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Perfect Parenting During a Pandemic?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs gives us a framework for parenting.

Source: Creative Commons/Pexels
Parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic has many parents fretting about if they're doing it right.
Source: Creative Commons/Pexels

The COVID-19 pandemic turned our society on its head. One of the changes was a strange new reality where parents became school teachers overnight. Parents were expected to work from home and homeschool their kids, all while navigating an inconvenient new world of masking, physical distancing, and self-quarantining in an effort to avoid a deadly disease.

Now, summer is here, and the pandemic rages on. Most summer camps are closed. Parents and children are cooped up together at home as the heat rises.

Often, summertime means kids go to camps and learn new activities, cultivate new academic interests, or learn new sports. But in many families, kids are just sitting around the house ... probably watching a lot of TV and playing a lot of video games.

I've talked to many parents who express feeling a lot of guilt for this situation. Many parents working from home feel guilty for not being able to focus on their kids all the time—or for being distracted while multitasking as parent and employee. Some parents worry that their kids are falling behind academically and have the feeling that they are supposed to be cramming as much learning into this summer as possible.

You might be asking yourself, "How many hours of enriched learning should my child be getting right now? Should I be teaching my kid to read and write this summer? How behind is my kid in math? How many hours of computer time is too much?"

But there is only one question you should be asking yourself right now: "How can I give my child a safe and loving environment?"

Hierarchy of Needs

No one knows the perfect way to parent during a pandemic. No one has studied the question or had experience with this during our lifetime. We have to rely on what we already know about having warm, healthy relationships with our children.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a theory psychologists have been following since Abraham Maslow published it in 1943. It offers a framework for understanding how humans can thrive. Maslow's theory says that basic needs must be met first before someone can be elevated to self-actualization.

Basic needs include physiological needs like food, water, and good sleep, as well as safety and security. Next come psychological needs, like the sense of belonging and being loved.

And after that come the esteem needs—feelings of prestige and accomplishment. Children can often get these needs met by playing in team sports, or doing well scholastically. They can also find feelings of accomplishment in contributing to household chores or growing a garden.

During this pandemic, families who are in different situations are going to have different worries and concerns.

Some families are struggling just to meet basic needs like food, health care, and maybe even shelter. These families are really struggling financially. Maybe the sole breadwinner lost a job during the pandemic, and rent is coming due. These families are going to be focused on, "How do we keep everybody safe and fed?"

Other families aren't worrying as much about the next paycheck, but they, too, are struggling. These families might be worrying about the psychological health of their children—like how their only child is especially lonely this summer, without friends to play with. Or maybe multiple siblings in the family brings lots of bickering. They may be worried about their children’s feelings being hurt as they watch neighbors with fewer COVID-related restrictions playing outside together. Parents working from home may be worrying about not giving their children enough attention.

To solve these situations, many parents are allowing children a little (or a whole lot) of extra electronics time.

That is OK.

Source: Creative Commons/Pexels
Your No. 1 job as a parent is to give your child a safe and loving environment.
Source: Creative Commons/Pexels

Rules out the window

All those rules we set when we're not in the midst of a pandemic—like our child should get this much academic time, and this much screen time, and this much physical activity—are out the window. This era of COVID-19 is not normal.

Our expectations of ourselves have to be more flexible. We must give ourselves new guidelines during this strange time.

When you’re feeling down on yourself, recall Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and remember that your No. 1 job is to give your child a safe and loving environment. That is, and always has been, the central focus of parenting.

Especially now, in the midst of this pandemic, parents can let go of those academic or other extracurricular enrichment focuses for a little while. Give yourself permission to reside in the tier of fulfilling the basic and psychological needs of your children. Give them lots of love and keep them safe, and rest easy knowing you’ve done what you need to do right now.

More from Valerie Crabtree Ph.D.
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