Pandemic Parenting: Spending Time in Difficult Times
Something I think that almost all parents would agree with is that the Covid-19 pandemic has really messed up our sense of time. It seems to move both way too fast and much too slowly. Time is the most valuable currency we have, and the least transferable. You (and I, and everyone) have a limited amount of it, and we are using it all the time. Sometimes we spend it wisely, and sometimes it is wasted, but the amount we have is always going down.
And it isn’t just the amount of time we have over the course of our lives that we are spending. As parents, we will, at some point or another, be faced with the fact that our kids aren’t just kids anymore. This is why parenting is so terrifying and so rewarding. They’re excitable kids, chaotic adolescents, confused teens, and young adults full of potential. Children get older, and we have a limited amount of time to guide and raise them before they will go off to be adults with the own lives.
The Pandemic Has Changed (Almost) Everything
There is an obvious tension in being a parent in the Covid era. Every parent worries about striking the right balance with their parenting choices. For example, you want to show your kids the importance of a good career, and valuing hard work. But, spend too much time working, and you might miss important parts of your kids’ lives. Every good parent wishes they could spend more time with their kids. But how many members of your family, parents and children alike, wish they could spend all their time together? Very few, I would guess. Well, in the Covid era, many families have no other choice.
Working from home. Distanced learning. Zoom meetings. Virtual classrooms. For literally millions and millions families, their houses have become their entire worlds. It is true that “familiarity breeds contempt”, but who could have imagined being stuck in the same place for months at a time with people you love, but are driving you crazy!
And even with the abundant volume of time that many parents now have with their kids, it isn’t exactly quality time. This isn’t meaningful conversations and caring parental advice. So much of it is now logistics; making sure the connections to virtual classrooms are functioning, printing out assignments, dealing with endless online meetings, and so much more. Taking things one day at a time is a good philosophy, but for many families daily life has become a test of endurance.
Choosing Quality Time
As much as we talk about time and having too much or too little of it, something that I’ve found to be painfully true is the type of time you spend with your family is much more important than the amount. You can spend an hour with one of your kids helping them figure out how to format and turn in a school assignment online (or, just as likely, it may be you who needs the technical help from your kids), but that isn’t real communication. It isn’t real parenting or family time.
Furthermore, part of being a good parent is, well, not being there sometimes. Childhood development requires guidance, care, and love from parent to child. But quite often it also involves letting your kids do things on their own, letting them get out there and take some chances, learn from their own successes and failures. And how are they supposed to do that if, for months at a time, your immediate family is your only company?
Parents have to make the conscious choice to separate the ‘work’ time of logistics and organization from the more substantive time of simply being a family. It can be incredibly difficult to spend all day with the same people dealing with issue after issue, only to ask for time with them without phones or screens or other distractions, but it is absolutely necessary.
After a long day, it might be easier for everyone to just retreat to their rooms for some alone time, but this just leads to more and more isolation, and the distance between people can accumulate even when their all living under the same roof. Families have to ‘check-in’ with each other. There has to be time, however brief, to connect not as students or breadwinners, but as family members, as people who love each other, even when things are tough.
Hard Times Can’t Last Forever
None of us are exactly sure what the world will look like as it emerges from the era of Covid-19. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. As vaccines have become more available, both parents and children are celebrating the return to in-person schooling, and the return of office work.
As the pandemic begins to slowly, very slowly fade, it will be a time of reassessment, a chance to take stock. Certain things will go back to normal, like after-school sports and in-person classrooms. Other things, like work-from-home options and virtual meetings in place of business travel, may be with us forever. Good parents will look at their choices and mistakes over the past year, be honest with themselves and their children, and make some necessary repairs. Then again, isn’t that what all good parents do?