Since the very first days of the stay-at-home orders in March of 2020, people have been talking about the potential ways the pandemic would change us – as parents, as families, as a society.
There are the more obvious ways the pandemic changed parenting. Screen time limits flew right out the window with remote learning. Lines were blurred between work and home. Our love-hate relationship with Zoom became even more extreme.
Though I think it’s impossible to find a person who hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic, the ways the pandemic changed us aren’t necessarily what you’d expect.
While there are plenty of parents who say they appreciated the way the pandemic helped their family slow down – something they plan to continue even as the country opens up – not everyone feels this way.
Jackie, a mom of three, told Scary Mommy that her family had the inverse discoveries from what most people have described. “We were already a very purposefully low-key, unscheduled family,” she said. “We didn’t do a lot of sports, clubs, etc. Even playdates were pretty minimal and far between. But as it turns out, we’re all a lot more extroverted than we thought. As things open back up, we’re all so thankful for it that we’re saying yes to more things than we used to, not less…we no longer take social interaction for granted or as a chore.”
Our complicated relationship with technology got more… well, complicated. It hasn’t been as simple as throwing screen time limits out the window, and parents needed to be more creative with boundaries.
Michelle, a mom of two from suburban Chicago, said screen time limits were loosened but not completely disregarded. “I give them a generous amount of screen time and I don’t really regulate TV time. But I do have a rule that there are no screens until after 2pm, and they have to clean their rooms for 10 minutes before they can get on screens,” she told Scary Mommy.
Some families have embraced some screens while shunning others. “I have been more lax with screen time,” Suzanne Hayes, a divorced mom of three from Connecticut, acknowledged. “As a family, we have done more away from our phones, however. Walks around the block, dance parties, charades. I have become a more creative and proactive mother, planning fun, old-fashioned activities.”
Falling squarely in the “silver lining” category is that the pandemic enabled us to get to know our kids better. I talked to a colleague last week who sounded almost sheepish to admit that the pandemic had been a sort of parenting indulgence, bringing his two adult children back home for much of the past year.
Other parents have remarked on the way they understand their kids better as a result of the pandemic. “I’m a lot more tuned into their (and my own, I think) emotional needs,” said Lisa Marshall-Owens, a mom of two teens from Texas. “I give them more space to feel whatever it is they’re feeling and I’m more sensitive to our emotional cues.”
Marshall-Owens acknowledged that tuning in to her family’s emotions is facilitated by the slower lifestyle and living more in the moment. “I used to be the ultimate planner, but now I have trouble thinking any further than a few days ahead,” said Marshall-Owens. “I’m always waiting for something to go wrong or change in a moment, but surprisingly, it doesn’t bother me.”
Regardless of how the pandemic changed our priorities or parenting style, one thing is certain: The pandemic confirmed that we can do hard things, and that when we pare back all the outside noise and pressures, we need to do what makes sense for us and our families.
Personally, I haven’t felt a shift in my priorities, as much as a returning to the priorities and parenting philosophies that I had held all along. Even before the pandemic, I’ve always felt more like an ‘80s parent at heart, shooing my kids out the door and encouraging them to spend time with their friends without the supervision of adults. The pandemic changed that. Seemingly overnight, I became a helicopter mom banning them from going into their friends’ houses and nagging at them to wear a mask. Obviously, these safety precautions were important and necessary, but this isn’t the kind of parent I want to be. It’s a relief to return to the free-range(ish) parenting style that I’m more comfortable with.
The same is true for my priorities in general. The pandemic fooled me into thinking I wanted things I don’t actually care about. Being at home all the time made me feel like I needed a bigger, newer, nicer home. I was tricked into thinking I needed to climb the career ladder. But this was not me – the real me – talking; it was “pandemic me.” I don’t not actually want a big house or a high-powered career. I want a tiny home. I want to travel and spend time with people I love. I want to focus on work I love and am passionate about. These are the things I cared about before the pandemic, things I still care about now. It was in the fuzzy days of the pandemic that I became someone I am not.
It would be impossible to emerge from the pandemic and not be unchanged. But my hope for everyone is that, regardless of how the pandemic changed you, that you emerge more attuned to what you, your kids, and your family really need.