What I Learned in 2020: Takeaways from parenting in a pandemic
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
Some mom friends of mine have been surprised by how well I’ve fared through months of lockdown at home during this global COVID-19 pandemic. “It seems like you’re thriving!” One told me. “How are you being so patient?” Another asked, adding, “I’m going crazy!”
The truth is, I’ve had a lot of practice.
My oldest of two sons has severe asthma and has been hospitalized countless times. During the hospitalizations, I had to learn to just be. After the attacks came the real challenge, however. His asthma is viral induced, meaning if he got sick, his airways would tighten and it would almost certainly result in an attack. So, once we were home, and even sometimes for long stretches in between, we had to keep him in isolation. During these periods, we could not see friends, he could not go to school and we couldn’t bring him to any public places, which meant mom and dad had to get pretty creative with at-home entertainment.
Once the pandemic hit, my husband and I sprang into action. We pulled our oldest out of preschool, my husband opted to work from home and we stopped all social interactions. We’ve been in “lockdown” now going on eight months. The following are takeaways I’ve gleaned from our time in isolation:
Focus on Parenting
I took a break from work, and leaned into motherhood, hard. Now I am extremely grateful that I had the option to not work, I know a lot of moms are not this lucky. Not working allowed me to focus solely on the boys. First, my husband and I explained to them what was going on. To our surprise, our five year old wasn’t at all concerned with missing preschool or not seeing his friends. He even told me recently he was glad I didn’t have to work so we could be together. Heart melted, I realized how much he craved time with mom and dad.
Create a Routine
After we all accepted the new normal, I came up with a schedule for our days. I’ll admit, I’ve been known to hold too tightly to a schedule (just ask my husband). However, if you can remain flexible, countless books and resources will tout the benefits of a routine to help kids feel safe, develop coping skills for stress later in life, and give kids a sense of security. After all, kids are presented with constant change in their normal daily lives, let alone during a pandemic.
Our routine looked something like this:
5:45am Mom Gets up, Make Breakfast
6:30-7:15am Boys Wake Up
8:30-9:30am Play inside
9:30-10:30am Play Outside
12pm Toddler Nap/5YO Online School/Mom Workout
1pm Arts and Crafts with 5YO
2:30pm Toddler Wakes Up/Snack Time
3:30-4:30pm Play Outside
4:30pm Baths if needed, Start Dinner
7:15pm Nighttime Routine/Bed
Whenever possible create extra space in your day so you can move slowly with your kids. Toddlers, especially, take a few seconds to process information. So it can be very frustrating when life is whizzing by while they are desperately trying to process and understand what is happening. Creating a cushion, especially around transitions (say from playtime to lunchtime) will greatly reduce tantrums and overall frustration for everyone.
Don’t Be a Hero
Parenting is hard. Very hard. Especially in a pandemic. But that’s not to say other circumstances outside of Coronavirus can’t pile on top of a parent’s already taxing load. Say you’re a single mother, or your kids are sick, or the weather is crappy and you have pent up toddlers bouncing off the walls. Whatever the circumstance, be honest with yourself. If it is too much for you to handle, let your standards slide - just a little. Your sanity is much better for your kids than a little less screen time.
Before the pandemic we would only watch TV during “our special Friday night.” That’s the night we make pizza as a family and watch a movie. Coronavirus, however, changed all that. I accepted cartoons early on as a welcomed relief. My kids needed the break and so did I. I often told my husband those 30-40 minutes was the only time during the day when my headspace belonged to only me. I would use the time to think, or listen to a podcast, or simply enjoy silence. Now don’t go nuts here. I didn’t plop them in front of the TV for hours a day, although some days I was tempted. I still kept screen time well under the current recommendations, while still allowing myself enough time to recharge.
The term “Quarantine 15” has become popularized over the last year as those lucky enough to stay home packed on the pounds. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about a small something just for you. It could be a movie after the kids go to bed, a piece (or a few pieces) of chocolate or taking an hour to go on a hike by yourself, if you are able. Whatever recharges your battery so you can be your best self for your kids and your spouse, that is your indulgence. Just make sure whatever you do, it is guilt free. If you need help, just tell yourself, “This slice of cake is for my family,” as you savor every bite.
Create Your Own Bubble
One of the funnest parts of staying home for me was forgetting about the world and getting lost in kisses, snuggles and playtime with my kids. Activities I used to be “too busy for” suddenly became a welcome vacation. Granted, I had the luxury of not thinking about work for over six months. Actually, I did not have to think about much of anything outside of my family.
Still, as I ease back into work, I am intentionally remembering to “create my own bubble” when I’m with my kids. Whatever anxieties are plaguing my mind, I simply tell myself, “I do not have to think about this right now.” Sure, I may have to think about it at some point, but not at this very moment. At this very moment, I am in my bubble, with my boys and I am happy.
It may sound easier said than done, but there are practical ways to achieve it. If you really cannot shake that nagging worry, schedule it. Block out some time on your calendar to tackle, and come up with a solution to, that problem. Until that aforementioned block, it is not allowed on your radar. Period. If it starts to creep in, focus on your kids or whatever activity they’re engaged in. If my kids were building LEGOs, I would grab the builder’s manual and start assembling a LEGO shopping center. If they are telling me a story, I would zero in on every word they are saying. And if they are playing some other game, I would jump in full throttle. It’s amazing how when you force your attention on one thing, everything else seems to melt away.
Clear Out the Cobwebs
Clearing out the cobwebs is different than pushing aside unwanted thoughts. Clearing out the cobwebs is what my husband and I call taking care of nagging tasks. If there’s something you’ve been putting off, say something you pushed to the side while creating your bubble, find the time to take care of it. It could be anything from a growing pile of dishes to that tax form you haven’t finished. Sometimes I am surprised how small my cobwebs are, but how massive the relief can be when I clear them out. For instance, chipped nail polish may not be at the forefront of my mind but immediately my subconscious launches into, “That looks terrible… When will I ever have time to paint them and actually sit for long enough to let them dry?” Taking 30 minutes after bedtime one night instantly clears that cobweb and brings a breath of fresh air. Unchecked cobwebs, however, can fester and create an underlying stress that can erupt at the smallest infraction. Do not put your partner or your kids through that. Just clear out the cobwebs so you’re free to enjoy the bubble.
I will be thrilled when this pandemic ends and I can go back to work. Still, I will miss the time when the world stood still. I will hold these lessons close and hope they help me be the best mom I can be. As parents we do not have to be perfect, we just have to be present. If you give your kids the gift of your presence you will both benefit.