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Pandemic Parenting

Reframing expectations of parenting in the midst of a pandemic

Picture of small figurines on a pillow - a treat from a small child to their parent.
A treat from a small child to their parent.

I’m the parent of a wild and energetic 8 year old and an effervescent book loving 11 year old. They were 9 and 6 when this whole thing began. Pandemic parenting has not been easy for us.

If someone says to me one more time that we are living in "unprecedented times," I'm going to scream. Do you just want to plug your ears when you hear that? Actually, that is not too far from what I've done numerous times these last two years. I often will arrive home from church or a meeting, or grocery pick-up and just sit in my car and listen to a podcast or audio book or just scream. As we round the corner on a third year of this pandemic, I thought I'd talk a little bit about what pandemic parenting has looked like for us. It is different for everyone.

While older congregation members expressed their joy in things like sourdough starters, completing crafts and hobby projects, taking long nature walks, or reading a pile of books, I spent the first two months of the pandemic reeling - with two kids who desperately needed routine, but having no routine to offer them. When older congregation members longed for eating out with their friends or spending time at the pool or gym, I was squished on a chair comforting a little person with no sense of personal space. Every day how the kids accessed remote learning was different. (I'm not blaming schools or teachers - they were reeling as much as we were). Both of our kids are neurodivergent. Of course, I was still working full time - figuring out my own technology issues of pandemic pastoring in the midst of all our family things. By the time May rolled around I was ready to completely give up parenting, pastoring - all of it... and move to Australia.

I have been barely treading water these last two years. I feel like I've been failing at everything but most especially two things that are my calling above anything - parenting and pastoring. How the pandemic affected me as a pastor, well, that is for a whole other post.

If we were to tick off a list of pandemic mental health issues, our family would check off all the boxes. My spouse lost his job (a school bus driver) for nearly a year until school started back up again. All of us had trouble sleeping, but my son (who was in Kindergarten) started sleeping in our bedroom in a nest again. He would wake up super early, anxious, fearful of infection, detested remote learning, and exhibited rule-breaking behavior (that is putting it pretty mildly). Our daughter, who had been excelling in her specialized school program, had to learn new skills - all remotely without the fabulous support of aids, speech therapists, and skilled teachers. She was so anxious that she couldn't go to sleep at night. With one kid staying up late and the other needing supervision when he got up in the morning, that meant no one slept. We were sleep-deprived. We couldn't play a board game, go on a family walk, work on schoolwork without someone erupting in tears or a temper tantrum.

My spouse and I became our kids' speech therapists, behavioral specialists, occupational therapists, school psychologists, nurses - and their playmates. Before the pandemic, we relied on a whole team of people who supported our kids during the school day - keeping them regulated, happy, and healthy. The kids happily went to dance classes, swimming lessons, and church activities. Let's face it - everyone helped me look like a better parent. Seemingly overnight, we became all of those things and more - without respite or help from Grandparents (who lived too far away until a year ago) or church families or supportive people and systems that we learned to rely on. All while still being expected to pivot in my own ministry setting.

Barely getting by was an understatement. I started living by the "less is more" mantra. We directly asked the teachers exactly what they needed so they could accomplish their evaluations for our kids' IEP and 504 plans. We chose to focus on the essential skills - reading, math, writing while listening to a ton of audible books. Our goal was to have no loss of academic skills for our kid on a solid IEP (Individual Education Plan). We focused on one or two things a day at their pace and threw the rest of the stuff out the proverbial window. My spouse built a climbing wall for our son because he had so much pent-up energy as a result of, well, everything.

When we ended a day without tears (the kids or ours) - we took it as a win. Navigating my own meetings and technology challenges with the kids school online time was unmanageable at times. And they suffered for it. In late May and June 2020 our son suffered what I can only describe as a psychotic break. It involved jumping out of a moving vehicle, running against traffic barefooted, police, ambulance, and more. That is the stuff of a whole other blog post.

We tried everything - from helping our kids feel safe, holding on to a routine, and letting them run feral to help make them feel secure, they suffered. Access to child psychologists was limited and took 2 months to find someone who had an opening for our kid - which seemed like 3 years. We learned a few things from the worst of it. We learned to let go of our expectations - for the kids and for ourselves as parents. We got a pandemic pet - an adorable black Lab - who rivals the energy level of our kids and is good for calming us all down with a walk or a snuggle.

Before the pandemic, I cooked, knit, sewed to relax. I did the same during the pandemic. I just learned to take a picture and post it more often on social media - I needed to celebrate the small successes, and those were my celebrations in the midst of all the things I felt I was doing wrong. And, I figured having the kids help me with cooking and crafts counted as math and science. Win! The reality is that even though I enjoy those things, most of the time, it felt like I just was going through the motions. Everything felt so... heavy. I officiated 18 funerals (for some congregation and mostly community members - none covid directly related) from June 2020 - October 2021. Often, after my required work was finished I would just binge-watch shows in a zombie like trance. I tried to read, but couldn't focus enough to finish more than a chapter.

Things are better now. Unfinished projects are starting to get completed, books are getting read, and thanks to therapy, and my awesome parents moving closer to us, we are coping with this continued pandemic. We can play most board games and complete puzzles as a family without it ending in tears. I've given myself permission to be ok with just getting by. We have no way of knowing yet the ramifications of the pandemic. I believe we will continue to need to pivot into the future with continued disruptions to the old norm. A friend recently described the pandemic as "chronic disruption." Isn't that the truth in a nutshell. We've had two years of chronic disruptions. We are not out of the thick of it, although we have gotten more used to the disruptions. We are so very weary as a result.

And yet... I rest in the knowledge that no matter what we are loved and held by a God who loves us - in the midst of unfinished projects, kids who are spiraling out of control, and in failed sourdough starters (I totally tried that and it completely failed!). God loves us even when we don't guess the Wordle word for the day.

The scripture I keep turning to throughout these challenging times is from Romans 8:37-19. It says these words of encouragement – that I also need to listen to more often, “... in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If you've made it this far into my post I'll close with words I've needed to hear for myself throughout this pandemic: who you are, what you are doing, how you are surviving this pandemic is enough. You are loved no matter how you pivoted. Nothing can separate you from God's love in Jesus. Not a pandemic - not spiraling kids nothing.

Nothing separates us from God's love.



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