feminist parenting pandemic
Cleaning products, abandoned games, dirty laundry, and a video babysitter. Someday we'll look back on this scene fondly.

If these last few weeks of forced family togetherness have taught us anything, it’s that we all apparently suck at being parents.

“100 activities to do at home with your preschooler!”

“50 projects to keep your first grader off his device!”

“All the helpful homeschooling resources you didn’t know you wanted!”

As of today, at least three weeks into your home confinement, you have likely done exactly zero of these things. Your preschooler’s two-minute attention span can handle none of those 100 activities. Your first grader can’t be bothered with anything but his screen, no matter how much Pinterest tries to convince him otherwise. And you never wanted to homeschool anyone before—and you want to even less now—so you’re actually very aware of how little you want those resources, thank you very much.

No parent is actually doing any of the things the internet is telling us we’re supposed to do, yet we still let it craft a narrative of failure. I’m not as productive at my job: I’m a failure. My kids are getting way too much screen time: I’m a failure. Teaching my own kids is overwhelming and frustrating: I’m a failure. When grief and depression and isolation creep in, so do all those feelings of failure.

It’s time to lean out of the expectation that we need to do all our jobs really well. Or any of them well, really. It’s time to embrace the fact that it is physically impossible to do more than one job at a time. And then it’s time to shift our perspective from one of resentment at the current situation to one of feeling blessed by this unique opportunity. Because when we adjust our perspective to lean into this new reality, it can even bring us joy.

A little over a month ago, when this novel coronavirus was still isolated almost entirely somewhere else, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My greatest fear growing up was that my mom would leave me too soon. When I was five years old, I never would have thought that 40 years old is “too soon,” but here we are. Moms always leave “too soon.”

I am sure that my mom—surely feeling more scared and overwhelmed than most of us—would love nothing more than to be quarantined with 8-year-old me, crabby and rude and downright awful as I most likely would have been. Her current perspective is different than mine, but it’s helping me to see my own reality so much differently. It’s helping me adjust my perspective, which is helping me survive.

From the day we meet our children, parenting is all about survival and perspective. The sudden rush of love and admiration felt by new parents is quickly replaced by the same type of grief that all parents are feeling right now: immense isolation and fear of the unknown, along with overwhelming emotions of grief and inferiority. Adjusting to parenthood is a difficult transition, yet the public narrative is almost exclusively one of joy and optimism. It’s nothing but a life filled with “All the helpful homeschooling resources” Pinterest posts.

But even during those darkest postpartum moments, we know that our world has changed in immensely wonderful ways. We remember how badly we wanted this new little human to be part of our lives, and we know that things will only get easier—or at least more manageable and more normal—from here.

And so we also have to shift our perspective now, away from the current struggles and feelings of permanence and toward a future in which we will inevitably pine for difficult days like these. We have to shift our focus away from a house filled with too much togetherness and imagine a house that will suddenly feel far too quiet. We have to shift away from feelings of grief over a school year cut short and see the day when we wonder if this will be the last spring we get to experience. We have to shift away from feeling like failures because of our day-to-day struggles and realize that someday soon we’ll be face-to-face with our own ultimate finish line. In so many ways, we are so lucky to be exactly where are.

Today, as I sit in a makeshift office, entertaining a preschooler on my right and teaching a second grader on my left, I try to imagine how I’ll feel when those two people are 40 years old and I receive difficult medical news of my own. I doubt any of us will remember the overwhelm of distance learning or the tensions from all the closeness or the almost unbearable sense of isolation and grief and overwhelm. Instead, I hope we will all yearn for these days of togetherness, even as we sob that it’s all ending too soon.

Rachel Berg Scherer

Rachel is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. She is a recovering political writer and most recently taught high school English in Baltimore. She is thrilled to now be a full-time mama and writer,...