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Parenting Styles Change in a Crisis. That’s Okay.
A photograph of a mother cooking in shadow. A child stands, well-lit, in the center of the kitchen.
From a series of portraits on the topic of “home.” (Jonas Bendiksen / Magnum)
What if you woke up one day, and had to be an entirely different parent from the one you were the day before? For much of America, that day arrived last month.

With the spread of COVID-19, millions of moms and dads have started spending a lot more time with their kids, in new roles. I’ve noticed a recurring semi-desperate refrain in memes as well as Facebook posts and Instagram Stories: “But I’m not a stay-at-home mom”; “I’m not a homeschooling dad”; “I’m not a Pinterest mom.” Along with the markets, the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on our mental health and parenting strategies.

What we’re all being called to do now is learn how to parent in a crisis. This is familiar territory for me, and the good news is that the parent you are today is not the parent you have to be tomorrow. Your parenting identity is not nearly as intransigent as your pantsless, potty-training toddler.

In September 2015, I was raising a 2-year-old with my husband, Jake, while I was 7 months pregnant with our second child. My toddler was easy on me—she was laid-back, sociable, and slept through the night. Aside from a Kate Middletonian amount of morning sickness, motherhood had been relatively smooth. I had an established parenting identity: I was a chill mom who took her kid on morning runs and road trips, a working mom, a mom with a partner with whom I could share some duties.

And then one Saturday, I became something else. My husband died in a cycling accident in a race to benefit cancer research. I lost my partner, I lost his contribution to our household income, and I lost my idea of what kind of parent I was.

“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant,” Joan Didion wrote in The Year of Magical Thinking, her memoir about the loss of her husband and daughter. “You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” You’re probably feeling like you’re seated at that table now. The coronavirus is serving up a rare and tragic mix of grief, drastic life changes, and economic stress to a huge swath of the country.

[Read: My whole household has COVID-19]

It sucks. Acknowledging, and accepting, this is key. Grief has several stages, and contrary to popular belief, they don’t occur in any specific order. One can experience anger and bargaining and depression all at once. Right now, many of us find that we work our way through those stages before lunch. But these are the cards you have been dealt. How will you play them?

“The quality of parenting is what … differentiates those [children] who do well versus those who don’t do well,” the psychologist Irwin Sandler says of the body of research on families in transition due to divorce or loss. “In a sense, that’s a very optimistic message. Because it indicates the power of parenting.” In other words, when something outside your control changes your life, it’s what you do with what you can control that really shapes your children.

Sandler, who studies the resilience of children and families at Arizona State University’s Resilient Parenting for Bereaved Families Program, encourages parents to create traditions and family time that take into account the new normal. Family bonding is one of five building blocks of resilient parenting, established by the Family Bereavement Program. The others are self-care, active listening, and the maintenance of some structure and rules, all of which culminate in helping children cope, the final building block.

I did this in various ways. Breakfast became a ritual. It was my favorite meal of the day and the time when my daughter was sunniest. The time was quality, the smell of bacon and eggs was comforting, and a hot meal was the clearest symbol that I could keep providing for my kids.

As the months went by, I knew that Christmas would look different. We bought a tree early—the weekend the new baby was born in November—to get a jump start on the holiday season and our rebirth as a family. My brother, who had moved in with us to help out, picked up the tree. Close friends, family, and neighbors who were our lifeline in those days gathered to trim it. We’ve done the same thing every year since, only now my girls go with me to pick out the tree and help me haul it into the house. My kids saw me walk through pain, pray, and provide, and for us, our tree is a reminder of how we made life and memories happen even in a time of crisis.

But before those new traditions came a new mindset. Jake died on a Saturday. I spoke at a memorial gathering for him on Tuesday. That night, I told people I wanted two things for my family: I didn’t want to live mired in grief, entering every room to the sound of a sad trombone. My life felt like a Lifetime-movie plot; even though an irreparably sad thing had happened to us, we were not irreparably sad people. I also made clear that we would live unafraid. I feared sheltering my children too much, keeping them from experiencing life because I was worried about one thing that happened on one day. An event would not dictate our identity. These were my greatest concerns.

Expressing my intentions out loud, to friends and family and myself, changed the way I lived. It changed the way people reacted to me. We climbed mountains before Jake died, and we would do so again. We went on giant road trips with Jake; a couple of summers after his death, my girls and I covered more than 2,000 miles in the American West (great for the soul, not so good for the car seats, which never fully recovered). I declared myself the mom of a happy family. Even in the saddest and scariest times, that is what people believed about me, and more important, that’s what I woke up believing about myself.

