Parenting in a PandemicFeatured
“Motherhood gives us the opportunity to parent our children the way we wanted to be parented. It can be the most beautiful vessel of healing.” I’ll be honest, I actually said I didn’t want kids when I was about 16 years old. And then my friends started to have kids and I thought maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. I will say, kids don’t come with instruction manuals or spare parts. I’m a mom. Boy mom. New mom. Exhausted mom. I might actually be an exhausted pigeon. My name is Chi and I used to be a neat freak. I had specific expectations of my house and how clean it should be. I’m also not your traditional 9-5 gal and can set my own hours for work between the hours of 7 AM and 7 PM. If you met me over the phone today or Zoom, you’ll typically hear my one year-old son doing one of three things - babbling happily, screaming like a banshee just because, or silence because he’s down for a nap. Parenting is not easy, parenting in a pandemic is unlocking that lost boss level and wondering after the 16th try if you’re going to ever beat it. I’ve run into some crazy advice, good advice, and sometimes no advice. Sometimes I ask my child if he could just skip from age 1 to about seven or 10. He giggles and runs away of course. I think the most important thing to remember here though is, you’re surviving, your child is thriving and while you may be on your third cup of coffee in the last 45 minutes just to keep up, you’re doing a great job! The Pandemic is a Blessing in DisguiseThe first few years of my professional career were spent being a PreK/K teacher and after school care provider. These kids probably ended up spending 60-80 hours with me and most often, the rest with a nanny. There were parents who maybe spent 9-10 hours total a week with their children. As heartbreaking as that was to watch, it was heartbreaking to watch the parents who also had no choice but to drop their kids off to go to work. When I was pregnant, this is what scared me, the thought of having a child and immediately immersing them with a stranger while I go to work because I can’t take my child to work with me and I can’t not work. I will be the first to admit that when my office shut down and we were told to work from home, I was still on leave and overjoyed by the prospect of my little man staying at home with me. I didn’t have to pay for daycare and I didn’t have to drop him off with someone. Never mind having to pack bags, making sure I had enough bottles and snacks and dragging my pump back and forth to the office. Given my past experience, this was probably the best possible outcome I could have asked for my first child. I love that I was able to be there fully for his first year, to form a strong bond with him and to also watch him grow into a toddler who constantly tests my patience by flinging toys down the staircase. Because I know my child, because I was able to develop that relationship with my child, I know his smiles are genuine, I know when he’s happy and when he’s sad, when he’s teething and when he has dirtied his diaper. Having a toddler means it’s a new form of exhaustion. Instead of being up all night or every two hours, now you’re sleep deprived and chasing a tiny energetic human around because no matter how much you childproof the house, it’s never actually 100% child proof. To curb the boredom and prevent some unfortunate life choices, we started to theme some of our weeks and weekends aside from a few of the major holidays that roll by. I attempted to make salt dough at one point to make hand and foot prints, we’ve also made cards using mess free ink pads and we’ve tried to write letters on a piece of cardboard. I even cut cardboard into the shapes of planets and colored them. We’ve also had a lot of time to read books so he has found a few favorites and some of our favorite books are great tantrum diffusers. “Deep in the water where the fish hang out lives a glum, gloomy swimmer with an ever present pout.” Those words have been so magical in preventing some major tantrums. During the snowstorm, we decided to have pajama day every day that week and we were the only Elmo’s on the street playing in the snow. We have pictures to prove it and some not so great pictures because it turns out, my son does not like to be cold. He just really likes Elmo. None of this is easy and my sanity is tested pretty much every second of the day, but your kids won’t remember the pandemic like we will, they’ll remember what we did during the pandemic and that is what really matters the most to me. Be Your Authentic SelfBefore having a child, before the pandemic, I loved going to Trader Joes. I periodically dyed strips of my hair pink and I used to go to the gym to lift and run. All of my money went to buying wooden, laser cut puzzles I could build and to Sphero Robots for every cool new toy they came out with. Now my money goes to Huggies, Carter’s and Vtech. I miss the old me. With each new milestone that my tiny tyrant is able to reach, it does give me a little bit more wiggle room to take care of me. It’s not much, but self care especially during the pandemic is important. It’s how we stay somewhat sort of sane. I recently finished pumping, which if you’re the mother of the two children, you know that it takes up so much time being attached to two suction cups pulling every ounce of liquid out of you. When I knew I was down to my last few pump sessions, when I knew I was going to stop pumping and any extra milk would be donated, I was so relieved. I did not have an attachment to pumping, I was more worried about not providing nourishment for my child. Combine this with my toddler now sleeping in his own room and through the night, the first few weeks of this new found freedom, I had no idea what to do with the extra time. I was too tired to clean, but also very confused at what ‘relaxing’ meant. I ended up taking back some things I use to do for myself like trendy, animal print face masks and taking a bath or a long uninterrupted shower. I also started reading books again. And to be