Pandemic worries and parenting woes: There is always something to fret about

As vaccination rates rise and cases of COVID-19 continue to decline, it seems more likely we'll be on track for the slow return to a more relaxed life for the summer and beyond. But while this is the cause for safe celebrations, it's not without worry.

The pandemic gave some parents a break from worrying about their children. What will a return to normal bring?

Parenting can be anxiety producing, whether during a pandemic or not. (panitanphoto/Shutterstock)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

When you have a child, anxiety is part of the deal.

From those early days of "are they breathing?" to the sleepless nights spent wondering if they'll come home from their teenage adventures, your worry comes in many shapes.

When the provincial guidelines were announced for the gradual easing of restrictions this summer, I was elated.

For about three hours.

But that quickly morphed into me feeling overwhelmed by questions and doubts about what my kids and I could do, and whether any of us were ready for it.

This anxiety is not unusual — many people are feeling this unease after so long spent in a fairly restricted existence. But why?

There is still a lot we don't know about the future

For everyone, it's the great unknown.

Will variants pop up and derail things? Will we remember how to interact with people? Will our pants fit?

For parents, not surprisingly, it's a lot of worry about how these past 15 months have impacted our children, and what the lasting effects of the pandemic might be. 

Brian Cant explained that his daughter, Aubrey, is heading to kindergarten in September, which is a big adjustment with or without a pandemic.

But what he and his husband have noticed is that what worries Aubrey isn't the usual angst a five-year-old might feel. 

As parents prepare for their children to start or return to school this September, many are wondering what safety precautions will be in place. (Colin Butler/CBC)

"The questions she asks about kindergarten are, 'Will I have to wear a mask and does my teacher have the medicine you have,'" Cant said. 

"The questions are less about, 'Who will sit next to me,' and they are more about, 'What if I can't put my mask on?'" 

And it's not just the smaller ones who are questioning how COVID will continue to impact them. 

Cant knows the anxiety he's experiencing is more about the pandemic than watching his daughter go to elementary school.

"You have all of these concerns about, 'Is she going to pick up some bad traits?' and 'Is she going to make friends?' with 'How do we continue to make sure she's safe?'" 

Are parents ready for teens to resume social lives?

Many teens are ready to make up for lost time in their social lives, but they are out of practice when it comes to partying, and even have a lot of questions about the future that can't be easily answered. 

Jennifer Millie is the mother of two teens, Agatha and Edmund, and they are all feeling unsettled by the return to a more normal way of life. 

Some parents of young adults starting university in September worry about how their children will navigate group socializing after a year without practice. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For Agatha, who is heading to the University of Alberta soon, there are a lot of big changes in her future, and not a lot of direction yet. Jennifer just wants some guidance for her daughter's next step. 

"There's no information about moving in," says Millie. "They have two years of kids moving in for most universities, which will be its own chaos socially. After a year and a half of no one they will be unsupervised in a mostly college kid only space." 

Transition time

So how can parents learn to let go a little bit after having their kids so closely tethered?

It's a tough adjustment. For everyone.

Registered psychologist Roten Regev suggests we try to explain to our kids how hard it might be to let them off the leash more. 

"Say there was a worry I didn't have to fret about when you were home," suggests Regev. "There was something that really went well for me in this pandemic. As you're going out into the world ... how can we still keep in touch? Can I have a transition time as a parent as well?"

A 'return to normal' this fall might mean a return to giving children some independence. (Daniel Reinhardt/The Associated Press)

While the thought of me or any of my loved ones catching COVID-19 was terrifying, it paled in comparison to some of the terrors that parents can face. And it was nice to have a break from that.

But it's not realistic. Children need to have their own independence and parents need to help them achieve that; we need to get back in the habit of letting go.

The pandemic has been scary and the thought of restrictions easing is scary, too. But nothing is as scary as raising a child, and yet it's something we happily choose to do!

Our kids will adjust to the coming months just as they've adjusted to the pandemic itself — with courage and trust in their parents and other adults to keep them safe.

And one day we'll all return to normal life, but don't worry — we can handle it. 


Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.


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