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[IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A photo of a family sitting at a table with a purple tablecloth and a fireplace in the background.]
Amy Rush Conroy's picture

In the age of quarantine, parenting on demand takes on a new level of dedication, time, and patience. My partner, alternatively, practices “parenting by appointment”. We are not co-parenting compatibly in the pandemic, and it’s a problem. By no means is this the most grave of issues amidst a global crisis, but it begs for a solution.

My daughter was making soufflé pancakes from scratch last Saturday. The YouTube chef was asking her to ‘draw peaks’ out of the eggs, which was proving to be a challenge.

My husband was baking bread for his second time ever, so he was concentrating on the technique to fold the dough - a proper six feet social distance away.

Cecilia was growing frustrated about her own lack of technique, “I can’t peak the eggs!” She started to spiral and make ridiculous amounts of noise with her cooking accouterments, aggravated grunts, and overly dramatized sighs. It was a cacophony of sounds and jarringly irregular so that there was no hope to continue anything with fluidity, let alone read the paper. I put my coffee down.

We are in quarantine with the rest of the world, on edge with cabin fever and pent up energy. Eggs are precious in the pandemic, so “Don’t waste them, Cecilia. C’mon, don’t go throwing them around.” We’d forgotten that our hand beater has only one functioning beater remaining, so forming peaks was practically impossible. As I walked over to help, the bowl spontaneously flew out of her hand and hit the backsplash!

Whoa. “What happened?” I query, but instead of sounding sympathetic, Cecilia felt interrogated and accused.
“I didn’t do anything!”
“Well I didn’t say you did anything, but how can I help?”
“Yeah, right, can  you  peak eggs?”
The quick answer is no, but “Cecilia, don’t talk to me that way.”

Did I mention that she is 12 ½ years old? My intention was to help her, but as she channeled her quarantined frustrations with the sting of a tween, I recognized that she was simultaneously a) venting overall and b) establishing the boundaries of her independence. I loomed over her yelling, “Calm down!” The irony. 
She shouted back, “Get out of my space!” 

World War III erupted at 9:30 am in the kitchen with the beater.
We’d have been better off playing Clue. 
The situation was stacked against me.

“What happened?” my husband implored, stunned that something so trivial could escalate so greatly. He is the calm and cool one in our family, forever level headed. He is an expert “compartmentalizer”, an optimal trait for First Responders and the guy you want in any emergency. However, this trait can be a real pain in the butt whenever multi-tasking is required.

Instead of inserting a calm third perspective to ameliorate the situation while he baked, he blocked us out. He parents by appointment, and I argue that doesn’t always satisfy the requirements of the job in this new world. It might make him more productive in quarantine, but parenting kids has to happen when they need it, not when you are ready for it or have time scheduled. Parenting On Demand is not convenient.

And, if the point of parenting is to help them navigate life, to teach our kids how to manage in common AND unanticipated situations, then parenting and life, just like the quarantine right now, is 24/7. 

I blame our morning on coronavirus. We are all a bit on edge, fed up, anxious. I’ve read that domestic violence is increasing and the amount of marital discord could spike during the pandemic leading to higher divorce rates. Sounds extreme while making Saturday morning pancakes, but how do we stop the escalation in a chronically tense environment whether it is between parents or partners?

How do we co-parent with different styles better?  

How do we avoid World War III in our kitchens?

For the first time ever, we are not living with great delineation between the personal, public, or professional since we are all “safer at home” all of the time. According to my long-term bestie, Dr. Kathleen Hipke, who doubles as a Child & Family Psychologist, “we should all cut ourselves a whole crap load of slack because we’ve never done this before.” As we struggle to find balance between work and rest with spaces in our home that serve multiple purposes, “We have to practice compassion for ourselves and each other like never before.” Likewise, it’s normal to feel isolated right now, but it’s also “important to make connections outside of your home.” Call me, she advises. I do. 

As we dove in, two things stuck with me. One, she advises parents in any transition to frontload their conversations about expectations and roles. “This is new and how do we want to do it? Do you want to lean into the ways you’ve been doing it until now, or do you want to revise the roles given the new parameters?” Everything may need to be renegotiated, and that is normal. 

Secondly, “build in time away you can count on, time alone.” We all need breaks. Once I hung up, I planned to drive straight to the beach.

The best thing she said last, “I think it’s a trend… these are really the same issues that I talked about with my clients today. It’s about transitions and how we can adjust most successfully.” Oh phew, I’m not the sole freakish parent. “And for the record,” she assures me, “I’m not having an easy time of it either!” 
Four Top Tips for Pandemic Parenting from my lifelong friend, Dr. Kathleen Hipke, Child & Family Psychologist

1) Are you making connections outside of your home? Use what you have, whether it’s the computer or a regular old telephone. You’re not alone. 

2) Can you build in conversations on the front end about roles with your family or household? How do you go into a weekend versus weekdays? Who will do what and when do members get breaks? Front load the conversations to have a working plan on how to best maneuver. 

3) Be ready and willing to revise the above as needed. 

4) Build in anticipatory time alone/time away… where you get to make all the decisions based on what you want, total autonomy. 

Originally published at LA Parent.

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