[Read: When parents try to do it all, they do it poorly]

That shift was more about my identity than about my actions. Last year, I read James Clear’s self-help guide, Atomic Habits. Clear contends that you’re more likely to stick to something if it's identity-based—if you believe it is in you to do it, not merely an item on a to-do list. “Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity,” Clear writes. “To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself.”

This was true for me. In the fog after Jake’s death, I did my best to focus on the strength I wanted, not the weakness I feared. I wasn’t a broken single mom. I was a mother guiding a family. In doing that, I stumbled into one of the more effective kinds of habit-forming: I’m the mom of a happy family, so I get up and make my kids bacon; I’m the mom of a family with a full life, so I let my kids climb the jungle gym even when I’m nervous. This mindset doesn’t keep me from crying or drinking too much wine or struggling with anxiety, but it puts me on a path to managing those things.

So, what do you need to believe about yourself right now? There was power in writing my own story. As more states declare schools closed for the remainder of the year, and the direct and cascading effects of the pandemic pile up, you’ll have to write yours. It may sound like a luxury. You’ve got other things to worry about. You’re right. But naysaying your own ability to shift gears is a sure way to put yourself at a disadvantage.

Believing in one’s own abilities makes parenting during a crisis easier, which bolsters a sense of self-worth and strength—suddenly, your other problems feel lighter. If you’ve been a parent for any length of time, no doubt you’ve proved yourself able to change in ways you never thought possible before you had kids. You’ve lived with less sleep than ever before. You swore you’d never let your kid wear a princess dress or Spider-Man mask out of the house, and we all know how that ended. You’ve already sharpened this skill, and it is a crucial tool for this new season.

Before Jake died, if you had asked me whether I was capable of labor without my partner, or bringing home a newborn without him there, I might have told you no, not possible. But crises can teach you a lot about your capabilities.

Practice makes slightly better over time. It’s no “practice makes perfect,” but perfect is not what you’re after. You’re not instantly going to be an expert homeschooling mom who also works a full-time job, nor should you try. Once you’ve decided what kind of mom or dad you are, do something small every day to put that identity into practice. Clear puts it this way: “Prove it to yourself with small wins.”

[Read: Kids don't need to stay 'on track' to succeed]

For me, in 2015, that meant getting out of bed (grief is physically exhausting, but grief plus third trimester is a doozy), keeping a job, taking my kids outside, and wrestling my toddler into a Mogwai costume for Halloween, by God. Every day, I got a little better at doing the things that make a home happy. Many days, my small win was a hot breakfast, and that was all I had in me. Some days, I had a hangover and it was Cheerios in my bed for the toddler until I could Skype with my therapist. On those days, I was the kind of parent I wanted to be only for a couple of hours—and that was fine too.

In the midst of a crisis, you’re just getting through an hour at a time. Later, you advance to a day at a time. The idea of forever is crushing. So give yourself a shorter timeline. Get through this morning, get through Monday, get through this week, and watch Tiger King with a glass of wine when you're done.

In her best-selling book on resilience, Option B, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg recounts how she trained herself to see the possibility of light in the darkness after her husband’s death: “I … tried a cognitive behavioral therapy technique where you write down a belief that's causing you anguish and then disprove it. I wrote, ‘I will never feel okay again.’ Seeing those words … [more]
parenting  coronavirus  relationships  education  communication  children  death  grief 
13 hours ago by dirtystylus
#feministfriday episode 288 | Food and fun
If you are a parent and have ideas for things to keep kids sane/entertained, that would be especially good. This week my thoughts have particularly turned to parents, and to parents who are working from home while their kids are under their feet and bored. I am sorry if this is you and good luck with it all. It reminds me though of a time that I very vaguely remember – I must have been three or thereabouts. There was a time when, for no clear reason that I could see, my dad was in the house way more than usual. He'd take me for a walk every day, along the little river at the back of the estate we lived on. One day we collected watercress and took it home, and my mum made soup with it. On another day, we walked through a gate that we'd not been through before, and I said "is this further than we've ever walked", and my dad looked at me and smiled and said "yes darling, this is further than we've ever walked."

Absolutely halcyon days. Perfect.

Anyway, recently – maybe 18 months ago – my dad said to me, "you were very young, but do you remember when [employer] was making everyone take unpaid leave for two weeks at a time and me and you went on those walks along the burn?". It made me realise that these times of, for me, absolute magic, must have for him been conducted at an incredible pitch of stress; one small child, another on the way, a mortgage, suddenly half the salary you were expecting for a month.

