Manitoba·Point of View

'New normal' for parents is struggling with grief, guilt and pandemic demands — but you're not alone

Early childhood educator Robyn Brown offers a message for parents juggling working remotely, home-schooling and parenting "We are all struggling and crying and doing our best with the tools we have, and we are all in this together."

It's OK if 'all you can do today is get up, stay in your pyjamas and cry into your cereal-for-dinner'

Robyn Brown's son keeps himself occupied, but she acknowledges that juggling schooling, parenting and work from home is 'overwhelming.' She wants parents who feel the same to know they're not alone. (Submitted by Robyn Brown)

When my son was born, I experienced severe complications from his delivery that left me hospitalized for six long weeks. That felt like an eternity at the time. 

The new parenting experience I had envisioned was definitely not the one I got. 

I found myself grieving the loss of what would be the only newborn experience I would ever have, and berating the fact that what I thought I had signed up for was far, far beyond the reality I was in. 

Flash forward eight-and-a-half years.  

I am somehow back in this weird twilight zone of bizarre parenthood, and just like the first time, it feels like forever.

My husband is deemed essential, so he still works outside our home.

I hold down the fort during the day — attempting to juggle my job remotely (as a family centre co-ordinator) and attending to my son's needs in his new normal. 

Robyn Brown walks her son to his first day of school in 2019, pre-pandemic. In the parenting books we've read, she says, there was 'definitely no chapter on parenting during a pandemic while working full-time and home schooling your child.' (Submitted by Robyn Brown)

I somehow envisioned my son as a fun new co-worker; we can do crafts! Share a desk! Go on scavenger hunts! 

But this rookie ideal quickly deteriorated into the same survival mode we'd been in when we first started out as a family.  

By Day 3, for example, we were both in tears as early as 9:45 in the morning.  

We were juggling multiple tasks: arranging food deliveries for families in need (me), French pronouns (him), and an overwhelming wish to throw in the towel and quit (both of us).

We are now in Week 3 of this new reality, and I'll be the first to admit that it hasn't gotten much better. 

Many of my days are filled with guilt: wondering how I can do my job of supporting other parents while supporting the needs of my own family at home. 

It is OK if you are not being everything you want to be.- Robyn Brown

Wondering how my son will be able to retain the French immersion he's enjoyed for years, when his new teacher (me) hasn't taken it since Grade 10. 

Wondering if his memories of this time will be of his mom saying she can't play right now because she has work to do. 

My saving grace in this strange new world has been finding out that parents pretty much everywhere feel just like me. 

We may have read parenting books when we were first starting out, but there was definitely no chapter on "parenting during a pandemic while working full-time and home schooling your child." (And if there was, I obviously would have skipped it because it sounds ridiculous.)

Setting a high bar

We cannot expect our role of parent, teacher and employee to be combined — and then fit into the same 24 hours it once took three people to do. 

We are setting the bar of our own self-expectations way too high. We are even learning new math and trying not to "carry the one."

So here is some real talk:

It is OK if you are not being everything you want to be. 

Please, dear parents, give yourself a break.- Robyn Brown

If you are unable to use this time to somehow create fun, social-media-worthy memories for your child, that is OK.

If all you can do today is get up, stay in your pyjamas and cry into your cereal-for-dinner when your child finally goes to bed, you are not alone. 

I'll say it louder for the ones in the back — YOU ARE NOT ALONE. THIS IS REALLY HARD. 

We are all experiencing very real moments of grief for the loss of what we thought our lives would be right now, and we feel guilty for not being everything to everyone. 

Parents everywhere are trying to stave off their own intense fears, in order to put on a brave face for their children, and wondering how they can get through this.

Thankful but overwhelmed

I realize I am extremely fortunate. I'm employed, I have a child, I'm able to continue to do what I love — all while dredging up literacy and numeracy skills I haven't had to visit in 27 years, in order to understand my son's homework.

I realized that I should just be thankful for what I do have, and move on. 

But I am not ungrateful — I am overwhelmed. 

It is OK to admit that.

So please, dear parents, give yourself a break. Take a breath, call a friend, text a fellow parent. 

We are all struggling and crying and doing our best with the tools we have, and we are all in this together.

And if it helps in even the tiniest way to know that others are right here on the struggle bus, too — please climb aboard and know you're not alone.

Together, we have got this. 

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Robyn Brown is an early childhood educator, family centre co-ordinator and parent in Winnipeg.


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