covid parenting

Ten tips to help parents stay sane in the time of COVID-19

joanne kates

Parenting columnist Joanne Kates is an expert educator in the areas of conflict mediation, self-esteem and anti-bullying, and she is the director of Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park.


Parenting in the time of COVID reminds me of every time anybody ever told me: “You should do….” with my kids. It was always going to be more work, more trouble, more tiring — and it made me feel guilty. Because there’s always more and better that a parent can do. And that was before COVID.

Parenting in the time of COVID is Sisyphean. You push the big rock uphill. Somebody tells you to push harder and better and more. Then the rock falls back down the hill.

The pressures on parents are enormous. Had someone told you a year ago that you would be cooking, cleaning, working from home and schooling your kids at home, in isolation, you would have laughed. Sick joke.

And now, five months in, it remains overwhelming and interminable. It doesn’t help that wherever we go online parents are bombarded with instructions for ever more elaborate craft projects, backyard kid extravaganzas and how to be a COVID over-achiever and make more sourdough. Add the looming spectre of September and the very real possibility of more virtual school, and it’s enough to make any parent feel both inadequate and pressured.

There seems to be no such thing as good enough parenting right now.

Please hop off the not good enough train right now. That train in COVID times is more pernicious than the “not skinny enough” train and the “not rich enough” train. All three belong to the same circle of hell that tells parents that we are to blame for whatever faults, illnesses and misadventures our kids suffer. I’ve bought into that enough times to know how pernicious it is. Please don’t go there.

Herewith my 10 commandments of COVID parenting, to help you stay sane:

1. Stop going to websites that tell you to do more creative family activities, unless they are helpful. Otherwise you’ll beat yourself up.

2. Kids who are isolated from their peers are generally unhappy. Know that it’s not your fault.

3. Kids, especially young ones, can’t properly understand why they have to stay socially distant. Yes, you have to nag them. This too is not your fault. Don’t blame yourself.

4. We know adolescents are flocking together, flouting social distancing rules. Don’t ignore that. Don’t lecture them. Convene a family meeting with a formal, pre- circulated agenda. Ask everyone in your family — including the little ones — to speak to issues of social distancing. It will help them think out loud and be more thoughtful. You speak too. Be honest about your fears. That will help them be honest with you.

5. Look for those rare and special moments when your kids want to talk, really talk. Ask them what COVID is like for them, what it’s doing to their life. Listen hard, for clues about how to support them more accurately. Listen more than you talk.

6. Play with your kids. This is not the same as creating projects or teaching them stuff. Play is when you follow them pretty much wherever they want to go (barring undue risk) and join them doing whatever they want to do, with a playful mindset. Playing, with neither goal nor agenda, puts money in a kid’s emotional bank. It’s one of the most generous and supportive things we can do with kids. And often turns into fun for us.

7. Ask your kids what they think and feel about the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s on everyone’s radar, including theirs. It will be interesting to hear them. You might learn something. And they will feel respected.

8. When you stress about September, and the terrifying possibility of having to support some virtual school time, give yourself a break. Most kids will not suffer academically if they don’t do all their online schooling.

9. Your own months-long isolation makes parenting harder. Now that restrictions have eased, take advantage of social time to vent about how hard COVID parenting is. You need support for this hard work.

10. The most important commandment of all: Practise compassion and kindness to yourself. You can’t do it all. It’s too much. Give yourself a break. Use mental discipline to interrupt every self-blaming thought and redirect your mind. The mantra is: This is bloody hard and I’m doing enough.

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