Parenting Right Now Is Really Hard
And other obvious things that need to be said again and again (and again).
Posted April 5, 2020 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
I wanted to come up with something mind-blowingly original for this blog post—a piece about parenting during this difficult time that would be so full of meaning, and so important, that struggling parents everywhere would be transformed by its poignance and wisdom. Myself included, of course.
Because I'm certainly part of that group of "struggling parents." I've been right there on the emotional roller coaster with the rest of you, looking for that one piece of advice, one killer sound bite, that would make this all even just a little a bit easier.
But I kept coming up blank.
So I reflected on the many talks I've given over the past few weeks, as well as the therapy and coaching sessions, all with different families struggling with different things. And it occurred to me that, despite the variety — different family constellations, dynamics, challenges — for the most part, everyone has needed to hear the same messages, often the most obvious ones, over and over again.
Parenting right now is really hard. None of us have ever done this before. What's "this," you ask? Maybe it's "been stuck at home with three kids and no childcare while also trying to keep my full-time job."
Maybe it's "kept track of my children's needs and my aging parents' needs without any help from teachers on one hand, or home health aides on the other." Maybe it's "parented all by myself, while my partner, an ER doctor, is fighting this pandemic on the front lines, putting her life at risk every single day."
Regardless of your individual story, this is really hard. Once in a while, a moment, or even a whole hour, will feel easy. But that'll be the exception, not the rule.
We are in a collective trauma. We are anxious. We are grieving. It doesn't always look the way it does in the movies. You may be crying, shaking, and feeling nervous, or you may not be. You may feel numb. You may feel as though you have less access to your emotions than usual. You may have difficulty finding your words, or be absent-minded around the house (last week, I accidentally put my air pods in the fridge).
The same goes for your children. Maybe they are snuggling up to you, tears falling into your shirt, explaining how frightened they are. Or maybe they are demanding you give them what they want this minute, in even ruder tones than usual.
You are not “working from home.” Nope. And the more those of us who typically work outside the home use that term incorrectly, the more we inadvertently convince ourselves that these circumstances are normal, and in turn, that we should be able to be more productive.
These circumstances are not normal, and so neither is our productivity. Language matters. Try this out instead: You are stuck at home due to a global crisis, and doing your very best to get some work done.
You are not homeschooling your children. See above. You are stuck at home due to a global crisis, and doing your very best to see that your children's schooling doesn't come to a sudden, total, and grinding halt. You are quarantine-schooling, not by choice, due to a collective trauma. Start using these words instead.
You are allowed to recognize how privileged you are, and feel sad, scared, and anxious at the same time. Be where you are. None of your feelings are bad, or unacceptable, or selfish, or petty. We are complicated; so are our feelings and reactions.
You are allowed to use screens all day, every day. You are also allowed to have very strict limits for screen time, even now. Grant yourself permission to know your family's needs right now, and to meet them as best you can, then to reassess them and meet them differently tomorrow. The same approach goes for snacks, by the way. There is no one size fits all, not ever, and certainly not now.
Your children are not required to love virtual interactions — with their teachers, or with their grandparents. Contrary to all the social media posts of zoom class meetings and family reunions, your child may not be into this new virtual reality. Not everyone is.
Maybe he or she will like it better if the video function is off — the issue may be how awkward it can be to see yourself on screen — or maybe he or she rejects the pressure to engage in this new way, as if it's the same as before. Or maybe he or she can forget how different things are — in a healthy, escapist way — until it's time to FaceTime Grandma and Grandpa instead of giving them hugs, and that's just too tough to take. Whatever the reason, in this and every other way, your child is allowed to be your child, and it's on you — or, in this case, your parents or in-laws — to come to terms with that.
There doesn't need to be an "upside." If you are able to see a silver lining right now — the slower pace of your life, the elimination of a tough commute, more family time — then that's wonderful. Truly. Research shows that practicing gratitude can have a substantive positive impact on our mental health.
That may not be you, though, and there's no need to feel bad about it or to force it. If you are feeling like this whole thing — every last part of it — stinks, then let yourself feel that. I promise there are a lot of people out there who agree wholeheartedly. Feel free to ignore the "this will make us stronger" messages that are circulating if they don't resonate.
Every day will be different, maybe even every hour. For you, and for your kids. The moody and entitled meltdowns (ours and our kids'!) will pass, as will the intense flickers of joy and connection, as will all of the mundane, neutral moments in between. Show up for all of it. Mostly because you don't have a choice, but also because it's kind of the whole reason we're here in the first place.
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