honest, on the bad days, I turned on some trashy tv and ate ice cream in bed. Self care is important, but for the sake of keeping it together and not falling apart, it is now more important than ever even if it's just a small thing. I used to be the crazy lady that got sheer joy out of cleaning and rearranging my house. Anytime my husband went out of town, the house would be cleaned, wiped down, sanitized and often rearranged. Post child, my house is a nightmare. Since we moved right when the pandemic began, we just moved the boxes in and called it good. Between having an active toddler and now having more time, I actually started going through these boxes again and was able to throw quite a bit of it out since it was just junk piling up from the years. My point here being, do something that helps you de-stress. Whether it’s yoga, or sitting in a dark corner and just practicing breathing for 5 minutes. When work had us do a month-long meditation challenge, I realized that I was constantly going like the energizer bunny and I wasn’t stopping. Overtime, that stress built up and I had to alleviate it somehow. Knowing that I can now spend some time organizing my house has lifted some weight off my shoulders that I just couldn’t throw off. I feel some joy in my life again and it helps me declutter not just my life but my mind too. Do something that makes you feel wonderful again. Or even try something new. I by no means have a green thumb, my friends tell me I have a black thumb. Well, the plants I bought pre-pandemic are still hanging on to dear life. Sleep is important too. Sleep when you can and let the laundry wait. We’re not going anywhere and neither is the laundry, as much as I do threaten my husband that if it piles up with no end in sight, it’s going in the trash. My child was not a great sleeper under 9 months of age. Periodically he would sleep from 11-9 AM but then there were more nights where he would fall asleep at 7 PM and be up again at 11, 2, 3, 5, and 6 AM for no apparent reason. Now that he’s sleeping not just through the night but 3-4 hours of nap during the day, during the weekends I will sneak a nap in too. For someone like me who loves to clean, it is hard to convince myself not to just keep going. But post-child, I have really understood the importance of recharging. It’s not just to be productive or present, but it’s also to feel refreshed and alive. Don’t Let Unsolicited Advice Get You Down. Unsolicited advice is advice you never asked for. Unsolicited or unwanted advice can come from anyone, whether they themselves are a parent or not. While oftentimes it is well meaning, it’s also not something you really want to hear and is not generally supportive. You are the parent and you know your child best, so my best advice for unsolicited advice is, take it if you want it or be happy to ignore it. Don’t let something like this consume you like it did to me. I was told all sorts of advice - your child's teeth aren’t coming in because you started solids too early, wow your child is still breastfeeding at nine months old? That’s too old, you need to switch to formula, or even being told that sleep training my child and having him on a schedule was going to make him grow up to be a less flexible, rigid adult who won’t be easy to get along with. As a new mom, this is hard to hear, but now as a more experienced mom, I know that my child’s happiness tells me that I am doing what is best for him and the decisions I make are to benefit his well being. None of the advice givers are his mom. Another thing that helped me quite a bit was finding a support group. I constantly text when I can with other moms who are struggling in their own ways. I am a first time mom, my friend is a second time mom and my other friend has four kids, and we all struggle in our own ways. Being able to send encouraging messages or just to say ‘Hi, I love you, hope your day is going great” is so very beneficial to our mental health because even far apart, we’re still able to be there for each other. We are human and it’s absolutely ok to have bad days, but we also need that reassurance that we’re not alone. I had my first run in with a not so kid friendly individual who asked me to put my child in another room because he was distracting. It hurt my feelings and I dwelled on it for far too long. But I also had the opportunity to tell a first time dad who was profusely apologizing because he had a hangry three month old that he was desperately trying to warm up a bottle for during our meeting to not sweat it, that we would wait the three minutes he needed before we got started. Don’t mull over advice for too long if you don’t think it’s right for you. It’s more damaging to your sanity and to your sleep deprived brain than you think. And whether you have a support system or not, be there to support others who might be struggling alone and feel forgotten. It’s more appreciated than you think and reassures you that you’re not alone either. My child is easy going for the most part, but it doesn’t mean I’m not growing grey hairs and have bags under my eyes. Kids learn more from what you are than what you teach.We all have kids, some are screaming, some are crying and some are throwing toys down the staircase and flushing the toilet for no reason. At my house you will hear ‘Error! 404. Cannot find child!” or “Access Denied! Access Denied!” I am exhausted 6.5/7 days a week and my sanity is tested thoroughly every 30 seconds, but what saves me from some of the hard days is knowing that I am not alone and in return, I help with other parents when I can where I can. I’m glad that I was here for the first year and we’re well into our second year because bonding with my child for me was very important. The most important thing to remember is that we’re all in this together and you are present, you’re doing a good job and you’re a wonderful parent. Breathe every once in a while and soak in the good moments that you otherwise would not have had the chance to experience. Your kids won’t remember the pandemic, but they will remember what you did for them.