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Challenge: Pandemic Parenting

The year that didn’t go as plan-(demic)ed

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By Lisa Sugarman

Welp, it’s been a helluva year! Probably the most perfectly imperfect year that nobody ever expected. And man, has our resolve been tested as parents! But, in spite of all the challenges and sadness and loss, we made it through. We did that. We’re still here. And so are our kids. So even though you probably spent most of the last year feeling like it was your worst year ever as a parent, I bet if you dig through your memories from the last twelve months, you’ll find some pretty big wins mixed in there too. And those are the things we need to be celebrating as we remember the year that wasn’t. Because even though the pandemic threw us some epic curveballs, it also taught us some valuable lessons too.

So, let’s take a hot second and reflect on how this year’s challenges have helped us become better parents (and better humans).

Sure, we’ve been stuck in the house with our kids since last March, with little or no face-to-face contact with the outside world and that’s been crazy hard—but it’s also forced some major-league creativity and resilience to emerge from inside of all of us. And when you stop and think about it, we learned a lot over the last year in spite of being holed up at home.

We learned to embrace things like Zoom and Facetime and talking on an actual phone again. And we were reminded of all the different ways there are to connect with the people in our life when we just can’t be there in person. We rediscovered the beauty in writing cards and letters and we filled our camera rolls with zillions of pictures of sleeping babies and new puppies and homemade loaves of sourdough bread. We remembered why we loved building pillow forts when we were kids and we learned how satisfying it is to grow and harvest and eat our own vegetables the old-fashioned way. We learned how to hurry less and reach out more and to take every opportunity to hug our kids that we could steal. And we learned that an investment in a pair (or ten) of well-made joggers is money well spent.

Somehow, we found ways to make birthdays and special occasions meaningful by doing drive-by parties and having virtual celebrations that would ensure that all our people could still be part of the milestones that mattered most. And yeah, sure, we’ve basically been on call 24/7 for the last year without a break or any privacy or a clean house, but we’ve also had the gift of family time the likes of which most of us have never had. So along with the challenges of social distancing and mask-wearing and working from home have come some undeniable silver linings, like time together and a slower pace that allowed us to pay attention to the important things again. And a newfound joy of quietude.

Each of us became master jugglers of the work/life balance, learning to host Zoom calls while breastfeeding in between loads of laundry and before the oven timer goes off. We’ve learned to parent through loss and grief and fear and we’ve kept moving forward even when every fiber in our bodies just couldn’t take another day. Because that’s just what parents do. We persevere.

But even more powerful than all those things, we found a deeper sense of gratitude for the simple, basic things in life. Things like reading with our kids and walking endless loops around our neighborhoods. And even with the world turned upside down and sideways, we created a new daily rhythm and learned to cherish the little moments. We embraced online fitness, we cooked and baked and cooked and baked some more and we learned to pivot like bosses when our plans fell apart over and over and over again.

I mean, there’s no denying that it’s been a traumatic year. Between navigating the election madness and racial unrest and the painful isolation from all the people we desperately wanted to see and hug and spend time with, it’s all been, well, just hard. Really hard. And even though 2020 is behind us, we’re still going to be dealing with the tough stuff for a while. But now, though, we’ve got enough covid-life experience that we can handle it. Now, we can handle just about anything.

So yeah, the last year definitely didn’t go like we planned, but it did teach us that it’s ok if things aren’t perfect, and that’s something. Because if there’s ever been a time when everything went off the rails, it was 2020. But we learned that it’s really ok if we’re a hot mess or if the house is a disaster or if dinner came from a box or if our hair didn’t get washed or if the sink is swimming in dishes. Because this year has taught us that the most meaningful work we can do as parents is to make sure our kids are safe and loved and nurtured. And we’ve done that, day after day after endlessly long day. And we’ve learned how to harness the screw ups and imperfect moments and siphon the goodness out of them.

Because this year has been about one thing. Survival. And we’re doing it. And that, friends, is all that really matters.

Lisa Sugarman is a parenting author, columnist & radio show host living just north of Boston with her husband and two grown daughters. She writes the nationally syndicated opinion column It Is What It Is and is the author of How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids And Be Ok With It, Untying Parent Anxiety, and LIFE: It Is What It Is. Lisa is also the co-host of the weekend talk show LIFE UNfiltered on Northshore 104.9FM, a regular contributor on GrownAndFlown, Healthline Parenthood, Thrive Global,, LittleThings, and More Content Now. Visit her at

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