TL/DR: Don’t text tips on how parents can improve their support. BE the support.
It’s been a while since I’ve written on this blog, archiving my own personal experiences.
But I’m back because I have to say something. There’s a breakup that needs to happen. I’ve been trying for years to make it work, but the texts are getting worse and now that we’re sheltered and I can’t escape the emails and it’s all over my social media feed, I either need to hide or give in to the pressure. I’m not talking about my partner – we’re solid. I’m talking about the well-meaning posts and tips and tricks for parents to do better, be creative, make art, all the things they’re supposed to do all the time for all time.
I’m talking about the well-meaning posts and tips and tricks and text messages from well-meaning friends and family for parents to do better, be creative, make art, all the things they’re supposed to do all the time for all time.
Here’s the tea: joke’s on you because I have extensive experience with almost all of the elements in play right now, and I can conclusively say – it’s not the cure.
For the past five years, I have:
- 24/7 solo cared for my children
- Homeschooled x2
- Worked full time job from home while the children were at home 24/7
- Actively pursued my artistic passion with all the ambition and advocacy at my finger tips
- Zoomed into all the streamed events
- Took the classes online
- Did the self-tapes
- Organized the rhythm of a household, travel, and developed a service organization.
- Paid more on childcare than I make and worked extra hours to make up for it
- Blah blahblahblahallthethiiinggssssomgnow there’s a global virus?! Get me off this train.
And yet. And yetyetyetyeytetyetyetyetyeyteyesufgskjgsdfnv. It still doesn’t bring the results everyone is telling you it should. I’ve done all the things. For years. I can tell you. It doesn’t. It. Does. N’T. It doesn’t work because the system doesn’t. It just barely sustains only sometimes. If you’re a parent and you’re looking at this list and your sheltering to-do list and thinking, “It’s not sustainable; it just feels like failure all the time. It doesn’t work.” That’s because: you’re right. I have done all the things you’re supposed to do for years, and the only time it ever works is when the people and systems who adage “It takes a village” actually become that village. It only works when you as the parent are not the only one who makes it work.
So, for all the caregivers out there, repeat after me and use liberally with all current pressure points in your life to improve your caregiving style right now and beyond this crisis on why this is hard: “It’s not me. It’s you.” And watch this amazing “anti-session” on calling out that pressure and this anti-session, too on what you don’t have to accomplish. REBEL!
Let’s be real, though. I’m preaching to the choir. Even in the clearest terms, we can still be misunderstood. I have years of experience writing and speaking on the topic, (ta-da!) and still – stilllllll – when I share vulnerably about the challenges, sometimes people think the hard part of taking care of the kids is the kids.
It’s almost as if the adults listening don’t understand their complicity in the system, that having the free hands to text parents “You’ve got your hands full!” without using those hand to help is part of the added stress that makes this time so heavy?
Today, I tried to share some of my experiences on a community webinar with incredible, beautiful fellow leaders who have advocated for access in various ways for years. It was about inspiration, upholding the work that’s been done, and creating community around it. They are amazing colleagues. And, at one point, I got emotional.
And yet. Already, listeners have attributed my tears to sheltering with kids. But. That’s not actually where it happened.
To the non-caregivers (who I really, really hope were listening), it’s important to note I had done yoga to the idea of my kids walking into the meeting. Embraced it. A win for the day. So that wasn’t it. Tracking where the break happened, where my rage bubbled over and my tears wouldn’t stay inside my head, was in talking about international women’s month last year and the lie it all is. In 2019, I spent the most money on childcare in the month of March, attending events and meetings on gender parity and parent support. The irony is not only painful, it put my personal finances into the red. I spent three months at work catching up with the inequity of trying to join the fight for equity. It was exhausting. This year, I didn’t attend anything at all.
I’ve noticed there are three phases of non-caregiver response to caregiver needs:
Phase 1: Denial – “Maybe you just need rest or to make time for yourself. Self-care. Maybe you should cut back on work. Maybe art isn’t your passion anymore. What does this have to do with me?”
Phase 2: Instruction – “Maybe if you tried to get up earlier. Time management. Maybe you should get a babysitter. Maybe you should get a better job to afford a babysitter. Did you see this article on how to crisis-school for 6 hours and still get dinner out on time? Have you taught them physics yet? French? Teach them school while cooking when you’re on the phone with unemployment? But in French? Try this (one billionth) app?”
All these “maybes” miss the critical core. Maybe these suggestions are inconsequential without the foundational support that parents still lack. Maybe it’s not me, it’s you. Enter:
Phase 3 – Support – “What size diapers do you need? I’ll grab some and drop it on your porch. I sent you $20 venmo for groceries boost since you’re buying for 4 on unemployment right now. What time can I read a kids’ book to your kids on FaceTime so you don’t have to be the sole entertainment for 20 min out of 24 hours?” Here’s a support list for non-parents to support parents that you can work with. Get creative.
(If you’re wondering here what the devil someone else having kids has to do with your responsibility, we have a lot more to unpack in terms of social support and collaborative help and rising in circles, but that’s for another blog and another bandwidth. Just check this out to start, and we’ll loop back.)
And after the crisis: for the love of God, do NOT create a gender parity event without childcare or kid-friendly spaces. Just don’t. If you don’t have the budget or space for it, you don’t have the budget for inclusion – and maybe this isn’t the game for you. #peace
Before you text the parents you know, sending links for solutions, great ideas, school help, and home office tips – check in with yourself. What can you send them that is actual support and not tips on how they can continue to be the support system themselves.
Just stop. Delete the text. I’ll give you a new one to send in a bit…
I wasn’t crying in the meeting because zoom calls are hard with kids or that I have a problem with constant contact. That’s my life. I’m one of the weirdos who loves a lot of the chaos – I’m on year six and will carry on. My tears of frustration come from seeing this crisis used as an excuse to increase pressure on parents, when it should have the opposite effect. It should teach us that not only does it take a village, we are either part of that village or we are setting it on fire. It should teach us that there are better ways to support parents from here on out. Instead of advising how a parent can improve the way they support their family, be the support for the parent. Next time you want to send tips and tricks to a parent in shelter, text yourself tips and tricks on how to support that family better. The quickest way a parent can find support in this crisis? It’s you.
Oh man, this hit me. For a few reasons.
I appreciate your honesty. It’s a hard trail to blaze.
It helps me to consider more how to be a good friend to moms.
I’m sorry you haven’t had the support you need. I know this was prob mainly about other moms, but I am sure it applies to you as well. What you’ve done with these events has cost you a lot.
I just want you to know that in my last text to you, when I checked in on you guys, I genuinely wanted to know if you’re okay and if I can support you with anything.
I can relate to so much of this in my own way. With illness the anger, loss, need, isolation and well meaning advice, but lack of connection and support – it can be crushing. It has been crushing.
So, I’m thankful for the chance to learn to empathize with a group of people dealing with something I’m not. Because that’s how we grow in compassion and less self-involvement.
So, would it help for me to read on FaceTime to your kids? Or listen to them tell me stories, like Ellery used to like to do?
Fight on! Isabel