Ready or not…the ultimate parenting challenge is here! The COVID-19 Pandemic has created one of the biggest challenges many of us parents have ever faced. From online school at home to constant grocery shopping and meal prep to boredom and lack of activities for the children not to mention the continuous cycle of emotional meltdowns, parents are finding themselves faced with challenges they never imagined possible only a few weeks ago.
This article is part three of a four-part series on relational connection during the COVID-19 Pandemic. While part one gave an overview of the relational complications we are all experiencing, part two discussed ideas for how to overcome some of those stressors in the marriage relationship. In this post, I open up the conversation in regard to parenting issues during the pandemic and what I believe to be the only solution to successfully facing these issues.
The challenges are many and the emotions arising from those challenges are complicated. When under pressure, our tendency is to react with negative emotion instead of responding with love and kindness. The more pressure we are under, the less likely we are able to respond with the character that we would like.
Even before the current quarantine situation, it was not uncommon for a parent to make comments about how their children are driving them crazy or wearing them out. If it was true that parents before the coronavirus hit, how much truer is it now? Parents are weary emotionally and physically during this stay-at-home order. Because of the fatigue and accompanying negative emotions, many of us are not able to respond in positive ways to our children. This leads to parents feeling like failures and keeps families stuck in unhealthy thought and behavior patterns.
So what is the answer? Should we just clench our teeth and tighten our fists and just get through the COVID experience? Is the answer to just wait it out and hope things will be better on the other side of all of this time at home?
My answer is no! No, we don’t have to just wait until all of this is over to become better parents. The challenge is in front of us. Let’s take the challenge and grow greater capacity and maturity to love our children well. So, there it is. There is the answer. Let me say it more clearly:
A solution to successfully facing these present-day parenting issues is to grow in mature expression of love for our children.
Ruptures in the parent/child relationship are inevitable during this time at home. A rupture is a “misunderstanding, argument, [or] or other [breakdown] in communication.”1 Some ruptures are more severe than others. A mere disagreement or power struggle over how late to stay up or what food to eat is minor compared to more toxic ruptures involving words spoken or actions taken against one another in anger. As parents, we need to spend the time needed to “understand [our] own behavior and emotions and how [we] may have contributed to the rupture in order to initiate the repair process.”1 Repair is the process of reconnecting in order to “restore the collaborative, nurturing connection”1 paramount to the parent/child relationship. When we are able to repair, we know we have grown the capacity to love at a more mature level.
In a recent Thriving Today video series specifically designed for relational strategies during the current pandemic, Chris Coursey says, “the best gift [we} can give to others is to stay relational.”2 It is a definite challenge to stay relationally mature when negative emotions are flowing quickly and there is no end in sight. However, isn’t it our job as parents to model maturity to our children? We need to face this challenge and rise to the occasion. We need to give our children the gift of relationally mature responses.
For some parents, it is just a matter of practicing self-control. These parents will be able to make the decision to calm down their negative emotion and respond according to their true character. Others may feel out of control. Perhaps these parents experienced abuse in their own childhood home or perhaps they have experienced traumas or other difficulties in life that keep difficult emotion right on the surface. No matter how difficult the situation, it is vital that we all take responsibility as parents to get the help we need to grow into mature adults who handle conflict with dignity and offer love no matter the situation.
When a momentary lapse in mature response happens and a repair needs to take place, let your child know that you are sorry for your behavior, that you love them and that you want to restore the connection that was lost. Children of every age need to know that their parent(s) love them unconditionally. It is the right of a child to be loved just for existing.3When a parent feels a negative emotion toward their child, it doesn’t mean they ever stop loving your child even in that difficult moment. A child does not know this unless they are told by the parent. Many children grow up thinking their parent’s love is based on their behavior. Mature parental love is not this way. Mature parents offer love no matter the emotion in every circumstance…even the COVID-19 pandemic.
Below are the words to a sweet, little song about repairing the disconnect that happens in the parent/child relationship. These words give some understanding of what a child needs to hear and what a parent can say to help the child know they are loved and to repair any rupture that takes place.
Return to Joy Song
by Dawn C Bartels
I love you when you’re happy
I love you when you’re sad
I love you when you scream and shout
And get so very mad
I love you when you’re peaceful
And when you dance and play
My child, I love you all the time
All night and everyday.
So when you feel disgusted
Or hopeless in despair
When shameful thoughts remind you
Of what you can’t repair
Or when you’re feeling fearful
And want to run so far
Remember that I love you
Remember who you are.
I love you when I’m happy
I love you when I’m sad
I love you when I’m grumpy
And even when I’m mad
I love you when we’re peaceful
And when we dance and play
My child I love you all the time
Each night and every day
So when I’m looking trouble
Or hopeless in despair
When I am feeling tired
When you think I’m not fair
When I am looking fearful
(And) you wonder what to do
Remember we are family
Remember I love you
No matter what I’m feeling
I’m always loving you 4
So whether you sing or say the words of this song out loud to your child or you choose to put these concepts into your own words, it is so important that you let your child know how loved they are. Mature parental love offers love without condition and in spite of weakness and failure. It speaks kindly, acts with dignity and models true character. So rise to the occasion, Mom and Dad. I know you have it in you. You can do it!
- Siegel, D.J. and Hartzell, M. (2014). Parenting from the Inside Out. New York: Tarcherperigee
- Coursey, C. and Coursey, J. (2020, April 16). Staying Connected: With Others [Video}. Thriving Today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiI-EuFFVLM
- Friesen, J.G., Wilder, J.E., Beirling, A.M., Koepcke, E., Poole, M. (2013). Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You. East Peoria, IL: Shepherd’s House Inc.
- Bartels, Dawn C. (2008). Return to Joy Song [Song]. Thrive Level 2 Workshop Handbook.