Pandemic parenting has been nothing like my first 15 of this gig. Granted, there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to families. Situations change and we learn to be flexible. What works for some kids and some families doesn’t work for others.
However, there are some things that generally work and are good recommendations, things that I (and lots of other parents) have worked hard to incorporate into our lives. But pandemic parenting has turned all these things on their heads. We were once told to focus on these important parenting practices. Thousands of books, articles and podcasts were dedicated to giving us the facts and numbers to convince us of these decisions, and they are now irrelevant. In fact, sometimes we are being told to do the exact opposite.
In some cases, these are hard-fought-for practices that we have taken years to cultivate, practices that we find valuable but can be difficult to manage. They don’t work any more. And it’s been hard to adjust to the loss. What is right and wrong now? We have to discover it all over again.
These are things that I decided were important in our family life, but don’t fit pandemic life.
Limited screen time
Screen time is bad for developing brains- we’ve been told that over and over and over. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a limit of two hours of screen time per day and that those two hours should be “high quality programming” and that parents should co-watch with their children.
The reality is that all children are now spending up to six hours a day staring at a screen to complete school work. Yes, much of this is high-quality with education being the primary goal, but I know my kids have been assigned a lot of YouTube videos and online games.
Pandemic parenting is losing track of the amount of time your kids spend watching a screen. They can’t spend time with friends, their activities are cancelled and parents have to squeeze in work around a growing mound of school assignments and household responsibilities. Screen time becomes the default solution.
Every moment counts
From shaming moms who glace at their phones on the playground to hundreds of Pinterest boards dedicated to turning every moment into a time of learning or connection, parents are conditioned to believe every moment counts, and they should act accordingly. Even at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about enjoying all the extra time we get to spend together.
Now that we are nearly a year into pandemic parenting, we realize it’s just not possible. Life goes on. We aren’t spending the time building puzzles and playing games. Our kids have to learn to read and multiply and write essays. Parents have to work and clean the house and grocery shop. I’m not cherishing the time. I’m stressed about all that isn’t done. The parenting responsibilities keep growing with no more time in the day or means to accomplish them.
The theme of parenting pre-pandemic is that all moments can count and be meaningful. Just a few minutes a day of reading or math facts makes a world of difference. The little moments of unhurried time and stopping to listen to Minecraft stories make kids feel impowered.
Now, the overriding message is that kids are resilient. Being stuck in the house for months at a time is OK. They can miss a whole year of school and eventually they’ll catch up. They can stare at a screen, halt their educational progress and not develop social skills and relationships because they are resilient and won’t miss this time.
Yes, it’s a little of both. We don’t have to pay attention to them 24 hours a day, AND they are resilient. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think there won’t be long-term consequences for this year of fear and chaos.
Self care is essential
People still try to pay lip service to this idea, but in practice, it’s just no longer true, especially for moms. No one is asking if we are getting time by ourselves to recharge, doing things we enjoy or hanging out (virtually or in person) with our friends. Instead, we are being asking if we worked a full 40 hours. Or if our kid’s school work is all done. Or if we are leaving the house as few times as possible.
It wasn’t a slow descent either. The moment life stopped last March, a mom’s plate was over-filled with entertaining the kids, school projects, finding a quiet place to work and managing a houseful of people 24/7. There is no escape. Even if we wanted to take care of ourselves, when would we do it? And where?
Self care is a thing of the past. There is no down time. There is an ever lengthening list of things that need done, and I am the one that is expected to do them.
These are just a few of the paradigms our family is unlearning, whether we like it or not. What ideas have had to change for your and your family in the last year? What necessities have you let drop because they didn’t work anymore?