Kids on the screens a lot these days? Staying up later? Sleeping in more? Wearing pajamas all day and all night? Hello and welcome to Pandemic Parenting, the gameshow where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.
If it sounds as though I’m cracking a bit, it’s because I just had to push “pause” on working for a while to clean up water that had been spilled under my bed—and all over some books and papers and a whole army of dust bunnies. Wet dust on carpet is... really something.
Would I normally allow my nine-year-old son to play computer games on my bed while eating chips and stashing a full cup of water on the floor next to him? No, I wouldn’t; that sounds like a mess waiting to happen! But these times, they call for a shift in priorities. Normal family rules no longer apply here because these are not normal times. If you’re worrying about how you systematically broke every screen time rule you ever put in place by the end of Week One in Isolation, you can go ahead and stop. It’s not that you’re breaking the rules; you are, for now, living by Pandemic Rules.
We know that life will return to something resembling normalcy at some point. And when that blessed time arrives, our kids will probably expect that playing Minecraft for four straight hours a day is still an acceptable thing to do. But we can help rein in their expectations by talking with them now about the Pandemic Rules.
Think of Pandemic rules like Holiday Rules. Not that the pandemic is itself like a holiday—but the experience of living inside it resembles the way the flow of our days changes drastically (and temporarily) while we’re on holidays. When the holiday’s over, though, the way we eat, sleep and entertain ourselves snaps back to normal overnight.
Every family’s pandemic rules are going to look different based on the ages of your kids, their temperaments, their individual needs and your priorities. Maybe you’re a strict all-meals-and-snacks-are-eaten-at-the-kitchen-table kind of family, but right now said kitchen table is a makeshift office, so whatever, have your snacks on the couch. Once the pandemic is over and the office supplies have been returned to the actual office, it’s back to the table with those pretzels.
Maybe you’ve decided they can have unlimited screen time on the weekends—as long as they finish their chores and either play outside or do something physical for a certain amount of time. That’s fine! It’s pandemic parenting!
If your kids are old enough, you might even want to get their input on the Pandemic Rules—after a discussion about their temporary nature—to increase buy-in. I found my son is quite willing to stick to an academic routine during the week—if I sprinkle in a couple of 30-minute breaks during which he can do whatever he wants (watch TV). I also used to really limit how much gum he chewed in a given week, but now he’s allowed to keep and chew gum in his room basically whenever he wants. Why? I don’t know; because it makes him happy and I’ve got bigger things to worry about right now.
Maybe you’re saying “yes” to chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese for dinner more often or you’re letting them stay up a little later or leave their toys out all over the floor. I’m not advocating that you create a bunch of bad habits just for the hell of it, but all those good habits you worked so hard to cultivate and uphold might not pair so nicely with a pandemic. Adjustments might need to be made for the benefit of everyone’s mental health.
Once this is past us—when the kids inevitably melt down over or push back against the sudden snap back to Regular Rules—repeat this phrase as needed: Those were Pandemic Rules, honey. Life is back to normal now, and all the normal rules apply.