“Be gentle with yourself.”
“You’re doing the best you can in the circumstances.”
“Don’t judge yourself!”
These are all things I tell clients as they cope and struggle with the ways Covid-19 has impacted their lives and families. They’re not platitudes but honest suggestions, knowing how much of a toll the stress and trauma of pandemic parenting is taking.
I’m also working to remember these things for myself as I look around at the free-for-all my house seems to have become… How can it be such a mess? Why do my teenagers REFUSE to take the puppy (that they begged for) on a walk? We spent HOW much time on our individual screens this week? And on and on…
Of necessity, the more time we spend at home alone together, the more of a hands-off parent I have become. If I were to comment on each of my concerns, question all the things I find questionable… I just don’t have the energy. And, what would it get me in the end? Most likely strained relationships with angry teenagers, on top of the mess and unwalked puppy.
Saying “no” to everything I’m inclined to say no to is just. too. tiring. But where to draw the line between not living in squalor, maintaining a healthy relationship with my boys, and having time/space/anything for myself? There must be a line, some magical pandemic parenting threshold, but at the moment I honestly can’t see it.
It’s as though time has been suspended, everything thrown up in the air, and I’m looking around wondering where and when it’s all going to land. Somewhere, eventually.
So, my kids might eat chips for breakfast, sometimes after waking up at noon (I will admit here that I did just eat a brownie after my own breakfast… made with almond butter and maple syrup, so that’s healthy, right??) Where they used to sit and read at the breakfast table, they now consume YouTube videos. When it’s time for them to take the puppy for a walk, there are only so many times I can nag, and only so many consequences I can set. Waffles have become a favorite dinner.
Am I a terrible parent? No. (Some may disagree. I’m ok with that.) Am I depressed? No. (Believe me, I know because I have been.) I’m emotionally and psychically exhausted. And I’m not alone… According to the New York Times, “The Pandemic Is a ‘Mental Health Crisis’ for Parents.” Parents are suffering under the burden of being caretakers, teachers, homemakers, and playmates for their children, all in isolation from any support network.
Pandemic parenting simply asks too much of us all.
Screen time is definitely the biggest challenge to being the kind of parent I want to be, particularly as a working mom with two teenage boys. As I’ve heard from so many other parents, screens are one of the primary ways my kids connect with their friends. I’m working online from home for many hours every day as well, and no matter how many times I explain that my online use is the means by which I support our family, the fact is that I’m modeling consistent screen use rather than some screenless ideal.
If you compared our household before the pandemic to what you see now, you would never know it was the same place. In every way.
The furniture has literally been moved around and crowded together due to a kitchen renovation planned before Covid hit. About two months ago, I broke down and bought a 50” TV so we could watch movies on a big screen. (Being screen-averse, this is the first TV I have ever purchased.) And you’ll often see a teenager curled up in the swing chair or sprawled on the couch with the pup, staring at their phone. Two years ago, I would have been appalled to see this scene in our home. Today, I’m just grateful that I can pay my bills and my kids attend their online classes. I don’t want to fight with them, and I don’t have the bandwidth to parent harder.
Every now and then, I have a moment of clarity that allows me to get something done outside of my daily tasks. During one such episode, I was inspired to list a loom for sale that I’ve been trying to divest for years, and it sold within two days! Another day, I unpacked and reorganized most of the boxes left from the kitchen renovation (still a few left to go…) One morning, I sat down and created the flowchart below, so I could stop answering my kids’ requests for screentime with seemingly random questions… “Have you done (X) yet?”
This flowchart might be my most inspired moment in pandemic parenting thus far.
I’m grateful for these lucid moments which help me to forgive myself for all the other things I seem to be ignoring including at times, if I’m honest, including my children.
I will note that I’m comfortably semi-ignoring my children because my kids attend school and turn in their lessons; they eat (more or less) three meals each day; they shovel the driveway of snow when asked and cook dinner with their grandmother on Zoom once a week (more on this at another time.) They’re good kids, and we’re all doing the best we can as individuals and as a family.