My life pre-pandemic was typical #MomLife. Mornings were a blur as my husband and I rushed the kids off to school before commuting to our offices and working until it was time to head home and begin the evening schedule of swim practice, baths, dinner, and homework. I never felt like I had a work-life balance or enough quality time with my girls. I was constantly questioning if I was doing enough in my career, as a wife, and as a mom.
Then the pandemic hit.
Life still felt hectic, stressful, and overwhelming during the pandemic. However, bunkering down with my husband and two daughters, giving birth to a third child, and readjusting to a new way of life helped us grow in so many ways — myself included. While I never expected there’d be anything good about quarantine, I’ve realized that the experience helped me become a better mom in some significant ways. Here are five parenting learnings from the lockdown I’m planning to embrace long after the pandemic subsides.
1. Saying no more often — and not feeling bad about it.
Before the pandemic hit my family had an incredibly hectic schedule. Our weekends were filled with birthday parties, playdates, activities, family gatherings, swim meets, and trips to Legoland. As a working mom, I purposely scheduled everything and anything that would bring my children joy and allow us to spend time together as a family. To be honest, we also spent many weekends at events that we would have preferred to skip but felt obligated to attend. Let’s just say that saying ‘no’ was not something I was good at.
Then the pandemic came along and saying no was my go-to response to anything and everything that felt unsafe. Having a pandemic baby made it that much easier to stay home and quarantine. It took some time before I stopped worrying that I may have offended someone by declining their invite, but I got there. And now that I’m confident in my decisions, saying no has become much easier. Unmasked indoor party? Sorry, we can’t make it. Indoor dining? We don’t plan to eat inside until the kids are vaccinated. Back-to-back outdoor playdates? No, but we can try to make one of them. As a family, we’re now enjoying a slower pace of life that isn’t over-scheduled and is more aligned with our focus on spending quality time together.
This newfound confidence is following me into this new season of near-post-covid-life — and even once the pandemic is completely under control I’ll be declining invites to activities that don’t interest my kids or don’t fit our schedule. Some people may take it personally, but I’ve learned it’s not my responsibility to make other people like my choices.
2. Asking my husband for help during the school day.
Before March 2020 my husband and I rarely communicated during the workday. Between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., we were secluded in our cubicles focused on data charts (him) and editing copy (me). Anything that happened with our girls during school hours landed in my lap — by design. I was the main contact for anything school-related because my office is minutes away from the school and I’m more accessible during the workday. If one of the girls was in the nurse’s office; I knew about it. If the girls forgot their homework; I responded to the email. I also handled the afterschool activities, since I could work my schedule to end my day at 3 p.m.
Like many moms in the U.S., I believed being an involved mom meant shouldering the majority of the load when it came to the kids. Even when my husband would ask or offer to help, I would say I could handle it. Of course, this wasn’t the case — there’s only so much one can do before burning out.
Once classes went virtual and my husband and I started working remotely, our “normal” day-to-day routine completely changed — and we weren’t prepared for the shift. At first, I didn’t think it’d be a big deal to have the girls learning from home. I mean, all we had to do was log them into Zoom, supply them with all the class materials, and be nearby in case they needed us, right? (Hahahahaha.) That first day, I set up my computer in the dining room to be central to both girls and settled in for a typical, albeit noisier, day of work. Yeah, right. The week was filled with tears (mostly mine) and so much frustration. There was no way to sustain a productive work schedule and be available to my children during distance learning. I needed help, which was hard for me to admit.
Thankfully my husband was able to bring some much-needed levity to the situation that is virtual learning. To make it work, we created a routine that was reworked day-to-day to fit around work meetings or deadlines, while ensuring one of us was present during the girls’ distance learning. Asking for help — and actually taking that help — brought balance to the distance learning situation and to our marriage. The pandemic brought my husband and me closer and improved our communication because we relied on one another to make sure everything with the kids ran semi-smoothly.
Plus, our constant check-ins with one another allowed me to ask for help when I was feeling overwhelmed or trying to meet a work deadline while also trying to find the red reading book that my daughter needed for class. Working so closely with one another taught me to let go of those responsibilities that I felt were mine alone to shoulder. Now, our responsibilities are more equally split and I’m much better at asking my husband for help. And I intend to keep it that way.
Working so closely with my husband taught me to let go of those responsibilities that I felt were mine alone to shoulder.
