Excerpt from Parenting in a Pandemic (Bayardelle): Introduction

 

As a child, I imagined that the year 2020 would feature flying cars, magically calorie-free food, teleportation, and pets that were actually robots.

What the actual year 2020 has brought is a complete dumpster fire. At the time of writing, we’re only halfway through, and so far we have experienced increasingly dangerous political divisions, major earthquakes, civic unrest, actual locusts (really), the deaths of cherished public figures, continuing protests for racial equality, massive fires, and murder hornets. We can’t forget about the murder hornets.

Oh yes, as if all of this wasn’t already enough, we’re also facing an unprecedented global health crisis in the form of the coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19.

The WHO first reported a novel virus on January 5, 2020, after a series of cases in Wuhan, China originally thought to be pneumonia proved to be from the same strand of a new disease.[1] The first cases outside China were reported on January 13. On January 20 the United States registered its first case.[2]

From there on, to put it mildly, all hell broke loose.

On March 19, California became the first state to put out a state-wide shelter in place order, with many others following shortly thereafter.[3] Toilet paper and hand sanitizer became the most coveted commodities on the market and we all dusted off our sewing machines to start making face masks. By mid July, over three million cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the United States alone, including over 130,000 deaths.[4]

And so a new chapter of American living was born.

We Live in Weird Times

One of the major consequences of such a widespread pandemic was that all of our worlds suddenly shrunk. Almost overnight we went from normal people who travelled to fun places, worked outside the home, took our kids to school, went on social outings, and exercised in gyms to home-bound, hermit people who now have to do all of the above activities from the safety (but not always comfort) of our own homes.

As we all adjusted to work, recreate, and do pretty much everything else from home, the basic patterns of daily life changed dramatically. Instead of commuting into work, we started manically scouring our homes for the room with the best Zoom background. Netflix and Twitter became as necessary as computers or cars, and it became common parlance to refer to any pair of pants that isn’t sweatpants as “hard pants”.[5]

Yes, we live in weird times.

However, while the rest of the world has been nestled away in their three-day-old pajamas watching Tiger King and worrying about how to stave off boredom, there has been one subset of the population that has encountered an even more particular (read: horrible) set of circumstances than the average person has faced in this strange new pandemic world: parents.

In a pre-covid world, we were used to having teachers to educate our children, coaches to look after their physical fitness, friends to ensure they got social outlets, and a whole host of other social and external touch points throughout the average day. Now, with schools, parks, restaurants, extracurriculars, and pretty much anything else that was fun for our kids closed or very much changed, we’ve gotten into a situation where everything that was outsourced has become suddenly...in-sourced.

Parenting in a Pandemic

Parenting has always been difficult.

On a good day, parenting entails a heady mix of sleep deprivation, a constant sacrifice of your needs to satisfy insatiable, ungrateful, little tornados (whom we love more deeply than we could ever have anticipated), and constant cleaning, feeding, chauffeuring, and otherwise ensuring the happiness and well-being of the small humans who very rarely notice half of what we do for them.

And that was before the pandemic hit.

Despite the fact that most parents could create a spontaneous Netflix comedy special about all the work, sacrifice, and torment that comes with having kids, the two hardest things about parenting are actually the need to ensure the safety and growth of your kids and the incessant worry for their safety.

Unfortunately, it is these two things which were hit hardest by this pandemic.

First, it gave us (as parents) another thing to worry about when it came to keeping our kids safe. Can kids get COVID-19? What happens to our kids if we parents get it? How can we keep our kids safe without causing them to go absolutely out of their minds with boredom? How can we ensure social distancing doesn’t plunge them into an isolation-induced depression? How can we make sure they don’t fall behind on their academics with only the occasional Zoom call or remote assignment to replace an eight hour school day?

If we had a lot of parental worries before, I can’t even describe how many we have now.

However, while the amount of worrying pandemic parents do is, indeed, worrying, the broader and potentially more damaging issue is the dramatic broadening of the scope of a parent’s responsibilities when it comes to their kids.

