As a pandemic keeps many of us homebound, there's a lot of advice. From the family and friends you're FaceTiming in a desperate attempt to remain connected to the outside world, to your meme-sharing acquaintances on social media, to every online retailer with access to your email address ("What the hell is SpatulaWarehouse.org and why do I need to know about their COVID-19 response?"), everyone, it seems, has an opinion on what you should be doing in These Unprecedented Times. I have but one piece of advice: parents, ignore advice from people without children. You know what I'm talking about.
Make a schedule so you don't get bored. Nein!
8 easy/fancy meals you can craft as a newly hatched baker/chef. Non!
Now is the time to brush off that hobby/novel/Bowflex machine. Nee!
There should be advice for people who are lonely and have hours on end to fill (people without children), and advice for people with toddlers vaulting over their head (you and me), who haven't known personal space since March 12. These streams of advice should never mix.
Your friend urging you to start every morning with 20 minutes of meditation? Your brother suggesting yoga on your lunchbreak? Your therapist urging you to lean into your sadness for an after-dinner cry? They're not giving bad advice! But your friend doesn't wake up to the sound of a toddler demanding oatmeal at 6 a.m. Your brother doesn't understand that your 5-year-old hasn't been to the playground in three weeks and, in desperate times, your body in downward-facing dog looks sort of like a slide and they will try to climb you. Your therapist doesn't understand that while letting go and sobbing might be valuable and cathartic, so much of your long-term survival is dependent upon keeping your children from falling into that kind of despair. You have to lead by example. That in addition to carrying the weight of getting yourself through *waves arms frantically* all this — with the same responsibilities and fears as everyone else — you're responsible for the physical and emotional (and, quite possibly, academic) well-being of your children as well.
It's not a contest — and if it were it would be a super-crappy contest where, actually, everyone loses.
That's not to say that child-free people don't feel an acute and even painful responsibility to their friends, families, colleagues, and communities right now. Lots of people are feeling the pressure of worrying about their nurse boyfriend or asthmatic cousin or "OH MY GOD DID MY FATHER JUST POST A PICTURE OF HIM AND HIS FRIENDS GOLFING? ARE YOU KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?!?!" But coping with how to handle things outside of your control is different from actively and constantly navigating the things that are supposed to be in your control. It's not a contest — and if it were it would be a super-crappy contest where, actually, everyone loses. Everybody is entitled to their own, valid pain. But both the pain and the remedies to that pain are unique.
A key phrase throughout this pandemic has been "We're all in this together." And it's true — getting through this coronavirus outbreak will require universal participation in social distancing and hygiene practices. If you want to take it in a darker direction, we're all in this together because we're all at risk — unlike many of our social ills, COVID-19 is not beholden to the power of money, sex, gender, zip code, or race. It is as indifferent as it is devastating.
But the idea of the pandemic as a shared experience, in other respects, only goes so far. A grocery store or hospital worker is facing very different problems from someone working from home. A person living by themselves confronts challenges a family of five sheltering together will never understand. And a parent juggling their emotions on top of their jobs/families/health/etc. is not in a position to use this time to "really focus on themselves." We know you mean well, but that's just not going to happen right now.
So, fellow parents, take comfort in your friends, but maybe don't feel obliged to take their advice. Because the truth is that no one knows WTF they're doing right now: they're just doing what they need to in order to get by. Whatever you figure out? It's good and it's enough. We'll all see each other on the other side of this thing.