A Pandemic Parenting Perspective
by Tim Yeager, Director of Product Management, HealthySteps National Office
“Someday this is all gonna end,” I felt sad saying it. Even the tone was downtrodden and out of context. It was the end of another long, tough day. My wife and I were discussing the energy and mental rigor required to make it from one encounter with our bed to the next. And that’s just it… parenting through the pandemic has been the silver lining—difficult but unique and very special. By now you’d think we’d be anxious for it to end, and maybe we were when we were only 4 or 5 weeks in, before we’d acclimated to life in this new environment. Now though, the thought of going back to something resembling normal seems hard to imagine, and surprisingly deflating.
We are a family with two working parents. We’ve relied on child care and school to perform at our best during the working day. So, like most families, the virus upended our lives in epic fashion. Everything changed in an instant on March 12th when the Maryland school superintendent announced that schools were to be closed from March 16 through March 27. It didn’t take long for us to realize that a 2-week shutdown was just the beginning. By the end of the month, most of our neighbors agreed that there was little chance schools would reopen before summer. How would that work? Would we survive? What should our focus be? Should we write notes to ourselves describing what we love about our family before quarantine ruined it?
Here we are in June, many months removed from those frightful moments in time. We look back with clear vision and see the path traveled with fondness. Why is that? Having children wasn’t the recipe for disaster we might have imagined. Honestly, I think it would have been more difficult without the structure the children require. Working, teaching, and parenting through the craziest time in recent history has been an incredible challenge. It’s also been an unexpected gift. But how could that be? Hour-long work calls strung between episodes of distance learning for our 3rd grader and leading our 4-year-old preschooler from one productive activity to the next. It sounds chaotic and often is, but still, there’s been something special about it.
Life since the middle of March feels like it’s been spent in a parallel universe where COVID seems to have not only thrown fear into all of us, but also found a way to make the earth spin round every 12 hours, instead of 24. It’s been fast, chaotic, and special. Hidden within the generalizations are all these wonderful moments that are hard to describe. It’s been a time to truly experience the people our children have become. Not since they were babies have we had the opportunity to spend so many consecutive days together. All that time has uncovered some amazing gems. We’ve seen cyclical behavior patterns that occur over the course of weeks, an experience that would have been missed without a forced lockdown. We knew math had changed with the Common Core, but now we know just how much! And teachers… our appreciation has only grown. Having spent so many days trying to keep the learning afloat and the motivation alive for our two girls, it’s hard to imagine how they do it with 25 in a classroom. So many kid-isms heard, so many mannerisms experienced, so many hours, minutes, and seconds we would have never had together.
The average maternity leave in the US is 12 weeks. As of this writing, we are working on our 13th week together. By the time school ends on Tuesday June 23rd, we will have spent 70 weekdays doing the work/school juggle. Is that even possible?
How have we done it? Lots of ways. We’ve created schedules that matched independent tasks with meetings and supervised tasks with openings in our work schedules. It didn’t always work. We carved out time for recess, convinced that burning off energy would help improve focus. Sometimes it did. We kept in touch with the children’s emotions, we practiced more mindfulness, we had video calls with friends. We did lots of stuff. Some worked. Some didn’t. The only thing I can say with certainty is that we’ve been far from perfect. We’ve made mistakes, had bad days, gone to bed knowing we could have done better. Our 9-year old loves mindfulness and calls it, “getting into her mindful body.” It’s amazingly cute, right up until you’re frustrated with her behavior and she reminds you that, “It’s time to get in your mindful body, Daddy,” and you know she’s right! We’ve survived, like lots of other parents, by becoming masters of trial and error. It’s the millions of tiny things where we’ve done, “the best we could,” that have made it work and will ultimately leave us cherishing the memories with our children.
If you’re a parent and haven’t enjoyed the whole ride, that’s ok. Just remember that you may never have a time like this again. Children do grow fast. Our window of time with them is short. Take it easy on yourself and do the best you can. Try to enjoy as many of the moments as possible, because, “Someday this is all gonna end,” and we’ll be looking back wishing we could have all that time together again.