The Lockdown Made Me Feel Like a Bad Parent, But Nothing Could Be Further From the Truth

The coronavirus pandemic forced me to loosen up on my parenting skills and allow my toddler to get away with things I normally would reprimand her for. Turns out, I'm not alone and experts say easing up isn't something to feel guilty about.

The author's daughter.
The author's daughter. Photo: Courtesy of Caroline Chirichella

I just sat there and watched as it happened. There she was, my perfect 18-month-old daughter, drawing with her markers on our white leather chairs. I didn't even try to stop her.

In the past, I was relatively strict with my daughter and used my fair share of the word "no." So much so that it became her favorite word. Whenever she would attempt to rearrange the refrigerator or throw laundry on the floor, I reprimanded her. She needed to know what she could and couldn't do. During the pandemic, however, that all changed.

In the beginning of the strict lockdown our family followed, we held it together. But after a few weeks, I could feel myself slowly loosening up. Everything going on had me questioning my parenting skills. I turned to other parents for support and soon realized I was far from alone.

Krista Ruhe, mom of a 5-year-old, said she completely understands where I'm coming from. "I have a demanding job that required me to be on conference calls—soon video conference calls—most of the day. When [my daughter] got fussy and didn't listen, I resorted to another slippery slope of parenting: bribes."

Other parents have also loosened up on things like bedtime, wake-up time, mealtime, and screen time. "I made sure the kids get their schoolwork done in the morning, but then they are on their iPad for hours," says Dori Bussel, mom of an 11- and 9-year-old, who owns a PR consultancy and began working from home during the pandemic. "While I feel guilty that they are on screens and I'm not doing activities with them throughout the day, they have been pretty self-sufficient."

As for me, I noticed that my daughter was starting to pick up on the huge change in our lives. I could sense she was having a tough time and boy, could I relate. All that mattered to me was her happiness. Hence the marker incident. I didn't want to teach her these habits. I didn't want her to grow up thinking she can do whatever she wants without consequence. But as it turns out, relaxing the rules during the pandemic isn't such a bad thing.

"I don't like to think of it as letting children get away with things, but rather realizing that in extraordinary times, we can't always follow ordinary procedures," says Rona Novick, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, dean of Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration at Yeshiva University, and author of Mommy, Can You Stop The Rain? "I strongly recommend being transparent about the easing up—tell your children that the typical rules are not in effect and provide a reason."

The true reason I let my daughter get away with so much during the early days of the pandemic was because I felt helpless—and that was OK. Dr. Novick pointed out that parents were forced to take on a lot more than they could handle at the moment, and it was nearly impossible to manage it all. "We cannot be creative, engaged, energetic teachers, playmates, and chefs every minute of every day," says Dr. Novick.

But I do worry sometimes that my parenting skills during the lockdown will make it harder for me long-term. Will my daughter's new behaviors become a habit? Dr. Novick doesn't think it should be an issue in the long run. "To the extent that in these difficult times we engage with our children in genuine acts of kindness, in developing habits of gratitude, then any long-term negative effects will be balanced with how we have all grown," says Dr. Novick. As parents, we should just continue to "be a reassuring, steady, loving presence" in our kids' lives, adds Dr. Novick.

In the end, I decided to accept my responsibility for my daughter's behavior when I needed to but the height of the pandemic wasn't the moment. Sometimes, parenting is about getting through the moment the best we can. I did my best during those initial months of the pandemic and as we move into a new future living with COVID-19, I know I shouldn't dwell on choices I made during a very scary and difficult time.

As long as my daughter is safe and happy, that is all that matters to me. When everything about the future was so scary and uncertain, I did what I could to make her feel safe. As her mom, that's what I'm here for—and that can never be bad parenting.

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