Parenting during COVID-19

Parenting differences may be especially highlighted at this time because for many of us, there's no escape from the daily grind and everyone's emotions are heightened. Whether you are parenting teens or young kids, I want to provide some suggestions on how parents may better support one another.

Can you and your partner find value in one another's parenting styles or perspectives?  

Many parents become polarized and tend to see one another and their stylistic differences as more extreme than they actually are.  

Case in point, Janelle and Trish. Trish tends to view Janelle as "too lenient" and "wishy-washy" while she sees herself as "consistent" and "regimented." Her partner, Janelle, is quick to point out that she is not always lenient and that Trish is not as consistent as she thinks she is. They both agree that they have been at each other's throats in the last few weeks, nitpicking about how the other is intervening with the children. They have lost the ability to see value in the other's approach and are instead locked in a negative dance.

DO: Give your parenting partner the benefit of the doubt.  The challenge here is for both partners to extend some compassion and generosity toward their partner.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • In what ways does my partner's perspective or style add value to our children's development?
  • Am I painting a one-dimensional picture of my partner as a parent?
  • How does my partner's current struggle with parenting mirror my own frustrations and challenges?

DON'T: Take the differences that exist between you and your parenting partner so personally.  

While it may seem that your partner is out to thwart and undermine you as a parent, chances are they struggle with some of their own internal dilemmas of parenting, especially at a time of limited resources. Parenting styles are strongly impacted, not just by the way we were parented, but by the inner narratives we created as a result of that parenting. For example, Janelle's inner narrative is, "I will never be harsh like my father was." Janelle's childhood takeaway was, "I won't spoil my kids the way my mom spoiled my brother."  

These narratives are then projected onto our partners when we are triggered by the way they are parenting. Trish and Janelle are both anxious that their kids won't turn out well and they amplify the small differences that exist between them. 

Ask yourself:

  • What meaning did I make of the parenting I received?
  • Am I projecting those stories or meanings onto my partner, when I feel triggered?
  • What do I understand about my partner's inner meanings and stories?
  • Am I taking the parenting differences that exist between us personally and if so, how can I better see my partner's style as an expression of their own challenges?

DO: As your partner for a weekly short check-in (10-15 minutes) around how parenting has gone that week.  Instead of approaching that meeting with criticism, try to offer one piece of acknowledgment for something you feel your partner did "right" and one piece of acknowledgment, for one thing, you struggled with around parenting. This is a time to check-in, not necessarily to come up with big solutions.

Above all, know that you are not alone in these struggles!  Try not to see your partner as an adversary in these challenges.  And remember, reaching out to friends or family members for support at this time is essential! 

Donna Gilman, PsyD is the Co-Director of the Couples Center of the Pioneer Valley, mother, and temporary home school teacher, to a 10-year-old boy.

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