British Columbia·Parental Guidance

Happy anniversary…? Marking the highs and lows in a year of pandemic parenting

It’s been one year of parenting through a pandemic. Through the good and the bad, families have made it through the lows and celebrated the highs.

Much was lost, but there was also much to appreciate for many parents amid the restrictions

After a year of pandemic parenting, families have learned to see the good even when times are tough. (CBC)

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

While many parents may feel like they've been repeating the same day over and over, it has, in fact, been a year since the full impact of COVID-19 changed our way of living.

What does one do to mark such an auspicious date? I'm pretty sure Hallmark doesn't have a card for this particular occasion. Are COVID cupcakes a thing?

If nothing else, I think a lot of parents will be taking a look back at the past 12 months and simply thinking, "what the heck happened?"

'Worrying about things I can't control'

Hindsight is always 20/20, and I wish I could go back and re-imagine the early days of the pandemic. Choices were often rushed, slightly panicked and made without fully grasping what was happening and what the fallout could be.

Looking back, Odelia Bay, a single mother with a 4½-year-old son, also realizes how much energy was wasted on worry.

"I spent a lot of time worrying about things I can't control, and trying to figure out how to look after my kid, myself," says Bay, who also has multiple sclerosis, which compounded her stress.

"I would have liked to not use my energy that way."

Parents' pandemic experiences have differed according to the ages of their children. From babies to young adults, each age group has had its own set of challenges. 

Maggie Knight gave birth to her daughter in early April, just as the gravity of the situation around the world was really hitting home. She's had to let go of a lot of hopes she had for her daughter's first year, and accept that instead of it taking a village to raise her child, it was now just down to her and her husband.

"We haven't been able to go to any parent-and-baby things and she hasn't been as exposed to other places and other people. ... My friends are just not going to get to hold her as a baby," says Knight.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Susy Tucker's 27-year-old son left his new job in London, England, to return home in the middle of March last year. Her younger son also returned home from university in Montreal. They all thought the situation would be temporary, and so life was lived day by day without fully adapting to their new reality, Tucker says. 

"If we'd known, we would have set boundaries and clear expectations," explains Tucker. "He was still sleeping on his twin bed from when he was a teenager." 

Watching young adults' careers, education and social lives sidelined at such a critical point has been incredibly hard on everyone's mental health, leading to worry about what the future will hold socially and financially.

Things to appreciate

But parents are uniquely suited to finding good in times of bad. It's how the species survives.

Many people have said how much they have appreciated a slower pace in life, savoured more time with their families, and been bowled over by the resilience and kindness of their children. 

Those moments of gratitude have come no matter the child's age. For Knight, it's the fact that her husband has been working from home the past year and hasn't had to miss out during his daughter's first year. 

"We've had a more shared experience," says Knight. "I don't know if that replaces all the things we've lost, but it's definitely something to treasure and appreciate."

For Tucker, reconnecting with her adult kids has given them all a chance to bond not just as family, but as friends.

"As parents, it is nice to have your grown-up children home and have that time you wouldn't normally have. Absolutely. We've had lots of close family time," she says. 

I don't think any of us expected the pandemic to last this long and to impact our lives so deeply. After a year, I think it's important to acknowledge the things we've experienced, and mourn the things that were lost. And since we can't travel back in time, we must continue to trudge forward.

As we head into the second spring under the cloud of COVID-19, we still don't know what the future holds, but I am certainly feeling more hopeful than I was this time last year. 

So, happy pan-iversary, everyone. We'll have a party as soon as Dr. Bonnie Henry says it's OK. 


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.