We are starting week 8 of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order in Pennsylvania where I live. For many reasons, the past 7 weeks have been challenging for parents. Kids who are bored, trapped inside, missing their friends and their activities, and expected to attend virtual school are not going to be pleasant much of the time. Brace yourself, Moms and Dads, because I think your job is getting ready to become even harder than it has been. Here’s why: since the stay-at-home orders were put into place, parents could defer to a “higher authority” when placing coronavirus-related limits on their children. For example, when a teenaged girl asked if she and a few friends can pleaaaaaaase go to the park to shoot some hoops, dads could “blame” the governor when they said no. When a little boy said to his mom, “I know for a fact that Joey and Juan are having playdates,” she could tell him that the parents of those children are violating the governor’s orders.
Now, states are slowly starting to lift the COVID-19 restrictions. Many politicians are buckling to pressure to reopen despite clear warnings from the scientific community that it is too early to do so. Parents who believe the safest thing to do is to continue to avoid non-essential trips out of the house will no longer be able to rely on that higher authority; they will have to be the “bad guys” and ” the overprotective parents.”
For example, the governor of Georgia has allowed bowling alleys, gyms, and salons to open at reduced capacity. What is a parent, who believes going to any of these places poses an unnecessary health risk, to do if a child says, for example, “A few of my friends are going bowling. Please let me go.”?
Lucky for me on this client-filled day, I have written on this topic before. I strongly recommend that you read this post before you proceed. Here’s the message in a nutshell:
In parenting, safety takes precedence over everything. After safety comes your relationship with your child. After safety and your relationship comes everything else.
Based on the guidelines from the Safety, Relationship, Everything Else post, here is how the conversation about going to the bowling alley might go:
Teen: A few of my friends are going bowling. Can I please go?
Parent: I understand that you really want to go bowling with your friends. At this point, I believe that would still be too risky.
Teen: Jack’s and Melanie’s parents don’t think so. Why do you always have to be so overprotective?
Parent: You think I’m being overly cautious, and I totally get that. Still, I cannot allow you to do something that I believe poses a risk to your health and to the health of everyone in this house.
Teen: Why can’t you be like all the other parents? Even the governor says it’s okay to go bowling!
Parent: I know you are unhappy with my decision, and it’s not going to change. I will always put your safety above everything else, no matter how mad you get at me.
Teen (staring daggers):
Parent: What I will let you do is invite Jack and Melanie to hang out in the backyard as long as you agree to socially distance. I’ll buy you guys pizza.
Teen (still staring daggers):
Parent: Okay, your call. Let me know what you decide so I know whether to make dinner or order pizza.
Teen (still staring daggers): Whatever.
Remember, when you make a decision that puts safety above the relationship, it’s going to be tough. You are going to have an unhappy child, perhaps an outraged one. Compare that consequence to having a sick child or a sick family member exposed to COVID-19 by the child. Your ability to withstand your child’s anger will be strengthened if you have thought carefully about how to manage the loosening pandemic restrictions and if you are clear about what you believe to be the safest course of action. If you have a parenting partner, make sure you are on the same page so that a child’s attempts to play you against each other will fail.
Parents, the going is definitely going to get tougher. Be clear in your decisions, firm in your responses, and steadfast in your follow-through. You will get through this, and I sincerely hope your family gets through it without anyone getting sick. And while we’re on this topic, this is a really, really good time to let most of the “everything else” (for example, messy rooms, slipping grades, binge-watching, too much Animal Crossing) slide.