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What parents learned during the pandemic

From new ways of managing screen time to insights about their children

No two COVID 19 pandemic experiences were exactly alike. But for working parents, many of the ones described below will feel familiar (some hardships, some discoveries, some joys), in addition to the ones that were almost universal (financial strain, social isolation, furloughs and job loss, illness and loss). If you were one of the many parents who spent your days balancing work assignments, childcare disruptions, helping your younger kids with remote schooling and keeping up with loved ones online, you’ve probably learned a lot from the past year and change.

“The pandemic has taught me how to be a better parent in so many ways,” says Rebecca Kimber, mother of two and a sustainable living blogger at EarthyB. Although she admits that the early days of the pandemic left her “seriously stressed,” she — like many parents — quickly put strategies into place that helped everyone in the family navigate their new normal during these uncertain times.

Many of the parents we talked to spoke to the importance of setting both expectations and boundaries — whether that meant creating a family shower schedule or helping children understand that when a home office door was closed, parents should only be interrupted in case of emergency.

But most of the lessons parents learned during the coronavirus outbreak were a little deeper than that — and a lot more important.

“Ironically, the pandemic seemed to provide much-needed breathing space,” explains Alison Huff, mother of two teenage daughters and editor-in-chief of Women’s Health Interactive. “It was a brief hiatus that allowed for personal growth and reflection.”

With that in mind, here are some of the biggest lessons parents learned from the pandemic — now that they have a little time to reflect on the unique challenges and overall experience.

In this article:

Parents had to find new ways — and new times of day — to get work done

As schools and daycares shut down, parents had to figure out not only how to quickly transition to full-time childcare — and, in many cases, how to help their younger kids navigate the challenges of remote schooling — but also how to get their own work done.

Balancing work and parenting during the pandemic was a massive challenge, and successful parents quickly learned how to set boundaries, adjust schedules and embrace compromise.

“One of the things my son missed about elementary school was social interaction,” explains Jonathan Sanchez, father of two and co-founder of Parent Portfolio. “He would often try to talk to me even though I was supposed to be working.” Sanchez also quickly realized that he would need to take time out of his workday to eat lunch with his son, take his kids outdoors for biking and other activities, and so on. While his remote work schedule was flexible enough to allow him to spend more time with his kids, Sanchez still had to get his job done which made pandemic parenting difficult. “I had to either wake up early in the morning or work late at night to make up for lost time at work.”

Nadia McDannels, a freelance graphic designer at Let Nadia Design It and mom of two, found herself in a similar situation. “I started going to bed a lot earlier than I normally would and waking up earlier too. I find that I’m most productive in the morning, so I’d wake up at 4 or 5 a.m. and get lots of work done before the kids woke up at 8 a.m..”

McDannels, like many parents, learned that getting things done often required compromise — and, in some cases, a little extra screen time during these challenging times. “If I needed to complete some work urgently during the day when the children were at home, I’d cast the mom guilt aside and put the cartoons on for them. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do!”

Screen time became more — or less — of an issue

On the subject of screen time: Between virtual learning, Zoom playdates and FaceTime with Grandma, many parents found that their kids were suddenly spending more time in front of screens than ever before. That’s before you add in the Disney+ subscriptions or Animal Crossing accounts that many families signed up for in the early days of the pandemic — not to mention YouTube, TikTok, Fortnite and all of the other online activities designed to educate, distract or entertain your children.

Jen Bradley, mom of five kids and founder of Jen Bradley | Moms, saw first-hand how all of this extra screen time affected her family. “I’ve always known that too much screen time makes my kids irritable, but I really saw this come into play during the long days at home during the coronavirus outbreak. My five kids were fighting with each other so much more and had very short tempers — especially when playing video games.”

Bradley solved this problem by instituting a Screen-Free Week, during which her children were directed to read books, play board games and go outside. “At first, my kids were so mad. By Day 7, they were the ones suggesting that we have a Screen-Free Week more often!”

Other parents discovered that their older children were able to manage their screen time in a positive way — and that spending time online helped them navigate the stresses of the pandemic.

