The act of parenting, or parenting well at least, requires some baseline anxiety. “Part of becoming a parent is about becoming hypervigilant to potential threats. You become a threat detection machine,” said Darby Saxbe, associate professor of psychology and director of the Center for the Changing Family at the University of Southern California. What makes coronavirus anxiety so much worse than will-my-toddler-run-into-traffic anxiety is its potential for disruption of our daily routines combined with a deeper uncertainty about how it will play out. How long will our kids be out of school? How will we get our work done? And this goes for parents with paid employment, as well as those who stay home. Managing kids and a house is work.
The logistical anxieties are far more severe for the millions of parents who are also caring for an elderly parent, or don’t have access to paid sick leave. In normal times, this includes a quarter of private sector workers and 70% of low-wage workers, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families (PDF).
We must first learn to manage our feelings by understanding that we do not have all of the answers. These are uncertain times and trying to stay up on every single bit of new information can be exhausting. Focus on what is important like maintaining a stable and healthy home for your children.
Take a time out. That’s right, when in doubt put yourself in “time out.” What this means is find a moment to take a break from the kids and or your partner and recalibrate for a few minutes or an entire hour depending on your home environment. Taking deep breath helps. Re-focusing your thoughts by calling a friend, joining something interactive online or spending time in meditation or prayer can help ease your anxiety and give you a much needed reset.
What about answering our children’s questions bout COVID-19? First you should start a conversation but follow their lead. Ask about what they already know, keep it simple and correct any misinformation while also remembering you do not have all of the answers. Acknowledge feeling and avoid minimizing or dismissing their feelings. Finally offer them reassurance let them know the experts are hard at work, this is temporary and teach them how to prevent the spread of germs.
Women take on more of the ’emotional labor’
Whether children are in or out of school, the threat of the coronavirus has made managing family life a much bigger job. Odd are, moms are taking on more of this emotional and domestic labor. Eve Rodsky, author of “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live),” said research shows that the majority of daily life disruptions are handled by moms, including when both parents work. “We treat women’s time as infinite, like sand. And we treat men’s time as finite, like a diamond,” Rodsky said. As a result, women do caregiving when they have to, and men do caregiving when they can. On top of this, women are more likely to do what experts call “worry work,” Rodsky explained. Moms are more likely than dads to anticipate the needs of the family and plan ahead for worst case scenarios. (Listen closely, and you can hear the hum of “what’s next?” on a constant loop in most moms’ heads.) Case in point, my deep familiarity with the Target.com shopping cart and hand sanitizer Reddit threads over the past week. Erin Vey, a full-time working mother of two in the suburbs outside Seattle, said that local school closures have served as a wake-up call for many families about just how much more childcare and domestic management moms do than dads — even when they both have full-time paid jobs. “A lot of moms are bearing the brunt of working and managing all the communications from the school [which has set-up remote learning]. There are maybe five an hour.” Vey said. “There are also lots of logistics in terms of shopping,” she said, as a lot of essentials, including toilet paper, are sold out in local stores. “All this ends up in women’s laps.”
During these times don’t let your significant other off the hook. Have open and honest dialogues about how you are feeling and how to share some of the responsibilities. Talk to them about wanting to avoid the “burn out” factor which can come from weeks or months of this new normal. Propose ways of working together and hold your children accountable as well.
If there is a silver lining in all this, or at least a lesson that we might want to impart to our kids, it’s this. In our cities, our workplaces, our classrooms, and our homes, we are being forced to realize that life works better when we can depend on one another. Parents: When you tell your children to wash their hands, don’t just say they need to do it in order keep themselves or the family healthy. Tell them they need to wash their hands in order to keep everyone healthy, and explain why. Then maybe leave a note for an elderly neighbor asking if they could use any help. Germs, like love and care, move between us. Being aware of the former is a way to share the latter.
*Article originally appeared on CNN, by Elissa Strauss with additional elements from Strong for Life.