As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, it is important to acknowledge that just in the last 50 years (since Title IX was passed) our roles as women, mothers, and members of the workforce have changed so much. Less than 30% of U.S. households have a stay-at-home mother that is not earning some employment income, which I interpret to mean that over 70% of households then have to struggle with a division of labor negotiation regarding household chores and parenting.
Parenting in the 21st century has been particularly challenging for those of us trying to set limits on our children’s use of personal devices and exposure to social media. For introverted kids that are not interested in sports, music, theater or other social activities after school, a whole new world of options has been created this past decade to give them a false sense of connection while playing games online or sharing posts online, much to the chagrin of their parents. And now add to this challenge a global pandemic that forced many of us for over 18 months to work from home while also trying to ensure that our kids attended their classes online. Truth be told, this has been the perfect recipe for disaster for many parents, despite their best intentions.
I wish we could all be more honest about these struggles, which I often only hear about in the context of my confidential consults with clients or private discussions with friends and colleagues. When I was sharing some of my own experiences during COVID a friend jokingly told me, “you have an orchid child.” I had no idea what she meant until she shared with me this Tik Tok video that explains some children are like dandelions– they will grow anywhere under any conditions, they are just built to survive, while others are like orchids that can only grow under the most ideal conditions. Fan-f*#ingtastic.
Some other parents I know recently confessed that their teenagers were hospitalized for a bit during this pandemic– not because of COVID per se, but because their isolation led to severe depression, which included cutting, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, and suicidal idealization. Sadly, these are not outliers, but the true number of emotional casualties from this pandemic will never be accurately quantified or appreciated. One friend recently told me she fears we will just consider these teens that failed to thrive during the pandemic “COVID roadkill.”
Whether you are a parent or not, the image of children discarded on the side of the street has to be mentally jarring. Now just imagine yourself as the parent of a child struggling to thrive during COVID, yet all the while you had to show up for work, keep food on the table, and post happy pictures on Instagram or FB in order to try to stay positive for others while fighting through this shitstorm that blind-sided all of us in March 2020. It sounds like an impossible task when you say it out loud, but that’s just it– few ever do. Instead, we take on these unfair burdens in silence and create unrealistic expectations for ourselves.
Let’s face it, even the strongest bridges and heavy lifting equipment all have a maximum capacity weight limit. So do human beings— and this pandemic has tested everyone. As we now try to move forward, many of us will have wounds to lick. Some gashes will be deeper than others, and therefore take longer to heal. And for those of us whose children suffered some significant setbacks, we will carry those injuries as an additional burden, whether we want to or not because ultimately my generation was raised to believe that all we should want for our kids is for them to be happy. Logic then follows that if they are not, somehow we must have failed them. But is that really fair?
As Jennifer Senior points out in her Ted Talk for parents, “happiness is elusive.” In fact, we all know deep inside that being happy is a personal choice. What brings one person joy, may not be a universal experience. For example, my perfect day would involve waking up early, playing a round of golf, dining out with friends and being back home and in bed well before midnight. By contrast, my son hates waking up before noon and is not into sports. His day does not wind down until well after midnight when I’m already in the Land of Nod. Suffice to say he would hate my ideal day, and the same is true in reverse so that is just a reality I have come to accept over the years.
It’s not easy as a parent to embrace the concept of live and let live. Sometimes, this might even require a leap of radical acceptance. It’s simply not healthy to think your child’s happiness is dependent on you when there are just so many other factors beyond your control. Especially if your child is a teenager and your opposite, I encourage you to watch this Ted Talk about rethinking our roles as parents. What I would add is we also can’t feel responsible for our partner’s happiness– everyone has to choose to find their own joy.
By Regina A. DeMeo
Jennifer Senior: For parents, happiness is a very high bar | TED Talk