Parenting can be a challenge, but parenting during a pandemic can be downright terrifying, frustrating, and defeating. We turned to guest author Kara Hoppe, MA, MFT — author of Baby Bomb: A Relationship Survival Guide for New Parents — for some back-to-school tips for parents in 2021 to help you navigate the waters.
As with everything over the last 19 months, going back to school has a different flavor now. Normally it’s an exciting time, but this year amidst the excitement, parents are carrying much more stress and worry.
I’d like you to meet three families as they start the 2021-2022 school year.
- Lucia and Victor have a 10-year-old daughter who was thrilled to return to in-person learning but was just sent home due to a close Covid contact in her classroom.
- Joel and John have three kids; the youngest is immunocompromised, making it hard to know at times what is safe for the whole family.
- Mona is a single mom, and her teenager is feeling peer pressure not to wear a mask when he’s hanging out with his friends.
Here are some back-to-school parenting tips for 2021 to help deal with these situations—or similar ones you might face this year.
1. Work as a Team
If Lucia and Victor don’t talk things out together, chances are she will make more sacrifices than he does during their daughter’s quarantine. Research shows that moms are typically the ones to stay home or quit a job during a Covid crisis. With this in mind, Lucia and Victor immediately sit down to discuss what will work best for their family. They decide to talk to their respective bosses about taking alternate days off from work. They discuss a potential plan B in case their bosses aren’t cooperative. They also discuss how the two of them can divide tasks — such as cleaning, homeschooling, entertainment, and Covid testing — evenly between them.
This isn’t to say every couple must do a 50/50 split; the important thing is to embrace the concept of teamwork. That way the burden doesn’t fall on one partner and everyone is on board with whatever arrangements you make.
2. Think Ahead
Ideally, you should prepare ahead for a Covid emergency. Think of it like earthquake or wildfire preparedness. In addition to the practical benefits, being prepared will calm your nervous system.
With our son starting school, my husband and I sat down recently and made a plan for our family. We talked about how we will each adapt our work schedules, how we could set up an isolation room(s), and what supplies we need to have on hand. We also discussed how to talk with our son in advance to minimize his fears.
3. Get Outsiders Involved
When you and your partner work as a team, you function as what I call the “insiders” in your family. That is, you lean on each other and take responsibility for making the best decisions. But families need outside support, too. I call these your “outsiders.” This is especially true for single parents, but it’s also true for two-parent families.
For example, Joel and John want to find outsiders who can provide extra resources for their immunocompromised child. They might arrange for a relative to stay with her while the rest of the family attends an afterschool function that’s unsafe for her. Or they might find an online tutor to help her make up for earlier pandemic learning losses. Her doctor, who provides advice on what is safe or unsafe for her during this time, is another useful outsider resource. Outsiders could also deliver meals for Lucia and Victor’s quarantined daughter and possibly help with childcare.
4. Be in Each Other’s Care
When you and your partner make decisions as a team rather than independently, you do so with the understanding that you are in each other’s care. Because your partner is in your care, you know there will be times you have to prioritize their needs. And vice versa. Having this kind of arrangement is another way to calm your nervous system.
It can apply to other family members as well. For example, Joel and John can teach their children what it means to be in each other’s care. The older children can appreciate what it means to have their younger immunocompromised sibling in their care—including any sacrifices they have to make—knowing there will be other times when the youngest has to make sacrifices for their needs.
5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
All the tips mentioned so far depend on the ability to communicate well. If you and your partner aren’t talking things out, you won’t be able to function as a team, plan ahead, or find outside resources. You won’t be able to do what you need to do to calm your nervous systems or care for each other.
Communicating also includes the ability to talk with members of your family about issues specific to the pandemic, such as mask-wearing. While you’ve had over a year to talk about masks, going back to school is likely to bring up new scenarios.
For example, Mona’s son understands he’s required to wear a mask at school, but none of his buddies wear them while hanging out at a friend’s house. What is an effective way for her to talk to him about this? I suggest she start by listening to him, asking about his feelings, and showing empathy for the pressure he’s feeling. Building on this foundation, Mona can communicate what she expects of her son and get his buy-in. Children who feel included in the decision-making process are more likely to feel comfortable with the extra demands being placed on them during these unprecedented times.
About the Author
Kara Hoppe, MA, MFT, is a psychotherapist, teacher, feminist, and mother. She has spent more than a decade as an inclusive therapist working with individuals and couples toward healing and growing, and toward becoming grounded, integrated people with better access to their own instincts, wisdom, and creativity. Hoppe also offers virtual retreats for parents and expectant couples, based on her book Baby Bomb: A Relationship Survival Guide for New Parents. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Parents Magazine, Fatherly, and YourTango, among other publications. She lives with her husband and son in Pioneertown, CA, and sees clients in private practice via telehealth. You can learn more about her at karahoppe.com.