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The parents are not all right

Everyone is grieving and struggling right now. When I'm not pulling my hair out, I'm trying to be grateful that I am with my family, they are healthy and safe, and I am not enduring this period in total isolation. But this pandemic is highlighting all that is wrong with our systems set up to support families.

the parents are not all right

"I just want to cry," I told my wife on Friday morning.

I had just gotten off a work call and my brain was ticking through follow-up items, adding to a long list of untouched to-dos. My wife, meanwhile, was multitasking an onslaught of work questions while also trying to manage "homeschool" time with our son—but he refused to participate. Instead, he huddled in an increasingly secure couch fort, refusing to do anything—color, read, go outside, talk to his teacher—besides sit in silence in the dark or watch his iPad. (Today, he opted for sitting in silence in the dark).

"Are we permanently ruining and psychologically damaging him?" my wife pleaded with me.

We both felt guilty for the work we were not doing—and aching for the way our son was struggling and needed us to be present and calm. But that's exactly what our current schedule prohibits, as we run back and forth between work calls, requests, and parenting. (Later, as I took over the homeschool shift and he stormed upstairs to cry, he told me it was because I had stopped smiling at him. Knife, meet heart.)

This is really hard.

What's amazing to me is how consistent this struggle is among every parent I talk to. The texts and social media posts bouncing around my circle all echo each other. We feel like we're failing at both parenting and working. Our kids don't just need us—they need more of us. Our kids are acting out, abandoning the routines they already had, dropping naps, sleeping less, doing less—except for jumping on top of their parents, which is happening much more. We're letting them watch far greater amounts of screen time than we ever thought we'd tolerate. Forget homeschooling success—most of us are struggling to get our kids to do the basics that would have accounted for a Saturday-morning routine before this pandemic.

The particular struggle reflects the most privileged perspective—that of two fully employed adults, sharing the burden, without fear of losing our jobs. Put another way, I'm not worried about how I'm going to feed my family—I'm just worried about getting my son to eat something besides a donut for two days straight.

But it's precisely the privilege of this vantage point that in a way makes it so stark. This is the best-case scenario?

Viruses, or in this case, global pandemics, expose and exacerbate the existing dynamics of a society—good and bad. They are like a fun-house mirror, grossly reflecting ourselves back to us. One of those dynamics is the burden we put on individual parents and families. We ask individuals to solve problems that are systemically created.

There's a subtle expectation that parents must find creative ways to handle this on their own. My inbox, social media feeds, and countertops are filled with creative ideas for educating and caring for your kids. Workbooks, games, creative projects and experiments, virtual yoga, virtual doodling, virtual zoo visits, virtual everything.

I honestly am too tired and stretched thin to read the suggestions, let alone try them. The few I have tried have been met with astounding and fierce rejection by my son.

I see these "helpful suggestions" alongside reminders to be gentle on ourselves. "Embrace imperfection!" "Lower your standards!" To be clear—my family's standards at this point are simply to get through the day, ideally with my son doing something besides watching TV, and us not utterly sabotaging our work.

But what's missing in all these cloistered parent texts and Facebook groups, all these helpful tips, is acknowledgement that this situation is fundamentally farcical. And individual solutions don't—and won't—work.

I thought by the fourth week of social distancing we would have all settled into the new norm a bit. But for my family (and others I've spoken to) that is not the case—things are harder than they were at the beginning. Harder because we've all accrued anxiety, stress, and sadness over this period. My to-do list is longer and further untouched; my guilt and anxiety for the ways my son is not being engaged enough is greater; his apparent sadness for his whole world shifting is intensified as he regularly acts out; and our collective exhaustion grows deeper.

This cannot be solved by tweaks to the schedule, helpful routines, and virtual activities. We have to collectively recognize that parents—and any caregivers right now—have less to give at work. A lot less. The assumptions seem to be that parents have "settled into a routine" and "are doing okay now."

To be clear, parents are not doing okay.

Everyone is grieving and struggling right now. When I'm not pulling my hair out, I'm trying to be grateful that I am with my family, they are healthy and safe, and I am not enduring this period in total isolation. But this pandemic is highlighting all that is wrong with our systems set up to support families.

It exposes everything from the lack of paid sick leave and parental leave to the fact that the school day ends at 3 pm when the typical workday goes several hours longer—yet aftercare is not universally available. And that says nothing of our need for universal health care, irrespective of employment. Parents pour endless energy into solving for systems that don't make sense and don't work.

It's always been a farce to think about caretaking and family responsibilities as "personal life decisions" that get handled outside of work hours. From getting kids to pediatrician appointments to the onslaught of sick days when cold season hits to school closures and parent-teacher conferences. In my son's first year of day care, I didn't work a full week for months. Yet we just hide it better and make it work. And again, "making it work" is only true for those with the most privilege among us.

This current situation is almost prophetically designed to showcase the farce of our societal approach to separating work and family lives. We are expected to work from home full time. And care for our children full time. And we cannot have anyone outside our immediate household help. It can't work and we all are suffering at the illusion that it does.

