Parenting in Quarantine: 4 More Steps for Sanity and Success

Part 2: What helps families succeed in lockdown.

Posted Apr 26, 2020

 Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash
Source: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

Part 2 of 2

5. Take "School of Zoom" With a Grain of Salt. There are state-of-the-art medical centers, there are field hospitals and there are first-aid stations. The people whose entire job it is to be prepped for catastrophic events were caught unprepared. That schools were caught unprepared is now also pristinely clear. What is largely passing for school now has as much in common with our concept of an actual school experience as a first-aid station has with the National Institutes for Health. Our first attempts, like first aid, are clearly helpful, even critical, but ultimately are not sustainable in the present form. Many parents feel compelled to compel their kids to participate in what is an erratic, tedious, and confusing veneer of an educational experience. It is better than nothing, for sure, but it is an approximation, at best. I believe it wise if we can muster the wherewithal to embrace the good and forsake the perfect. Adapting old Maslow to a new crisis: Let’s focus on survival and safety first (milk, masks, toilet paper, Doritos), then attend to the quality of our connections—how we care for each other’s emotional oxygen supply, then, and only then, worry about achievement, i.e., academic content. Acquiring academic content can and will follow, but improving this massive pivot in how we do school is a project best approached with patient expectations. The primary value is the opportunity online class has to add structure to the day and remind kids that they are still students, even without a school to go to.

6. Recognize the Absurdity in the New Normal of Working While Home. I see a lot of parent couples feeling compelled to put all their waking energy into managing the kids, being available for their own aging (and now more isolated) parents and the household while feeling like they are never not “working," trying to keep their jobs. Besides the benefit of eliminating the commute, the lack of boundaries between work and home is a major stressor for most. Many feel like they are not doing a good job on any front, and as a result, feel like they are never finished with work for the day. This fuels a constant sense of being "on call," of having to perform without an intermission or ending. Evening cocktails have surged to a popularity not seen since the '50s, but we'd do well to make deliberate nonalcoholic time and geographic boundaries at home and support each other in maintaining them.

7. Nourish the “We.” There is so much sheer necessity these days, so much on parental plates, that many couples look at me like I am kidding when I ask about the state of their union, of the quality of their relationship. Most feel like there is no time for any attention to this, even if they wanted to. Time is short, energy finite, and emotions frayed. This unfortunate state frequently results in “We,” the couple, getting scant if any attention. Yet, if the couple gets some regular care and feeding, deliberate acts of reconnection: an extended hug, a slightly prolonged bit of wordless eye contact, the sharing of a vulnerable emotion, or an entirely non-goal directed and playful sharing of a moment’s absurdity - EVERYONE in the house will benefit. Recall, we are co-creators of each other's experiences and emotions, and I have found that a connected “We” is a tide that lifts every vessel in the family, and makes the next frustration or worry more bearable.

8. Remind Our Kids and Ourselves: We Are Living Through History. While it might be said that all of life is a teachable moment, marshaling our attention to the uniqueness of our current predicament is a curriculum in itself: A global crisis that binds us all together in a common purpose while forcing us to separate ourselves ... every day. Science, statistics, world & local politics, media, psychology - are just a few of the ways of knowing that are available to us as we try to make sense of this chapter in our lives. We are also making indelible memories—this is a generationally uniting event—whether you are a Millennial, Gen-X or Gen-Z, or an OK-Boomer, we are walking our socially distant way into a new world. A curriculum we are living through with lots of opportunities to "discuss amongst ourselves" means our daily experiences and observations can be highly charged channels for experiential learning. And there is the chance to make art out of our pain, uncertainty, and isolation. Recording our experiences in this way offers us an opportunity to not only participate in history, but to be part of writing it as well. This phase will end, and there is so much more to life than this pandemic, but if we tune in, that is, direct our creative attention to it, there is so much life, however hard, in this prolonged wrinkle in time.

This is an extraordinary and frightening time. Some kids are really scared, for sure. What I see, hour after hour of virtually visiting with families, is that most kids aren’t nearly as scared as their parents fear, and that is largely because most of the parents are holding the lion’s share of the anxiety. I believe this has always been the case throughout our evolution, but particularly so now, in this time of utter uncertainty, real danger, and societal change on a mass level. You, parents, are doing a better job than you know. Trust me on that one.