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  • Sarah Nannery

The Paradox of Pandemic Parenting

This global pandemic is something like none of us have ever seen in our lifetime.

Most people who get COVID-19 come down with mild to moderate flu-like symptoms, and then recover. But there is no doubt that the virus is deadly, and downright scary, for older adults, and those with underlying respiratory conditions. And it spreads like wildfire.

My family and I live in NYC, which is being called "the epicenter" of the pandemic in the US, since there are so many millions of people here, we are so densely populated, and we have so many people traveling and moving through our city. At this point, we are essentially in lock down, with all schools closed, all bars and restaurants closed to the public, most retail establishments also closed, all daycare closed except to the children of healthcare workers and other first responders, police enforcing social distancing in grocery stores, thousands of people losing jobs, and hospitals filled to near breaking point with active COVID-19 cases.

Who knows what and who will be left, where the economy will be - where our families will be - when all of this is over. I can't even really think about that right now, dire as it truly is. Right now, I'm just trying to make it through day by day, with two small children under my feet (or literally on top of me) and nowhere to take them.

We are using every trick in the book - children's audiobooks, porch time basketball, limited tablet and TV time, arts and crafts, turning the living room floor into "lava," scooter trips around the block, Skype time with classmates and family - but it's still not enough to satisfy the boundless energy of a friendly 4-year-old boy. Throw ASD into the mix - for both parent and child - and you have two people WAY outside of our normal routine, cooped up in a small apartment together, driving ourselves and each other and the other two members of our family literally up the walls. (Like, I literally had to tell my son not to touch the artwork hanging above the couch today as he literally climbed up the wall.)

Suddenly becoming a 150% full-time parent, teacher, caregiver, playmate, cook, house cleaner, safety guard, working adult with no social life and no outlets and no place to go but home is NOT an easy transition.

Now of course, we all love each other, and actually it has been kind of rewarding to be able to spend some real quality family time together.

This is the paradox we find ourselves in, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, we get what we've always wanted: unlimited time with our loved ones.

But in exchange, there is nowhere to go, nothing to do - no movie theaters, no swing sets or slides or playgrounds, no playdates with friends. No restaurants or childcare for "date night," no story time at the library or trips to the gym or exercise classes. No cafes or book clubs or soccer games or any other kind of recreational outlet.

So what do we do?

We have to adjust our expectations of family time and alone time, and what it means to be together in a healthy way. We have to re-arrange our limited space so that each of us can have a place to go when we need to decompress. We have to limit our news time so that our son doesn't absorb our anxiety and that of the nation any more than he has already. And we have to keep each other sane by going out of our way to help clean up after ourselves and each other, to intervene when one or the other young child is in need, and to share meaningful moments of love and understanding.

In short, we have to be creative and flexible in this crazy time, and for my son and I, this can be a tall order at times. But the extra effort is well worth it, for a happy, healthy family.

Stay safe. Be well. And make the most of it!

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