Parenting During COVID: My Advice Is That I Have No Advice

I subscribe to a few different newsletters and have appreciated seeing mainstream organizational responses, especially to parents, who have now become stay-at-home parents, homeschool teachers, and remote employees, all wrapped into one body, all in a matter of weeks. It is not an easy situation to navigate for anyone - parents and children alike.

Reflecting back on the past few months, I would say Jackie in March was in adrenaline mode, Jackie in April was in end of her tether mode, Jackie in May is in proactive self-care mode.

But what does self-care look like? What IS self-care? It is such a buzz topic and the truth is: self-care is whatever TF works for you and your situation, hence the title of this blog post. The only "advice" I can offer is in the form of a list of what has and has NOT worked for me in terms of parenting during COVID. And this list only covers three main topics: (1) avoiding shame, (2) tapping into your inner child, and (3) being tuned into your child's emotional needs.

Now keep in mind that I am a woman of color, 9-5 email marketer, 6-10ish mompreneur, and 24/7 single mom who coparents with my daughter's dad, so these reflections in the following list come from that perspective.

1. Try to not shame yourself

In the Philippines, there is something called hiya*. Loosely translated, hiya means shame. Fear of hiya is embedded in our culture and the fabric of our DNA. Fear of hiya governs much of our decision making. Fear of hiya makes us hard workers and tireless parents. Fear of hiya makes us hide things from the world that would bring shame to our families and our communities. Fear of hiya is what led to my mental health decline in 2017-2018. My friend Sam recently shared an article that BRILLIANTLY captures the essence of Filipino hiya and the danger of it during COVID.

The point is, try to stop HIYA-ing yourself, no matter what race or ethnicity you are. You are the loudest voice that will ever resonate in your own mind. So make an effort to quiet the shame and start saying things to yourself that instill patience and self-compassion. A lot of times, all this takes is a reframing of whatever shameful words have been ringing in your ears, e.g. "I am not doing enough for my child" versus "I am doing the best I can given the circumstances." Remember that you are parenting during multiple crises. COVID is just one of them. Adjusting to the new normal is another one.

As an aside, there is also something in the Philippines called pakikisama, which means going along with others even if doing so contradicts one's own desires* - but that's a topic for a different blog post. For the record, my pole dancing hobby is primarily a big middle finger to pakikisama.

2. Tap into your inner child and let that inner child play with your present-day child(ren)

Lena and I have been doing A LOT of art and unstructured playtime during quarantine. She has shown a love for painting since she was 2 years old so naturally when shelter-in-place took effect, I made sure to stock up on paint supplies. Regarding the unstructured playtime, just check out the 1st Birthday Bash I threw for her stuffed wolf named Wolfy last Friday night and you'll understand what I mean. Lol. It got WILD.

Now having shared all this, I want to address something that has been irking me. I have seen many posts (on social media especially) regarding creative outlets during COVID. While I understand people's desires to nudge folks to "monetize their creativity" and/or "take advantage of this time", I caution those same people to be mindful of the delicate line there is between encouraging others to love themselves and express it artistically versus HIYA-ing them to be like "the rest of us" who are using this time to either catapult or create a brave new entrepreneurial venture.

I will be as diplomatic as possible and say that if you are reading this and don't feel bad about being someone in the latter group, I think you lack the empathy and compassion that you are ironically touting to your followers you possess. Shame can be very subtle. Question whether you are leveraging it to encourage people to be creative but concurrently shaming them and making them feel bad about their situation. If you are, I can assure you that approach will not work. Right now human beings need an abundance of compassion and delicate love, not shame and tough love.

For me, I am finding this abundance of love and compassion through the eyes of my daughter. As difficult as these times have been, she has been my beacon of light and forced me to consult my inner child during COVID's darkest moments. I always tell people Lena is like a mirror into myself. My late maternal grandmother, Lena Remigio, who is my daughter's namesake, used to always say children are a gift from God and they send messages from the heavens. I am not nearly as religious as my grandmother was but I think of her words whenever I am in need of prayer. Lena has most certainly sent me messages from a higher power during my most critical times of need.

3. Don't try to be there for your children all the time, just be there for them when they really need you

Lena is a 4.5 year old, sassy, only child who shuttles between two different homes on a weekly basis (we are on 2/2/3 coparenting schedule which I am a huge fan of). She loves her friends and family. She is needy 60% of the day. She is independent the other 40%. She is challenging. She is funny. She is loving. She loves animals and she loves space. I adore this age but it is also VERY challenging.

I had a few teary-eyed breakdowns in April when I was trying to balance being a present single mother to her while also balancing my workload. Lots of tears. Lots of yelling on my part, which I apologized to her for. Lots of hiding in my closet when she literally would not leave me alone. You name it, I did it. We live in a pretty small condo and it's not the easiest layout to have good boundaries. We are pretty much living like college roommates. Lol.

All this to say, I have stopped trying to be there for her EVERY moment and instead, just try to make sure that I am there for her when she really needs me. When I can tell she is missing her grandparents and friends and I overhear her telling her stuffed wolf that soon "coronavirus will be over." I hear that and it's a cue for me to stop whatever TF I'm doing and spend 5-10 minutes asking her what's going on with her and Wolfy. When she is repeatedly telling me to play with her and instead of an ask, it's turning into somewhat of a demand, I take that as a signal that she is reaching the end of her independent play tether.  

Now the moments of her true independence and glory, I let her bask in those. Just check out this genius innovation of hers from last month. It made my mother cringe but it made me laugh. Lena is so much like me in her demeanor, it's crazy to see manifest. Like mother, like daughter has never been a truer statement to me than it is now.

In close, every parenting relationship is different. Every child is different. So again, I encourage all parents no matter what situation you are in to just DO WHAT WORKS. You know your child better than any blogger or newsletter writer. Lead with love as often as possible because at the end of the day, that's all children need. And love doesn't always look pretty - but a child always knows when it's real.

* Filipino American Culture and Family: Guidelines for Practitioners by Pauline Agbayani-Siewert

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