideas if you’re fresh out. And aren’t we all?

In a pinch, when all else fails, my own grandmother had some advice. She was mom to 11 children, and when people would ask her, “How do you do it, Lucy?” she would answer:

“Easy. When they’re in the back, I go to the front.”

I’ll meet you out front. Bring snacks.

Written By Susan Walsh
March 1st, 2021

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