I’ll be honest: One recent evening, after another long day stuck inside with my two young children, I went out to the back porch in the middle of a quiet, beautiful snowfall, and hurled two folded-up beach chairs onto the ground below.
Why, one might ask, were there beach chairs on my back porch in Boston in late February? Laziness? Aspiration? A little bit of both? Regardless, it felt really good to throw something. Then my almost-four-year-old came to the back door and said, in a worried little voice, “Mommy? What are you doing?”
“Just getting some fresh air, lovey.” And I went back inside to do all the parent things—the cleaning up, the BandAiding, the tantrum-navigating, the Zoom calls, the snuggling—again.
If you’ve been parenting in the world this year, you too have probably felt the urge to throw something. (Or if you haven’t, I need your advice more than you need mine.) The worries have been great and small: from keeping our families safe to holding down jobs that pay the bills to keeping the kids from destroying the house out of sheer boredom. And the go-to “advice” we hear all the time is stuff that—let’s face it—sounds nice, but is difficult if not impossible to put into practice right now. (Self-care! Sleep well! Exercise daily! Okay sure thanks.)
So instead of well-intentioned platitudes, here are 5 things we think all parents and caretakers deserve in 2021. We won’t get all of these things, but every little bit counts:
1. Access to affordable child care. For many families with young children, child care got less accessible, less reliable, and more expensive in 2020. Daycares closed, while others upped their prices to survive. The pandemic relief package proposed by the Biden administration and currently winding its way through Congress proposes a one-year expansion of the child tax credit that would allow many families to get back as much as half of what they paid in child care (in addition to direct stimulus payments). It also proposes a large chunk of additional funding to support child care facilities, including small family child care centers, to help them stay afloat, pay employees, and pay for personal protective equipment—all things that will help child care remain accessible to families.
2. Mental health support. Many of us—caretakers and our kids alike—need (or will need) mental health support as we come through the pandemic and even as more “normal” life resumes over time. Unfortunately, many insurance plans don’t have good mental health coverage, and it can be hard to find access to a provider who is affordable. Psychology Today maintains a large database of providers all over the country that you can search by insurance coverage, and several text-based mental health services have popped up as well, with varying costs associated. This crisis text line offers free support when you need it. Finally, here are several directories that specifically list therapists of color.
3. Quiet. Homes with kids are loud. People are talking at you. A screen is blaring. Someone’s plastic toy is singing an obnoxious song because you forgot to remove the batteries (best toddler-parent hack, by the way). Sometimes the noise is nice, but maybe not 24/7? You deserve a few minutes of pure silence if you want it. We can’t make your house quiet, but we highly recommend a quick audit of your daily schedule to see if you can find 10 minutes to borrow from somewhere. We’ve got you covered with activities to occupy your kids during this time so you can step outside by yourself, take a shower with the bathroom door locked, lie down on the floor of a dark room—whatever works for you. If you can’t find those minutes, have you thought about ear plugs? They’re inexpensive and do wonders for muffling sounds that can be stress-inducing. (Don’t worry, you’ll still know when someone needs you. The kids will make sure of that.)
4. Safe plans for reopening schools that families feel comfortable with. Not everyone is going to have the same bar for what feels “safe enough”: Some families will prefer to keep their children home for more remote learning, while others are desperate to get back into buildings. We have to accept that there isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution for the coming school year. So it’s critical that schools find safe ways to open in-person learning for families that want it, maintain effective remote learning options for those that don’t, and ensure that students with particular learning needs have the support they’re entitled to—wherever their learning takes place.
5. The chance to unwind and connect with a friend. Okay, I’ll admit, this one is for the moms in particular. When was the last time you connected with a friend? Talked about your kids? Talked about anything other than your kids? Friendships have fallen far on the priority list in the last year. In 2021, we wish you a long walk with a trusted confidante, that phone call you haven’t had time to make, or even (dare we hope for it?) a visit with a loved one who lives far away.
“The go-to 'advice' we hear all the time is stuff that—let’s face it—sounds nice, but is difficult if not impossible to put into practice right now.”
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