Following parenting trends used to mean the difference between being a helicopter or a snowplow. Or naming your child Liam or Sophia.
But, in a year that began with earnest conversations about public preschool and improved parental leave policies and ended with remote learning, closed playgrounds and mothers leaving the workforce in staggering numbers, the stakes have suddenly gotten way higher. Here, six parenting trends we never saw coming…that just might come to define the oddest, most innovative time for having kids.
Whether the word pod means a group of friends running around in a backyard or a collection of students working together under the tutelage of a $125/hour teacher, the fact remains that many parents survived 2020 by teaming up with other families to share childcare, education and socialization duties. And while many tout the structure and normalcy it’s brought to their lives, others note the complications of being so enmeshed with people they’ve previously considered acquaintances.
Says one mom who pulled her 6-year-old from public school in order to pod up, “It provides me educational/developmental piece of mind—I don't have to worry about things like ensuring my son is learning to hold a pencil properly. It has also saved my sanity in terms of schedule consistency—I know what he is supposed to do every day: “Go to his pod.” She does, however, admit the challenges. “You—and the other families—need to think about, address and handle everything from payment formats to cleaning schedules to rules on what happens when someone gets sick. You're stuck together for the whole year, so there is a great deal more social stress in terms of ‘doing the right thing,’ whatever that means to six very different strangers!”
As schools went remote and parents watched in horror while their children either blatantly rejected (or got a little too into) online life, some opted to bow out entirely. The “unschool” movement has actually been around for a while and is a child-led version of “homeschooling,” wherein the kids set the pace and the curriculum follows their interests and abilities. According to home education site thehomeschoolmom, unschooling is “an approach to homeschooling that generally means learning without prescribed lessons, textbooks or the school-like methods many other homeschoolers use.”
For some parents this year, this means giving themselves the flexibility to ignore a virtual curriculum that doesn’t work for their families. (“We’re just not doing PE this semester,” says one mom, who may or may not be the author of this article.) For others, it means registering their children as homeschool students and developing their own child-led lessons. Bottom line: Parents in 2020 feel less beholden to traditional school models and more inclined towards play, nature and creativity.
3. Relaxing the Screen Time Limits
Remember when your kid got 30 minutes of iPad time a day? LOLZ. According to a study from ParentsTogether in April, half of respondents reported their kids were topping out at nearly six hours a day. And while you may not be at the six-hour mark, you’re not alone if you’ve let the rules slide since the start of the pandemic. A San Francisco mom we chatted with explained, “I realized the screen time had gotten out of hand when my 5-year-old knew by heart the passcodes to our iPad and was able to easily access Netflix on her own.” And even professional screen-time experts are admitting to letting their guards down, both with their own families and with their prescriptions for others.
The good news? There’s not much research that suggests screen time is actually bad for kids, as long as it’s paired with other activities like outdoor exercise, socialization and a healthy eating and sleeping schedule. Just be sure your child has one media-free meal per day and two hours of screen-free time before bed, and do your best to encourage them to watch quality programming, most pediatricians agree. (We won’t tell if a couple episodes of PJ Masks sneak in there.)
4. Early Potty-Training
Most potty-training methods require children to stay home, pantless while guzzling liquids and staring at a small plastic toilet in the middle of the living room. In other words, it’s the perfect activity for anyone quarantining with a toddler. As result, we’ve noticed parents taking the, er, plunge earlier than they might ordinarily, often at 24 or even 18 months. One potty-training consultant (yes, that’s a job) even reported her business as going up 70 percent since the start of the pandemic.
In an April article in Texas Monthly, one dad put it well: “The thing about potty-training during quarantine is that no matter how well or terribly it goes, it adds structure to hours that feel like days and days that stretch on like weeks. Surrounded by what seems like a constant stream of bad news—how many people across the world have died because of the virus, how our government’s inept reaction has worsened an already horrible situation, how people are dying alone and how it feels as if the virus is getting closer and closer to where we live—potty-training has become a welcome distraction.”
5. Grandparents as Co-Parents
It’s not just single millennials who are moving back home with Mom and Dad. According to a May article in The New York Times, “As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on and child care centers remain closed, many grandparents are split into two groups: those who are quarantined from their families and those who are isolating beside them.” And, while “the trend of ‘intensifying grandparenting’—grandparents taking on more active roles in child-rearing and household management—has surged over the last few decades…Now, some are tackling additional familial responsibilities, while trying to balance their own jobs and personal lives.”
You may have experienced this first hand, calling in your own parents and in-laws during particular rough patches. Or you may have noticed parent friends formally podding up with their own mom and dad, sometimes uprooting their entire lives to do so. “It has totally saved our life,” reports one Brooklyn mom, who temporarily moved in with her wife’s family in New Hampshire. “But also, we feel like we’re in complete exile. We miss our actual lives.”
6. Family Dinners
Let’s end on a happy note, shall we? If pre-pandemic, we were all over-worked, overscheduled monsters eating ramen over our steering wheels, we are now bread-baking homebodies who actually…dine nightly with our children! "I would say, on average, I was home for two to three dinners a week with my kids…and I'm counting Friday night pizza,” says a media executive who now reports eating with her husband and children almost every night. “I think it's indicative of this new level of intimacy I have now with my kids. It’s like one, long, never-ending conversation versus the spits and spurts before.”
And the benefits of such togetherness are manifold. “Children who eat with their parents have bigger vocabularies, receive higher grades and have lower rates of obesity. They are also more resilient and confident, manage stress better and have lower rates of anxiety and behavioral problems,” reports The New York Times.
The only downside? “So. Many. Dishes,” says the media executive.