Image via Shutterstock Parenting in a pandemic
Image via Shutterstock

Between figuring out how to explain the reality of what’s happening in the world, balancing work with homeschooling duties, and simply keeping kids entertained, self-isolation presents many challenges for parents.

As more state and local governments close schools and non-essential businesses as a way to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus—and a number of localities consider or implement a “shelter-in-place” or “stay-at-home” order—many parents are still figuring out how to manage life  with a kid in a global pandemic. Self-isolating, while undeniably beneficial for “flattening the curve” of COVID-19, presents many challenges. 

“In Michigan, our schools closed [last] Friday,” said Angela, a mother of two who asked to withhold her last name. She said she’s able to be home with her five- and seven-year-old, so childcare isn’t a concern for the time being. “However, I’m also an adjunct professor and freelance writer. So with deadlines and teaching, it’s been difficult.”

Many childcare centers have followed suit with public schools and closed their doors for an undetermined amount of time. As a result, parents are left with limited options for childcare. As non-essential businesses continue to cease operations, this means lots of people who work in a typical office setting are now working from home and taking care of their children at the same time. Parents all over the country are now playing the role of primary childcare provider and teacher while still working. 

“As an educator of big kids, teaching is in my blood,” Angela said. “I will be trying to teach my kids as best as possible but with very low expectations. I’m grateful that all of the educational apps are now made free, but I’m going to try to avoid them and just spend face-to-face time with my kids.”

“I will be trying to teach my kids as best as possible but with very low expectations.”

Aside from balancing work and homeschooling duties, another difficult task facing parents is simply trying to explain what’s happening in the world right now. Helping a child understand a pandemic is no easy task, no matter what age they are. Younger children are likely wondering why they’re home for a sudden “break” away from their friends and classrooms, while older students may be realizing what the spread of coronavirus could mean for upcoming milestones, such as spring sports, proms, and graduations. 

When it comes to keeping her children informed of the reality of what’s happening, Angela has a valid reason for telling her children the truth: If she’s exposed to COVID-19, she could be in danger of experiencing serious complications. “I’m choosing to be honest, yet calm with them,” she said. “I was born with a heart condition, so I need to emphasize the severity of this pandemic.”

Angela said her children are adapting to their “new normal,” which means her family is in full self-isolation mode, and no longer entertaining visitors or contact with anyone outside of their household—including family and neighborhood play dates. 

Shannon Brescher Shea, a mother of two children ages four and six, also opted to be upfront with her children about the virus. 

“We explained that there’s a sickness going around and that even though we would most likely be fine, we’re staying away from other people so we don’t spread it to them,” Shea, who lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., told COURIER. “We told them it’s more likely to affect folks like their grandparents and our friends who have problems with their immune systems, like my co-worker who had cancer. So we’re doing it to slow down how much it spreads and keep the people who would be hurt the most from getting it.”

Shea said from now until the peak of the coronavirus is over, she and her family, like so many others, are only leaving home for things like groceries or medicine. “We’re going on walks around our neighborhood, but staying physically away from folks.”

Julia Sweeney, a teacher in Pennsylvania who’s pregnant with her second child, decided not to explain the virus to her toddler. “Hunter just says ‘No school, no work,’” Sweeney told COURIER. “He has asked to go to the park and I tell him it is closed.”

Since the health officials began recommending social distancing, she, like other parents, has looked for interesting ways to keep her son preoccupied. One day “for sheer entertainment,” Sweeney said, they “stalked the garbage truck around the neighborhood for a little.”

She added: “Hunter would love nothing more than to be allowed to watch TV all day, so I am trying to keep a cap on the screen time as much as possible, but he still gets to watch some.”

Meanwhile, Danielle Harding broke the news to her three children, ages seven, five, and two, that their big trip to Disney World wouldn’t be happening this year. In an effort to protect customers and staff, for example, it and other major national parks have temporarily closed. “We canceled a long weekend planned at Disney and realize it is likely that we will be staying home for Easter as well,” she told COURIER. 

Remaining confined for an indefinite period of time can take a toll on anyone’s mental health. Gyms, playgrounds, museums, libraries, trampoline parks, and other family go-tos have mostly all closed in order to comply with quickly changing state regulations. Moreover, it can be difficult to balance staying informed about coronavirus developments while keeping things happy and healthy at home for the children.

“I worry about my children and myself getting sick,” Harding said, echoing the fears many parents have in the face of grave possibilities and uncertainty. “What if we all get sick at once? I’m actually not usually a worried person, but this crisis just feels so big and so uncertain.”

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