I Let Go of Parenting Expectations During the Pandemic And It's Staying That Way

The pandemic made me rethink my parenting expectations and helped me let go of some routines I don't plan to bring back once life goes back to normal. Here are four of them.

An image of a mom holding her daughter's hand.
Photo: Getty Images.

Looking back at 2020, I'm tempted to write everything that was the worst, particularly as a work-at-home parent of two toddlers (and that's still what I'm doing 365 days later). Some of the upheavals in routine, however, made me rethink how I'll parent in the future.

I've let go of a lot.

Before the pandemic, letting go felt like I was giving up, letting someone down (myself included), failing, or falling behind. Every parent knows that letting go this past year was none of those things. Letting go, during the pandemic, was a matter of emotional survival.

There are parenting expectations I had "in the before times" that I don't want "in the after times." I'm making sure to leave these four behind for good.

Worrying About Being on Time

I used to go through my day with an inner alarm that worked backwards. If we had to be somewhere at 8:30 a.m., I calculated in reverse to determine when I needed to start; every task got scheduled into 15-minute time slots. There were snacks to pack, socks to match, and traffic—don't ever underestimate traffic! Every move I made was determined by time.

The pandemic turned off my inner alarm. I was late to almost every Zoom call. Nine times out of 10, the virtual window with my name on it popped up after everyone else's because the 15-month-old needed another diaper change, and the 3-year-old was having a meltdown. If I couldn't let myself be 10 minutes late, I would've never made it to a meeting.

That's where I'm at in parenting—either I'm 10 minutes late or we're not going to make it. And that's OK. Now that I've let go of my inner alarm, I don't want it back. So, if we need 10 extra minutes (or more) of reading to relax at bedtime, I can live with that. If we don't get around to lunch till 3 p.m., then I guess dinner will also serve as the bedtime snack.

Going All Day Long

When I think of the errand marathons I completed every other day before the pandemic, I am blown away by my stamina. Who was that woman? I barely know her anymore. The amount of hand sanitizer I would need to locate to overexert myself like that again already sounds like too much.

I remember wrangling multiple children into multiple car seats multiple times a day like it was an extreme sport. Like I was being timed and tested.

To what end? To get to places on time? To get more things done? I've been trying to remember why I had to do so much and go to so many places. I think I thought if I did more all at once I could take a break later...but did that happen? Nope.

After the pandemic, I am going to slow down. And when I start running errands more frequently again, I won't be taking the kids with me. Recently, I masked us all up and went to the store, and the first five minutes felt novel. The 45 minutes that followed, however, were deeply overrated. When I have to take the kids with me to the store in the future, you'll probably be seeing me curbside.

Attending Multiple Holidays

Forget errand marathons on regular days. The holidaysand the monstrous month of errands preceding the holidays—were like a national tournament that we had been working toward all year.

I'll pass. I want to actually have a holiday. That includes not having to celebrate at more than one location in one day. I don't want to wrangle multiple children into multiple car seats multiple times in one day on a day off. I don't want to pace my eating so it stretches across multiple zip codes. I want to digest in the same house I eat in. #digestlocal #support1kitchen

Last year, those of us who usually have a hard time saying, No, said it without question. This year, let's normalize respecting when people say, No. It works in a lot of situations.

Focusing on My Appearance

Yes, I kept my "work-appropriate shirt" conveniently located near my laptop to throw on for that meeting that started 10 minutes ago. I'm fairly certain I wore the same three shirts in Zoom calls all year. I hadn't worn makeup, "outside" pants, or bras for 99 percent of the year.

This all helped me shift my focus. I spent less time looking in the mirror than ever. For the first time since sixth grade, I prioritized comfort over others' expectations of my body. After spending the last four years childbearing, this was a major shift to getting back my identity.

The pandemic can keep that time-anxious, too busy, holidazed, and semi-vain woman I used to be. I'm letting her go.

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