In our pre-COVID-19 life, my husband and I were firm believers of setting boundaries with our toddler. While we always speak to her in a kind tone and are open to having her express her feelings, we felt like it was our job as parents to establish who is the adult and who is the child. We have lived much longer lives than she has, and we make sure she understands the line between parent and child.
Don't misunderstand me: we are not authoritative by any means and give lots of snuggles and love. We also have many open conversations, and I feel like we have a very healthy parent-child relationship. But we do have strict boundaries that have become a norm for my daughter. She knows rules like hitting and throwing things is a no-go, and she sticks to them for the most part.
Since COVID-19 precautions have taken place, setting boundaries has become more challenging. As a working parent, I am tired. I am juggling too much and honestly getting burnt out from doing it all. Loosening some boundaries would really make my life easier in the short-term. I am tempted to just give in when my daughter flips out that I won't let her eat a chocolate bar and lollipop for breakfast knowing that it will give me five minutes of peace and quiet to sip my coffee. But giving in will give positive reinforcement for poor behavior, which will honestly create more work and grief for me in the long run as a parent. That's not to say I haven't loosened some rules since COVID-19 precautions have taken place — I certainly have. My daughter knows that her life has changed, and it is a stressful time. My bed that was once off-limits for kids to sleep in now has a permanent spot for my kiddo, and more meals are being eaten in front of the TV then they have in the past.
But I know if I let all of my established boundaries go out the window, I will have a larger problem on my hands with a child who is running the show and not listening to her parents. As much as I want to see a smile on my child's face, I need to prioritize myself first, and setting boundaries helps me keep my own sanity. And I know that staying consistent is key with kids. Although it is tempting to throw my hands up at it all, this method would only be a short-term solution and will be reinforcing negative behavior. So with my daughter with me 24/7, here are some new boundaries I have implemented that help me during COVID-19:
- I designate a spot on the kitchen table that is my work space. Nobody can touch my work space or use any of my supplies.
- When I am on a phone call, my daughter knows not to interrupt me. She may say "excuse me" if she really needs me.
- When I am working and my daughter wants to play with me, I remind her that mama needs to get some work done in order for us to have time to play later on. I don't jump at her every beck and call and don't reward temper tantrums. I explain that I need 15 more minutes to finish my work and set a timer on my phone for 15 minutes. Once the alarm goes off, I give my daughter some undivided attention and give her lots of praise for following the rule that mama needs to finish her work.
- I do not clean her toy messes. It is certainly easier for me to just clean myself, but I am already spread too thin, and my daughter is perfectly capable of cleaning up. She understands that messes that stay on the floor overnight get thrown in the trash. She made that mistake once and has never done it again.
- If she talks back to a parent or is acting defiant, the same rules apply as they did pre-COVID.
I am not a child psychologist, but from what I have gathered, it seems that kids are feeling stress during these uncertain times. Kids have lost the comfort of the structure they knew and they need to feel safe. My setting boundaries isn't meant to be mean. Rather, it is meant to make my child feel safe knowing that a grown-up is in charge to help guide her during her day-to-day.
Setting these boundaries has helped me immensely during these atypical times. It took a few weeks for my daughter to understand "the rules," but by being consistent with her, the boundaries are now part of her new normal. I am now able to accomplish more work, get some breathing space, and experience fewer tantrums when my daughter isn't getting all of my attention 24/7. Parenting during COVID-19 is hard. There is no doubting this. But establishing healthy boundaries has made my life as a working parent a touch more manageable.