“My youngest is very social online,” explains Huff. “She’s been spending more time lately playing Fortnite and Overwatch, but as long as her schoolwork is done I have no issue with limiting her screen time. She’s heading into a Creative Arts curriculum for 11th grade this fall and she’ll also be doing some college coursework, both of which require additional screen time now — either Zoom meetings for virtual learning with her college mentor, or working on digital art for her portfolio.”

Huff notes that all of this online time appears to be benefiting her daughter: “I have noticed lately that she complains less about not spending time with her friends, but I think that a lot of this has to do with her staying busy with things that she enjoys. Art is incredibly important to her and her focus is spending the next two years immersed in a program dedicated to it.”

Parents watched — and helped — their children develop self-reliance

Alison Huff’s artist daughter isn’t the only young kid who used their quarantine year to learn something new or focus on a specific goal. The pandemic required all of us to rebalance our relationships with the world around us — and many parents had the privilege of watching their children respond to this reassessment by developing a stronger sense of self-reliance as they navigated these challenging times.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, when the kids were done with online school, the first thing they’d ask me was if they could watch TV,” Kimber told us. “Every part of me wanted to say yes because I needed to finish my own work after hours of answering their questions and responding to their teachers’ requests. But I decided that they needed to do some chores before it was TV time.”

By taking the time to help her 7 and 10-year old master tasks like vacuuming, unloading the dishwasher and putting away the laundry, Kimber not only helped her kids practice necessary household management skills but also helped them understand that these chores are part of day-to-day life.

“Now, after their school work is done they ask me what they need to do,” says Kimber, “and sometimes they even just pull out the vacuum without being asked to! I think they’ll be more capable of taking care of themselves as adults because of this intense pandemic time we had together.”

Mae Waugh Barrios, mother of three and an ESL teacher who blogs at Raising Emerging Bilinguals, had a similar experience with her 9-year-old daughter. “Without after-school activities to keep us out until dark, I had more time to bond with my oldest child. We spent more time in the kitchen making food from scratch, and it gave me a chance to teach my 9-year-old how to cook. Now she is independent in the kitchen!”

Parents saw — and understood — their kids in a new way

For many parents, the pandemic provided an opportunity to spend unexpected amounts of quality time with their children — and for some parents, the pandemic helped them to get to know their children a little better.

“My son had a particularly hard time when things moved to homeschool,” says Marci Buttars, mother of three and food blogger at Tidbits. “It was a lightbulb moment for me to see how much he had been struggling at school.” Once Buttars understood her son’s educational experience from his perspective, she was able to work with her son’s school to implement strategies to help him catch up with his class and master the work he missed along the way. “I will forever be grateful to the pandemic for allowing me the chance to discover the help that he needed.”

Matthew Paxton, father to a teenage boy and founder of gaming server site Hypernia, discovered that he and his child had a similar need for alone time — and was able to strengthen their relationship by giving his son a little more space. “As an introvert myself, I understand that introverted people need their space not because they want nothing to do with you, but because they need that ‘me-time’ in order to be more present for their relationships.”

Paxton probably wasn’t the only parent who found that they could strengthen their relationship with their kids by blocking off time for everyone to recharge on their own — and Michelle Anderson, mother of two and motivational speaker at Compose Your World, probably wasn’t the only parent who strengthened their relationship with their kids by blocking off time to spend together one-on-one.

“My husband began setting aside specific time before bed just with our son to read and share ideas while I spent specific time before bed listening to our daughter share her very private current concerns about life,” Anderson told us. “She really opened up.”

While many parents had to quickly rebalance an already precarious work-life balance during the coronavirus pandemic, the extra effort required to go for a bike ride during the work day, institute (and stick to) a Screen-Free Week or teach kids how to cook dinner from scratch yielded stronger relationships, better understanding and — in some cases — a happier family.

Or, as Nadia McDannels put it: “As tough as it was, it made me realize that my little ones are growing up incredibly fast, and I need to try to spend as much time with them as I can. Being a working parent isn’t easy, but I really do believe that if we can get through the last year, we can get through anything!”

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

Read more by Nicole Dieker

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

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Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

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