4 important parenting lessons from life in lockdown

If we take these lessons with us, we might just emerge from our homes a little braver, a little stronger, and a little kinder to ourselves

A family.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

Parenting under normal circumstances is hard. Throw a global pandemic into the mix, and it's next-level. We don't have an extended network of caregivers to help out. The usual routines and schedules are defunct. Our kids are acting up because they're bored, scared, or frustrated. We're acting up because we're bored, scared, or frustrated.

But some good may come from this enforced confinement. If we can see lockdown as an opportunity to learn some vital parenting lessons, we might just emerge from our homes a little braver, a little stronger, and a little kinder to ourselves. Here are a few important things to remember now, and to take with you for the future.

1. We expect too much of ourselves

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If there's ever a time to cut yourself some slack, it's now. "No one is the perfect parent," says therapist Jaime Bronstein, LCSW, adding that we should cut our kids some slack, too. "It's only human to have expectations of your kids, and you might find yourself expecting your kid to respond the way you do to the situation, but we are all different and our kids are unique as well."

Lowering your expectations is hard when you're constantly comparing yourself to others, which is easy to do even in lockdown thanks to social media. Remember: Just because someone has an enormous kitchen to bake cookies in or a huge garden to play hide-and-seek in does not mean they are a better parent than you. If you're struggling to internalize this, take some time away from social media. And take this time to consider unfollowing anyone whose feeds make you feel bad about your own life.

2. Turn off the advice

There's a lot of lockdown tips out there on everything from how to homeschool to how to schedule your day. While the majority of it comes from a place of kindness and good intention, it can also be overwhelming and even infuriating.

Give yourself permission to ignore advice that doesn't sit right with you, or that you simply don't have the energy to follow. We all come to this new reality with different needs, restrictions, resources, and challenges. "The best thing you can do during this lockdown period is to honor yourself, how you think, what you believe, and who you are," Bronstein says. "Whatever feels right for you is the right thing to do."

So if it feels right to give your kids more screen time, more pizza, or more of whatever else the parenting police frown upon, do it! And don't apologize for it. "Making decisions as parents can be daunting — there's always the temptation to take into account what your parents would do, what your best friend would do, or what the YouTube expert would do," Bronstein says. "But you need to do what you think is best for you."

3. Let the kids lead the way

The current situation provides a great opportunity to be led by our kids, Bronstein says. "Being out of their usual school and extracurricular routines can be disconcerting. Ask your child what they need to feel happy at home. Letting your kids lead the way lets them know that what they think and how they feel matters."

It also gives them an added sense of autonomy, which can promote positive emotional growth, and will help them develop executive functions — skills like problem-solving, strategizing, and concentrating. These are much bigger determinants for success in life than IQ alone, so if your kid wants to skip the math worksheet and play with blocks or paint a picture or go exploring in the back yard instead, let them, and know that counts as education, too.

4. Put your own oxygen mask on first

There's a reason cabin crew tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before you help your child with theirs. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't look after anyone else. The same is true now, and always. "Your emotional reserve needs to be functioning at its highest level so you can be there for your kids when they need you," Bronstein says. It's not selfish, she says, but "self-full."

If you need to give the kids their screens for an extra hour so you can do yoga, color, watch your favorite TV show, or take a nap, so be it. It's absolutely worth it. "Practice self-care and do what you need to do so you can show up as the best parent possible for your kids," Bronstein says.

And, she adds, this is a habit you shouldn't quit when lockdown is over. "If you can check in with yourself daily and carve out regular time just for you, you'll be a happier, more present, and more available parent."

Taking time for yourself in order to avoid over-committing and over-extending is also a really good habit to demonstrate for your children. "Children learn from not only what we say, but also by watching what we do," says clinical child psychologist Donna Housman, Ed.D., founder of the Boston-based Housman Institute. "Alone time girds us with the focus and calm we all need to deal with our worries and fears. Whatever the circumstances are, being able to take time to nourish ourselves is essential for all of us, not only to thrive but to survive."

So: Deep breaths.

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