On Becoming a Decent Pandemic Parent

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

By Margot Calandra Kopp

About 4 weeks into the pandemic, on a FaceTime call with his grandparents, my 10-year-old used an unexpected word to describe his feelings: decent. 

Upon recounting the story later, I laughed, “What 10-year-old uses the word decent?” My husband and I don’t generally use that word, but apparently my sensitive quirky 10-year-old discovered it and felt it fitting. He used it a few more times that week in conversation with adults in his life, letting them know that, rather than the more socially acceptable “good” or more jovial “great,” he was just simply decent.

Here’s my confession. I may have laughed in its retelling, but “decent” hit me like a punch in the stomach. 

This is what I said to others: Mom quarantine fail! Despite my absolute best efforts, when asked how it’s going, my son says “decent.” (Insert LOL emoji here.)

This is what I said to myself: Mom quarantine fail. Despite my absolute best efforts, when asked how it’s going, my son says “decent.” 

Ah, the subtle difference between a humorous text to my friends and the deflating negative self-talk repeating in my head. This family did happy, we did sad. We did angry and frustrated. We did excited and silly. We even sometimes did peaceful, mindful, thoughtful. But decent? It’s so meh. It’s so…lifeless. 

I will admit, I had come out of the quarantine-gates with parenting gusto. I created individualized learning schedules, which we would begin immediately after our morning meeting at 9:30, at which we would discuss the weather, calendar, and a daily quote.  I planned weekly special classes; my most successful being art, in which I intended to highlight the world’s most influential artists, starting with my favorite, the great Alberto Giacometti. I also had boredom lists for each child to reference and find something fulfilling and positive to fill their free time.

You get the picture. I would be embarrassed to share this now if it didn’t seem like a lifetime ago already.

Fast forward 10 weeks or so.

I’m holding together distance-schooling for my special needs teenager, but I have no clue what the 10-year-old and my other child do on their devices all day. I don’t think I care. I might, but I’m not sure.

I’m done trying to make things “good” and “great” around the house for them in some effort to pretend this is all hunky-dory.

Sometimes we do happy, like playing frisbee in the backyard and enjoying these wonderful warm days that remind us summer is coming. Sometimes we do sad, like wishing we could share birthday cake with friends.

Sometimes we do angry and frustrated, like getting the news that music camp has been cancelled. Sometimes we do excited and silly, like our first jump in the still-cold pool.

And we do plenty of peaceful, mindful, thoughtful, like when we go for family walks at the state park, finish a puzzle, or take the time to discuss this scary time in history.

But I’ve stopped trying desperately to make this good for them. That’s not my job: to erase away living through a pandemic in some effort to shield them from its social and emotional repercussions. What was I thinking?

Instead I am trying to help them be squarely where they are emotionally. If that’s happy – great. If it’s sad or angry or frustrated – I hear them. And if it’s decent, meh and kinda lifeless – well, let’s sit there too. Not too too long, but long enough to embrace decent in all its mediocrity and loneliness. Long enough to be comfortable feeling just simply devoid, nothing more, nothing less, and resigning oneself to this time and our place within it.

For what it’s worth, I have a nice relationship with decent now. As he often does, my son has helped me to see things a little differently.

Parenting through a pandemic makes you realize decent is okay. Decent is fine. If we can do happy and sad and everywhere in between, if I can keep my children healthy and safe and loved, and we can net out somewhere in the decent range, then I will have succeeded.

When all of this finally over, sadly no one will be handing out pandemic parenting medals, despite our absolute best efforts at home-schooling, emotional regulation, health, safety or even plain old love. But I look forward to being lucky enough to shake my own hand, pat my own back, pour myself my own celebratory glass of champagne. I will declare to myself, “Decently done!” and I will be proud.

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