Parenting during the Pandemic
By: Maria Barcelos, MA, Executive Director, The Gatehouse & Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying)
The pandemic has been emotionally and psychologically exhausting. I recently read an article through the New York Times and a statement in there resonated with me “parenting through grief.”
This is how I felt, and I know many more felt this way too. If being a parent was not difficult enough already at times while trying to address childhood trauma myself, add a global pandemic into the mix and see what happens!
Sometimes, kids will not be able to complete homework as they would do so while in-person learning, leaving parents feeling more stressed, frustrated, and even depressed! The strain can feel persistent. Other parents and caregivers reading this, does this sound familiar? Teachers? Social Workers? Survivors and partners alike?
Over the past few weeks, I have been giving more thought to the experiences of parents and children during this time. With so much information being rapidly shared across multiple platforms, it can be overwhelming to even turn on the TV, listen to the radio or even read newspaper headlines. I was recently interviewed on this topic and shared that we must learn to be more flexible as parents. To accept that sometimes, the plan goes erratic.
Many parents are feeling the increased pressure and strain from now having to add homeschooling yet again to their list of daily activities. Me too. I have watched my teenaged children’s frustrations with online learning and at times, I am left feeling helpless to be able to change the situation for them. I cannot. I can, however, choose to respond with empathy now, in the present moment.
Many parents like myself, are working from home, already stressed with trying to manage boundaries with work and home spaces. I reached out on social media to ask other parents about their experiences about what it is like to be parenting during the pandemic…No names are included. Here is another mom’s experience:
“A challenge. Things are up and down, and routines are disrupted. We always have to have more than one backup plan to juggle two working parents and homeschooling/ finding backup care when school’s out for three kids 13,12, and 7. I am tired. We all are. I keep telling my kids it will get better. I keep trying to find ways to make things fun or special when we are not able to see friends and family. I keep seeing them get hopeful about something, only to have it cancelled. I take solace in the fact that many who have come before me and many who live in different circumstances have made it through worse. Parenting is always hard, this is just one more obstacle. Keep our heads up and spirits high when possible, be sad and upset when needed, and above all drink coffee. So much more coffee.” – One very cool mom
As a parent, you might be feeling like you have so many different responsibilities and roles now that you cannot possibly do it all well. It may be helpful to remind yourself that this situation is something we have never personally experienced before, to be self-compassionate and not berate ourselves if all is not going according to plan.
So how can we lessen the strain we feel? Let us start by looking at the different areas of our lives that have been impacted. Here are some tips that I have followed to support my family in this pandemic…
- Remote learning. Love it or hate it, it looks like it is here for a while longer. Is there an opportunity for you to reach out to other parents to start an emotional support group? I know you are probably tired of being online too. Me too.
- Children need routines. Children need consistency and it helps them feel safer knowing what is happening next. It does not have to be totally rigid in terms of timing, and it should be flexible to include some relaxing activities too. This applies to eating, tidying up or any other activities they do.
- Get creative with teaching ideas to your children. For example, using actual household items for counting. Or doing a homemade science experiment for them to actively participate in.
Addressing Stress – For your child and for yourself
- Remember that children hear and learn from you. It is important to speak to them in a language they understand. And, if you have a younger child, you do not need to explain everything that is happening as this might cause more anxiety to surface.
- More virtual fun. Is there an opportunity to host virtual playdates? How about virtual socialization with friends for yourself as a parent. Or attending a peer support group for parents, if none exist, start one! Zoom offers free accounts, 40-minute meetings.
- Practice gratitude with your children. Reinforcing good behaviours is helpful for us and for them. Take a moment to practice yourself first thing in the morning.
- Go outside and get some fresh air. The outdoors is wonderful and remember to follow social distancing rules when doing so.
- Bedtime Routine. For children and adults alike, having a bedtime routine is important to developing and sustaining good sleep habits.
Tips for those with Teenagers
Being a teenager is a wonderful and different time in a child’s development. A couple of activities that I have found helpful to connect more with my teens include:
Cooking and Eating Together. It is important to share meals, as it is another socialization and connection opportunity for families to spend time together. Teens are learning to be more independent. My kids love to cook and try new foods. One is a pickier eater than the other!
Watching TV shows and Integrating Conversations. We have recently started watching anime shows that my teens are into to help generate more conversation about their likes too. Anime was something I watched as a teen myself, so it feels like my inner child is there too! They are away from the computer and spending time with you.
Gardening together. Each year, we plant food. My son is more into this process than my daughter. He will help dig and plant. Some kids love it and others don’t. The idea is to get them outside and being with nature. They will feel better!
Exercising together. Going for a walk helps all our mental health. If you are into sports, do some other physical sports activities with them too.
I know my children spend a good percentage of their day on the computer, with homework and friends, gaming, and socializing. However, being on the computer for extended periods of time for anyone is not helpful. Take a mindful moment and go say hello to your teens. Ask how they are feeling and empathize with them. “I hear you and empathize with your frustration” is a truly powerful statement that can help them feel heard and validated. You can then suggest some activities for you to do together or asking if there is anything they would like to talk about, do or share with you. Sometimes this may backfire into “nope and go away,” teenagers!
New York Times. (2020). Pandemic parenting. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/12/parenting/parents-kids-coronavirus.html
Helpguide. (2021). Parenting during coronavirus. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/parenting-family/parenting-during-coronavirus.htm