Through the Looking Glass of Parenting in a Pandemic

Now that we’re coming down off the Mother’s Day high I’m being hit with the reality that we’re all still in purgatory and it’s not getting easier. I hit my parenting low last week when I caught myself crying uncontrollably while begging a one-year-old to please go to sleep.

This was supposed to be “my time”. Between 10 months of pregnancy followed by a year of postpartum recovery, I had already been sheltering in place for nearly 2 years. April was scheduled to be my comeback month. I had gigs lined up and suddenly everything was canceled. So now, I’m battling with my anxiety around the uncertainty of our current climate, as well as processing my own feelings of disappointment. 

Many people thought that quarantine would be reasonably easy for me as a self-employed writer who is already with my child fulltime. What people don’t know is that most “stay-at-home” families spend a lot of time out of the home.

Attempting to be productive while my family is in the house is like giving them an open invitation to irritate me. For some odd reason, no matter what I’m doing, these people have convinced themselves that I hate being alone. Thus, they’ve resolved to follow me EVERYWHERE! I have an extra shadow in any given room. Yes… even in the bathroom. In fact, the minute I even think about going into the bathroom all mandatory family business is addressed. Paul wants to discuss all his random Aquarian thoughts and the little one likes to show me all their toys as if I’m not the one who bought them. But I digress… 

Bottom line, there are few occasions where working from home is actually productive. The same goes for teaching at home. Any person who is with a child 24/7 can tell you that field trips are an essential part of the curriculum.

Before outside was taken away, we had daily meetups/playdates at the library, playground, museum, etc. My child thrives on socialization. Especially with people other than their parents. More importantly, those are the only moments I get a break. Right now, my partner and I are our child’s only source of entertainment, and its a lot. We have to appear exciting to a toddler. All. Day. Long! It got so demanding that we’ve decided to have another child just so they can occupy each other.

I don’t know about you but I can’t recall ever being taught “how to survive a virtual reality with a toddler”. I’m literally doing the best I can and some days that looks like just resisting the urge to run away. In the beginning, I tried to maintain some normalcy but now I’m finding that there isn’t much room for our previous lifestyle. A child doesn’t know how to adapt to Zoom meetings. Hell, adults barely know how. So I’ve decided to throw away much of what I thought I knew and operate from where I am currently. Here’s what I’ve come up with thus far.

  • Change the schedule.
    • I am a proud member of the planner community. I stay stocked on pens, stickers, and washi tape. But doing the same thing every day got real old, real fast. Instead, we have a family mood check once we’re all awake and go from there. These days the only constants are mealtimes and bedtime. 
  • Do not negotiate with terrorists or argue with toddlers.
    • Discipline is almost non-existent in our house at this point. You don’t want to put on clothes? Fine. You want to eat dirt off the floor? Honey, enjoy. You want to scatter Tupperware all over the living room? Go ahead. I refuse to go back and forth with any child throwing a tantrum. The truth is, this pandemic isn’t just happening to us. Our children are feeling the effects as well and I don’t intend to make my life any harder by interfering with their coping strategies. 
  • Take the locks off the snack cabinet.
    • This goes with the previous point. Is my child actually hungry or just bored? I can’t say but they are beginning to eat us out of house and home. How much do you think a one-year-old needs to eat? I’ll tell you.  In one day my child eats 3 full meals with 1-2 snacks in-between each and I’m still breastfeeding every 3 hours. I’m at the grocery store every other day (not just because it’s my new turn-up spot) because we’re running out of food so fast.
  • Make “me-time” mandatory.
    • I schedule a minimum of 30 minutes for myself every day. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s better than nothing. If you live in a house where a child is constantly screaming you take what you can get. I’ll make more time if I can but I always give myself at least half an hour of every day. Even if I have to wait until after everyone is asleep.
  • Be honest about your limitations.
    • I have no interest in playing all day. Especially not in a toddler’s room with furniture that’s not designed for anyone over 45lbs. I’ve got about three good rounds of patty-cake in me before I get bored. furthermore, I have no intention of working on this. I’ve just accepted that Paul is the better parent. Meaning that I don’t show up in the way that he does. He turns on the minute our child wakes up. From then until they go to sleep he is whatever they need him to be. He’s upbeat and entertaining like a live PBS show. I am not. If our child wakes up before I’m ready they have two options: get in bed and cuddle with me or go entertain yourself. Either way, I’m going back to sleep. And yes, this is how I communicate with our 1-year-old. Entertaining children for extended periods of time has never been my bag and I’m an educator. Instead, I’m the teacher who will take time to learn your specific interest and then provide you with all the necessary materials to set you up for success on your own. I’ll engage here and there but for the most part, I advocate for independence. Knowing this and honoring it allows me to show up at my best rather than being burnt out and frustrated.
  • Go ahead and have that breakdown.
    • At this point, I’m taking daily retreats to the closet for crying sessions. It’s the pressure of having to be everything to everyone. You’ve heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child. Well, right now too many of us are attempting to be entire villages by ourselves. IT IS EXHAUSTING! We were not meant to raise children alone. That’s why we build community and that’s why this time is so hard. Most days I feel like I’m doing everything wrong and it’s only when I give myself time to address those feelings that I stop trying to “do it all” and give myself some grace. So cry, scream, and do whatever you need to do to validate your feelings. We can cry together if you want.

These are strange times we’re living in and these kids don’t listen. These are just the things that are helping me right now. But as I’ve said before, plans are a thing of the past so this list can be entirely different next week. Whether you resonate with all of this or none of it, I hope that you at least incorporate personal time and remain honest about what you can and cannot give. These two things will make a huge difference in how you show up for yourself and others during this time.

And if all else fails, just say parenting is canceled as well and let them kids raise themselves. Hell, let’s all just become kids ourselves until the shelter is lifted. We can start over as adults next year.

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