From One Full-Time Job to Twenty

In the “good old days” a parent’s job was to ensure our kids made it everywhere on time, to provide structure and discipline, to teach them stuff, to be emotionally supportive, and to ensure that they survived to adulthood without setting any important body parts on fire. This was hard enough.

When the shelter in place orders started coming down, a lot more changed than simply where our kids physically spent their days. The scope of responsibility for parents expanded exponentially almost overnight. We went from just being parents, to being teachers, personal trainers, bouncers, triage nurses, therapists, project managers, and chefs...all on top of our original responsibilities as parents.

This was problematic not only because it posed a serious threat to our sanity (which it definitely did, and still does, thank you very much) but also because no one parent can possibly hope to have previous experience or appropriate training in all of these areas.

Back in pre-pandemic “real life”, the average kid had credentialed teachers, a full peer group of other kids his or her own age, sports coaches with years of experience, restaurants with trained chefs and reasonably-sized menus, and dozens of other social touch points throughout his or her day. Now your kid has...you.

It’s not that you’re a bad parent.[6] It’s that most households, like most businesses, handle the things that fall inside their core competencies in house and seek expert assistance for things that they either can’t do or it isn’t possible for them to do. For example, it is perfectly possible for me to teach my four year old manners. It is not possible for me to teach her how to relate to a large group of her peers. I cannot morph into a classroom full of toddlers.[7] That’s why God created preschool.

Similarly, it is highly unlikely (bordering on completely impossible) for one individual parent to be competent in every area of a child’s life. We don’t all have the training of a pediatric nurse, the certifications of a teacher, the skills of a sports coach, the competencies of a tutor...it just isn’t possible. Yet here we are trying to fill all these different roles at once and pulling our hair out attempting to do so. Thanks, coronavirus.

This Sisyphean task of being all things at once for our kids has created an unwinnable game for us as well-intentioned parents that simply can’t fill all these roles (and do so on top of worrying about our own jobs, finances, fears, household duties, and psychological well beings to boot).

That’s where this book comes in.

While one book can’t get you seven years of medical school, a culinary degree, teaching credentials, and an accreditation as a personal trainer, it can give you an overview of what is practical for one, human parent to accomplish in each area of a kid’s life. It will present the advice of experts and give you lists of simple, easy-to-follow action items in each area.

Most of all, the purpose of this book is to let you know that you aren’t alone in all of this. It is a scary, horrible, ridiculous time, but you still have a large community of other overwhelmed and under-slept parents that feel the same stressors and worries you do.

This book should give you enough to get through the rest of 2020 knowing that, while no parent is perfect, you have done the best you could for your kiddos and that that is enough.

What to Expect from Each Chapter

This book goes through the various different hats we pandemic-era have to wear from day to day. Each chapter talks about a different hat. You’ll get a brief description of what that job entails in the actual “real world”, then you’ll get a description of how parents (like yourself) have had to adapt to performing this actual career, with zero training, from the safety of wherever they happen to be quarantined. Finally, each chapter wraps up with a “tricks of the trade” section with some actionable, research-based advice for parents attempting to wear that specific hat and an “in a nutshell” section for those of you who need to skim.[8]

Obviously, this won’t be as comprehensive as a PhD in child psychology, the intense muscles of an actual bouncer, or years of experience as a project manager for a fortune 500 company, but it should get you and your kids through this pandemic without any massive blood loss or irreparable psychological damage (for either you or them).


[2] Harcourt, J., Tamin, A., Lu, X., Kamili, S., Sakthivel, S. K., Murray, J....Thornburg, N. J. (2020). Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 from Patient with Coronavirus Disease, United States. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(6), 1266-1273. https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2606.200516.

[4] Fun Fact: When I was searching for some of the figures for this section I was in the middle of typing “CDC coronavirus statistics” when Google helpfully suggested that I might be typing “CDC coronavirus summer camp”. I do not want to know who is Googling this.

[6] I mean, I’m only seeing you for the first time and through the pages of a book, but you look perfectly lovely to me.

[7] A fact for which my husband is exceedingly grateful.

[8] Usually because you have multiple children screaming for you to cut them snacks while you’re attempting to read.



Read more posts about Liz Bayardelle and her books HERE.





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