In the time of COVID-19 and quarantine, how can those navigating parenthood seek stability and normalcy?
It was my son Everett’s first and final baseball game of the year. My wife and I sat in the cold, watching both teams play terribly in relentless rain. Most kids struck out over and over again.
And while we and other parents in the bleachers were miserable, our children didn’t seem to care. They were soaking up their final moments of normalcy before COVID-19 shut down Silicon Valley.
Since then, 10-year-old Everett has maintained the same level of ambivalence from that day on the field — even as he watched his school close, his after-school programs evaporate and the cancelation of our family vacation to Cuba. He insists he’s OK with it all, but he gives me the same heart-melting “It’s fine, Dad” I get when I learn he wasn’t invited to a birthday party.
Meanwhile, my wife and I are trying to keep our cool as we juggle massive upheavals in our personal and professional lives. Both of our employers have implemented mandatory work from home policies, and most recently, San Mateo County banned citizens from leaving home unless they needed groceries or supplies. She works for a large tech company, and I work for a software startup that helps companies communicate more effectively with remote teams.
Given the nature of my company’s product, I’m more than familiar with the concept of remote work. However, I’m learning that working from home while parenting two young sons is a totally different beast.
There’s no sugarcoating it: I’m stressed out.
And though it’s true that these uncertain circumstances could harm us as a family, we consider ourselves lucky for now: We get to work for companies that continue to operate — just with altered processes, some minor inconveniences and bad coffee.
During the first few days of my family’s quarantine, my wife and I realized that while we were working, our kids were happily watching YouTube and playing video games for hours. Since then, we’ve added more structure to our days. We now set aside specific time blocks for professional meetings, family bonding, education and physical activity.
To us, it’s imperative we’re as honest as possible when speaking to our boys about the virus. This might not be everyone’s parenting style, but kids can usually tell when you’re not being completely honest — and a global health crisis provides no time to bend the truth.
We’re trying our best to share what we know, answer questions, and listen to our sons’ thoughts and concerns. The other day, Everett assured me that kids aren’t likely to be affected by the coronavirus and that people my age are unlikely to die from it. Our younger, more sensitive son is rightfully asking questions about his grandma, who has respiratory challenges, and his aunt, who has stage 4 cancer.
I tell my kids that it’s good to worry about our vulnerable loved ones. We use these conversations as a reason to call, check in and tell them we love them. On a few occasions, my fears have gotten the best of me. I’ve found myself worrying about what would happen if my wife and I got sick — but these are fleeting thoughts, and I certainly don’t share them with my children.
And lately, we’ve encouraged our boys to find their own information about the virus and share what they learn. We want to teach them how to navigate the modern media landscape and identify real, useful news. Everett recently asked me how many confirmed cases San Mateo County has seen, so I showed him how to look up the running tally. He also came to me with an article that claimed the virus was spreading in Hong Kong through sewer pipes, and I was able to at least tell him, “I’m not so sure that’s true.”
In a weird way, I see our shift into quarantine as an opportunity for our family to forge greater bonds. And it’s working: My kids and I are connecting on a deeper level than usual. Long conversations about this pandemic feel much more productive than debates about screen time and Fortnite. Once things return to normal, I hope my children emerge with a greater understanding of social responsibility. I’m hopeful they’ll appreciate that we, as a family unit, sacrificed normal routines and activities to help save lives and keep the virus from spreading.
I know I’m not the first to say it, but this whole thing feels more like a bad movie than real life. But so often in those movies, people are quarantined with strangers or enemies. So, what’s my greatest silver lining through all of this? I’m holed up with my three favorite people in the entire world.