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Pandemic Parenting

in Summer 2020 by

Alas, we find ourselves on an unprecedented and perilous stretch of “parenting road.” Fall turned to winter (with one lone snow day in December!), winter struggled to turn to spring, and now with summer just a breath away, we are all likely feeling a bit nostalgic about the familiar rhythms of 171 Goddard Avenue: drop-off and pick-up; Morning Meeting in classrooms and the Theater; lunches in the Dining Room; recess; and so many wonderful faces. The hustle and bustle of school days could be stressful, but they were also fun, and filled with learning spaces where there was an audible hum of young voices raised in a mix of joy, wonderment, chit-chat, and sometimes frustration. Together, it made school, well…school. Then came March 12th, the last day we were all physically together at The Park School. Responding to the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic required that we move into what has become our “new normal.”

It’s no small wonder if you are feeling the fatigue and stress of this time. Your capacity as parents has not miraculously tripled to accommodate the minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, and day-to-day needs thrust upon you. Many of you continue to hold the same professional roles and responsibilities as before, either continuing to go to your jobs on site or now working remotely from home. Some of you may be facing a change in job status and the stress and instability that this brings. Either way, you are parenting without the support of daily routines which included teachers at school; after-school activities, lessons and sports; weekend social engagements such as birthday parties; and the more simple and fun play date time spent with a friend or two. You, dear parents, have been wearing all of these hats and holding down the entirety of these roles from home! To be sure, it was never supposed to be this way for such a long time and with no clear and certain timeline for when and how we can anticipate a safe return to a life that more closely resembles what we knew.

Here’s what we know for sure: you are warriors, engaged in “pandemic parenting” for which there is no guidebook or road map. There will be days when being with your children 24/7 will feel like a gift. After all, when else have you had so much time to engage in pursuits such as meandering walks, board games, movies, arts and crafts, cooking and family dinners, and yep, sidewalk chalk messaging. Who knew?! There were likely other days when you were less patient, more than a little stressed, and at moments, completely undone by what felt like the world’s greatest juggling act. With the odds being somewhat higher in the “drop the ball” column, there’s little wonder if you found yourself coming undone at times and certainly feeling less than prepared for and proud of some of the parenting moments in your home. What a relief that perfection in all things (and at all times) is not the standard. Your children got to see a parent who both messed up and cleaned up! They learned that relationships are messy, include both tears and laughter, and are entirely worth the trouble. Pandemic parenting is meant to go the distance, to undergird uncertainty with steady love, and to daily strive to counter the contagion of anxiety with the contagion of calm. The requirements of social distancing may dictate that we be physically apart, but finding meaningful ways to connect with others is more important than ever. Though virtual options may not be perfect, they are sanity- and life-sustaining. For now, that’s good enough!

Suggestions as we head into the summer months:

Right-size life for your family: Create a balance of work, rest, and play, with an emphasis on play. Build a schedule with plenty of “wiggle room” and plenty of hugs.

Practice self-care like your life depends on it, because it does: You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself. 

“Don’t waste a good crisis.” (Winston Churchill): What do you get to do this summer that you would not have done but for living through a pandemic? With 20/20 hindsight of 2020, what simple pleasure might you remember the most? Do more of that!

Acknowledge and grieve the losses, both big and small: If you have faced the loss of family or others important to your family, allow space and time to grieve. Your children may also need to process their own sense of loss as they reflect on this past school year. 

Parent as a “Park pack:” When in doubt, reach out and remember that you are not alone. Look for ways to virtually celebrate important milestones with others. Create new memories and re-envision what is to come. Together, we got this!

Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, PhD (“Dr. O”) is the Psychologist at The Park School. Olivia joined the Park community in 1998 and has over 30 years of experience in private practice, forensic, community mental health and school settings, including the Brookline and Wellesley public schools. As the Psychologist, Olivia supports both faculty and students to ensure that Park is a developmentally attuned and supportive environment for the broad range of children and families that we serve. She welcomes partnering with parents as they navigate their child’s evolving journey in learning and growing.