Parenting in the Pandemic:
My Personal Story and Take-Aways
By Megan Wood
Parenting in the Pandemic has changed the playing field.
Those of us who are parents know that day-to-day parenting is a constant, uncontrollable ride of highs and lows, and ebbs and flows. Child-rearing is only as reliable and consistent as the day, the mood, and maybe the weather and stars. There are those parents who seem to have everything planned out and do everything “right,” and there are others that have a more relaxed approach. I think whichever category you’re in, the thing that makes parenting hardest is we all struggle with the dilemma of wanting to have it all: to be the best parents, to do the best at our jobs, to provide the best everything to our kids, and also to somehow be happy. This is an impossible task, but COVID-19 presented an even more seemingly impossible hurdle to parenting in a pandemic.
What I like about COVID-19 (yes, you read that right) is the pandemic threw a curveball that created a new playing field for all of us and made us forget the unattainable perfection beast at its former standard. Because the outbreak was so unprecedented and caused instant chaos, “normalcy” as we knew it before vanished and we were faced with ground zero. Simultaneously, and perhaps unnoticed, our former self-expectations were also immediately put on hold in the name of scrambling. Best yet, we were all about to realize our inner-strength and open the door to new standards for ourselves as parents and people.
If you have school-aged children, you probably created a schedule and routine surrounding your child’s regular school day hours. If you have a non-school aged kiddo, you likely had daycare / babysitters / other family members lined up so you could work to pay the bills. Even if you were a stay at home parent and thought joyfully to yourself for even one moment things wouldn’t be too different, suddenly – BAM! – your partner is home all the time and boy, did they disrupt your personal routine. Even if nothing about your routine got changed because you are a magical unicorn from space, you could not control the rest of the world from closing in around you.
Parenting in a Pandemic Can be Difficult, Very Difficult
For myself, navigating the immediate repercussions of the Coronavirus outbreak was difficult. I had chosen to live in a more-expensive area that I could afford only because living there meant my daughter could attend Pre-K for free as a 3-year-old. I had juxtaposed the many different options of cost of living with the costs of regular care for her, and finally decided on what I had calculated to be the best option – more expensive apartment in area where she could go to school all day was cheaper than paying a babysitter to watch her while I went to my 9-5, Monday through Friday. My plan was working beautifully for quite some time; my daughter was thriving and happy having peers, and I was proud of myself for figuring out one of the hardest aspects of being a single parent.
When Coronavirus panic hit, my daughter’s school closed the next day, with much uncertainty surrounding permanence. We now know that they were never to open again, but at the time we still had a glimmer of hope in the ambiguity. This, coupled with the fact the law firm stayed open, meant I immediately had to figure out how to manage my very active three-year old and a 40-hour, remote, work week. As you can imagine, being a legal assistant requires great organization and attention to detail, among many other skills that are made much more difficult with a Tasmanian devil running around. Daycares were closed, my parents are high-risk and were therefore unable to help with childcare, and many people were self-quarantining out of precaution. Luckily (for me), my daughter’s old babysitter lost her pre-COVID job due to the outbreak, so she was available and trustworthy, albeit at a high cost. I figured this was as much a rainy day as any, so I dug into my savings and was fortunate enough to have my parents’ help where they could, too. I rehired my former babysitter and figured doing so would at least bide me time through the period of uncertainty. Even though it was an adjustment, it worked for a little while.
After it was announced schools would not reopen and there was no real plan to eliminate COVID, I entered another phase of panic. It went like this: “This is scary, this is highly contagious, people are dying, there is no rulebook, I cannot afford my current childcare, I cannot afford to lose my job since I pay all the bills and cannot stop even if I wanted to, I cannot risk exposing my child while this mysterious virus is infecting and killing exponentially more people every day, and holy sh*t I just went with her to do laundry in the laundry room of my building and the laundry sink was filled with human vomit; I need to get out of here!” So, with a version of one of my worst nightmares playing out in real life and in real time, I ended my lease early and moved myself and my daughter to a remote part of Maryland to get away from a highly congested and expensive area.
