Yes, Parents, There Can Be Lighter Moments With Young Children During COVID-19

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Here’s a question for you: Would you rather scrape crusted spaghetti sauce handprints off the wall or rescue Mr. Potato Head from his personal jacuzzi, a.k.a. the toilet in the guest bathroom, and give him a thorough scrubdown? And here’s another: Would you rather run barefoot across the LEGO minefield that’s now your living room carpet or choke down tater tots and corndogs for dinner again? Unfortunately, “neither” is not an acceptable answer, so it looks like you have some tough choices to make. Welcome to quarantine with kids.

Life these days has felt like one giant game of “Would You Rather?” It’s been difficult enough for kidless households to navigate shelter-in-place orders and social distancing. But add children into the mix — along with healthy doses of all the homeschooling, the entertaining, the mediating, the yes-we-can-play-on-the-swingset-if-you-promise-not-to-lick-the-seats — and it can feel like the madness increases exponentially.

Before you put yourself in the timeout chair or start looking for the nearest monastery to join, take a pause. Parents all over the country are going through the same thing, and while that might not spare you from the “It’s a Small World”-style choruses of “Dad, we’re bored” every hour, there’s some solidarity knowing that you’re not alone in this — and that there are actually some bright sides to parenting during the coronavirus pandemic.

We’ve Become Pros at Summoning That Sweet, Sweet Creativity

Although it can feel like The Universe has handed down an impossible homework assignment — no, really, how are you expected to keep preschoolers entertained every day for months on end? — the coronavirus pandemic has certainly tested (and hopefully improved) our ability to get creative. We’ve had to think on our feet and come up with interesting solutions constantly, whether that means conjuring up engaging new activities to banish boredom or freshening up stale routines to get chores done in whine-free ways. And the result is that we’re now better equipped to solve problems more resourcefully.

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Plus, it’s sort of been a great excuse to get silly and use our imaginations — remember those? When you’re home with kids all day long, you get to think up fun answers to questions like “Do sharks really have families?” You might even get a VIP ticket to a tea party for the most beloved imaginary friends and stuffed animals in town — and you’re definitely going to have more fun if you channel your inner child and play along. So go ahead and set up that tent in the living room and roast s’mores around a Sterno can. Pretend you’re an elephant trumpeting at the watering hole. You have the rest of your life to be an adult, but your kids will hopefully never have another pandemic where they get to laugh at Mom flapping her trunk.

We Know the Grass Isn’t Always Greener

You know those perfectly put-together PTA parents who waltz into the bake sales and parade their picture-perfect families at soccer games — the ones whose “My little Aidan would never” because he’s the biggest angel out of all the kids in your child’s class? It’s almost a guarantee that little Aidan has been doing more than his fair share of nevering at home since the pandemic began. And it’s absolutely fine if you feel a tiny spark of delight over this. Just don’t go overboard — there’s kind of a lesson here.

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What this all really helps to show? Your family isn’t the only one having a hard time with sheltering in place or with wrangling a child who wants to look at a screen every moment of the day except when it’s time for online school. We’re all going through it, and it’s bringing us together. The pandemic has created an unusually communal situation, something that unites us even more as parents. Plus, you and Aidan’s mom can one day swap stories and commiserate together over a misshapen cupcake. How’s that for community bonding?

We’ve Discovered Patience Is Transitory at Best — and That’s Totally Fine

The dog’s sporting a stylish new fur color, your mad science laboratory — er, kitchen — has never hosted this many bubbling concoctions and the last time you saw your college diploma it was a paper airplane taking flight from your back deck. Our collective patience as parents is thinner than (and about as durable as) a wet Kleenex at this point, and many of us are trying to perfect the art of the internal scream.

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We’re all just trying to cope, and it’s okay to give yourself permission to lose it when things get too overwhelming. Try to do it privately — the background of your child’s Zoom dance lesson is a no-no — but make sure you do it. Your kids will be airing plenty of grievances about perceived slights as the stress gets to them, too, and it’s okay for them to stomp their feet and snap crayons when everything gets to be too much. But you might want to refrain from doing the same unless you’re not worried about your display ending up a viral video on TikTok. Try to set an example for them by demonstrating healthy behavioral responses, and save your own crayon smashing (and wine swilling) for your personal post-bedtime meltdown.

We Owe at Least Some of Our Sanity to Teachers

“Two weeks? I can totally handle that. Not a problem,” you might recall telling yourself when school closures were initially announced at the beginning of the pandemic. But a big part of being an adult is admitting when you’re wrong, and you might be eating some humble pie right about now. Those weeks turned into months, and at this point we’ve started a school year that in many areas of the country is taking place entirely online. And you haven’t been able to totally handle that.

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But you know who has — well, at least to the best of their ability considering the tools they have available? Teachers. Wonderful, sanity-sparing teachers. If you didn’t realize their superhero powers before, you’re probably well aware now. And they haven’t just achieved the feat of educating kids via streaming video. Spending all day with your children has made you realize the craziness teachers deal with on a daily basis when everyone’s actually at school. Take your child’s pandemic behavior and multiply it by 10 or so, and you’ll have an idea of what a classroom looks like on a normal day. Teachers really deserve medals…or some serious pay raises.

We Have an Unprecedented Excuse for Quality Time

Trying to find the bright sides of life during a pandemic is like blindly pawing at the back seat of the car, feeling around for that lost pacifier while keeping your eyes on the traffic ahead of you. Sure, there might be some that jump out at you right away — maybe you finally taught everyone the importance of hand-washing — but what about the bigger picture?

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There’s one upside that shines brighter than the rest: the uninterrupted quality time. There hasn’t been a point in recent history when we’ve been able to spend so much of each day together, and it’s important to keep that in perspective. Savor it now. In the not-so-distant future your kids will be teenagers running out of the house every chance they get. Before you know it, you’ll be wishing for the days when you could spend every moment with them. Try to enjoy all this uninterrupted (and, yes, maybe a little forced) time together while you have the opportunity — Aidan’s mom can wait.