Flexible Parenting During COVID-19

Published: July 29, 2020

As a parent of three children under the age of twelve, I have been dealing with the same pandemic-related stressors as millions of other parents across the country since March: scrambling to manage distance learning while juggling my work-from-home schedule, monitoring my kids’ emotional and physical health, assuming the brunt of childcare and household chores, and balancing the family budget with the ever-present fear of a possible reduction in income. I am fortunate—and don’t take lightly—the fact that I have a very flexible part-time job and an exceptionally supportive employer who understands these are strange and challenging times, especially for families with young children. I’m also very fortunate to have a partner who has full-time employment at a time when so many families are struggling to make ends meet. When you consider that between March and July roughly 2.8 million Texans have filed unemployment claims, the economic impact of COVID-19 becomes starkly clear. 

One of the key issues throughout this pandemic has been that the economic and public health consequences are inextricably tied. Keeping people safe at home means businesses suffer economically, and it seems few industries have gone unscathed--from the service and tourism industries (which have been especially hard hit), to higher education and even healthcare (which seems ironic given that these healthcare professionals are the ones caring for those most severely affected by the pandemic). Now that so many schools are facing the very difficult decisions of how (in person? virtual? hybrid model?) and when (August? September?) to resume school in the fall, the situation seems even more overwhelming for working parents and their employers. 

While I recognize how lucky my spouse and I are to have work that allows at least one of us to be home with the kids at all times—as well as the luxury of having internet access, space at home to set up makeshift work areas, and decently-up-to-date technology—I have to be honest and admit the stress is still unbelievably real. I worry about what my kids are losing academically, socially, and emotionally with distance learning, and yet I worry about their health with in-person instruction. I worry that my youngest has become exceedingly clingy the past few months and that my older kids are missing out on the critical social skills that develop with in-person peer relationships…and I constantly worry how the world’s collective anxiety is affecting kids’ emotional and mental health.

So what are parents to do?  Unfortunately, no one really knows because there are simply too many uncertainties right now: cases continue to surge in the U.S., the economic forecast remains uncertain, and our education system is facing unprecedented challenges. In spite of this, there is some hope. International efforts to create a vaccine have been promising thus far, most schools are paying attention to CDC guidelines and regional COVID-19 data as they develop back-to-school plans, and more individuals are taking proactive, evidence-based measures to protect themselves, their families, and their communities. 

In our own family, we are using this constant togetherness as an opportunity to practice patience and empathy with one another (which is difficult when your five-year-old is on her seventy-ninth rendition of “Let It Go” during your important work meeting) and learn healthy ways to manage stress. In our case, that means being physically active and getting time outdoors, whether that’s biking and walking through our neighborhood or simply hanging out in the backyard.  We’re also doing our best to prepare healthy meals, enforce bedtimes, limit screen time, and checking in with the kids daily to see how they’re handling the ups and downs of life right now. This, of course, is easier said than done. For instance, my kids ate leftover birthday cake for breakfast a few weeks ago, and even they are surprised by my indulgent leniency with screen time lately. It’s hard to do everything and do it right when you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and on edge pretty much all the time, so I’ve decided that flexibility is what is going to get us through this. I’m also trying to be more mindful of my own mental and physical health. Caring for your family is close to impossible when you don’t take care of yourself first, so it’s been critical to find downtime—just for myself—to read, go for a run, or just catch up on a television show. 

All of this is to say that, even though things feel stressful and overwhelming for most of us right now, there are some things we can control. We can take actions and make choices to lessen the burden, not only for ourselves and our families, but for the greater good.

Written by a staff contributor.