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Pandemic Parenting: Parents Are Struggling Too

We’ve turned into teachers, paraprofessionals, magicians, and more.

Key points

  • Many parents have been struggling through the pandemic.
  • Exhaustion and burnout are prominent.
  • Helpful strategies may include creating more manageable to-do lists and modifying your expectations.

As parents, we have been watching our children struggle since March 2020. We have tried to absorb the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by trying to maintain all of the parts of life that were changing. We’ve turned into teachers, paraprofessionals, magicians, game show hosts, short-order cooks, entertainers, and so much more.

When the pandemic hit, we, as parents, had to juggle a great deal and take on many additional roles. In some homes, the responsibilities were split between both parents, and in others, the responsibilities fell primarily on one parent or the other. Try to balance a full-time job on top of all of the additional roles, and this has been a recipe for impossibility. It should come as no surprise that this pandemic has wreaked havoc on the mental health of parents as well.

For the past two years, what originally was believed to be a temporary situation (two weeks), turned into a long-term situation. Parents have shared with me that they have been battling with several of the following:

  • Sassiness and non-compliance.
  • Increased meltdowns and tantrums.
  • Sibling rivalry.
  • Increased screen time.
  • Poor or no follow-through on chores.

How many images have we seen of parents working at their computer with a child on their lap? How many virtual calls have included children walking in, walking by, pets sharing the screen, and high-pitched background sounds of children trying to break down the door to reach their parent? Many, too many. At one point, we stopped trying to pretend as if our home office was going to maintain the same standards as our business offices or settings.

These experiences have come with a toll. Our homes became our everything and there was no separation. Our worlds are blended and the multi-tasking that has been happening for two years is leading to high parent stress and burnout.

Parent Strategies

"My Child Is Not Listening to Me or Following Through on Chores."

If you’re anything like me, you truly hate (and I know that’s a strong word) to repeat yourself over and over again. I have found, as many of you have as well, that I need to direct my children to a task or chore over and over again before it actually happens. This is incredibly frustrating. Raising our voices becomes a natural response that creates distress for all.

Many of our children have lost control over many things that were just a given, such as going to school, going on field trips, and sitting next to their peers at lunch. Many of these things were taken away and are now being modified, but things have not been the same.

Our children may be trying to exert their control by choosing not to follow through with our requests or directives as a way of exerting control over an arena in their lives. It’s very easy for us to become punitive and to have negative interactions with our kids, or to avoid asking them to do anything to avoid the negativity.

It may be helpful for us to have a conversation with our children so that we understand their frustration with all of the limitations that they are facing. Offer perspective by sharing that you are struggling too and that as a member of the team called family, each person needs to play a role. Have the discussion that it is impossible for mom, or mom and dad, to be solely responsible for running all parts of the home.

Oftentimes, it’s helpful to give our children choices for the chores that they want to do. Rather than assigning chores, it may give your child a sense of control by being able to choose two chores they will be responsible for each day or each week. Switch the chores every two weeks to maintain some level of novelty. Offer an incentive to your child, which may be monetary or privileges.

"My Children Are on Their Screens Way Too Much."

Our computers, tablets, and phones became a natural place to be during this pandemic. The virtual world became our way of connecting to others during a time of high isolation and low human contact. Our screens are a place where we can withdraw and distract.

Increase your child’s face-to-face contact with peers and family members. Leave the house and do things together or apart. Set screen time limits (this is available on iPhones and can be set up for your child’s phones and iPads; you can set time spent on certain apps and the specific hours when the app will be “active”). You may also choose to ask your children to turn in phones and electronic devices to you by a particular hour each night. Many parents prefer for the electronic devices to set up a charging station in their bedroom so no additional access is possible.

Parents Are Anxious and Exhausted and Don’t Know When Enough Is Enough

We have always been hard on ourselves as parents, even before the pandemic. We aim to be present and available to our children and to be in tune with their every move. It’s not necessary nor possible. We have been holding ourselves to unrealistically high standards that aren’t achievable. It’s time to re-set your expectations about what you can accomplish in one day, especially if you are a working parent. Create more do-able to-do lists, have a set time that you’re going to be done with housework, and whatever you didn’t get to today, set at the top of your list for the next day. Sometimes, it’s helpful to set a list for the week rather than for the day and set out to work through two or three items. Ask for help from your children and your significant other. Modify your expectations for yourself by being more forgiving and give yourself a few moments to “just be.” You don’t have to be in motion from the moment you open your eyes until you try to force them shut.