Parenting toddlers is not easy. Add a pandemic to it and it gets out of control!
It’s been 16 weeks since my three and a half-year old has been home. His innocent little mind jumped with joy when he got to know that his preschool/daycare was shutting for a while and that he was going to be staying home with mama and papa the whole time. However, day three into this new routine, his excitement quickly started waning as he found himself confused and almost angry because what he thought was going to be unlimited playtime with mommy and daddy was turning out to be long chunks of the day feeling ignored, deprioritized and lonely. With no friends to meet and limited outdoor playtime, in his little mind, this vacation was only going downhill.
His little mind wasn’t able to comprehend why the two people he is used to getting undivided attention from at home are now constantly buried in their laptops or are busy talking to other people and are asking him to be quiet a lot. My son used to be in his preschool from 9 to 5 every single day, which meant eight hours of undisturbed work time for me during the day and the evening hours dedicated to him with enough playtime, reading time and plenty attention. I would do the rest of my work either early mornings or after he went to bed. So, he has never seen me working much when he is around. Also, he is at a tricky age. He is capable of playing alone for a bit but is still very dependent on us for a lot of things. His rapidly developing mind is like a sponge. It is a great time to teach him and expose him to new things.
To say that the past three months have been challenging, would be an understatement. The guilt of not being able to give him the attention he craves, the lack of time to do enough constructive activities together and the excessive screen time has been at an all-time high. On one hand, we’re grateful that our work hasn’t been affected by the pandemic, but on the other hand, the side effects of our crazy work life are being borne by our little guy, for no fault of his.
The work-life juggle is not easy. It’s a constant battle between prioritizing work and keeping kids meaningfully occupied. Since work and home lives have blended, there is no disconnecting from either. While working, I am constantly distracted by thinking about ways to keep my son productively occupied (meaning no screen time), and when I am with him, I am constantly checking my emails and nervously keeping an eye on the time to ensure I don’t miss the next deadline. Add to this, the pressure of staying and eating healthy, grocery shopping, dishes, laundry, cleaning…the list goes on endlessly.
Most parents are grappling to adjust to this new situation. When talking to other exhausted parents, we realize we’re all in the same boat. So, the question is, what is a parent supposed to do during these times? This Washington Post article puts it really well. “The idea that parents have to enrich every second of their kids’ lives was a crazy lie even before the coronavirus. Kids never needed all that parental stimulation and all those teachable moments. You know how Einstein spent much of his time as a kid? He made houses of cards.”
So, for the time being, I’ll take a cue from Einstein’s mama and let my little boy be. Even if it means watching him dress up as a firefighter or an Avenger, all through the day. [Yeah, we always have a fire emergency or a super villain attacking the house every single day and our firefighter (or Spiderman or Captain America or Iron Man) rises to the occasion and comes to the rescue.] It’s okay if he has a meltdown right in the middle of a client meeting or if he decides to make an appearance during a Zoom call. It’s probably okay too if he doesn’t learn writing his alphabet perfectly just yet.
I’ve realized I need to take a break from freaking out all the time. My mental health is as important as everything else I am burdened with at the moment. It’s okay if the house is a hot mess at times or if dinner isn’t exactly perfect. What matters is that we are all trying to do the best that we can, given the current circumstances. Children are resilient little warriors and adapt to any situation way better than we do! So hug your kids a little harder today and thank them for their patience as we scramble to navigate this new normal. Remember, this pandemic has been hard on them too!