3. Entertaining my kids less.
Am I the only parent who feels bad not playing with my kids whenever they ask? I’ve tried to enjoy playing with LOL dolls — changing my voice to fit the characters, and adhering to plotlines created for each LOL doll… even if those storylines made no sense! Although I’d get down on the floor and play with my girls when asked, mustering the patience to play-act during the early half of the pandemic pushed me to my limits. Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones or the stress of trying to juggle full-time work with distance learning during a global pandemic, but my patience level was at a negative 10. I’d be in the middle of writing an email or working on a story and one of my daughters would ask If I’d play dolls with them during their snack break and I’d just want to yell, Please let me work!
When I expressed my frustration to my husband he reminded me that it’s okay for the kids to not always be entertained. When I mentioned it to my mom she reminded me that she never played with me and I turned out normal enough. (Thanks, mom!) Feeling justified, my husband and I came up with a plan: We ordered board games and craft-type activity boxes, slime kits, anything that we could think of that would keep them busy. Then we placed them in an accessible area where they could grab something and go entertain themselves. During those afternoons when school ended and I was on deadline, I’d direct the girls to pick something from the closet or find an art class on YouTube.
Letting them entertain themselves resulted in some important discoveries and interesting creations. My second grader found a love for sewing and crafting. Every Amazon box was transformed into a bookshelf, or a doll bed, and even a Lego costume. Our backyard was filled with stacks of paintings, forts, and storefronts made out of boxes.
It took some time and a lot of reminders that I couldn’t play with them because I was working, but eventually, they understood that mom and dad are not always available to entertain them. Of course, I’ll still play LOL dolls every now and then, but I plan to keep this pandemic parenting strategy.
4. Give them more responsibilities.
I asked my girls to fend for themselves many times during those distance learning days. Most of those asks centered around snacks and my not being able to be in two places at once. I can’t count how many times I’d be upstairs trying to fix the WiFi on my second grader’s Chromebook and my kindergartner was downstairs asking for a snack. “Go on and get it yourself,” I’d yell before remembering the jumbo Goldfish cracker container is too big for my 6-year-old to handle. If I didn’t want an entire box of fishies on the kitchen floor I’d have to run downstairs and pour her a bowl before the kitchen was covered in crackers.
Pre-pandemic, anything food or beverage-related was always handled by an adult. But after so many weeks of being asked for snacks while trying to work and handle distance learning, we invested in some plastic food storage containers for cereal and crackers and moved the kids’ bowls to a low shelf in the pantry. They’re now responsible for pouring their own cereal or grabbing a snack during break.
But why stop there? Both kids also helped prepare their lunches, thanks to child-safe knives that they used to cut apples and sandwich bread. They also learned how to help out around the house. Yes, they had age-appropriate chores before the pandemic — making their beds, cleaning up their rooms, and keeping their bathroom clean — but the pandemic resulted in them taking on even more responsibilities. After days of hearing, Mom, I’m bored! What can I eat? Can I watch a show? Can I play on my iPad? Everything is BORING! I delivered the perfect response: “If everything is boring, then you can help around the house.”
My little one was into it. She enjoyed dusting the furniture and sweeping the kitchen floor. My eldest was less enthusiastic but complied out of desperation and boredom. Anytime they were “bored” my husband or I would remind them of their chores: Water the plants, sweep the yard, clean your desk, replace the bathroom soap bottles and brush the dogs.
Now they have a chore chart that includes more “big girl” responsibilities such as helping take out the trash, dusting, and washing the dishes.
5. Family check-ins.
During the pandemic, we went on LOTs of family walks. These strolls through the neighborhood served as an escape from the work-school routine and gave us a chance to talk. Although we were around each other all day, the main focus was school and work, leaving little time for checking in on how we were all feeling that day.
On those busy days when my husband and I didn’t have a chance to take a break from work and go on a walk, we started implementing check-ins during dinnertime. We’d all share the best and worst parts of our days, and we would discuss questions our kids had asked earlier that we weren’t able to answer during the workday (these frequently centered around requests to buy a new video game or watch a movie on Netflix!).
As things begin to feel more normal, we no longer take as many walks as we used to. However, we try to squeeze them in here and there, and we always check in with one another at dinner time.
The pandemic was awful in so many ways, but it also resulted in many silver linings for our family via rewarding and fulfilling experiences. I believe quarantining together made me a better parent, who no longer feels bad taking a step back in order to move forward.
Before you go, check out our favorite toys to keep kids off screens:
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