If there is anything this pandemic has shown me, it is the value of relationships.
It’s about being there for each other and sticking together. I have learned that someone who will sit beside me and share in laughter as well as hardship, that is the loving presence I never knew how much I needed.
When things are rough, we may become the worst version of ourselves. We may be irritable, needy with short fuses, lethargic, and overwhelmed—we need support, caring, and connection more than ever. And so do our children. But how are we going to provide that when we can barely provide it, even for ourselves?
I have decided to allow myself time to slouch on the couch and watch TV (with or without my kids). I eat chips and skip proper dinners some days.
I have had to significantly reevaluate how I parent in order to take some pressure off myself. Anything else is unmanageable with kids at home while continuing to run my business.
Yes, they are spending a lot of time on tech. Yes, we do have fights. But, some flexible structures can support a peaceful life together. I still feel like I am not enough in some moments, but when I can drop my expectations and just be, magic happens.
They want to be close; they want to do things with me. We have fun. We laugh.
I believe we all want to be great parents. We just need the courage and support to remove the blocks that get in our way.
Parenting is about being present, being a role model, offering guidance. It is balancing togetherness with our own needs and the budding individualities we have in our care.
Relationships are not about perfection. Healthy relationships are resilient. When we make mistakes, we come back to them and resolve the problem. We ask for forgiveness and help the other heal the hurt. The sooner and more authentically we can do this, the smaller the impact.
I am not interested in well-behaved children. I want my kids to become responsible adults who know who they are and can achieve their fulfillment. I want kids who can feel their feelings, have a sense of their capacity and their limitations, and know how to have meaningful relationships.
Simple does not mean easy. I tend to judge myself when I do not manage to master these skills. On those days, what helps is a network of support around me. Gentle souls who will remind me with compassion what I am capable of, and that I am allowed to be human.
Here are my nine tips for parenting in a pandemic:
1. Have lots of fun together. Make time and energy for the stuff they love. Dance, sing, and skip down the road with them. Be goofy. Be a nerd. Be available.
2. Technology is not the enemy. Teach them that we are on their side, we have their back, and we will help them get and achieve what they want. Create a safe framework for them. We don’t have to know exactly what that looks like right now. If the relationship is there, we can mold it as we go along. If we notice a negative impact, for example, on their mood, bring awareness to how their body and mind feel when shifting away from the activity.
3. Do not expect kids to listen unless they are tuned in. If they are on a device and we want to redirect, sit down beside them and engage in their activity by paying attention. When we have their attention, introduce an idea of what to do next. I sometimes imagine an invisible thread between our hearts that I need to ignite for them to take my lead. Follow a structure so that they know to expect it. Allow them some time to pull themselves out of it.
4. Do not pressure the kids to do their homework. Getting tasks done is less important than who we are and what we are teaching them about life and learning. We were all born curious. The best educational gift we can give them is the conditions to retain their excitement for learning.
5. When trust is not there, that becomes our primary goal. We know we have trust capital in the relationship when our kids want to follow our lead. Some of the things we can do are: make time, verbally affirm, use a gentle voice, welcome connection, and allow physical connection, like cuddle time on the couch! Delight in their presence and zest for life.
6. Admit our shortcomings. Don’t pretend to be flawless. If we get a temper, we should apologize and allow space for our children to share how they feel about it. If we tend to be distracted, tell them we have a lot on our minds and ask them if they can notice. These situations where we may be judging ourselves can become heartwarming inside jokes—if we allow the space for it.
7. Dedicate time to rebuild trust. None of us are perfect parents, and unfortunately, human beings sometimes unintentionally hurt each other. If we hurt our kids, touch the topic briefly in moments of connection. Be gentle and curious. We must forgive ourselves, and if we want to get support, we will have to allow a parent friend or a therapist in. We deserve it, and so do our kids. Investing in our emotional development will pay dividends.
8. Do not fix or overly protect them. Teach resilience. Meet them where life gets hard and keep company with them there. Allow them to find their answers while we are beside them. Appreciate their mistakes as building blocks to confidence. Show them compassion for their pain and feel with them. Be there to encourage them when they are ready to get back up and try again.
9. When all else fails, focus on trust and connection. This means having rules that are suitable for their age and the level of responsibility they are capable of. It means picking our battles, letting go of what we think we need to teach them, and perhaps also what being a family and a parent needs to look like.
It has taken effort for me to learn to believe in myself as a parent. I have had to learn to trust that everything I am is who they need. It does not come naturally to me. Being supported by others who believed in me was vital. My kids are indeed my most treasured gift in life. Through their eyes, I get to experience the joys of being young and alive. Like a gardener, all the love I pour into them is returned beyond what I could have ever imagined.