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The Intersection of Parenting and Mental Health During a Pandemic

When Shruti got the chance to relocate to the U.S. at the end of 2019, little did she know that her life-changing decision would be one of the hardest she ever made. Cradling a two-year-old and a teenage boy in tow, the recently-divorced IT professional shifted to Silicon Valley with the hopes of starting afresh in January of 2020. A few months down the line, everything came crashing down.

When the lockdown happened in the US, after the country faced devastation with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across states, Shruti had barely settled down. She had to get her elder son into a school and got a friend to help take care of her younger one as she geared up for office. Things did not go according to plan and suddenly Shruti found herself stuck at home with a teenager who had no friends in the new country and a youngster who needed constant attention as she tried to reshuffle her home and work-from-home environment. She was not the only one.

For 32-year-old single-mother Neha (name changed on request), life changed drastically when in March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world. Her younger son, Viraj, was 15 at the time and was studying in the 10th grade. Starting March 16, schools in Maryland were closed and the world descended into uncertainty. Her son was stuck at home, cut off from social life. The sight was uncanny and like us, everyone was unaware when the normalcy would return.

For Neha, seeing her son Viraj at home was especially difficult. Prior to the pandemic, Viraj used to meet his friends, played outdoor sports, and preferred engaging in co-curricular activities. Many like Viraj were forced to be in isolation indefinitely. Thankfully, Viraj had friends in the neighborhood, so despite having inhibitions, Lucia allowed him to play basketball outside with a few other youngsters from around her house.

There are thousands like Neha across the U.S. for whom the pandemic brought about fresh challenges. It has been particularly strenuous for single parents trying to work and care for their youngsters. Everyone has been more anxious and worried during the pandemic. Younger children may not have the words to describe their feelings but are more likely to act out their stress, anxiety, or fear through their behavior. This in turn can upset parents, particularly if they are already stressed.

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry finds that lone fathers and lone mothers have higher rates of mood disorders and SUDS (Subjective Unit of Distress Scale) than their married counterparts, which is indicative of the disadvantages of this sort of a family structure that might have negative consequences for all parents.

Let’s face it, the ever-shifting demands of parenting in a pandemic are leading to stress, anxiety, and depression, not to mention economic hardship for those forced to leave their jobs to care for their children.

According to the American Psychological Association, home in the age of COVID-19 has become the office, the classroom, and even the gym. Parents are struggling to not only keep their children occupied, but also to oversee their education as they continue to do their daily chores, finish office work and take care of other necessities in their family life. Daycares have shut down amidst the pandemic and parents or a single parent has to simultaneously take care of their youngsters while they are online fulfilling their professional obligations. 

Shruti, has since then, flown back to India with her children, thanks to one of the many government-sponsored flights bringing back ex-pats to their native countries. She looks back at those fear-riddled stressful months when she and her children were stranded within four walls, she notes that, while it is normal to feel fearful, anxious, or stressed given the current situation, there are ways one can de-escalate the mental-health issues of parenting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what should parents do to ensure proper mental health for themselves and their children?

For starters, the APA suggests that parents should set boundaries within the home space since they tend to blur when work life and home occur at the same place. Setting specific boundaries that separate the work from the home environment helps the child and parent have a safe haven within the home. 

Experts also opine that while it is impossible for either parents or their wards to put in normal hours during such stressful times, one has to maintain a routine, even if it entails a child to stay up later than usual to finish a particular work. Routines enable families to cope with stress and be more resilient.

Finally, relaxing screen time will allow youngsters to stay connected with their social circle and ease parental stress. 

Hope these tips help you during this transitional time!


Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader, and film buff. His interests lie in making the world a better place through the power of the written word.