Phase II of Parenting in a Pandemic Worked, For a While
My personal Phase II, the move was one of the best decisions of my life. The country air where I live now is clean and beautiful. We do not share any space with anyone, meaning no communal door handles, railings, buttons, laundry machines, or trash bins. We were able to get a house for less than what I was paying to live in a crowded, one-bedroom apartment, and my hyperactive child finally had a huge yard and space to run wild and get out her sillies. I set up cameras everywhere, so even if I was working in one room, eyes were on her if she was playing in her room. She was happy so I was yet again, proud. Because we were still working from home, being in the house at least gave me a sense of safety that was essential for my mental state. I was looking forward to getting more done while my child happily frolicked.
My plan did not go as well as I thought it would. Unable to continue to pay for childcare, I was, once again, trying to juggle being the caregiver and emotional support to my daughter, but also being a good employee. The dilemma-monster of desiring perfection in every aspect of my life woke up from its slumber, and I quickly sank into a depression as I fell behind in one of the following three categories on a rotating basis: sleep, parenting, and workload. To top things off, a well-trained eye will notice there was no self-care in my cycle. When it was announced the office would be re-opening, I dreaded having to go back in because it seemed impossible that I would keep my job without a solid childcare plan. I do not say this subjectively: Z Family Law and my bosses are so incredibly understanding and uplifting. They heard my dilemma and allowed me to come to work on my office days with my daughter, all her toys, and a play tent in tow. They generously let our newly finished office become her warzone and did not complain one time. Here are some pictures for proof of this claim:
Whether it was working for everyone or not, I was never the wiser. What I did come to find was that, as the workload started to pick back up and the flow was returning to “normal,” having my amazing, beautiful, sweet, but boisterous daughter around wasn’t working for me. An example of why not is she would refuse to go to the bathroom when I wanted to go, saying she didn’t have to, then five minutes after returning to the office and settling into a project, she would have to go. Any parent of a young child knows that having an accident is not an option, particularly not in a work environment, so I was getting up and down a lot. It was like this for #1 and #2, as well – never both at the same time, always a second trip to the loo following shortly after the first one. My daughter is a strong and accommodating little girl, but her patience for this new setup was dwindling, and I could tell she was getting sad. After a particularly hard day, for the first time since the pandemic, I allowed myself to cry one night when I realized not only could I not do everything well, but I could not do everything at all. The perfection monster awoke and was preying on my depressive state, preferring to chase after me when I was already lame.
The next morning, I realized I had to pivot, once again: Phase III of parenting in a pandemic. I calculated that if I could get the time to myself to focus on my workload, I could afford the cost of daycare. With this new idea in my head, my daughter and I ventured out to visit some of the daycares that have remained open. We both fell in love with one, I contemplated the decision over a couple of days, and enrolled her. We are at the end of our very first week trying out this daycare plan, and I’m over the moon to report, she is loving daycare, she is loving having friends, she’s happy with a safe space to play with many toys, she’s crazy about the attached playground the daycare has, the care providers make me feel safe and secure. My now four-year-old is the best I’ve seen her since the pandemic hit, and I am also happy to report that I’m getting so much more done at work, and that’s helping me sleep a lot better at night.
The Moral Is, There Is No Moral
When I signed up for this blog article about parenting in a pandemic, I was dreading writing it because, piece by piece, I do not think my parenting in a pandemic story is a great example of a “how-to” guide, and if I were on the reader’s end, I might hope to learn some tips and tricks rather than read about someone else’s experience. Since hindsight is always 20/20, upon breaking down my story, I hope it helps other readers reflect upon their own stories and what they learned about themselves before and after the pandemic. This is hardly over, but through each phase I have learned something new about myself, and the more I learn, the less hard on myself I am. I hope this article helps everyone to reflect on the strength, resilience, and ingenuity that they have found within themselves, where maybe we had not thought to look before. I think back and recognize this has all been a hard lesson in perseverance but also a great one in self-love. To be forced to lower an impossibly high standard and to allow myself to feel pride in how I have ascertained a new level of normal for my family has been my favorite part of pandemic parenting so far. Finally, I hope that we can agree the impossibly high standards of perfection we set for ourselves are only as permanent as they are comfortable in the spaces they take up in our minds.