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Ever-evolving Challenges of Parenting During a Pandemic by Charity Hagains, MA, LPC-S

Parenting during a pandemic has been…challenging. Everyday has been an education in flexibility and change for all of us. There have been some unexpected wins but also unforeseen shortcomings in how we parent during these strange and unique times. We have faced challenges that no one could have prepared us for, and we still aren’t done.

The responsibility of parenting has always been that we determine what is right and good for our children. We are charged with their safety, growth, physical health, and emotional wellbeing. It’s never been an easy gig, but it’s even harder now. With these new circumstances, we must find answers to questions that we had never before imagined. Finding guidance in how to make these decisions for our families is complicated and ever changing. For many of us we are stuck in a loop of nothing feeling “right.”

It doesn’t feel right to send our kids back to school while so many of us are still isolating and working from home ourselves.

It doesn’t feel right to homeschool our children and keep them socially isolated all day, every day plus risk their education suffering.

It doesn’t feel right to make kids wear a mask 8 hours a day while they try to learn.

It doesn’t feel right to allow our children to sit in a room with 20 other kids without a mask either.

These questions can easily turn into an endless list of circumstances we face when we are parenting during a pandemic. Do we isolate? Do we see our close family members? Do we see our elderly family? Do we take a much needed vacation? Is it safe to go to camp? Is it safe to have a sleepover with friends? Is it safe for grandma to come over?

Is it safe? Is it right? Am I being too cautious? Am I being cautious enough? Am I overreacting? Am I underreacting?

Doubt is part of our shared human condition, but it can become debilitating when paired with so many anxious thoughts and very real uncertainties. We like concrete answers to our questions, and right now we are getting very little of that. Even picturing what the coming months will look like is impossible. We have been disappointed so many times in the recent past by our vision and expectations being not only unmet but obliterated all together. It can feel scary to plan or imagine normalcy, two things we absolutely love as humans.

Here’s the bottom line: we just don’t know what comes next. Unfortunately, our idea of pre pandemic normal is off the menu, and we must begin to accept the ever changing reality in which we find ourselves. We have to adjust the expectations we have of ourselves, our children, and our society. All the while keeping in mind that our children are far more resilient and flexible in their thinking than we often give them credit for.

We look back at our childhood experiences and our understanding of what their upbringing would be, and we get stuck on those ideas. We feel immense sadness that the vision we have isn’t what is happening. Our children don’t have that memory and only a vague idea of what to expect for their future. Their vision isn’t as set in stone as ours. They haven’t really experienced any of this, so the fact that it is different isn’t as painful for them as it might be for us.

That’s not to say they aren’t experiencing disappointment and confusion…they are. We have to make space for their emotional turmoil that these new ways of living may bring with it. To do that, we must support them from a place of security and love.

“How can I offer them security when I feel like the future is so unsure?”

Stay present. Don’t live in the past idea of “normal,” and don’t try to plan too far into the uncertain future. Stay in today.

Listen. Don’t try to gloss over or make it all better if they are sad or anxious. Let them have those feelings because they are valid. Let them know you hear them and those are hard feelings to deal with, ones you too experience. Remind them that no matter what happens they are cared for and you have control over your corner of the world (the corner they live in).

Don’t have the grown up convos in front of them. Hopefully you are sharing your concerns with your loved ones and support system, you need that. But those conversations are best had after bedtime when you can fully focus on your own selfcare. This falls in line with not exposing them to regular doses of news coverage. An overload of information can cause their (and your) anxiety to needlessly increase.

Don’t pretend to have all the answers. Just like you are staying in the moment, your children need to do the same. It’s okay to say “I’m not sure.” “We will see what tomorrow looks like tomorrow.” “I don’t have those answers kiddo.” They likely have questions about the upcoming school year, what the next few months will be like, and when this will all end…it is a normal reaction to want answers. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have those answers, so encourage them to go moment to moment with their expectations. Reinforce that you know what today looks like and that’s enough.

I can’t tell you what the right answer for your family is regarding the upcoming school year. Homeschooling, in person schooling, hybrid schooling??? I don’t know. But I know for a fact you will make the right decision, for right now, for your family. I know this because you (and no one else) is the expert on your children. I can only offer you my confidence that whatever choice you make, it will be made with thoughtful consideration and intentionality, and that is the only standard we can aspire to right now. You wouldn’t be reading this article if you weren’t already doing your level best to make educated and mindful choices. Just remember, whatever you decide, you are allowed to change and adjust your choice to meet the ever changing needs of your family. You are and will always be your children’s best advocate…even when nothing feels “right.”

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