Pandemic parenting – Information | Khaleej Occasions
For worse or for better, Covid has altered the dynamics of relationship between parents and children
By K Badar
Published: Sat 30 Oct 2021, 9:45 PM
My husband and I were exploring school options for our (then) two-year-old daughter Zoe when Covid struck in India — and around the world. That immediately put Zoe’s school plans on the backburner. Instead, we stayed put at home where we grappled with a reality that seemed surreal; it was like we were characters straight out of an end-of-the-world movie. Gradually, we had to start “accepting” the new normal.
With fear and uncertainty all around us, keeping our homefront and ourselves safe and sane proved to be a daunting task during the pandemic. We found ourselves at odds on every front, from being worried about our child and ourselves getting infected to understanding her — and our own — emotional needs.
While it did prove to be a great opportunity for us to bond with Zoe (who’s now four), my husband and I struggled every day to find something new and exciting to keep her engaged and entertained.
Zoe, too, had a hard time absorbing the changes we had to make in our routine, which left her unsettled for a while.
Meanwhile, kids all around were struggling in their own ways and couldn’t articulate their thoughts. This became a turning point for many parents like us to get closer to their kids and have a heart-to-heart. We started having conversations beyond the dinner table and bonded over leisure activities. We tried to make her feel comfortable by creating an environment of empathy and trust instead of judgement.
A woman is not only the default parent but a natural and primary caregiver. With little support from family — largely due to the restrictions on visitors during the crisis — a greater responsibility lay on husbands to support their wives, which included ensuring kids’ physical and mental wellbeing. Personally, I received immense support from my husband in sharing duties despite me being someone who finds it difficult to delegate duties. Both of us juggled roles as employees, educators and caregivers, strengthening our relationships with more quality time with each other and a greater focus on our health.
The way I see it, every catastrophe is an opportunity of sorts. A simple act like doing stuff which helped in substantial mental stimulation and limiting our own and Zoe’s screen time helped us big time. God forbid, if we ever have to live through such a testing time again, I hope to face the situation in a humorous fashion where we can laugh at each other’s silliness and ridiculous responses and not take everything to our hearts. It will, hopefully, not be a situation where we are fearing each moment, because who knows what’s next anyway!
Having said that, I also realise that the Covid pandemic has altered the meaning of parenting — at least for the near future. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as many as 1.38 billion students across the world are out of school or child care, and have no access to playgrounds, team sports, or group activities — all of which are integral towards developing individuals who can build strong social relationships.
Severe lockdowns in many countries have left a gigantic salaried population, including parents, working from home and remaining in close proximity to their children for long periods of time. Like us, it was a first for many parents, and not all of them had positive experiences. Keeping children busy and safe has become a challenge, particularly in an increasingly digital world. It is hard for working parents to develop a healthy bond with their school-going kids while both ‘the office’ and school operate online, from home.
A study conducted in the United States found that nearly 40 per cent of parents reported depression and anxiety, and nearly one in three parents said their children felt sadder, depressed and lonelier. Parents said that the added stress resulting from extra work hours added to their frustrations of not being able to spend quality time with their children despite being around them 24×7. This, coupled with the fact that the burden of parenting would often fall disproportionately on one parent, also changed the dynamics of a family, further adding to the pile up of negative emotions.
‘It’s worrying how children’s screen time has drastically increased due to online classes’
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Arvind Kumar, a 39-year-old communications executive based out of New Delhi, India, and a father of two, says that in the pre-Covid era, taking care of children was easier; the pressure of parenting was much lesser compared to now. “Along with managing the added pressure of working from home — when work starts early in the morning and continues till late — the toughest task is to keep my children engaged all the time. Since they do not participate in any physical activity, they do not get tired so they sleep for barely 4-5 hours as opposed to the 7-8 hours of sleep they would get earlier on account of getting physically tired,” he says.
Arvind is concerned that his children’s screen time has drastically increased due to online classes. It has become difficult for him to regulate this because kids have to be online to prepare assignments, coordinate with their classmates and receive homework. Result? They are spending as many as 6-8 hours on their phones or tablets daily. “This can also potentially harm their mental and physical health, which worries me a lot,” he adds.
It was a task for him to train Pallavi, his five-year-old daughter to attend online classes. Initially, when he switched on the front camera of the laptop, Pallavi thought it was a mirror. She started fixing her hair. Arvind told her that it was a camera and explained how was it going to help her attend classes.
Compared to her eight-year-old brother Pratyush, Pallavi’s social behaviour is seemingly unusual to her parents because of her limited exposure to the outside world. “I had to teach her how to greet people, how to behave in front of others,” Arvind explains.
Today, the impact of the digital world on Pallavi’s life is leaving Arvind anxious. “When I asked her where we get our milk from, she replied, ‘From an app’! This just shows that due to an ‘in-exposure’ to the outside world, my daughter views the world a little differently than my son who knows that we get milk from a cow or buffalo.”
