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Exhaustion From Parenting During a Pandemic Is at an All-Time High
What’s your breaking point?
Aug 8 · 6 min read
I’m ready to eat my kid’s head too (Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash )
Everything with parenting is harder now. At any given moment, I feel like I’m losing my marbles. There isn’t one single incident that causes a meltdown; it’s a series of ongoing, mind-numbing events that make this pandemic a grueling endeavor for parents.
I’m sitting on the couch watching a movie with my kids. Yet another movie night, like we’ve done a million times since March. We’ve watched every movie available on Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix. Tonight we’re watching Penguins of Madagascar because I paid for this digital rental and dammit, we’re going to watch it twice during the 48 hour Amazon rental window.
My husband is in another room playing online Dungeons & Dragons. I forced him because I couldn’t handle being his only social outlet. Socialization is a luxury these days. I’m on my own tonight with the kids.
I flop on the couch, worn out from a day of nothing fun or eventful. It’s month 5 of the pandemic; using this extra time indoors to create meaningful memories got old by month 2. Almost immediately my daughter asks for popcorn.
I’d rather eat glass than get up and make popcorn. I consider teaching her and then remember that she can’t reach the microwave and the popcorn topping she likes creates even more cleanup work for me later. Like everything with parenting, it’s a trade-off between teaching your children independence vs. how much more work do you want as a result?
Given how much I’m at home, I’m already doing plenty of work. I’m a pro at mentally calculating the extra effort an activity costs compared to the long-term gain from a teachable moment. Risk breaking glassware so they’ll eventually empty the dishwasher on their own? Worth it. Teach them to make popcorn, greasy fake butter leaking out of the bag, flavor powder doused everywhere that I’ll have to clean up because they can’t clean worth crap? Not worth it.
I drag my exhausted and tired self to the kitchen to make popcorn with the enthusiasm of a martyr strapping a bomb to their chest.
I’m typing this draft on my cell phone while putting my son to sleep. It’s 10:45 pm on Saturday. Pre-pandemic, Saturdays were already stressful. With two working parents, weekends crammed 7 days of parenting into 48 hours. By Sunday night, I looked forward to work so I could relax.
In this new era, my home is my work, childcare facility, and elementary school. There is no break in the schedule day-to-day. Everything blurs into one.
As I sit here with my son dozing off, I’m deciding what to do with all this free time I now have, at almost 11 pm. Should I watch some TV? Read a book? Put away my laundry? Tackle the clothing pile that needs sewing repair? Plan my grocery run? Unload my thoughts and write an article for Medium?
Going to sleep seems like a waste of my tiny sliver of personal time. I’m stuck at home and yet, I have less time for anything enjoyable.
Mealtime is killing me.
While it’s easier to buy groceries, not everything is in stock and I’m social distancing. I wish I could take my kids grocery shopping to do something different but they’re the worst with masks.
Every meal begins with what should we make for dinner. My kids only eat 5 things, I’m not sure why it’s stressful. Occasionally, we get meals delivered but it seems pointless; we didn't eat in restaurants so that my kids could eat nuggets. We ate out because it was an experience. Since we’re staying in, ordering food seems wasteful. And yet, we do it, because it’s one less thing to deal with some days.
Today I made a surprisingly tasty “hidden fruits and vegetables” cake that my son agreed to try. Parenting guilt made me do it since my kids eat one vegetable a week. It took me an hour and a half to make. It took him 20 seconds to take a bite and insist he didn't like it.
That sums up parenting during pseudo-quarantine right now: you can put forth your best efforts but it’s all one big crapshoot.
I want to use this time to teach my kids how to do more chores. All this eating at home has made my house a disaster. Teaching these life skills is another brick on my already-heavy mental load. Am I glad they’re learning to do their laundry? Of course, it’ll pay off in three years when they can carry a laundry basket and reach the buttons. But when I add every week during laundry time an extra 30 minutes to what is already a 20-minute task, it further reduces the time I have when multiplied by everything else each day. The loss of efficiency is wearing on me.
I took for granted how going out made everything easier, despite it feeling like work. Everything needed snacks, a change of clothes, bottles of water, sunblock, the kitchen sink. I would kill for that now. I didn't realize how going to playdates, even when I supervised, provided time for my kids to do their own thing while I squeezed in social time with other parents. The next time we can attend a birthday party (none of this Zoom or drive-by party nonsense), I’ll be so ecstatic that I’ll stick around and clean up after.
At this point, cleaning someone else’s house would be a Disney-level of excitement.
I should have a takeaway here. I don’t have a solution for this extra mental and physical load; I’m busy singing Eye of the Tiger as I prepare for the new, 100% full-time virtual school year.
Instead, I have action items to survive the rest of the summer:
Create a Fun Things We’ll Do When This Is Over list with my kids. We all need a reminder this is temporary. I don’t know when we’ll go to the San Diego Zoo but if I put it on a list, it makes it tangible.
Commit to making only one new recipe a week, max. It adds to my stress levels when my kids inevitably don’t eat it but my mom guilt kicks in when I don’t try. One new recipe a week is manageable.
Make the school-at-home areas of my house fun. Last school year was a hodgepodge of throwing tables together to survive. Now we can make it fun and cute. If I have to hear my kids crying over homework, at least it will be in an aesthetically pleasing environment. Plus, decorating temporarily cures my boredom.
Send physical cards to my friends. When this went down, I sent a small handful of friends greeting cards saying, “Coronavirus sucks but hopefully this card will brighten your day”. They texted to thank me because they’re also in the same boring cycle of social distancing and needed the pick-me-up. It’s fun for me to hand write them and it feels like a little more effort than the usual texts. A bonus that having my kids do the same for their friends is an activity outside of electronics.
I hired a teenager to act as a mother’s helper two days a week until school starts. She’s good with minimizing socialization and I need the chance to work without feeling guilty that the television is my kids’ babysitter. The mother’s helper will earn childcare experience, I’ll get a reprieve, my kids get supervised playtime sans electronics, and my sanity is (mildly) restored.
To all you parents out there getting your social distancing on: I see you. Well, I don’t see you because we’re all indoors, but I metaphorically see you. I feel your struggle. When this is all over we can raise an alcohol-laden glass as a toast to surviving parenting during a worldwide pandemic.