I’m barely two weeks into quarantine and am about to break. My wife and I have been remote working for a month now and we were getting a rhythm until schools shut down. Then daycare shut down. And now we’re doing everything we can to keep up with school curriculum and trying to actually hang with our kids (reading books, playing) limit screen time (I mean, we’re up to 1.5 hours a day already!) Oh yeah, and keep the jobs that we’re frankly still lucky to have.
I can get short with my kids on my best days. I know that and I’ve been really working on it and things were getting better. But I’m not sure I can keep those gains with the world burning down and my kids in my face from dawn till dusk.
I’m at full tilt from 6 AM until 11PM (no TV, just catching up on work at night). Rinse, repeat, and I’m going to break. My wife and I are already in chaos. We have great organizational skills, but there’s simply too much to do. And this could go on for months. I need help here. Serious help. And it’s nowhere to be found.
Lost in Los Angeles
I recently interviewed the amazing Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, Senior Vice President of Curriculum & Content for Sesame Workshop (the people behind Sesame Street), who offered a very apt description of what families are facing. “Parenting is hard enough as it is,” she said. “And now we’re doing hard parenting in hard times.”
But here’s the thing about this unique and isolated moment: When the parenting gets hard, parents need to be less hard on themselves. That expansive world of child-rearing you once lived in — with its caregivers, in-laws, school staff, playdates and family outings — has been compressed into the boundaries of your home. Worse, so has your standard workday.
Parents everywhere are now expected to be, simultaneously, an employee, an educator, an entertainer, a coach, a nurturing protector, an information technology pro, and a moral guide. And if that sounds impossible, that’s because it is impossible. None of us have enough time, energy or mental capacity to give all of our new roles the energy they deserve.
I know this doesn’t sound like a pep-talk. It’s not, really. Things are pretty damn shitty. That said, I want to release you from some of the stress you are feeling and maybe focus your priorities a bit. In fact, you should have one priority: Care for your family. If that is your prime directive things get a bit more simple to put in line.
First off, if you’re lucky enough to still be getting paid right now by working at home, you need to make sure that your meeting the basic requirements of your employment — as agreed to by you and your manager. That’s essential. You need shelter and food and water and your work pays for that. So you need to find a way to give what you can in that space, and it sounds like you’re doing that.
Of course, the children complicate things, simply with their presence. Also, there’s tremendous pressure to make sure that educational standards are met. And, of course, with screen time being the big bad evil, and the rise of childhood obesity and the insidious moral decay brought about by video games you have to make sure your kids are doing something active and educational and social and spiritually edifying … and … and …
You don’t have to do any of those things. You only need to provide is a stable environment where your kids feel safe and loved. That’s it, and you’re already doing a damn fine job of that simply by keeping your children home.
What else do they actually need? They need to be fed at regular intervals. They need a fairly stable routine that has them waking and going to bed at roughly the same time every day. They need to be able to play. They need to know that you have shit together and you love them dearly. Everything else is extra.
Education? Look, every one of your children’s peers is going through the same thing right now. It’s highly unlikely that what happens over the next weeks and months will put your child ahead or behind. You can only do what you can do. And frankly, if meeting every educational milestone will break you, then you need to focus on not being broken and relax the standards. It’s okay.
Screen time? I’m going to stop just short of suggesting the evils of screentime are an all-out myth. The truth is that we simply don’t know. The research is still out. I think you can be forgiven if screen time creeps up during a pandemic. Your child’s mind will likely not be forever altered for the worse.
And what of the dozens and dozens of enriching tasks that “good parents” are supposed to do? The music practice and craft projects and cooking lessons and journaling? If you have the bandwidth, more power to you. Personally, I prefer to ditch educational time in favor of playtime. After all, play is educational. Kids need more of it. And cooking, crafting or playing music with my kids feels like play to me. So it doesn’t feel like a crazy time investment for me to do those things. I do them to keep myself sane. And when my boys see a sane father, they see a parent who is in control and they feel comforted.
If I were to boil all of this down, my message would be: Structure your day so you can get your work done and then focus on enjoying time with your kids.
You can’t do everything and you should not be expected to. However, you are your kid’s anchor. Their world has already been destabilized and they need you to offer them a place where they can feel be sheltered, and where they can still feel like children.
This will all get sorted out eventually. We’ll all meet back up in the sunshine. It’s a long haul, but if you lean into love and turn away from the bullshit, you’ll make it through okay.
This is your permission to let some things go. It’s the only way we’ll survive.