parenting in a pandemic

Parenting in a pandemic has been, in a word, exhausting.

And it’s no one’s fault… it’s just the circumstances.  We understand why we had to restructure life – to save other lives.  But it has still been one long, emotional experience.  Here is what our year has looked like:

Part 1 – Home from School

When my kids first came home from school, the beginning of last March, and we were suddenly homeschoolers, I remember thinking this will all be okay – I had always wanted to homeschool so here was our chance.  So I ran to Target and bought puzzles and Play-Doh.  I ran to Costco and bought grade appropriate workbooks.  I bought new notebooks and pencils and crayons.  I looked up National Geographic specials to watch that they could take notes on, write a paragraph about, and draw a matching picture.  I made homemade muffins daily and took them on walks.  We would snuggle and watch movies and read books.  It was going to be okay.

This lasted approximately 6 weeks.

There was fighting and crying.  Melt downs.  Daily.  Even multiple times daily.  And it was all reactions (even if they didn’t understand it) to the pandemic.  They missed their school.  They missed their friends.  They missed their routine.  They were afraid of this unseen virus that threatened harm.

They were sad and afraid.

And to be honest, so was I.

Part 2 – Anything Goes

So I scrapped school in April.  Called it quits.  It wasn’t worth ruining their mental health.  We were going to have an extended summer break.  They got to stay up late and sleep in.  They got to watch TV and play unhealthy amounts of Nintendo Switch.  It was getting warm here in Vegas so I bought a play pool and huge watermelon that was really a sprinkler.  We got popsicle molds and made new flavors daily.  They realized they could FaceTime their friends while they played Roblox so they would grab my phone, prop it up on their bed and laugh and chat as they played.  I worried about all the screen time but it connected them to their friends so I let it slide.

This lasted approximately 6 weeks.

Then there was more fighting and crying and meltdowns.  They were bored constantly.  They would cry over who got the phone and which friend got to be called.  They were missing their community and structure.

They were exhausted from it all.

And, to be honest, so was I.

Part 3 – A Haven

Then in July, we got a respite.  We packed our car within every last inch and head northwest to the family cabin.  We had a week of swimming in the lake, rowing a boat, making s’mores, playing card games, taking hikes, watching classic movies on the VCR (yes VCR), eating every Trader Joe’s snack in the cupboards, grilling out, and enjoying every sweet moment of nature we could find.  I am not an outdoors girl typically but even I soaked it in.  I got a break while Grandma and Grandpa watched the kids during the day.  I read multiple books and sat on the porch with a cup of coffee.  The pandemic seemed so far away.  We were safe and happy and healthy in our little cabin by the lake.  The kids were the most normal I had seen them in months.  They played with their cousin.  They joked with our friend.  They sang with their Grandma as she played the piano.  They listened intently as Grandpa read with them.  My heart was so full that week.  It felt like a haven.  And it was.

That lasted exactly 1 week.

As we headed back home, we were all a bit in mourning as we knew what our reality would look like again.  They watched YouTube videos the whole 7 hour drive home.  I didn’t even complain they were on their phones so much.  Their souls hurt to return to the solitude.

They were lonely.

And, to be honest, so was I.

Part 4 – Back to School – Virtual Learning Edition

We hemmed and hawed on what to do with the new school year.  I actually bought homeschooling books when their principal called and encouraged me to give virtual learning a try.  “Give it a few weeks,” she said.  “It will be better.”  She was hopeful so we gave it a try.  And it was harder than the Spring.  Truly so hard.  Three kids, 3 learning centers, 3 different schedules, 3 different breaks and meal times, 3 different ways to access the school work, 3 different ways that they delivered homework, 3 different ways to turn in assignments.  I had signed up for a continuing education program at the local university and immediately, after a week that my kids were back to class, I dropped out. There was no way I could go back to school right now.  We daily had tears and frustrations.  I had to sit with my 1st grader all day every day because he wasn’t understanding what was going on or would get distracted and start playing with Legos.  He would bawl when I demanded he focus and I would bawl because I knew he wasn’t being stubborn – it was just too much on his little heart.

From day one of virtual learning, this started and it lasted for weeks.

They were overwhelmed.

And, to be honest, so was I.

Part 5 – We Wait

And so that is where we are today… Still overwhelmed with school.  Still feeling lonely and scared.  Still wishing for a break from it all.  Still having breakdowns and tears from someone almost daily.  Still exhausted from the instability and unknown.  We wait for when life will be able to go back to “normal” again but for now we are doing our best to create stability in an unstable world.

I keep telling myself what matters most right now is their mental health and their feeling of safety.  Grades don’t matter this year – this isn’t the year that will get them into Yale or Harvard.  I’m not too concerned if they are on their tablets too much or talking with friends till 9 pm.  Parenting in a pandemic is completely different than any other time.  Their physical and mental safety is more important that anything else.

We still have fun times.  We dance to “Come and Get Your Love” in the living room, make cookies, snuggle up to watch “The Masked Singer” and “The Mandalorian” with a bowl of popcorn, and take in some nature walks when we get the chance.

I really hope when my kids look back at the pandemic stage of their life that they will feel a lot of love.  Not the fights or tears or loneliness but that I had them, they had me, God had us all, and despite the insecurity we were held.  There is NO RIGHT WAY to parent in a pandemic.  But at the end of the day, as long as you take care of their mental/physical health and your own, I think they (we!) will all come out of this okay.

Give yourself a lot of grace Momma.  You are doing alright.  Stay safe and healthy friends.

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