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Parenting In The Face of COVID-19 - You Are Not Failing Your Children

By Dr. Sarah Haas *

When you think about who the heroes are of this pandemic, you likely envision the brave medical professionals that are facing the pandemic at the front lines. I even read an article praising the work the photographers and journalists who are placing themselves in harm’s way for the purpose of documenting and reporting the pandemic to the masses. There is no question that these folks are, by any definition, heroic.

However, there is one prominent hero in this pandemic who is not getting nearly enough credit—And that is YOU; a parent. Parents already don’t get enough credit for all that they do, and can easily place their needs behind that of everyone else’s. And parenting guilt that can be felt on a regular basis associated with feeling like we are not doing enough for to support our children’s development. So now enter…parenting in the era of a pandemic.

The life of parents often feels like a Jenga® game: We build the foundation with the basic necessities (e.g., safety, food, water, shelter) needed for our children to survive, then we build onto that the things needed for our children to be loved, happy, and to have fun! This idea follows Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943); only after one’s basic needs are met can we focus on meeting one’s psychological needs.

Right before we play Jenga, we need to create a wooden building that is perfectly stable. This can represent providing our children with the basic necessities: shelter, food, water, and safety. Once our structure is stable, it is only then that we are able to build our structure higher. Think about the pieces you place on top of the original Jenga structure as new goals for yourself and your children, including goals that meet their psychological needs. So when we place a piece on top of your original structure, we are now prioritizing a new goal that helps our children develop their psychological needs (building our relationship with them; building their self-esteem; emotion regulation; communication skills, etc.). Recognize too that we can only create new goals or priorities for our children (i.e., make a taller structure) after we have provided enough for their basic needs to be met (have a stable structure to begin with). 

At this time, that is in the middle of a pandemic, parents may feel that their Jenga structure has fallen down. Maybe we are left with 10%-20% of our structure right now. You know that feeling when your structure that you spent so much time building and carefully crafting falls during the game of Jenga? It really stinks! The pandemic may have shaken our foundation and has questioned the security of things we felt were secure before the pandemic. What that means is that we as parents need to shift our mindset. And here are three major reasons why we need to shift our mindset:

1. You have bigger-picture concerns than you have had prior to the pandemic.

A pandemic is a traumatic experience. Recognizing that may help you shift the expectations you have set for yourself during a traumatic time.

Primarily, our primary job as parents is to ensure that everybody is safe. On a daily basis we focus on the safety and well-being of ourselves, our spouses, our children, our parents, and our friends. And we may not feel like we are doing much or enough to protect those people we love at a time of a national pandemic. It’s really hard to reconcile or make sense of that. We, as parents, are protectors. We want to protect our loved ones, and feeling like we may be falling short of doing so. But in fact, by following the Center for Disease Control and Protection recommendations, we are doing what we can to stay safe.

Parents may have the additional concern about being able to support their family’s physical needs. Will the grocery store have the foods that we want or need? Will I be able to get toilet paper? Can I find hand sanitizer to help minimize the germs brought into our house? If I go to the grocery store, am I risking my and my family’s health? What if one of my children get sick? Will I be able to make a doctor’s appointment or will there be availability in the emergency room if needed? These are natural concerns during a time like this, and it can be important to focus on the things you can control rather than the things you cannot control to ensure your worries are productive.

Now some parents are faced with the real possibility of losing their job. Or if we are lucky enough to still have a job, we may be struggling with adapting their jobs to an online platform and performing at their jobs while our children are at home, or are having to go into their job and interact with others who may or may not be carrying COVID-19.  These are all new challenges that we have not had to face before. In the face of new challenges, we learn new skills. However, it does take some time to find a solution that allows us to create these new skills.

2. You may have additional responsibilities that you didn't sign up for

Parents have also taken on the role of being their child’s/children’s teachers in the sense that they now are being asked to help be responsible for teaching their child academics, or at least manage their child’s schedule for when they need to be online to show up to their virtual classroom. Prior to the pandemic, children were in school at the same time that parents were working. So now, for parents who are lucky enough to continue working, they have to complete two activities (work and children’s schooling) that typically last about 8 hours a day, both occurring at the same time of day. No matter how great parents become at multi-tasking, we cannot physically complete two different activities at the same time. But here we are.

3. You need to be more flexible than ever in identifying and adapting to a new things

Self-care for many parents seems to be a laughable concept prior to the pandemic. Some of us parents are so crafty that we capitalize on organic breaks as instances of self-care. Some parents have already gotten creative in fitting in some time alone to decompress and reset themselves, like while driving in their car to and from work, running an errand, or going to the gym. Some parents may have taken advantage of opportunities to meet up with colleagues during lunch or after work so that they could get out of the house to help feel better after a long week of feeling like they are “on” 24 hours a day whether it be for their employer, customers, or their children. To summarize, in the face of our current pandemic, the stressors are bigger and are more frequent. The  practiced coping skills that we have relied on and that help us are fewer and likely inefficient. The coronavirus has single-handedly taken out the majority of the tall Jenga structure that allowed parents to function more effectively. This time, more than ever, parents may need to be more forgiving for themselves and modify their expectations for what their day looks like, what they accomplish during the day, and the activities their children engage in during the day. 

So why are parents the unsung heroes in this pandemic? Because right now, at this very moment, parents are teaching their children about flexibility & resilience. We are teaching their children some very important life skills that can only be taught when our own personal boundaries are tested. We are teaching their children how to be comfortable with uncertainty, because, well, we have to be comfortable with uncertainty. We are teaching their children the importance of health behaviors that may benefit them in the future too. We are teaching their child how to understand the pandemic in terms that they can understand. We are teaching so much to their children that transcends what any book can teach them. And parents are doing this while their Jenga structure lies in multiple pieces on the floor. THAT is the definition of resilience. YOU are being relsilient.

Now that you're ready to change your mindset, check this post out to figure out how you may be able to change your mindset and talk with your kids about the pandemic:


Disclaimer: The Information provided through this website, including the various pages, blog posts, and emails, are designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute a client/therapist relationship. The information is not intended to replace medical advice or mental health treatment. Every individual person's situation is unique. Please seek out individual care if needed.

Jenga ® is a registered trademark of Pokonobe Associates.



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