To say I’ve ever had a parenting ‘strategy’ is a bit of a stretch but if I did it would probably be best described as ‘free range’ or, ‘hope for the best.’ I’m not a helicopter parent and I don’t see danger everywhere. Each of my daughters ziplined across a Mexican jungle and cliff-jumped into the ocean before her eighth birthday. (Please don’t judge me for any of this, we have enough problems right now!)
I’ve never been wired to say no to new experiences because of the possibility of danger, and I never want my kids to miss out because of my fear. I want them to experience every exhilarating, terrifying, confidence-building moment life has to offer. Where others see danger, I see opportunity. Where others see the possibility of broken bones, I see an opportunity for my kid to have a blast on the slopes, the trampoline or on her horse.
Despite once having flown directly into a war zone in the Middle East, I’m not an adrenaline junkie or even much of a risk-taker. I don’t walk down dark alleys, take recreational drugs, flirt with strange men or eat under-cooked chicken. I only have a maximum of four rolls of toilet paper on hand at any given time and, until recently, I considered hand sanitizer more of a stocking stuffer than a necessity. I like excitement and trying new things but I’m also lazy, and that’s a really bad combination when it comes to parenting during a pandemic.
Until now I hadn’t thought I was doing anything wrong. Until now I’ve tried to err on the side of standing back and letting my kids figure things out on their own. I’m more of a coach than a manager but this approach doesn’t cut it now, when it’s so important that we stay vigilant about social distancing and hand washing in particular. Using so much caution is foreign to me but I’m slowly learning to put my big mom pants on and adjust my style to fit this new, temporary world order. I’m learning to teach my kids to be cautious and understand the severity of what we’re dealing with (without scaring the pants off them).
And when you think about it, this is what we moms always do: we figure shit out. We’re presented with a crisis or a change in circumstances and we just deal. Coronavirus is mom’ing on steroids but it’s not that far removed from our everyday modus operandi in that we are having to put our own immediate personal and professional needs on hold and adjusting our schedules to make sure our families, and children in particular, are getting what they need.
Last week at the airport in Toronto, I saw a couple with three young boys, each of whom was wearing knit gloves and a cotton balaclava. They looked like they were off to cat burglar school and I actually felt a bit sorry for them because it seemed to me, at the time, a little bit ridiculous. Mom was scrubbing every surface with disposable wipes while dad took his sleeve to the food order terminal. In a boarding lounge with 200 other people, they were the only ones taking obvious precautions. I texted a friend a description of what I was seeing, along with an eye roll emoji, because I’m sensitive and non-judgmental like that. Five hours later I got off my flight to discover that the National Basketball Association was now the premier authority on health and virus-prevention in North America. By cancelling play, the NBA took the necessary steps to convince me and many others that this was real and very serious. 12 hours later I was lined up with dozens of other people buying $400 worth of groceries to prepare for social isolation and/or a massive civic shutdown.
I was late to the game in understanding the severity of this pandemic. What I used to think of as paranoia and over-reacting might actually be the things that keep myself, my family, and our community healthy. The phrase “an abundance of caution” has become my new mantra.
But I’m struggling. I’m struggling to find a balance between freaking my kids out and being practical. Turns out public parks are great for fresh air and running the dogs but also for spreading diseases via playground equipment that’s never, EVER cleaned. So when my kids ask to climb on the monkey bars I have to say no. When they come inside and run straight to the fridge, I have to stand over them like an army sergeant and make sure they’re washing their hands. When they ask for a sleepover or play date with the friends they haven’t seen in days, I’ll have to say no. When they ask to go out and buy a new puzzle or game to beat back the boredom, I’ll have to say no.
The list of ‘no’ goes on.
You know this because as a mom, you’re probably carrying the pandemic parenting load right now. In times of crisis many of us revert to more traditional, gender-based roles where the mom soothes the children and the father takes care of more ‘practical’ matters. In my house my husband is still going out to work every day (he’s one of four people among a staff of hundreds allowed to enter the office) and I’m home with the kids. To say I’m home-schooling would be an insult to real home-schoolers but I have created a schedule for academic and creative time, plus screen time and outside time. We’re following it, so far.
Because I work from home, my productivity will plummet as I repeatedly open my office door to referee an argument, yell ‘STOP YELLING AT ME’ or provide cover for one of the pets. It’s not ideal but I’m doing what moms all over the world always do: I’m handling it. I’m learning to parent differently by being less permissive and more cautious.
Let’s hope it doesn’t last.