Parenting in the Age of Coronavirus

By Erin Bernau

Parenting is a sprint. You wake up at full attention and follow little people around all day from one activity to another. Your body is a punching bag, a car ramp, a medical experiment. 

Parenting is also a slog. There are long periods of playing cars on the floor, of Candyland, of counting doggies in a poster. You are present some ways, yes, and sometimes, not. That’s the way it has to be to get through the day in the best of times.

These are not the best of times. There is fear, leaching into our daily worlds. Coming into our children’s bedrooms, and definitely the parks and playgrounds, the schools and, god forbid, other people’s homes. 

Things we thought kept us surviving have been whipped away overnight. There goes getting together with your friends, the people who understand this delicate balance of love and attention and annoyance that make up your days. You never got to finish a sentence when you spoke with them, but they were there, right there next to you.

Yes, we have virtual worlds. That is something. But they don’t hold you when you cry because you haven’t had a full night’s sleep in days, month, years. They won’t wipe your kids disgusting nose because, why not? They’re wiping their own kid’s anyways. 

We have worked hard to make community, to lighten this heavy load. And now that community has shifted and feels tenuous as well. Who are we now? 

We are still something, something good. We can give each other a different normal. That overused phrase, a new normal. We can still celebrate the triumph of getting through a day. And also, the triumph of really being present in a moment, even if it’s just one moment, even if it’s fleeting.  

We can know that our kids are watching far too much tv, that we are frayed and cranky, that siblings will fight (but god, no blood, no need for the ER for sure), that partners may well bear the brunt of some of our frustration, that we will not follow the homeschooling chart that we downloaded so diligently (because that is how we parent shame ourselves apparently in the age of coronavirus).

But also…

We can undertake elaborate baking projects, get out those weeds in the garden, go through the baby photos, sort through the old clothes to donate, maybe plant some seeds, play a board game, watch (a lot of) movies, read some books, play umpteen games of chase with the patient (for now) dog. Because we have time. Far too much of it now. Why is that the way life seems to go? That we always have far too much or far too little. Never that “just right.” 

But there is wisdom in the letting go. In the sinking into these days. There is no other choice, really. There is just the now, the right now, and the remembering that there will be another day and another, and some day this will be different again. Because that is how life works. Time passes and things change. 

We’re going to come out of this different, changed, marked. Can we be marked well? Can we be changed beautifully? Can we be different in our resilience, in our connectivity, in our larger awareness? Can we still be connected even with social distancing? Can I feel that your pain is mine? That the work we are doing has meaning and purpose and joy, even in the midst of the pain and boredom? 

Can my sprint be yours? Can your slog be mine? Do you feel our connection even when I can’t sit beside you? Please try. I will, too.

Erin B. Bernau is a Parent Educator and LICSW.