As if parenting wasn’t rife enough with pitfalls already, along came a pandemic. The level of judgment, criticism and peer-policing across social media and in real life since the onset of Coronavirus has been breath-taking. And it’s little wonder: people are scared. Governments across the world are reacting in different ways, the rules and advice seem to change on a daily basis, and everyone’s risk factors and extenuating circumstances are different.
Even our own internal parenting compasses have been thrown off: for years experts have drummed into us that too much screen time is terrible for our kids, and yet these days many of us are cajoling them to sit in front of the iPad all day, every day, to do home learning. Our instincts say that children need other kids and the great outdoors to be happy, and yet we’ve spent the past months denying them play dates and shutting them away from anything beyond our own four walls. Friends who normally share the same outlook find themselves holding starkly different views on the risks of outdoor meet-ups, staycations, even receiving grocery deliveries.
It’s like being first-time parents of newborns again, staring down the barrel of a jumble of opinions, advice and gut feelings, only this time there’s a virus on the loose.
Aakanksha Tangri, founder of online platform, Re:Set, shares her thoughts on these difficulties and offers some advice on how to find your way in the new normal:
"How many times do we catch ourselves judging or being judged as parents? The mother looking on as their child has a meltdown in the middle of the mall, the baby crying non-stop on the plane or the child who is apparently breastfeeding for too long or not long enough. Being a parent is a thankless, judgemental and tough job. With COVID-19, life, as we know it, has turned topsy turvy with schedules in disarray. Your children are with you 24x7, downtime is rare, and the chores and emotional labour have increased. Amidst all this, you’re getting conflicting advice, and WhatsApp forwards, whether it’s about face masks, taking kids out to the parks or limiting screen time while indoors. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated with all this information overload. However, here are a few things to keep in mind...":
Social media comparison doesn’t help
It’s important to remember that your social feeds are highlight reels, not necessarily an accurate glimpse of someone’s life. If you find yourself comparing the incessant picture-perfect posts from one parent, you’re likely not seeing the meltdown their child had, the parent snapping, the argument they had with their partner or that day they didn’t even have time to shower. While social media is great for connecting with the larger parenting community and finding helpful resources, it can also amplify feelings of loneliness or even jealousy. Follow accounts that motivate you, inspire you and hit the mute or unfollow button on those that make you feel inferior.
You do you
Each family is different, and it’s important to keep that in mind. What works for someone else and their kids may not be the best option for your family. Giving your child screen time so they don’t throw a tantrum while you get on a work call or quickly cook lunch doesn’t mean you’re doing parenting wrong. It’s simply about doing what’s best for you and your child at that moment. Each decision has tradeoffs, and you have to decide what’s the collective way forward. Perhaps you have a child of determination who has difficulty wearing a mask, recognize that, weigh the pros and cons and make a decision. Or your child needs some fresh air and if you can responsibly do that while practicing social distancing and in line with government guidelines, then make the decision. Don’t compare your child’s needs to another’s — you’re only going to fall into the trap of overthinking.
Let go of the mum guilt and go easy on yourself
Ah, the infamous mum guilt. It almost never seems to go away no matter what you do. You had to give your child a microwavable meal because you couldn’t step away from an important work meeting. On the flip side, you were contributing to your professional life which will in the long-term help your family’s growth. You have to recognize you’ve never been in this situation before — working from home, managing household chores, helping with distance learning among a myriad of other things. That, coupled with anxiety around health, can exacerbate even the tiniest of mistakes. Will it matter in a year or five years that your kid ate a microwavable lunch? Probably not. Pick and choose your battles. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic. You’ve gotten through this far individually, and as a family, you’ve adjusted to a never-seen-before situation. Appreciate that and recognize your resilience in coming this far. It’s only human to make mistakes, go easy on yourself and take time out for some self-care. You can only take care of your family if your mental well-being is taken care of.
Lean on each other
You don’t have to be on this journey alone as you navigate uncharted waters. There’s no shame in asking for help: whether it’s asking a friend to help you with your child’s homework, getting someone to do a grocery run because you’re a single parent or reaching out for mental support. They rightly say it takes a village to raise a kid, and we need to be more empathetic toward one another and more accepting of people’s needs. Find a community of parents you can connect with, laugh with and those who can support you through the tough moments. There are, of course, a myriad of platforms, such as Re:Set that can also provide resources and tools on relevant topics should you not feel comfortable voicing your concerns to others.
As you worry about your child’s future, your family’s finances or you’re questioning that parenting decision, be kind to yourself. Find ways to learn to forgive yourself: recognize it’s only natural to stumble, and there is no right way of parenting. Most importantly, rely on credible information when making a decision related to the health of your family.