“The best thing I’ve ever done in quarantine is ignore my kids,” says special education master teacher, mom and wife Susie Snyder of Los Feliz. While there still isn’t enough time in 24 hours to manage all of the responsibilities of our myriad titles, at five months and counting, the COVID-19 pandemic is revealing a wave of silver linings (some of which require a bit of explanation) to families across the Southland.
We’ll circle back to Snyder and her newly ignored brood, but first let’s talk about the opposite end of the silver-lining spectrum: family time. The most obvious benefit to our restricted access to the outside world is our extreme focus on our inside family world. We now have time to listen, to play, to interact more than was ever possible PQ (pre-quarantine). “We’ve never eaten so many meals together!” is a common refrain heard across the L.A. basin. And despite the intensity of it all, families are seeing the benefits for which Stanford Children’s Health and other experts have long advocated.
Social distancing requirements and canceled activities have also forced us to simplify our existence, so families have been afforded a pause as never before, allowing them to feel calmer, closer and connected. “Without the stress of constant multitasking, we can be present,” says therapist and mindfulness teacher Lara Plutte. “We have more time for understanding. We can hear and learn more stories from our kids. There are so many more opportunities to show up.”
We’re also showing up outdoors more than ever. Without team sports, group yoga classes or open gyms, Angelenos are exploring the glories of Southern California’s unique outdoor recreation. “I’ve learned to live without the gym,” reports Lily Sanchez Thomas, mom of three from Rancho Palos Verdes. “Turns out, I get a better workout hiking while connecting with my kids – bonus! I’m in better shape now than when I was working out at a gym.” Like Thomas, thousands of families are flocking to trails and exploring urban hikes, reaping the scientific benefits of time in nature. L.A. County has instituted a free reservation system for the most popular locations, including Eaton Canyon Falls – one of the favorite destinations for families.
The iconic L.A. car culture, however, is really suffering – for which many of us are thrilled. “Don’t miss our commutes!” exclaims Jessika Laudermilk of Redondo Beach, who has endured commutes to as far away as Irvine. Not commuting, carpooling or driving as much has led to lower gas bills. Less time in cars allows for more time elsewhere, and the true car enthusiasts of Southern California are pretty thrilled by the open roads. Several families have dropped down to one car, reducing or eliminating car payments. “Why do we need it? We’re renting a Jeep with unlimited miles for our road trip up the coast, and it’ll serve us better than the car we were leasing before,” says Kori Jones of Hancock Park, mom of two and founder of Simple Life Things.
Along with obligatory car time, obligatory socializing is another concept that quarantine has diminished. For parents, that means less time sucked up by kiddie parties or required attendance at school meetings. We get to choose more than ever whom we interact with and how we spend our time. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, the quarantine has given us space to identify the positive people and experiences that bring about our best selves. “I’ve used coronavirus and shelter-at-home orders as a way to insulate myself in more ways than just avoiding germs,” says writer and mom of two Jamie Rubin. “I’ve been able to curate so much of my experience and who appears in my life. None of living this way is normal, but it has been a good place to hide.” When it’s finally safe to come out, Rubin says she’ll need to work on her idea for a “social vaccine” that will inoculate us from societal pressure to act and look a certain way and make us resistant to self-doubt and the need for the approval of others.
Many parents, thanks to what they’ve learned during quarantine, would see the value in such a vaccine. “I’ve learned to live without seeking people’s approval,” says Thomas. “I know that sounds weird, but I’ve noticed that my stress levels have gone down enormously. I guess I’m more of a people pleaser than I thought.” What an incredible time we are in to weed through the noise of the world to select the environment that best supports each of us individually.
The real gift of the pandemic, in fact, may be the transformative shift in thinking resulting from our adaptation to this new lifestyle. Life may never be the same post-COVID, but maybe that’s for the better? “In some ways,” says Jones, “I think we are living our best life without all the places to go.” Some of us have even had time to see “Hamilton” on Disney+ and are ready to sing along with Eliza and Peggy: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!”
That being said, we are still at home with our families and our children and a constant barrage of needs that can overtax any parent’s system. Mom, I’m hungry. Mom, I can’t find my shoes. Mom, what can I do now? Let the kids figure it out. “Ignore them” on occasion, as Snyder advises, allowing them space to problem solve for themselves.
“In an effort to comply with time restraints and be most efficient, we often did too much for our kids just to get them out the door, to school on time,” says Plutte. “We taught them learned helplessness.” But that dynamic is shifting. While we may have been a generation of helicopter parents PQ, the pandemic has stretched us too far, and we are slowly deploying our landing gear. Yes, please, make your own breakfast.
Our kids are also learning the power of boredom, developing tools to overcome it and discovering inspiration for creativity. We are empowering them to be capable community contributors for the future. “You don’t have to do everything as the parent,” Plutte advises, “you really can sit back and let them figure it out. It’s an amazing time to grow closer and to simultaneously set boundaries. They are learning interdependence and independence – the best life skills.”
Some of us are now embracing a version of “free range” parenting that didn’t feel possible in a big city previously. All of us are reconfiguring parenting patterns distanced from societal expectations, and that seems the best news of all. As parents, we are leaving the peer pressure of parenting behind and making decisions for ourselves and our households that are not based on what we should do or where our kids should be. Maybe, actually, we are all growing into even better parents in the pandemic than we were before. What if the secret silver lining to this previously unfathomable quarantine really is that less is more?
Amy Rush Conroy is an anthropologist, author, wife and mother of three. She is also the founder of Habla Blah Blah, dedicated to teaching children a second language.