This week I spent a lot of time presenting my lessons learned parenting and working through a pandemic. Some folks I spoke to in the middle of the work day, with their children appearing to give them hugs during my talks, others I spoke to in the evening, when they and I were exhausted from a long day working and parenting, only to get on a Zoom meeting about…working and parenting.
The most telling experience from the week was a Zoom call I had with my lawyer which basically sums up the conundrum of working and parenting through a pandemic. A little background — she graduated top of her class, works for a prestigious law firm and is a total killer. She has two kids, aged 5 and 7, who are in school from home right now, but not in online school. While we were on the call, she got up three times to make chicken nuggets, twice to yell at her kids to stop yelling at each other and once to clean up a spilled juice. Halfway through the call, things had gotten quiet in her house and I said to her that her kids were doing so well. She responded, “Yeah, they are, because they’re watching TV.” And then she put her head in her hands and said: “This is a nightmare and I can’t win. If I do my job well, I feel like I’m a horrible parent. If I parent well, I feel like I’m doing horribly at my job.”
If you take nothing else away from any Quarantine Parenting post I ever write, remember this: we are all doing the best we can under extremely difficult circumstances. If you need to put your kids in front of the TV or give them a cookie (or three) to keep them quiet while you take a work call, you are not a bad parent. If your kids shout at you across the room or your kid enters the screen while you are on a work call, you are not a bad employee. You are a human being doing the best you can under extremely difficult circumstances.
Here’s what I’ve learned about parenting in the corona reality — my entire life feels like that painful period of time when I was sleep training my kids. I feel like I’m constantly setting parameters, working hard to stick to them, failing to stick to them, trying to reach goalposts and then having the goalposts move on me. I feel like I’m never doing it right, I get frustrated at my partner because I feel like he’s never doing it right, I sleep poorly even though I’m exhausted and I eat to soothe my frustration and exhaustion. I think I have the formula to get things running smoothly and then something changes or I lose my staying power and then I have to start all over again. That was my experience sleep training my four kids and the pandemic parenting reality feels eerily similar. Except, of course, lots of people wrote books about sleep training (I can recommend my favorite if you’re interested) but no one has written a book about this!
Tell me if this resonates with you:
You’re sitting in a zoom meeting surreptitiously inspecting your gray hairs, praying your wifi doesn’t cut out while, from the corner of the room, your kid is waving madly at you and on the verge of tears because (choose your own adventure here): he got kicked out of his online classroom and can’t get back in OR the NASA level math problem he’s been given to do is IMPOSSIBLE but it MUST be handed in the next seven minutes. Your partner was supposed to be on school duty, but got called into a last minute meeting for an important work project. Also, you forgot to set out lunch for your kid who goes on lunch break in 15 minutes and is expecting the usual three course quarantine lunch to which he’s become accustomed. And your toddler’s screen time limit for watching Daniel Tiger talk about his feelings in quarantine is up in 23 minutes so that’s exactly how much time you have left to get everything done today except you’re still on your zoom call, your kid is still frantically waving math across the room, no one has lunch yet and you haven’t written that important email response to a client. Also, the bathrooms are filthy, the laundry pile is so high it’s falling over and you still can’t get a Fresh Direct delivery time slot even though you’ve been checking every 15 minutes for 4 days. How does that sound? Does that sound familiar to anyone?
We are all heading into the weekend where we’re going to try to make a dent in the laundry pile, enlist our families to clean the bathrooms and find some way to get a grocery delivery time slot. If you’re drowning and overwhelmed by the day to day reality right now and other people’s photos of their idyllic experiences sheltering-at-home — freshly baked sourdough bread, 4 hour hikes in the mountains, completed 1,000 piece puzzles — make you crazy, stay off social media. Here’s my non-medical prescription for all of us this weekend: find an hour to read a good book or watch a trashy Netflix show or have Zoom cocktails with a dear friend, because we need to nourish ourselves enough to come up for air this weekend so that we can begin next week with a little (tiny) spring in our step. And if nothing else, remember this: we are all doing the best we can under extremely tough circumstances. We will not do a perfect job, we might not even do a particularly good job right now, but we are waking up every morning, getting through our day and getting into bed at night. Right now, that is enough.
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