Arvind admits he feels annoyed on occasions when he is on office calls and his kids want his attention. “It is important to understand that the lives of parents have also changed,” he points out. “At the same time, I will feel guilty if I take it out on my kids. They are too young to understand the complexities of how things have changed.”
However, all the issues that he’s dealing with appear minuscule compared to what his wife Kalpana — who is a housewife — is facing. With Arvind and the kids parked at home mostly, she is unable to spend quality time with herself. “The pandemic has been especially tiring for her.”
‘I learnt, for the first time, what a father-son bond feels like’
Karan Singh Thakur, a realtor in Guelph, Canada, said he had difficulties in trying to take out time for his child during the initial days of the pandemic. Karan was in India when the government imposed a lockdown on March 25, 2020. It was a moment of reckoning for him. He realised that he had not been able to devote quality time to his family despite working hard for their happiness. This prompted him to shift to Canada with his son in the month of July same year, where he joined his wife and his daughter. “Covid made me think a lot. After the initial hiccups of the first few weeks, when I was busy, I finally found time to reflect and introspect, and that made me realise that despite having a father figure, my children barely had a father. I lost my father when I was one month old. I never experienced what a father-son relationship was like. I realised that my son, who was in India, was experiencing something similar.”
Spending time with his children also helped Karan build a deeper bond with them. He proactively took interest in his son’s studies and would enquire about his routine. “My son was a bit formal around me earlier since he barely spent time with me. Now he is much more comfortable and jokes around me, too. Through my son, I learnt, for the first time, what a father-son bond feels like,” Karan beams.
However, he is in favour of in-person teaching. Online classes led to irritability among children other than making them less organised and accountable, according to him. “In Canada, we enrolled him [my son] in a physical school, and I observed a significant change in his behaviour.”
Karan has witnessed lockdowns both in India and Canada, and he feels maintaining social distancing has been much easier in the latter. “We live in a small city in Canada, where the population is low,” he says. “My wife can take my daughter for a walk in the evening, and we can roam around outside easily without fearing about the risk of transmission.”
‘I feel more responsible towards my children now’
Selloane, a passenger handling agent with an airline company in Lesotho’s capital city Maseru, relooked at parenting during the pandemic. She is a mother of two. Currently, not even a quarter of Lesotho’s population is fully vaccinated — which means stepping out is rare due to the fear of transmission. The silver lining for Selloane is that she can monitor her daughter’s studies like never before and the fact that she feels “more responsible” towards her children.
Yes, she agrees, the onus of parenting tends to fall largely on women in challenging situations — such as the pandemic — but she does not mind the responsibility. “Mothers have a special bond with their children because we carry them in our womb for nine months. It is difficult for a man to emulate the kind of bond a mother shares with her children.”
The 34-year-old also observed differences in her own upbringing, and how her children were being raised during the pandemic. For her kids, sanitisers and masks are integral parts of life. Her younger one, Charles, is six months old. He has an aversion for masks. “In fact, Charles gets scared whenever he sees someone in a mask. But he will get used to them.” Selloane is extremely careful when she is with Charles. “Since we can’t use sanitisers on them [young kids], I sanitise myself before I touch him. This becomes extremely stressful at times.”
The financial fallout of the pandemic impacted Selloane greatly: she had to take a massive salary cut in April 2020. “Handling expenses was difficult since I need to buy his diapers and formula to feed him and it is expensive. Inflation is also high in my country which further complicates our financial situation,” she says.
Fiscal implications are taking a toll on her domestic life as well. Selloane and her partner are picking up arguments more often than they would usually do. “It is a task to remain sane and rational in this crisis,” she sighs.
‘Since I was home-schooling my children, I could spend a lot more time with them’
Covid has exacerbated the precarious financial conditions of families, which, in turn, affected parenting strategies. Ken Omar Madronero, a native of the Philippines who has been living in the United Arab Emirates for the last 14 years, told Khaleej Times that he had to take a significant pay cut. “I seriously contemplated going back to the Philippines,” says Omar. “Thankfully, my wife works with a healthcare company and her job is stable.”
“It was a humbling [phase] but we had to adapt quickly,” he says, recalling the turbulent phases consequent to the 2008 financial crisis, but how “Covid-19 was nothing like anything [else]”.
He also decided to withdraw his children from regular school, and home schooled them, amid a lot of protests from his children. “Since I was home-schooling my children, I could spend a lot more time with them.” As they were home, he devised a curriculum which allowed him to engage his kids in co-curricular activities such as painting, boxing, and playing the piano. These were part of a father’s efforts to boost his children’s creativity amid a decrease in social interactions brought on due to the lockdown.
Ken echoes Selloane’s sentiment that the bulk of parenting responsibilities tends to fall on one of the two parents in such situations. His wife is a (frontline) healthcare worker. Her work hours got extended, so Ken had to take over a large chunk of domestic responsibilities.
“I had to decide what was more important. That’s the one positive thing brought about by the pandemic. It made you focus on what’s the bare essential: to me, it’s family.”
(K Badar is a multimedia journalist and writer based in New Delhi, India.)