Let me just put this out there: I have very low expectations for myself as a parent during the coronavirus pandemic. I’m not in any competition to be the world’s best mom.
I’m the world’s okayest mom. And that’s more than enough.
I’m not sitting with my kids for six hours a day helping them learn sight words and fill out math worksheets. I don’t have a color-coded homeschool schedule that I follow. I’m not serving perfectly balanced dinners. My kids don’t have prepared crafts and science experiments to complete and document on Instagram.
And I know they’re going to be totally fine because I’ve spent the past two years writing a book called You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids. I’ve talked to numerous scientists, dug through all the research, and interviewed more than 50 families. And one thing is clear: As long as our kids have the basics (food, love, a place to sleep), they can thrive.
So here’s my good-enough plan for getting through the quarantine:
I’ve thrown out most of the rules about screens.
Despite all the judgment out there, I know that the actual research shows many benefits of screens — they can help people near and far connect, and they can be an interactive learning tool for kids as young as 18 months. (And besides, it’s unrealistic for our kids to never see screens in a world where refrigerators are “smart” and we order toothpaste on an app.) Before the coronavirus, I had a relatively relaxed attitude toward screen time. Now? Forget any “rules.” I am only one person and there are only so many hours in a day to be the ideal parent, teacher, employee, wife and human. I am striving for balance over the course of a week instead of day-by-day, meaning that if my kids watch their tablets for four hours one day, I set a timer for one hour the next day. I’m keeping the content relatively age-appropriate — we’re not doing family screenings of Game of Thrones. And I’m trying to connect what they’ve seen onscreen to real life, like: “See that airplane in the sky? Just like on Top Wings!” Beyond that, anything goes. I know that when life returns to normal, I’ll tell my kids, “Yes, we watched a lot of TV during the coronavirus, but now that’s over, so let’s go play!” Sure, they’ll whine and complain. But as long as I stick to what I said, they’ll eventually accept it. Kids are adaptable like that.
My home is not a school.
My husband and I are not focused on traditional skills like addition, subtraction and sentence mapping. But our sons, aged 3.5 and 6, are still learning a lot. Every time we cook together, my kids learn how to measure (math), how to follow directions in a specific order (reading and math), and life skills (which we should not downplay. How many people stuck at home right now wish they’d learned how to cook as a kid?). When we play in the backyard, they learn how bodies move in the world by climbing deck chairs (science), we examine how plants grow (science), and look at shapes in the sky and on the ground (science and math). An episode of Wild Kratts about sharks watched last Sunday morning turned into an impromptu project for which they listed some facts about sharks, cut and colored and constructed some sharks, and then counted and glued some paper teeth on those sharks. Then they called relatives to present their “reports” via FaceTime (Science, technology, engineering, art, math, reading, writing). “School” doesn’t need to happen sitting at a desk between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. from Monday to Friday. Also, keep in mind: Any time kids spend one-on-one time with parents is a huge advantage to their typical one-on-25 in giant classrooms, where a lot of time is wasted lining up for the next activity. Kids also learn through play — even if they’re bored, which teaches them how to be resourceful.
We are eating all the carbs.
Kids actually need more carbs for their brains and bodies to grow, science says, so can we all agree to stop feeling guilty about mac and cheese? There is also value in “comfort food” during a time where we can use all the comfort we can get. Parenting is about moderation. If we eat a lot of buttery pasta, I try to serve some fruit to go along with it, or a protein the next day. Kids tend to naturally balance what they eat over the course of a week, anyway, versus each individual meal. Research also shows that how we share the time together matters so much more than what we serve. Eating cheese and crackers at a table together and talking about our days is more valuable than a perfectly portioned organic veggie tray eaten in silence alone. This doesn’t mean that every meal needs to be a family affair. Each day, there are three meals, and usually at least two snacks, which equals 35 weekly opportunities to share a moment together as a family. We pick a handful of times and try to make it happen.
We are taking breaks from each other.
After dinner the other night, I felt the weight of the moment crash over me. I told my husband I needed a break, and locked myself in our bedroom to zone out. I emerged 20 minutes later feeling more sane and collected. This is a marathon, not a race. We need to take breaks — whether that’s locking ourselves in a room or turning on the TV for our kids while we walk away. Just as we’re trying to protect our children from absorbing too much stress and anxiety over the coronavirus, we need to protect ourselves, and find ways to blow off steam when we become overwhelmed.
Right now, life is about comfort and getting through. Reassuring hugs and cuddles for my kids. Grace for my husband and me as we deal with this surreal life moment. Good-bad TV like Love Is Blind and Tiger King. Lots of texts and Zoom meetups with friends. Going to bed early.
When I look back at this moment in history, I know I won’t say, “I really wish my kids watched less Paw Patrol during that global pandemic!” (and if I do, I need to check my privilege that that’s my biggest worry) or “If only we’d done more math worksheets together.”
Judge me all you want. This is what’s right for me, and my family. The World’s Okayest Mom approved.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.