Unproductive Pandemic Parenting

by Amy McGarry

A friend called today from across the country. She felt frustrated. Isolated at home because of the virus, she complained about her lack of productivity and wasted opportunities. We commiserated. The same concerns weigh on me every day.

It only takes a few minutes of scrolling through social media to see how many of us feel this frustration right now. My favorite meme on this topic says, “It’s okay to not be at your most productive during a %$#&ing global pandemic.”

Ironic, though, isn’t it? We now have time to do all those things we’ve been wishing we had time to do.

So why don’t we?

Most of us have never been sequestered in our homes alone or with our families. This is a novel stress of the novel virus. For me and those like me, our response to anxiety is paralysis. Paralyzed with anxiety, we do nothing, for it’s simply impossible to focus. We waste opportunities to clean our house, complete projects, or write the next great American novel. Then we feel even more anxious about all that we’re not accomplishing. It’s a vicious cycle.

Meanwhile, the experts say parents should be role models of productivity for their children. As if we didn’t feel ashamed enough already. Now we have the burden of keeping them productive and being role models. I’m told about countless online learning websites, project ideas, and “extension activities” provided by teachers. I nag. I threaten. I try to force my 10-year-old daughter to be productive.

But what if my kid is one of those people responding to the stress by feeling paralyzed with anxiety? What if her resistance to my nagging is her own anxious paralysis? Why is it okay for me to be unproductive but not my kid? I thought back to the meme and wondered if it was possible to reframe it: “It’s okay for your kid to not be at her most productive during a %$#&ing global pandemic.”

To heck with the experts. This mom’s in survival mode. Instead of the nagging, begging, threatening, and the forcing-to-get-something-done-for-God’s-sake, I simply…let it go. I play the “in the big scheme of things, so what if…” game, applied to her:

So what if she doesn’t complete the extension assignments provided by teachers?
So what if she isn’t spending 2 hours each morning and 2 hours each afternoon engaged in some learning activity or project?
So what if she doesn’t watch an online violin tutorial every day?
In the big scheme of things, does it really matter? What’s more important, our productivity? Or our sanity? Our relationship?
So what if she doesn’t learn a darn thing during this however-long-it’s-gonna-be?

Ah ha. I catch myself right there. Of course, it’s impossible for my kid to not learn a darn thing during this time. The real question is what is it she’s going to learn?

We can start with processing our feelings. We can talk about what’s hard about being quarantined. We talk about how we aren’t really afraid of the virus, but of the unknown, the uncertainty. Not knowing how long we will have to stay home. Not knowing how long before school starts again. Not knowing when she can be with her friends again.

We talk about how it’s normal and okay to get on each others’ nerves. How sometimes you need social distancing even from the ones with whom your quarantined. I apologize for being crabby sometimes, and for snapping with irritability. We spend time alone in our separate rooms.

She convinces me that playing countless games of Monopoly makes her feel better, so we play and play and play, even though I hate Monopoly.

I convince her that taking walks outside every day make us both feel better.
We notice flowers starting to bloom. We talk about symbols of hope.
We practice deep breathing.

I tell her about the Dalai Lama’s secret to happiness. He says it’s in comparing yourself to others less fortunate. We start by comparing ourselves to Anne Frank.

I explain that the Dalai Lama’s perspective is really about being thankful for what you have. We talk about what we are grateful for. We make a list where we literally count our blessings. We discuss the things we will never take for granted again.

We talk about how helping others can make us feel better. We gather up food and toilet paper we can donate. We look into fostering animals that need care. She’s not old enough, but I model donating blood as an easy way to help others.

I explain to her that countless people are working their asses off to help the sick, to keep us fed. I tell her we need to be thankful for them along with all our other blessings.

We say a prayer for the sick and dying. We say a prayer for the families of the sick and dying. We say a prayer for a family friend whose father is dying of COVID 19.

After all this talk and prayer, I’ve finally accepted that I am not a pandemic-productive-parent. Then a little miracle happens. My kiddo and I feel inspired to start a project. We feel like we can finally focus. We go out to the garage, open a bag of soil and some seed packets, and begin planting seeds. We say a little prayer of hope that one day soon these will produce a flourishing garden.

Amy McGarry grew up in Spokane Valley, Washington. After a 20 year hiatus, she moved back to Spokane Valley where she lives with her husband, daughter and two cats. She teaches English as a Second Language at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute, the American branch of Mukogawa Women’s University in Japan. I am Farang is her first book and available on Amazon.com and Auntie’s Bookstore.