Parenting in a Pandemic: How to help your family through COVID-19
Parenting in a Pandemic: Save the parents
As a pediatrician and a mom active on social media, I’ve heard from thousands of families struggling during this crazy time. For most parents, it’s just too much. More work with less support - a recipe for disaster. Recent studies show alarming numbers of parent-age people are feeling clinically depressed or anxious.
I wasn’t planning to write a book this year, but because of this crisis, I felt I had to. I wrote my college thesis about the physiology of stress. I did research about the impact of respiratory viruses and Kawasaki disease. I’ve spent my career as a pediatrician helping families with children with chronic medical conditions. So in July, my husband said, you have to do it.
And I wrote a book Parenting in a Pandemic: How to help your family through COVID-19 because I know how hard it is right now. In the book, I discuss what parents need to know about the science of coronavirus. I examine the risk to different members of our family from newborns to pregnant women and grandparents. I give a ton of specific advice about making decisions, childcare, school and virtual learning.
But what I’d like to share with you today is especially urgent. I’d like you to ask to prioritize yourself. Parents so often act as martyrs prioritizing their children. But the truth is that if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of your family.
The pandemic started off as thinking of staying home as a two week endeavour. We can do anything for two weeks. Now we see that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Hopefully the vaccines will be safe and effective and available in the spring of 2021, but that’s a long way away.
So what can a parent do? Check in with yourself. Are you sleeping, exercising, eating regular meals and connecting with other adults? These core components of wellness seem so obvious, but when resources are limited they are often neglected.
What are you struggling with right now? So often I hear parents reporting excessive worry about getting sick and keeping safe. However sometimes when we really think about it, we are struggling with something deeper. Guilt is so common now - this isn’t what we chose for our children. Grief and anger about missing out on what we thought this year would be like. Decision fatigue when we feel overwhelmed re-creating our lives with new rules.
Knowing the problem is the first step to feeling better. Exercise is one of the most evidence based ways to feel better. Mantras such as “we’re doing the best we can” can help particularly with guilt. Breathing exercises, journaling, and meditation are other ways to promote emotional resilience. Allowing yourself time to address these difficult feelings will help you parent more effectively.
When we are burnt out as parents, we can’t parent as intentionally. We are quicker to anger and less likely to connect. Advice from the security briefing on airplanes may apply, “If oxygen masks descend, put your own mask on first, then help your child.” Similarly while parenting in a pandemic, prioritize your needs to make sure you are able to meet the needs of your child.
When assessing the risk in your family, according to the most recent data, parents are at much higher risk than their children. A 40 year old is at nearly 900x the risk of death as a 4 year old - though thankfully the risk is low for most healthy young adults. But remember protecting the adults in your home with masks and social distancing is likely even more important than protecting the children.
Remember that you aren’t alone in the struggle. Sometimes when you’re feeling overwhelmed, we don’t have as many choices as we might imagine. We can either obtain more help for our families, recruit more help from other people in our household, or lower our expectations.
For a lot of families, the easiest answer may be the last one. This might not be the best year academically, your house may be messier and your dinner menu may not be as elaborate, but at the end of the day, it will be good enough.
You can do this and you aren’t alone.
Dr. Kelly Fradin is a pediatrician and a mother of two in NYC. She gives parenting advice and pediatric health education on instagram @adviceigivemyfriends.