The Pandemic Has Been One Huge Parenting Experiment

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
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My husband started working from home last March when the pandemic started. I already worked from home. Suddenly, we were together every day, all day. He tried to hole up in our closet, converting it to a makeshift home office. However, the kids would run back there four hundred times a day with a request or a question. Eventually, he ended up doing half of his work day at the dining table. From that day on, our parenting became front and center—because we couldn’t just turn it off.

With the kids learning from home and both of us working from home, our parenting true colors began to shine—brightly. I was used to running the show during the day, while my husband would jump in after arriving home from work around six p.m. We had a groove—until we didn’t. Working from home during COVID has changed our parenting.

I feel like every parent I meet often raises kids drastically different from the other parent (if there is one). A lot of it is based on how we were parented, so we practice what we know. For us, I am the stricter parent. I’m also “my way or the highway.” My husband is often the fun parent. (There’s always one, isn’t there?) He will drop everything to play a game of football with the kids, listen to their (long) story about all their Halloween costume ideas, or help them make the perfect PB&J—cut just the way they prefer.

Once the pandemic hit, and our family of six was together all of the time, our parenting flaws began to show. I would grow annoyed at how easily my husband was lured into distraction, giving into the kids’ whims. My husband, on the other hand, felt I should ease up. My belief is that there’s a hierarchy, and I’m on top. My husband is more open to compromise and conversation. I don’t negotiate, but with him, everything is up for discussion.


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Suddenly, the kids didn’t have the balance of school life, extracurricular life, and home life. There were no boundaries, no separation, between learning, playing, sleeping, eating, and doing chores. It was all one in the same—with my husband and I as the captains of the ship. Let me tell you, being co-captains isn’t easy when you parent differently.

Over the past year and a half—wow, this pandemic has been around awhile—we have had to make some parenting changes. I cannot tell you the number of family meetings we’ve had to call after a blow up about another issue. It could be as simple as someone using someone else’s iPad charger to who gets to use the washing machine when. There were the bigger issues, like lying or antagonizing a sibling. Multiple times over the course of learning-from-home, a kid (or two) would dramatically threaten to run away.

In some ways, my husband and I had to learn to loosen up. Yes, it was beyond annoying when the kids wouldn’t put their dirty dishes in the sink or decide to not put their clean laundry away, rather leave it in the basket on their bedroom floor. One kid refused to replace the toilet paper—instead belting out for help when they realized they should have taken care of business before taking care of business. There seemed to be a never-ending slew of new issues crop up, but these weren’t detrimental to our overall well-being. We have had to take deep breaths and then choose our battles—carefully.

Being type A, I decided that I could no longer stand the confusion that came with doing all-the-things from home all the time. I had to bring order to an otherwise chaotic situation. I made charts—many charts. Each kid had a daily to-do chart that included music practice, academic work, virtual lessons, and chores. I also made a meal and snack schedule, because otherwise, it felt like the kids were forever circling the pantry and refrigerator like a school of sharks.

The kids revolted. When I tried to bring out the routine, they went to their dad even more, asking for extra snacks, help with school projects (in the middle of his work day), and more. He caved, as he usually does, and I about lost my mind. Kids need order. They need to know what to expect. And they need both of us to be a united front—you know, the same team—so we don’t get played by the preschooler.

Watching my husband patiently help my daughter untangle her ear bud cord for drum practice made me realize that yes, I had a gift of getting things together—fast. But I really needed to work on seeing my kids beyond their to-do lists. My husband pauses well. What I mean is, he is willing to prioritize relationship and connection with our kids—which is admirable. In fact, I’m happy to report that I have managed to slow down a bit and spend more time one-on-one, having conversations and playing with my kids.

Our differing styles have helped us create more balance—which is more apparent now that we’re eighteen months into a pandemic. We’re both still working from home, though thankfully, three of our kids have returned to in-person learning. At least we aren’t now teachers and parents—because parenting is enough of a job as is.

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The kids are four different ages and life-stages, which has added to our challenge. One child wants everything to be fair, to which we’ve explained that doesn’t make sense, truly. A twelve-year-old shouldn’t be treated like an eight-year-old, for example. An older child has more privileges, like staying up later and having a cell phone. On this topic, my husband and I have learned to back each other up. To talk about a situation that arises, behind closed doors, and then show up to talk to our kids, both of us on the same page rather than adversaries.

Pandemic parenting has forced us to work together even more, but also to bring up the issues that have been there all along. Sometimes we’d just avoid discussing our parenting differences—but we couldn’t really do that anymore when we were in parenting mode all the time. Our differences can be helpful, but sometimes we have to get on the same team—or at least on the same court—for the sake of our family sanity.

Don’t get me wrong. Nothing is magically fixed. One kid still forgets to restock the toilet paper, lies are still told, and arguments still happen—on the daily. This season of our lives has felt like a parenting experiment—but hopefully, we’re better parents because of it.

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