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Emily Writes: On being a parent in the Covid-19 era

The job is always hard enough. Here are some ways to think about how to handle it changing.

As I write this my son is a donut. His best friend Billie is a foot. They are chatting to each other on Facebook video, trying out different filters. They’re cackling away to each other and my heart feels warm at the sound of her voice.

They start whispering – they’re trying to meet each other. I can hear just parts of the conversation. I don’t think they fully understand that they won’t be able to see each other for… I don’t know how long this will be.

Eddie is in isolation with us. Billie is recovering from surgery. Both are at their homes. Both are missing each other. For 20 minutes or so when they chat, it feels normal.

The official advice right now is to send your kids to school and kindergarten unless you’re told otherwise directly. Many parents have made the decision to keep their children at home in voluntary self-isolation and I’m one of them. In my son’s short life we have almost lost him three times. The last time was just six months ago. We’re not taking any chances.

People are saying it’s “only the vulnerable” at risk. Their “only” is our “everything”.

We are in a privileged position as I can work from home. But we have lost my husband’s income – once his sick leave dries up, that’s it. I’m no longer able to do events to promote my work – so I’ve lost some of my income too. But I have my $5-a-month newsletter – and all of this together still means we’re better off than a lot of families right now.

I hold those families in my heart. I can’t imagine being the mother of an immune-compromised child and having to work in a service role that requires constant contact with the public. I can understand that anxiety felt. And I wish I had the words to provide some comfort.

I think we’re all a bit afraid right now. As parents – it’s not just you and your parents you’re afraid for, it’s your children too. The small mercy that children seem to have mild symptoms helps, but the idea that your child could be a vector to harm others is the flipside of that. Parents of medically fragile children can’t draw on that comfort either, especially when their last hospital admission was a simple cold or tummy upset.

We have never been here before

It makes sense then that our parenting at this time has no map. We as parents must make our own. Thankfully, we can do this together. This is when the village becomes real – suddenly the idea of a virtual village we have talked about for so long doesn’t seem so ridiculous does it?

I believe the best thing we can do right now is to treat ourselves as parents as gently and lovingly as we are treating our children. We must be patient – we won’t have all the answers. We must be kind – because nobody has all the answers. We must be open to a new way of doing things. And we absolutely must continue to support each other and our communities in isolation.

Just as there is always judgement of parents, there is Covid-19 judgement of parents – parents who keep their kids home are hysterical, parents who send their kids to school aren’t taking care, parents who are going into voluntary self-isolation or practicing extended social distancing are overreacting, parents who aren’t are putting others at risk.

It’s hard. I find myself feeling frustrated at the actions of other parents – but I can’t know their realities. The parent who tells me I’m being melodramatic might be projecting because she’s terrified but can’t have her child home because she’s a solo parent, living week-to-week, and must cling to that view of me otherwise it’s just all too much.

Radical empathy is needed

We don’t have to be perfect parents, ever. But we especially don’t have to be perfect parents right now.  We don’t have to suddenly know how to home school. We don’t need to out of nowhere have all the answers. We can’t possibly be expected to at a moment’s notice to know how to perfectly balance working from home and looking after kids at the same time.

We must simply be there for our children at the most important moments. If your child is playing Minecraft for hours while you put out fires at work? That’s OK. Especially when if in the evening when you’re cuddling them to sleep they can tell you their feelings about missing their friends. Especially when they can talk about their fears.

A good mum or dad is someone who a child can open up to. Someone their child can share with. Someone whose hug or kiss or body beside them is enough to calm them at least for now.

What it means to be a good parent is something we need to re-evaluate in these difficult times. It’s something we have always needed to re-evaluate. Black and white rules never worked, and they especially won’t work now. We must make our own rules. Guided as much as we can by our children and their needs.

But our needs will also matter. We have a chance to help our children understand that in uncertain times adults will do their absolute best, but things will change. Flexibility will be required. So will kindness. This is a great time to help our children understand that their parents have needs too – that it’s OK to feel things, it’s OK to not have the answers, it’s OK as long as we have each other and we’re patient, kind, and reaching out in support and hope.

Remember when you held your baby in your arms for the first time? Go back to that moment. Maybe you wondered if you were up for this job.

You are.

Maybe you wondered if you could do it.

You can.

You can absolutely do this.

You were not alone then. And you are not alone now.

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