Parenting During A Pandemic
The moment that the news of Covid-19 broke, I knew that I would need to create some best practices for parents struggling with having their children, tweens and teens underfoot 24/7, supporting them in their schoolwork and also trying to manage either working from home for a company or simply getting the day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping and laundry done.
A lot of people have come out with articles telling parents to be the “grown-ups”, “be kind” to one another, and more. And the comments that I’ve read from people responding to these articles have ranged from “This is the best thing I’ve ever read!” to “Are you kidding me? Parents are struggling too! How am I supposed to be kind and be the grown up when I feel lost, and alone, and angry and sad all the time?”
I’d like to address the second group of parents. The ones who feel lost, and alone and afraid. Who find themselves in uncharted territory without a compass or a map. Who can’t fathom how to “be a grown up” in a situation that makes everyone, more or less, feel like a child whose world has spun out of control. Parents who are having trouble “being kind” — to themselves, to one another, to their children — when their predominant emotion is that of profound and what feels like unrelenting grief.
Here are some ideas that I hope will help:
PASS/FAIL isn't just for students
I typically tell parents that there’s a 70/30 rule they have to follow in order for everyone in the family, and especially the kids, to be “ok.” You only have to get it right 70% of the time. That leaves a 30% margin for error. During Covid-19 I’m making this pass/fail. So just pass. Just get a 60 in parenting. That’s all you need right now.
Understand the complexity of grief. It includes all of the following feelings in no particular order: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness / depression, acceptance, anxiety, and trying to extract some sort of meaning out of the situation.
Most of the feelings that you are having right now — being angry at your partner for forgetting to take out the garbage; your frustration that the kids are spending too much time on screens; your anxiety that you will catch the virus even though you haven’t been outside in 4 weeks — all of it, ALL of it, has more to do with the process of grief than with your partner’s failure to take out the trash, your children being on screens or the actual likelihood of catching the virus when you’re doing everything you can to stay safe.
Learn to label these feelings, during this period of time, as grief. When you feel angry, or sad, or anxious say to yourself, “This is probably grief.” It will help you push the “pause” button and not over-react to the specific situation that is going on in that particular moment.
Remember that denial is an important part of the process. Your children overusing their screens, you binge watching your favorite Netflix series, your partner’s sudden obsession with cleaning out closets, all of these serve as distractions from Covid-19 and breaking news. Distraction and denial allow our brains, momentarily, to rest from the intensity of the other feelings of grief. You need the rest. It’s impossible to function with your feelings on hyper-drive all of the time so plan to include these distractions into your daily routine just as you would include sleep.
As much as possible, create some sort of routine. Routines help us feel “normal,” as if the world has some order to it. Right now, as the chaos of Covid-19 swirls around us, anything you can do to establish a “new normal” will help you and your children feel safer. Even if the routine is that you put on regular clothes every day instead of being in your pajamas. Or if you have lunch or dinner at a regular hour each day. Or if you take a walk once a day. Any routine, small or large, will help.
I can’t, and won’t, promise that a routine will make the feelings of grief go away, I can reassure you that a routine will ground you so that when the feelings swell they will wash over you instead of drowning you.
Julie Ross, MA is the author of the bestselling books “How to Hug a Porcupine: Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years” and “Joint Custody with a Jerk: Raising a Child with an Uncooperative Ex.” She is available for private counseling and runs workshops for parents and teachers. She is available for either via phone, teleconference or Zoom during the pandemic. She will also be available for in-person sessions in New York City once the threat of the virus has passed.