Pandemic Parenting

I’m no expert, but it’s not hard to observe that parenting has shifted radically in the new millennium, especially in the South.

Gone are the days when a child would have their mouth washed out with soap, their face slapped or their bare bottom switched. Now, we send small children to the timeout chair. We place our pre-teens and teens on restriction. We have serious discussions about expectations, choices and consequences.

We all feel so much more civilized about our discipline methodologies. It’s rare for somebody to get a whoopin’ in the New South.

But the new ways break down quickly when society is upended, and nothing in recent memory has brought us to the brink of a societal breakdown like the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re all — parents and children alike — pushed past the limits of our patience. Who among us has not at least thought about bringing back the old ways, just once, and giving our mouthy offspring a swat on the behind?

Parents joking about their failures and wishing to return to a simpler time of punishments fill social media. We respond with our LOLs and SMHs knowing the feeling all too well.

In the heat of the moment, when a transgression surfaces and must be confronted,  it feels like a life-or-death struggle against the galactic forces of evil. We believe our children’s belligerence and disrespect must be stamped out or civilization will fall and they will grow up to be misanthropes.

In these dark days, we resort to the only tool seemingly left to us: taking away screen time.

laptop, iPad, Nintendo Switch, wireless earphones
This is what disciplining children looks like in the New South. We hope by taking away the laptop, tablet, game system, and wireless earphones, we are getting our kids’ attention.

Pre-pandemic, this was a relatively mild punishment. Depending on the duration, our children might actually prefer to have their devices confiscated for a few hours. I know in our home, not only did grounding from screens restore stability, our children actually seemed happier and more engaged in creative pursuits like reading, music, art and cooking. Each punitive action produced a mini Renaissance that restored our hope in them and their future.

That was then.

Now, if we remove the devices from our children’s lives for even just a day, it feels like we are cutting off their supply of oxygen. It’s the only pleasure they have left, their only connection to friends, their only outlet to escape the drudgery of isolation and quarantine.

In the pandemic, taking away screen time is the nuclear option.

We have to be careful to avoid the brinkmanship that leads to that ultimatum. If someone goes to the “no screen time”  penalty too quickly, the wailing and gnashing of teeth that results has no remedy. All that is left to silence the outcry is lengthening the time of the restriction. It’s a vicious cycle that ends with the parent losing their sanity, credibility or both.

This is the universal parenting quandary of the pandemic, and it is not limited by geography. Parents in the New South find themselves grappling with the same problem as parents across the globe.

So, what’s the answer?

Like I said, I’m no expert. 

As with everything during these seemingly endless days trapped in our homes, all we can do is try our best, exercise as much patience as possible and ask for forgiveness when we go too far.

Oh, and start saving for therapy bills. We’re all going to need to talk this out with someone when it’s over.

Maybe you’ve found a solution. What punishments have you found particularly effective during the pandemic? Please, by all means, share! Leave a comment and let us in on the secret.

Having Myself a Very COVID Christmas

Nothing has been the same in 2020. The holiday season is no exception. The 36 days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day that include Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa will be unlike any other in my lifetime.

We’ve reached December. The music, weather, and lengthy to-do list are the same, but many facets of the holidays are unrecognizable. Here are 10 ways I’m anticipating the pandemic will impact my Christmas celebration:

Exterior of house decorated with lights and wreaths for Christmas.
The 2020 version of our Christmas decorations feature new ribbons on our wreaths and new positioning of the floodlights. It’s the little things during the pandemic that bring joy.

No parties. Typically, our family’s calendar is filled with social gatherings for my wife and me and for our children. I have complained in the past of having an overstuffed December social calendar. Not this year. I have one event on the calendar at the moment, and it is a socially distanced, masked, hour-long party for my middle son. I’m sure a few more social occasions might trickle in, but they won’t resemble the festivities of years’ past.

No concerts. Our boys are musically inclined. Concerts, parades, and recitals are as much a part of our holiday season as parties. Sometimes the performances and parties occur in combination. I will miss my boys’ musical events and the way they set the mood for my Christmas celebration. Music fills me with Christmas spirit, but Spotify can’t replace the live performances that have become our tradition.

Shopping online exclusively. As has been documented in New South Essays in the past, I’m not a fan of shopping. I embraced online shopping a few years back, but I usually take the boys out for individual excursions so they can purchase gifts for family members and each other. We avoid the peak times, but these relatively short forays provide me with all the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping I need. This year, I’m planning for all of it online.

Limited family interaction. Our biggest struggle this year is getting together with family. We traditionally go to Florida after Christmas to spend time with my parents. Occasionally my Texas-based brothers are able to join in, and our boys get to see their cousins. Such was the plan this year, but those plans are shifting. We have been taking precautions for nine months allowing us to stay healthy and care for my immunocompromised mother-in-law. This close to the distribution of a vaccine, we simply can’t risk a trip to be around out-of-state family. The fear of missing out is most acute for me with this component of our holiday celebrations. To compensate, I am placing a high priority on a trip to Texas when the pandemic ends.

Different faith observances. I’ve written extensively over at View from the Pew about how our church experience has been different during the pandemic. Our pastor is determined to make sure we have a Christmas Eve service. We’ll bundle up and gather outdoors, keeping our distance and foregoing parts of the service that bring us into close contact. I will welcome the Christmas Eve service in any form, but there are many other annual observances I am missing, especially our church choir’s Christmas music. Again, Spotify is an imperfect substitute.

Appreciation of health. I am experiencing greater appreciation for my health this holiday season. This year in which I turned 50 has been full of health challenges. In February I had a bout of the flu and pneumonia before COVID-19 raged across the country. Then in March I tore my meniscus which I finally had repaired with arthroscopic surgery in November. In spite of those setbacks, we haven’t had to deal with a case of COVID in my household. I am grateful and hopeful that continues into 2021.

Gratitude for each other. We will be around each other more this Christmas than any other, and while that contributes to the petty arguments and frustrations boiling over, it will also cement our family’s bond. Sitting around our Thanksgiving table and calling my parents later that day filled me with gratitude for the people in my life in a profound way.

Decorating early. I saw a lot of social media posts this year of people “needing a little Christmas, right this very minute” back on Nov. 1. We weren’t quite there, but this year I’ve forsaken my annual complaint of people skipping Thanksgiving and going right to Christmas. We all do what we have to do to make it through. Our own Christmas decorations didn’t go up early. In fact, because of some home projects, our tree sat lit but undecorated longer than usual, but early decorating is the rule rather than the exception in 2020.

Clinging to tradition. We’re not giving up traditions this year, we’re reinventing and re-interpreting them. We’re boiling them down to their essential quality and meaning and finding a way to do them safely. The best example so far is our Saturday after Thanksgiving trip to Ihop and Christmas tree shopping. This year, we made a huge breakfast at home, had a leisurely morning, cleaned up the kitchen together, and finally made it to the tree lot around noon. There was less time to decorate, but the boys agreed this may be a permanent change to our holiday traditions.

Seeking joy. More than gifts, food or nostalgia, I am seeking joy this Christmas. I cannot remember entering a holiday season in my lifetime with such a desperate need to be uplifted, encouraged and inspired. Whether it’s in the laughter of my family around our table, hearing the familiar words of Luke 2 on Christmas Eve or the strains of Harry Connick’s “Harry for the Holidays” album, I will savor the feeling of joy that has been so elusive these past nine months.

That’s my list. I’m curious how your holiday season will be different this year. Whatever may come, I hope your holidays are safe, meaningful, memorable and above all, joyful.