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The secret to parenting during a pandemic

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Before I became a parent, I had decided that I would not be a short order-cook, catering to everyone’s whims and desires. I would only prepare one meal for dinner — I had no time for picky eaters.

As a mom of three children, I took pride in making one meal — until my youngest child was diagnosed with severe food allergies. At the time, our family was vegetarian and my daughter’s allergies included eggs, beans, and all nuts. How the hell was I supposed to prepare one vegetarian meal—and provide protein—to my family without using eggs, beans, or nuts? It felt as if the Universe was playing a bad joke on me and I was not laughing.

Frustrated, I knew I had to pivot. I started making separate meals for my daughter. I added fish into our diet so we could occasionally all be on the same meal plan. It was not what I had intended and yet, it became my new reality. I quickly came to realize that I would be a much more effective parent if I learned to adapt, to be flexible when I found myself in uncharted territory.

For the millions of Americans parents who did not anticipate homeschooling their children, let alone being quarantined with them for the foreseeable future, I humbly offer the same invitation: It’s time to pivot.

But how you ask? How can I possibly do that? I have work to do. I am now teleconferencing. I need my space. I need my morning coffee in silence. I don’t have time to make three meals a day. And forget about exercise, meditation, or self-care. There is just no way to get it all done.

That is true. There is no way to get it all done So what does one do in these trying uncertain times?

We pivot and find solutions. As Jews, we are no strangers to that. Throughout Jewish history we have had to adapt; whether it was being told that we were not going straight into the Land of Israel after the Exodus, rather we would wander in the desert for forty years, or the countless exiles that forced us to leave our homes, bringing with us only what we could carry. The notion of pivoting and finding solutions is part of our DNA. Let’s tap into that knowledge and find new ways of parenting during this pandemic. While much is out of our external control, we do have the ability to control our internal thoughts and beliefs.

Here are a few ideas to help get you started:

1) Put your oxygen mask on first: For many parents, putting their children’s needs and desires comes first. In many cases, this may be necessary; however, it is crucial to remember what they tell us on airplanes, “If you are traveling with a child, please make sure to place your oxygen mask on first.” The message is profound—you must take care of yourself first before you take care of others. To some, this may sound selfish but I’d argue just the opposite. It is the way in which you will ultimately be able to better take care of others. Find out what you brings you joy, gives you energy, enlivens your soul—and do it. Strive for at least 30 minutes of daily “you” time.

2) Focus on your blessings: It is very easy to get caught up in negativity and fear. With so much information available to us 24/7, we can easily be sucked into the pandemonium of this pandemic. Instead of feeling like you have to be on top of the latest news, stop scrolling and reading every article that comes your way and instead focus on what you do have and what is working in your life. Perhaps you can count your blessings with your children by creating a “Blessings Wall “in your home. Each family member can write the date on the top of a post-it note and what their blessing of the day is, then stick it to the wall.

3) Reach out to a friend: Humans were not made to be socially isolated. We are social creatures and we need one another. Being stuck at home is incredibly challenging. To the best of your ability, carve out time to connect with your friends either through phone calls or FaceTime. The same is true for your kids. Maybe plan some time each day for “Social-Connect Time” where adults and kids alike sit around the table writing to respective friends or drawing pictures that can be texted or snail-mailed to your social circles.

4) Create healthy boundaries: Now that everyone is sharing the same space, creating boundaries is even more important. Taking “alone time” is crucial—for every family member. What can you do to help your child occupy themselves? Perhaps hold a family meeting to discuss what this might look like? For one hour a day (or 20 minute segments) each person gets to do what they want in their own space. Helping kids generate a list in advance may help to stave off the “But I don’t know what to do!”

5) Understand that your words matter. Pause and think before you speak: All of us are under stress, enormous stress. When we go into stress mode, we often become short-tempered and our words become uncensored. When you feel yourself in that “I’m about to explode” mode, take a deep breath, count to twenty; then, look deep into your child’s eyes and try to speak from a place of compassion. We’re all going a bit stir-crazy.

These times are unprecedented and they will eventually pass — but what will remain are the memories that we are now creating with our families. So, let’s all do our best to become solution-oriented parents who are able to pivot.

Amy Grossblatt Pessah is a rabbi, author, and mom. Her new book, Parenting on a Prayer: Ancient Jewish Secrets for Raising Modern Children (Ben Yehuda Press, March 2020) is available at Ben Yehuda Press, Bookshop, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

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