Parenting Rules Weren’t Written For Quarantine

Even in the best of circumstances, parenting is hard. We are given little people to love and raise into good humans and functional adults. Before they are born we are given books to read, and both strangers and loved ones heap on us some wanted (and plenty of unwanted) advice for how we should go about raising our little ones.

And somehow we manage varying degrees of parenting success. We learn about their personalities, likes, and dislikes. We decide what they are ready for and what they are not. We make decisions that work within our family framework and try to ignore the judgmental stares from perfect strangers when our children’s behavior doesn’t match what they expect from little humans in public.

Gen-X, Xennial, and Millenial parents thought we had it all figured out. We were all muddling through the world’s most difficult job together, posting everything on social media and blogs with the hopes that our mistakes and triumphs could somehow help our peers with their own parenting struggles.

Then, we parents who were raised on a healthy diet of dystopian novels, apocalyptic movies, and television shows about zombies were hit with the curveball we all knew was a possibility but still somehow never saw coming: a global pandemic.

Spring break vacations were brought to a halt, schools and daycares closed, and playgrounds suddenly blocked off with caution tape. And for many of us, the rules we had held onto as a way to keep our households in check suddenly got thrown out the window. None of us want to accept a norm of chaos, but there came this collective understanding that if we were all going to survive a temporary shift in life as we know it with the possibility of a completely new normal once the dangers from COVID-19 are past us, we were going to need to let some things slide in our homes. And we were going to have to make those adjustments without judging the changed dynamic in the homes of friends and foes alike.

Our family was on spring break when the reality hit that shutdowns were imminent, which meant we never went back to school. I got an extra week to prepare for my students, but my kids started receiving work to do by the second day of the week after spring break. I started that week so optimistically, making a chore chart to keep us on a schedule.

That went out the window in less than a week.

Over the last month, I’ve watched parents offer grace to other parents in unprecedented ways, because we are all just trying to make it out the other side, all of us faced with different challenges.

So how is our family attempting to function?

No matter what, schoolwork gets done first

I know that this has been a sore spot for parents, children, and teachers across the country, but our kids’ school (and yes, it is a private school so I fully understand the differences and privileges inherent in that) has done a very good job of pushing out a consistent schedule with reasonable daily activities for both kids. Our second grader, who had been using Seesaw all year at school, has had daily assignments pushed out in Seesaw with supplementary materials accessed through the Clever portal. Our fifth grader, who had been consistently using Google Classroom with all three of her teachers since the first month of school, has easily transitioned to the daily assignments. I’m a teacher and I’ve been responsible for teaching my own students online, so having a daily learning schedule has been as important for me as it has been for my kids, even if I’m learning that “homeschooling” my kids and simultaneously teaching my own students has been far more challenging than I anticipated.

But once school is done…all bets are off on devices

I still give them “wake-up” time until 9:00 and then the television stays off until they are done with the homework. But then? Whatever. As long as it isn’t bothering me and I can still get work done and they aren’t watching anything wildly inappropriate, they can go ahead. Yes, I am letting television and video games parent for me while I am working at the kitchen table. Yes, I’m letting them play video games instead of reading. Yes, I normally tell them to put down the Kindles and do something useful during the summer months, but this isn’t summer vacation. They are supposed to be in school. I’m supposed to be teaching school. Nothing about this is normal. So you know what? If they need to be allowed to watch television and play video games so that we can get to the end of the work day without screaming matches, so be it.

Play outside…eventually

My summer rule is usually that they have to spend at least 30 minutes playing outside before device time. My kids love being outside, but it’s no longer a rule. Since it is still safe to socially distance, depending on the location, I’ve gotten them to help me walk the dog and they have gone back and forth between playing basketball and swimming (thank goodness for living in Texas and my husband’s insistence on a house with a pool). Playing outside has become an escape for them that they sometimes need to be reminded is still an option, but there are no longer time limits or rules attached to outdoor play. I honestly don’t think I need to make it that way because they know what they need, even if they sometimes just need a nudge.

Sure you can have another marshmallow

Overall we have kids with pretty healthy eating habits, but with limiting our trips to the grocery store, we’ll have several days with fresh fruits and veggies and then…none. With those limited trips I really want our family to finish off as much as possible so I know exactly what I need when I walk into a store. That has meant a lot of “sure, you can have that piece of candy” or “you can eat those chips” or “yes, have some more mac and cheese.” As long as my kids have a couple servings a day of fruits and vegetables, extra marshmallows aren’t going to hurt them and honestly, I don’t have the energy to explain why they can’t have “just one more” when an open package is just sitting in the cabinet.

And then there are the social media accounts

Two months ago I sat at a table of soon-to-be middle school parents as we discussed how our children didn’t need cell phones. We all knew the dangers of social media and the different worlds that budding adolescent minds can be dragged into. While my husband and I are still opposed to early cell phone use and we have a lot of concerns about most social media, we did finally agree to Messenger for Kids, mostly because it would be a way for our kids to talk to family and a couple friends. With the inability to see people in person, this has saved our daughter’s emotional health and our sanity. Will this change once she’s allowed to see friends in person again? We don’t know, but since it appears we have a long road ahead of us, we’re really just taking this one day at a time.

All of the above adaptation…but bedtime is non-negotiable

I know plenty of parents who have let bedtimes slide and I get it. Kids don’t have to get up early and why fight it if you don’t have to. But after a fully day of managing my own students online, grading, and keeping my kids on task while also taking care of our house while my husband runs the technology of four different plants from his homebase in our garage, I need the kids to go to bed at a decent time. I just need a couple hours to myself when I don’t have to be “on” as mom. If you can function with the kids staying up late with you, all the more power to you. I just can’t. That doesn’t mean we haven’t had late nights on traditional weekends, but during the week, I need regular bedtimes.

We are four people and two dogs trying to do work and school and life while maintaining some kind of semblance of love and affection for each other. It looks different for every family, but we can’t do board games and puzzles every night. We parents need to offer each other a little grace and know that the rules for modified quarantine are going to be different for everyone. What matters is that we maintain our distance so that someday, hopefully sooner than later, we can all be together again.