Pandemic parenting in COVID carnage
Last year mothers and fathers went through online courses, housework, sometimes illness. This year they are talking to their children about death and an illness they are not sure who will get them next
Suneeta Verma, whose husband has died of COVID, is focused on making ends meet so she can raise her six-year-old daughter to be better than working in other people’s homes for little money.
Sneha Mitra * is looking for a counselor for her four-year-old son. The family lost two elderly relatives, and he fell into their laps every day. He expresses his grief the way children his age would, with anger, distraction and attachment to his mother, who was also in COVID quarantine.
Jatin Singh faces his own mortality, and although he has mechanisms in place to fight the virus head-on, he worries and wonders aloud if he should adopt a COVID orphan.
For many, parenting in 2020 was about experimenting with online classes, keeping kids busy with board games so they wouldn’t become screen addicts, and explaining the severity of the pandemic. Free Downloadable Books Like Piperpotamus Learns About Coronavirus & Kids, Vaayu & Corona: Who Wins The Battles? helped. Some children experienced second-hand stress when parents were fired from work or there were marital disputes.
In 2021, many children lost loved ones or are isolated due to sick parents. “In the past year, children have experienced trauma as witnesses. This year it is the immediacy of facing a traumatic experience, ”says Dr. Amit Sen, who runs Children First, a mental health service for children and adolescents in Delhi.
He speaks of his current practical experience, where isolation or hospitalization of a parent has frightened children. The emotional turmoil can range from lightheadedness, poor eating or sleeping, despair, panic attacks, to anxiety and depression, to self harm and substance abuse, especially when children are lacking support or understanding. Some who do this are better able to focus their energies on taking responsibility for providing assistance.
“At times when families and communities are mutually supportive, it takes away some of the loneliness and despair children may experience,” he says. It’s like a group hug without touch.
Singh’s family have been relatively lucky – they have not seen death or suffering up close. And while he’s joking that he didn’t do anything but provide his 14 year old son with food, water, clothes, and the internet, he’s also introduced him to concepts that give the less privileged. “I also try to teach him what bad governance actually means,” he says.
For parents with younger children, this meant more age-specific communication. Gaurav Chintamani’s son Ishaan, who was almost seven years old, sang REM’s “Everybody Hurts” for his table teacher who lost his mother – the family was close to her. Mr. Chintamani played guitar and posted a message on social media, a joint offer for a friendly family who is going through a difficult time.
At first he was reluctant to give his son the news of his death because he was afraid. “But we have never treated him less than a full family member,” he says, adding that it was his wife Priya who brought the news.
“With children, in my experience, it’s always better to be honest and break it down to something simple. Death doesn’t have to be complicated, ”she says. Because Ishaan was open to nature, it was easy for her to draw analogies from the life cycle of flowers and leaves, to remain open to questions, but to avoid news on television or on social media.
In fact, they’ve been sticking to their pre-pandemic routine of going to bed at 8 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m. Dr. Sen says this rhythm works like a scaffolding around which children can wrap their day, a security in uncertain times.
One point education
“Parents have become the only point of reference for their children,” says Vandana Nangia, who advises families with neurotypical and children with special needs. It recognizes the “strong emotional and psychological stress” of the parents themselves, who are in a “chronic state of stress and overexcitation” and have to take care of their own mental health.
To offer a window outside of her own residential complex in Gurugram, Shuchi Sinha encouraged her 12-year-old daughter to volunteer with an NGO to teach maths online from a Basti to students in grades 3 and 4. “She had to prepare the class and was intimidated by it at first. Later she made animations, stories, wrote a script. The children also lost weight. I saw it bloom through it. As a result, she has complained less and has become more responsible, ”she says.
Ms. Sinha’s fear is the next wave now – she is afraid it will come for the children. “It’s like standing in the way of an oncoming truck, but not being able to get out of the way.”
In an uncertain future, daily life can be about listening, working together, and negotiating. Mostly it is about the ability to share spaces, thoughts, even feelings with children without frightening them with the sometimes bloody details.
* Name changed for data protection reasons