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You’re Not Screwing Up Your Kids

You're Not Screwing Up Your Kids

You’re Not Screwing Up Your Kids: A Single Mother Weighs In on Endless Parenting

The shift started last week—the third week our children were home from school, in our care and minus the daily markings of their lives: swim team or lacrosse practice, playgroups or church groups. It was us, them, our computers, our Netflix accounts and an unsteady stream of groceries.

The first two weeks were aspirational: Parents posted homeschooling schedules and tips. People baked bread. There were rumors of closet cleanouts and craft projects. Chalk mosaics. Taped stain glass murals on fronts doors and teddy bears scavenger hunts.


Then the opposition spoke up: Their closets were still full of crap and were going to stay that way. Who even knew if there was a teddy bear in their house and where that fluffy thing was anyway? This was getting hard, they said.

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Now, this week: Doubt. I saw a meme that said, “You think it’s bad now? In 20 years, our country will be run by people homeschooled by day drinkers.” It’s meant to be funny of course, but many more parents on social media are starting to comment on how tired they are, how much harder this is getting, and finally, that they’re pretty sure they are screwing up their kids.

Hold up. There are a great many things I don’t know in this world: Physics, Spanish verbs, how we can move from a consumer-driven economy to producing more goods after this crisis. But I can tell you this right now with all of my assurance: You’re not screwing up your kids.

Your kids, in fact, will not be ruined by these days of homeschooling and quarantine. They suck, these days most definitely suck, but the kids will be all right.

How do I know this? I am a single mother. About 12 years ago, my ex-husband moved back to Montana, where we had lived for many years, and gave up custody of our two children. He sends child support. and for the first few years, he visited as often as once a month. But back-to-school nights, sports physicals, Confirmation classes, Sunday double-headers with the travel team: all me.

The stats and stereotypes on single mothers are not good. Indeed, when I got divorced, the first in my mostly Catholic family to do so, there were a lot of people ready to tell me that I was going to screw up my kids. An equal number frequently offered, “I don’t know how you do it,” which is about the most unhelpful thing you can say to a single parent. Just come out and tell us, “I think your life sucks.”

In truth, there were times in my life when things did suck, when I couldn’t get it all done, when I worried about money (OK, that’s all the time), or when I didn’t know how to help my kids.

But my kids? They are all right. At 20 and 17, neither one of them has a criminal record. They have good friends, things they are passionate about and people who like to be around them. And they are successful at the things they love.

They are also wildly imperfect and have much to learn. So do I. But here are three things I know to be true.

Routine are helpful. Even when you have older kids. My daughter was sent home from her study abroad in Dublin, Ireland, when the coronavirus started making its way toward Europe, and here she is now chewing and slurping while I am trying to edit. And she will be here all summer, too, taking online classes and continuing to eat very near me.

She likes to have deep conversations at 10:30 p.m. I do not.

I’ll admit it: This is the kind of day-to-day crap that could sink us. Don’t let it. Get a schedule, but not one of those Pinterest-worthy, color-coded numbers that were all the rage in Week 1. Establish a few key times for things throughout the day and then stick to them. Kids need routines, they need to know what to expect. If you are not a teacher, don’t attempt a middle school A-B module. Even if you are, I would say don’t do it. Pick a few things that need to happen every day and make sure they do them.

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For me, it means allowing my super creative, extroverted oldest child to have time to vent, but also to make sure she has projects to challenge her during this time.

Connecting with other adults is important. When my kids were small, I hated all the “Brush your teeth” and “Do you homework” things I had to say all the time because I was the only adult there to say them. It was so great when teachers or their doctors gave them marching orders. My heroes!

Which brings me to this: You and your children are devoid of other adults right now and you both need to find them. Call grandparents every day. Write to your neighbors and leave notes in their mailboxes. Send your veterinarian a photo of your dog. Email your pediatrician and ask how he or she is doing. All those Facebook Live experiences with children’s authors? Have your kids watch one.

Our day-to-day worlds are full of adults, and your kids should reconnect with some of them. It will bring back some of the normal, and it will help you feel less alone.

It’s OK to be emotional. My ex-husband and I lost friends in 9-11, and I spent the first part of my pregnancy with our son crying. I remember telling my doctor that it was crazy to bring a child into this sad world. Surely this was destined to make him a sad and angry kid.

Flash forward: My son is the most laid-back member of our family and also the tallest, by far, which has earned him the nickname “Gentle Giant.” He is introverted and compassionate, and his EQ is high. For all the sadness of that time, he has turned out fine.

So, go ahead and cry if you need to. Feel in control one day and out of sorts the next. Ride the ride. We are all going to be sad and mad and all the things. It doesn’t do any good to pretend to our children that we are not human, and there is no need to worry because you are.

And it will get better. Like all stages of parenting, this will not last. In that way, we may have a greater understanding of this moment than folks not parenting right now: We absolutely know how fleeting time is.

You are not alone. You will get through this. And the kids will be all right. I promise.

This article originally appeared in our sister publication, Baltimore’s Child Magazine. 

About Jessica Gregg