One of the most dramatic and immediate social effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the reintroduction of small children to the weekday household, a result of the widespread school closures which began in early 2020 and have persisted as occasional, less-frequent cancellations and delays in our ongoing public health crisis. Just as our children have appeared suddenly in our remote workdays, in the middle of our zoom meetings and conference calls, with their many questions and needs, so too have they naturally taken up a greater space in our inner lives–and therefore the psychoanalytic session. As a psychoanalyst, I have observed a remarkable shift in the content of many sessions with parents of small children. Where once there was preoccupation with their own childhoods, there might now be an acute awareness of the childhood of their own children; where once romantic and professional anxieties led the session, now there are the pressing anxieties of a parent. This, of course, is perfectly understandable: many parents are simply spending more time at home with their children. What’s more, this time is being spent under added stress, the consequences of which can only become more knowable as we are slowly lifted out of pandemic life and into some new post-pandemic order. What behaviors and attitudes in children may have gone unnoticed by parents in years past have suddenly become conspicuous and even amplified. Time and time again my patients tell me that their relationships with their children are more strained than ever before, that they can’t get a return call from a child psychologist, and that they don’t know what to do. As a result, I have spent countless hours helping my patients problem-solve difficulties they are having with their children at home. The following is a collection of common concerns that have been brought to me by my patients since the start of the Covid pandemic, and I am hoping to offer this guidance to anyone who is struggling with parenting their children right now.
My child feels that I work too much and is frustrated by my split attention.
Chances are that you agree with your child and you should tell them so! Tell them you work too much and you wish you didn’t. Ask them what they wish you could be doing together instead of you working. Enjoy imagining with your child. So many of us carry the belief that if we talk about something with our children, we will have to make that thing materialize. This is neither true nor good for our children. We need to help our children to freely imagine things that are improbable, implausible, or even impossible so that they can build the emotional muscles that will help them tolerate future disappointment. Times are hard right now, but imagination helps us live well while we experience hardship in our lives. Help your child expand their imagination (while exercising your imagination, too!) and let them bring you into their fantasies. Then, when you are away from your child, they can hold onto those stories that they shared with you when you were together and feel more connected to you and secure.