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Challenge: Pandemic Parenting

Pandemic Parenting: Ten Lessons Learned

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Photo by Josh Willi ck

1. Kids will generally do the right thing if it’s expected of them, even if it sucks. They will wear a mask to protect others. They will visit their grandparents in the backyard instead of the living room. They will avoid sleepovers and tune into a computer for an excruciatingly long virtual school day. They will have a cupcake and balloons with their nuclear family in lieu of a birthday party without whining, because they know this is a different year and everyone is making sacrifices.

2. When we are all eating and cleaning three meals a day at home, there is absolutely no reason the chores can’t be shared. I admit sometimes it’s my own control issues that make me want to do the laundry (which I find therapeutic) for all five of us. But kids can load and unload the dishwasher. They can vacuum and use the Swiffer wet jet. And when they are told all-hands-on-deck, they generally will step up. Along the same lines, when your son reaches adolescence and is the preferred helper for heavy lifting, it is amazing.

3. We missed the near-nightly sports and rehearsals and performances. But we may miss the nights at home even more. When things slowed down, the kids missed their track meets, baseball games, lacrosse games, and dance shows. But they learned how to deal with being bored. When there was nothing to do, they found something to do. When there were no friends around, the 3 of them took the dogs on a walk together. They rode bikes with friends for hours at a time instead. We may not go back to the speed with which our life was moving before. We may need more downtime in the post-pandemic times.

4. Being home in the evenings forced us to find new ways to enjoy life together. Schitt’s Creek is awesome and probably not appropriate for a 10-year-old but hey, he’s the third kid and might as well learn everything in 4th grade. Having a hilarious show with endearing characters and positive messaging was just what we needed in the evenings after watching news of fear, death, and despair all day long. We laughed together. We found ways to escape from reality when we could.

5. Some pressure points have to go. The rat race to keep up with all the other kids and parents in the neighborhood is a race to nowhere. When the world is falling apart, what matters is not what school my kids go to or what advanced classes or sports they are playing. What matters is that my kids are good people. It matters that the people we love are still alive, and that we have compassion for those who have died. What matters is that we have each other. And even though as a pediatrician I recommend less than 2 hours of screen time a day, as a mom I know some days it doesn’t matter. Some days there is no fight left in me. Even if their educational experience isn’t what it was last year, it is OK. They will find their way in the world.

6. Talking to parents of infants, toddlers, and young children and the struggles they’ve faced this year has made me realize how far I’ve come in my own parenting journey. When your kids are 5th, 8th, and 11th grade, pandemic parenting looks much different when compared to a parent of infants or toddlers. I remember a moment in 2014 when we were flying to Disneyworld and I looked back to see my kids walking along with their own suitcases in the airport. I felt like I had made it. I could go to work this year and leave my kids with my WFH husband. They could sign on to their virtual classes. They can make their own lunches. They can make plans and meet up with friends. At my kids’ ages, they don’t need me as much as I think they need me. And this independence is what I’ve been raising them for right?

7. Our germ circle/pandemic bubble is full of people who generally feel the same way about things when the world comes screeching to a halt. We chose our friends well. During this whole pandemic, there are people who are afraid to leave their house at all, and there are people who live their lives like there’s no pandemic going on. The people we’ve had driveway drinks with generally have the same level of risk that they’re willing to accept, which makes it easy to be friends with them. No wonder we chose them for friends. Same goes for my kids’ friends.

8. We are fortunate and have learned to count our blessings. It’s been important this year to talk to the kids about what’s going on in the world. We still have jobs but a lot of people who want to work cannot find a place to work right now. We have been healthy when so many have been hospitalized, or are suffering long-term symptoms from COVID, or have lost loved ones. Our kids generally can handle big conversations and big emotions about social justice, systemic national problems, hardship, and death. They can handle any topic when it’s given to them on an age-appropriate level.

9. Sometimes systems that have been in place for a long time are due for an update. We’ve been rolling along with the way things have always been until this pandemic forced us to look at things differently. Some positive changes have occurred that are good for us and for our children. Telemedicine. Virtual school. Take-out restaurant meals. Grocery store curbside and delivery. Zoom meetings. Work-from-home flexibility. Many of these changes will stay with us, and many of them might never have happened unless we were forced to look at things differently.

10. My family is everything to me. When the world comes to a screeching halt, I want to be with my kids. And it’s OK if they tell me they wish I were at work because I am “nagging them with my nasal voice.” And it’s OK if some days I would give anything to just be alone. When it all falls apart, what matters is the five of us, and beyond that, the 28 of us in the larger family circle, and our friends and family in the circle beyond that. The human spirit is stronger than I thought. And there is more goodness in the world than I thought. And I hope to be raising three more young people who will grow up to do the right thing, armed with everything we learned this year.

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