Pandemic Parenting

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Dear Jenny: I Don't Want To Go Back To Our Old Way

I've gotten used to all this quality time.

Dear Jenny

Our resident advice-giver-outer Jenny True provides shouty, full-hearted answers to your niggling questions about pregnancy and parenthood in her column Dear Jenny. Warning: This is not a baby-and-me singalong, this is about yelling into the cosmos and actually hearing something back, sometimes in the form of an all-caps swear. Jenny isn't an ~expert~, but she has a lot of experience being outraged on your behalf. To submit your questions to Jenny, email

Dear Jenny,

My family, like many families, has been sheltering in place since March. My 9-year-old just started another semester of distance learning, and my partner and I are keeping our twin 4-year-olds out of preschool because the kids there aren't required to wear masks. I really can't tell you how we're taking care of three kids and working two jobs, all in a three-bedroom apartment! I'm sure the answer is not very well!

But I can't deny that, for all the meltdowns and messed-up sleep schedules and worries about academic slide and kids socializing and mental health, I've spent more quality time with my kids these last five months than I have since they were born. (I've done plenty of yelling, too!) My partner and I no longer commute, so I am more environmentally responsible (plus I'm not angry when I walk into work in the morning). We've spent more time talking to our families over WeChat and FaceTime.

In so many ways, I don't think things were working before the pandemic. I've decided that when there's finally a vaccine or a cure, I don't want to go back to our old way. How do I build a new way of living without moving to a different country?


Silver Lining

Dear Silver Lining,

After the first month of the quarantine, I taped two large pieces of paper to our living room wall: "What We Don't Like About the Quarantine" and "What We Like About the Quarantine."

What we didn't like was (and is) pretty hard to argue with: fear of getting infected; anxiety about an unknown future; kids are here, but we can't spend the time with them we want; limited outdoor time; fear about finances; online learning (my stepdaughter); worry about loved ones getting sick; not sure when we can see family again; worry about communities of color; monotony/exhaustion/depression.

But the other list — "What We Like About the Quarantine" — was, oddly, longer: time together; no commute (neither my partner nor I is an essential worker); few errands; less waste; better air quality (this was in the early days in California, before wildfire season); more observation of birds; FaceTiming with friends and playing Roblox (my stepdaughter again); more TV time (for me and my partner); fewer decisions to make; less time grocery shopping; art projects with the kids; eating breakfast when I'm hungry instead of when it fits into my schedule; not getting sick — no colds, flus, or stomach bugs; home projects; sense of being in something together with everyone.

Looking at the lists six months in, I'm reminded of a few things.

At the beginning of the shelter-in-place orders, when most people were able to stop driving and the air quality cleared up, I had the crazy belief that we could reverse climate change. When Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were killed by police and a whole bunch of people joined the struggle, I had the crazy belief that real change for Black lives would come.

In other words, I had hope.

Last year I wrote a piece for Romper about how to stay sober-ish during the holidays. What I learned from the experts was that change — real, lasting change — comes not only from hope but from action and practice. If you want more quality time with your family, for example, or to improve your relationship with the environment, or to see justice and peace for all people, you must take small, regular steps toward that goal — and you have to make those steps a habit.

You don't want to go back to the old way. But to keep that from happening, you need a plan.

You're starting from a good place, Silver Lining: You don't want to go back to the old way. But to keep that from happening, you need a plan.

Spend some time visualizing your preferred outcomes — for example, close your eyes and imagine reading a book with your kids, talking to the grandparents on your phone, Black leadership in Congress, industry, and schools.

Then, get out a pen.

What does more time with your family look like? What stood in the way before? What can't be adjusted in your life — but what can be, and, most importantly, how can it be? Where can you schedule in more family time so it's part of your habit, not an add-on that takes special energy or resources?

The environmental piece can be approached in the same way. Say you want to reduce your carbon output. Does that mean putting only one package of meat in the cart per grocery run? Does the kind of work you do allow for any telecommuting so you drive less? Do you live in a neighborhood that allows you to walk or bike to the pharmacy or your job or your kids' school or day care? Do you have room in your home, and the financial means, to buy in bulk? Can you make changes to your lifestyle so they're the easier choice, or so doing them makes you feel good enough to do them repeatedly? (Many Americans cannot make these changes easily; Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner works with cities to create infrastructure that makes these choices easy, and that improves health outcomes.)

You can take this approach to your anti-racism work, too. Do you talk to your kids about race? If not, what opportunities exist right now, today, to bring it up (the media they're consuming, the news, their schools, your friends, family members, and community)? If you talk about race, how can you deepen the conversation and turn it into action? What are your skills, resources, connections, and arenas of influence, and how can you use them to support local, and national, anti-racism efforts? If you have the means to donate money, which Black-led organizations that directly impact Black people can you support?

If you have a partner, make sure you're creating these changes together so you can encourage each other — and hold each other accountable. And don't forget to give yourself (or each other!) a reward for meeting your goals — and forgive yourself when you don't. We all respond to positive reinforcement better than negative.


<3 Jenny

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