Where I'm going with this, I guess, is that when you talk to your kids about this in the future you might say "do you remember that time of plague, when everything was awful and so stressful" and they will say "you mean those amazing times of unfettered ipad access and you were always there bringing the funtimes, they were beautiful, it could have lasted forever."
coronavirus  parenting  children  childhood  memory  stress  via:robinrendle 
11 days ago by dirtystylus
Parents On Childcare And Challenges In Coronavirus Isolation
“It’s not physically possible for two working parents to both work from home full time during regular workday working hours and care for a baby,” one mom named Melanie told me. That’s essentially asking parents to do two full-time jobs at the same time — when, as she pointed out, childcare alone is more than enough to keep full-time caregivers and stay-at-home moms working hard all day.

This situation is hard for parents of elementary-age children, who, depending on their district, are trying to sprinkle a mix of homeschooling and school-supplied activities throughout the day. It’s also hard on parents of toddlers because their kids can only self-entertain, even with a screen or movie, for about 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
parenting  coronavirus  children  education  remotework  relationships 
19 days ago by dirtystylus
What Happened to the Company That Raised Minimum Wage to $70k/yr?
The thing about the increased number of babies is astounding. Some of that has to be demographic (employees getting older and entering prime family-starting years) but having a baby in the United States is expensive and that has to factor into many people’s decision on whether to have a child, especially if it’s a second kid or if you’re a single parent.
gravitypayments  capitalism  minimumwage  parenting  equity  slackfodder 
5 weeks ago by dirtystylus
Advice to give your daughter about sexual assault in college.
The very best thing you can do is make it easy for your daughter to disclose a sexual assault to you, before she ever leaves for college. This is the most important support you can offer her. This is because a lot of crucial support can rest on a parent’s knowledge of the violence that occurred, like the ability to use a parent’s insurance to access follow-up medical or psychological care, or help with tuition payments for an extra year of school after failing a class. Without a parent’s help, college survivors struggle to get access to the resources they need. Survivors also tend to thrive with a strong network of emotional support, and parents are uniquely equipped to provide that.
sexualassault  highered  college  parenting  advice 
5 weeks ago by dirtystylus
The Sum of Small Things | Princeton University Press
In today’s world, the leisure class has been replaced by a new elite. Highly educated and defined by cultural capital rather than income bracket, these individuals earnestly buy organic, carry canvas tote bags, and breast-feed their babies. They care about discreet, inconspicuous consumption—like eating free-range chicken and heirloom tomatoes, wearing organic cotton shirts and TOMS shoes, and listening to the latest podcast. They use their purchasing power to hire nannies and housekeepers, to cultivate their children’s growth, and to practice yoga and Pilates. In The Sum of Small Things, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett dubs this new elite “the aspirational class” and discusses how, through deft decisions about education, health, parenting, and retirement, they reproduce wealth and upward mobility, deepening the ever-wider class divide. With a rich narrative and extensive interviews and research, The Sum of Small Things illustrates how cultural capital leads to lifestyle shifts and examines what these changes will mean for everyone.
class  culture  education  parenting  privilege 
11 weeks ago by dirtystylus
Can Everyone Be Excellent? - Alfie Kohn
But boy, do we love to rank. Worse, we create artificial scarcity such as awards — distinctions manufactured out of thin air specifically so that some cannot get them. Every contest involves the invention of a desired status where none existed before and none needs to exist. This creates an adversarial mentality that makes productive collaboration less likely, encourages gaming the system, and leads all concerned to focus not on meaningful improvement but on trying to outdo (and perhaps undermine) everyone else.

Most of all, it encourages the false belief that excellence or success itself is a zero-sum game. The sociologist Philip Slater once remarked that the manufacture of scarcity is the principal activity of American culture. Indeed, he added, many people “find it difficult to enjoy anything they themselves have unless they can be sure that there are people to whom this pleasure is denied.”
education  parenting  politics  mediocrity  culture  via:susanjrobertson 
september 2019 by dirtystylus
(((Leah Donnella))) on Twitter: "Last night I was SUPER stressed so I called my mom. Her advice: Make a list of everything you have to do. Take a hard look. It only gets worse from here. You don't have kids yet. Your prize at the end will be the knowledge
Last night I was SUPER stressed so I called my mom.

Her advice: Make a list of everything you have to do. Take a hard look. It only gets worse from here. You don't have kids yet. Your prize at the end will be the knowledge that most people who deserve recognition don't get it.
parenting  career  advice  motherhood  humor  anxiety 
september 2018 by dirtystylus
don't look | sara hendren
Part of parenting is surely this—acting as nothing more and nothing less than a hedge around experiences we may watch but perhaps refrain from sharing. All I can think now is: Keep reading. Don’t look.
parenting  parenthood  reading  children  magic  by:sarahendren 
september 2017 by dirtystylus
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