Our kids are losing out—on peace of mind, education, engagement, the socialization for which they are built.

Our employers are losing out, too. Whether the office policy is to expect full-time work or whether, like in my experience, we are offered a lot of flexibility—work is less good, there is less of it, and returns will be diminishing the longer this juggle goes on.

To be honest, I'm not sure what the solution is. But unless we step back and redefine where the burden of responsibility lies in providing care for our most vulnerable and reprioritize what work matters, we are going to emerge from this pandemic with some of our most powerful forces—parents and young people—not up for the task of rebuilding a better future.

And in the meantime, remember this: Parents are not okay.

[This post was originally published on Medium and has been republished with permission from the author.]

These new arrivals from the Motherly Shop are *so* good you need them all

Noodle and Boo, Mushie and Plan Toys—everything you need, mama.

Motherhood is hard work—finding great products and brands to make the journey easier doesn't have to be. Each week, we stock the Motherly Shop with brilliant new products we know you'll need and love from brands and makers that really care.

So, what's new this week?

Noodle and Boo: Holistic baby skin care

Through working with chemists who specialize in natural and holistic skin care, Noodle and Boo has developed exclusive formulas that nourish, replenish and protect especially delicate, eczema-prone and sensitive skin—including laundry detergent. Their signature, obsession-worthy scent—which is subtly sweet, pure and fresh—is the closest thing to bottling up "baby smell" we've ever found.

Mushie: Kids' dinnerware that actually looks great

We're totally crushing on Mushie's minimalist dinnerware for kids. Their innovative baby and toddler products leverage Swedish design to marry both form and function while putting safety front and center. Everything is created in soft, muted colors from BPA-free materials.

Plan Toys: Open-ended toys that last

Corralling and cleaning up the toys becomes less stressful when you bring home fewer, better, more beautiful ones. Plan Toys checks all the boxes. Made from re-purposed rubber wood, they're better for the planet as well.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Mushie silicone baby bib

Mushie silicone baby bib

There's no going back to cloth bibs after falling in love with this Swedish design. The pocket catches whatever misses their mouths and the BPA-free silicone is waterproof and easy to wipe down between uses.

$13

Mushie kids' square dinnerware plate set

Mushie kids' square dinnerware plate set

We're totally crushing on the soft muted colors that flow with our table aesthetics and the thoughtful high-sided design that helps babies and toddler who are learning to feed themselves.

$15

Noodle and Boo nursery essentials kit

Noodle and Boo nursery essentials kit

Stocked with everything a new mama needs to care for her little one's delicate skin, Noodle and Boo's nursery essentials gift set is the perfect way to create a holistic and natural skin care routine from day one.

$45

Plan Toys doctor set 

Plan Toys doctor set

Ideal for quiet time and imaginative role play, we love the gorgeous planet-friendly doctor kit from Plan Toys. The rubber wood stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, thermometer, syringe and reflex hammer pack up neat and tidy into the red cotton case should they need to dash off on a rescue mission.

$30

Noodle and Boo instant hand sanitizer

Noodle and Boo instant hand sanitizer

Since we're buying and using hand sanitizer by the truckload these days, we're thrilled Noodle and Boo has made one we can feel good about using on little ones who cram their hands in their mouths 24/7. Not only does it kill 99.9% of germs, but it also leaves hands moisturized as well.

$10

Plan Toys natural wooden blocks set

Plan Toys natural wooden blocks set

A toy box isn't complete without a set of blocks—and this set is one of our new favorites. The sustainable, re-purposed wood is eco-friendly, comes at a relatively affordable price point and are certain to last well beyond multiple kids, hand-me-downs and even generations.

$30

Noodle and Boo family fun pack cleansing set

Noodle and Boo family fun pack cleansing set

Because their products were developed for delicate and eczema-prone skin, Noodle and Boo's full line of skin care has become a favorite among those with sensitive skin of all ages. This set is the perfect way to pamper the entire family.

$48

Mushie kids' round dinnerware bowl set

Mushie kids' round dinnerware bowl set

No need to sacrifice safety or design with the sustainable dinnerware from Mushie. Their minimalist, functional dishes are perfect for serving up meals and snacks to your tablemates who might hurl it to the floor at any point. They're made in Denmark from BPA-free polypropylene plastic mamas can feel good about and dishwasher and microwave-safe as well.

$14

Plan Toys geo stacking blocks

Plan Toys geo stacking blocks

The best engaging, open-ended toys are the ones that are left out and available, inviting little (and big!) ones to play. These beautiful gem-like blocks make for addicting coffee table play for the entire family.

$30

Plan Toys wooden green dollhouse

Plan Toys wooden green dollhouse

Energy-efficient design isn't just for grown-up real estate. This green dollhouse includes a wind turbine, a solar cell panel, electric inverter, recycling bins, a rain barrel, a biofacade and a blind that can adjust the amount of sunlight and air circulation along with minimalist furniture we'd totally love to have in our own houses.

$250

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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