Mixed Messages to Parents During COVID: Relax! And be perfect!

If you are feeling as overwhelmed as so many other parents (whether or not you are have work or benefits, etc), these days — and find yourself either blaming yourself or lashing out in frustration, or exhaustion then — read this article. It speaks to the ridiculous expectations placed on parents (even taking into consideration class differences), exacerbated by a lack of supports — and I argue a sense of collective and community — in our current system. The author rightly argues, “Viruses, or in this case, global pandemics, expose and exacerbate the existing dynamics of a society — good and bad. They are like a fun-house mirror, grossly reflecting ourselves back to us. One of those dynamics is the burden we put on individual parents and families. We ask individuals to solve problems that are systemically created”.

We see this now, he argues, with the plethora of DIY projects, learning opportunities, and helpful suggestions in your inbox, to keep the kids busy and productive – must keep those screens to a minimum! Oh yes and now we have formal schoolwork for home schooling that will actually be graded. With all the inequalities at home on all kinds of levels, do grades beyond pass and fail help kids or parents? Especially the younger ones? (and yes — juggle that with everything else you have to do — particularly if you are still keeping bosses happy). Combine that with goals for your own self care – which we know we need to be the perfect parents! — and it’s a recipe for misery. The author argues that parents with the benefits of well paying, safe jobs, can just hide those gaps — and that misery — a little better.

I don’t have the one right answer — as a therapist or a parent. I would suggest it is a good time for careful reflection — reflection on what we prioritize and value in and from our communities, our governments, our work, and other the demands on our time, as well as our mental and physical energy. In return, what are we prepared to give? Do we take enough time normally to reflect on our increasingly intrusive work demands in increasingly under-resourced public and private workplaces? Are we afraid of saying no to constant requests to do more, to the barrage of emails, or just seeming ‘unbusy” or “not quite up to the task” regardless of the toll it takes on us emotionally and physically? This applies to both work and our families and kids. This includes endless classes and appointments (which means endless commuting – a real time sucker) Do we demand a few more short term bucks in our pockets, then wonder why we have so little in the way of broad, collective supports or collective understanding for feeling burnt out? If we had no time to reflect before, we certainly — most likely — have a little more now. At the very least, you might try some “risky” behaviour (like saying “no”) during this pandemic, and see what happens.