When everything began getting serious regarding COVID-19, I had this idea in my head of what parenting would begin to look like. Me, working from home and getting an incredible amount of work done. My son, doing his schoolwork every day before screen time and playing. Our lives continuing on relatively normally, with a similar routine. But, when I tried to implement this type of lifestyle, I realized how wrong my thinking was. This was not going to work for us.
When we sat down to do schoolwork during those first two weeks, my son cried. My nine-year-old cried about doing schoolwork, which is something that never occurred when doing homework in the past. At first, I was irritated. I was telling him to stop crying and do his work. There’s no reason to cry. Then at one point, he looked at me and said, “Mom, this is really stressful.” And I realized how hard this situation is for him. Our kids’ lives have suddenly been uprooted. Their schedules, their routines, have been completely changed and twisted around. They aren’t seeing their friends or their beloved teachers. They aren’t experiencing gym class or recess – the favorite time of the school day for so many children. They are having to learn in a completely new environment. And, its stressful.
This made me look at the situation in a new light. My son needed his feelings validated. He needed to know that is okay to feel stressed about doing schoolwork in a new way, and he needed to know that we would work on it together, instead of me just telling him when and how to do it. We found a different way of doing things. My son told me he would feel better about doing schoolwork in the evenings, so this is our routine for now – he has free time during the day, and we do schoolwork in the evenings. I realized that by giving my son the opportunity to make this small decision for himself, he felt more in control. And this is important during a time when everyone feels a little out-of-control, especially our young ones. So, we do schoolwork, but we take breaks when they are needed. We sometimes do not get all of the assignments done on the day they are supposed to be done. We take our time, and we find new ways to learn. We have found new resources – online math games, online libraries with endless amounts of book to read, and videos of people who explain the materials much better than I can. We have decided traditional ways of doing schoolwork aren’t always going to work for us, and that’s okay.
Once my idea of remote learning went out the window, so did many other aspects of our lives. I’ve become the lenient mom. I let my son stay up late and sleep in. I let him have way more screen time than what is probably deemed “appropriate.” During the day, he gets to plays video games and Legos and shoot his nerf guns. He gets to lay on the couch and watch his favorite shows. He makes a mess of my living room, and sometimes, I don’t make him clean up his mess until one or two days after he’s made it. And why? Because when he’s focused on having fun, he’s not focused on what is going on in the world. When he is on his computer, he able to talk to and connect with friends. He is not so isolated from all of the people he usually sees on a daily basis. We’ve done puzzles and painted and played outside. He’s been able to use his imagination and create and breathe. He has been able to relax. He will eventually go back to school and will start having busy days again with school, boy scouts, sports, and homework. There will be an expectation again of doing daily tasks in a timely manner. Why not take advantage of this not-so-convenient situation we’re in? We’ve been able to slow down and not rush through life. We’re taking time to just be at home, nowhere to be and no expectations. And, I’m seeing how much my son is enjoying the break from our fast-paced lives.
Our children are still learning coping skills and understanding how to articulate their feelings about what is going on around them, and as adults, we have these skills. We are able to compartmentalize our feelings and have ways of dealing with stress and frustration. Our children watch us more than we realize, and I am now understanding that my son will learn how to deal with difficult situations through watching how I handle them. I usually handle stress through self-care, doing something small for myself. I’ve been encouraging my son to find what he likes, develop new interests and hobbies, and spend time doing what he wants to do. I already know what works for me when I’m stressed, and I know these same methods are not going to work for my child. I hope he can take this extra time we all have and find methods of dealing with bad days and negative feelings in his own ways. I am not going to dictate his schedule throughout the day and tell him what activities he should be doing at what time. I’ve been asking him, “what do you want to do today?” I’m going to let him make those choices because through doing so, he is gaining independence and decision-making skills.
At the beginning of all this, I was only concerned with how I was going to teach my child academics. But, this is a unique situation, and there is so much more for our children to learn through this experience.
Family time now also looks different for us, too. We spend time often together as a family, but sometimes, we do things alone. At times, we are all on different floors of our home doing what we each do to relax – my son playing Fortnite in the dining room, my fiancé browsing and reading on his computer in the basement, and me upstairs in the bath reading a book. I have always felt this obligation to constantly be with my son, for us to always be doing something together as a family. In the past, I have felt extreme guilt when I have wanted alone time. Now, I’m letting this go. I’m seeing how positive it is for one’s mental health to have that extra time to just be alone for a little while. We are currently home together, all three of us, 24/7 until further notice. We have loved the extra family time and have taken advantage of it. But, we have also taken time to be by ourselves. And, as a mom, I have noticed how much we have all three needed this. When I take care of myself, I am way better equipped to take care of my family. Parents, it’s okay for us to focus on ourselves at times. The great thing is, by doing so, we’re also allowing our children to focus on themselves.
And just like I feel we need to be lenient with our kids, we need to be lenient with ourselves. Productivity now has a different definition. My thinking at first was, “This is going to be great – working from home in my comfy pants in front of my TV.” But, I soon came to realize that working from home means there are expectations from all sides. When I am in my office, I can focus solely on work, no distractions. When I’m at home, I am trying to get my work done while also needing to take the dog out, make sure my child is fed, get groceries, pay the bills, and do the laundry. During staff meetings, I am trying to hear my coworkers over the sounds of nerf guns shooting or my son yelling from the other room, “Mom, come watch this video on Youtube!” It’s weird when suddenly there are not set times for being in the office and set times for being at home; everything just meshes together, and it’s hard to get used to. Productivity is going to look different during these times when we’re still figuring out what we should be doing and when we should be doing it. Our priorities continue to change and shift. I’ve been slowly learning how to reevaluate my expectations of what I can accomplish in a day and be okay with the tasks that need to be put off until tomorrow. This is a time of incredible uncertainty. While our kids are scared because they don’t quite understand the situation, I know parents are also scared as they are trying to keep their families safe and healthy, while also keeping up everyday demands of parenting. My hope is that we can all find what kind of parenting works best for each of us in these not-so-ordinary circumstances. But, no matter how we parent, let’s remember to be kind and patient with ourselves.
As a parent, I’ve decided to use this crazy time in our lives to let my kid be a kid. I’m going to absorb all of the negativity and uncertainty that I can and keep him as far away from it as possible. I know he’s going to overhear evolving information about this virus, news and conversations, because it’s everywhere. And, I’m going to keep telling my child that everything is going to be fine. It’s going to be okay. It is not our kids’ job to worry. As parents, we have a choice in how this pandemic affects our children. Why not take this time to become closer to our children, to give our children some freedoms, to let our children grow and learn more about themselves? Why not take this time to finally be able to be the moms we don’t always get to be – carefree, calm, non-demanding? Our children will forever remember the year 2020, the year of The Coronavirus, but what is that they will remember about it?
I hope my child does not remember this time as a time of fear and anxiety. I hope he remembers fishing and getting muddy in the creek at the park. I hope he remembers getting to be lazy and stay in his pajamas all day. I hope he remembers eating junk food and watching movies way past his bedtime. I don’t mind him remembering me as lenient and indulgent because then he can remember a time when the world was in a time of unpredictability, and he was protected from it – he just got to be a kid.