Parenting is tough in the best of circumstances. When your family has challenges such as being a single parent household or having a child with special needs, tough doesn’t begin to describe it! And now, we’re all experiencing a global pandemic, adding a whole new level of difficulty. As a single parent to a kid on the Autism Spectrum, I’m offering five parenting lessons to help you thrive during a global pandemic. If you’re pulling your hair out right about now, you’re not alone!

No matter what anyone else says, I’m the mom

Since my son was high functioning, I got lots of opinions about how “if I would just do (XYZ advice), he would be better behaved. I had to learn to block out what was not helpful and advocate for what we needed. I also learned some polite ways to tell people to back off. Try phrases like, “We have found this is what works best for us” or “I have to do what works best for my family.” Others would get the hint that I was not open for advice.

If you have a child who receives lots of services, you are also getting lots of advice and support from professionals. While this is often helpful, right now you might be feeling overwhelmed. It’s a lot to keep up with appointments, homeschool, and work from home. It’s ok to ask your providers to help you come up with a plan that will be less overwhelming. You might want to reduce the frequency or ask for more support depending on your family’s needs.

Never Let Anyone Judge You By Their Standards

If you’re reading your Facebook feed then you are probably convinced that all of your friends are using this time to bake bread with their kids and teach them Japanese. I know it’s easy to feel like everyone else suddenly figured out how to be Super Parents–but they didn’t!

I hear many parents saying they feel guilty about the amount of screen time their kids are getting right now. For parents who are concerned about this, I came up with a few ideas that might help you feel better about screen time:

  • Remind yourself and your kids that this is not forever. Once life gets back to a more normal rhythm you will decrease screen time again.
  • Schedule screen time. This way even if it seems like a lot of screen time you still feel like you are making some rules about it.
  • Use the screen time strategically. It may feel better to say to yourself, “I’m using this as a tool to help me get my work done.” This way, you’re making an empowered decision rather than feeling like your family structure has just fallen apart.
  • Try directing some of their screen time towards more educational activities. This way you won’t feel like they are just playing Minecraft all day. They could research something that interests them on Youtube or watch a Broadway show on BroadwayHD.

If you’re not worried about screen time, that’s great. too! No one knows what your family needs right now better than you do.

I don’t have to be a “Good” Parent

I think that our standards of “good” parenting are too high. It’s more helpful to think in terms of just being good enough. We can give ourselves much more realistic standards. I decided on one thing that would define whether or not I was a good enough parent. When times were especially stressful, all other standards went out the window. My one standard is, “Does my kid know I love him?”

If I couldn’t get him to do his homework or he played too many video games that day, well, we try to do better tomorrow. But does he know I love him? If YES, then that’s good enough for today. In case you’re wondering, “Am I a good enough parent?” Then the answer is YES! If you care enough to wonder, then you’re doing a lot of things right. If you’ve read this far in this post then you obviously care.

Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for your child is make them do chores or take away the phone. But sometimes when stress is high, like right now, it can feel more loving to say “Let’s just make some popcorn and watch Netflix together. We’ll try again tomorrow to get your homework done.”

Remember you are modeling stress management skills for your child right now. That doesn’t mean you suddenly have to be perfect, because you won’t be. It just means that whatever stress management skills you have right now are probably good enough to get you through life, even if you wish they were better. So let that be good enough for your family too.

Ask for Help

How are you at asking for help? If you have a special needs child you might have services that are provided to your family, but are you truly asking for the help you need? Raising a special needs child can feel very lonely, and I think it can make us worse at asking for help. Others may not really understand our situation. It can feel hopeless, like our needs won’t be met even if we ask. While we’re sheltering in place we have to find more creative solutions, but it’s still important to ask.

As an example, a friend of mine sets up Skype dates for his daughter with family members who are out of state. This gives him a couple of hours in the middle of the day to get work done. Maybe you can ask someone else to go get groceries for you or pick up take out. And again, don’t feel guilty about using the screen time if you need a break.

Family members struggling to respect boundaries? Read our article with Dr. Vickie Bhatia about boundaries during COVID-19.

Put on Your Own Mask First

Every time we get on an airplane they tell us this, yet I rarely see parents apply this lesson to their parenting. The best thing you can do for your child is take care of yourself. I see some of my clients who are parents doing our sessions in a closet or in the car. Even if it’s just a few minutes of breathing in the bathroom or a long shower, that can help you decompress. Another option would be to practice one minute of mindful breathing throughout the day. Your kids will feel more calm and safe and even behave better if you model some self care right now.

Bonus resources:

I have researched some links for additional resources and provided them below to give you a boost in the areas of asking for help and self-care. May your family be safe and well!

Erica Thomas, LMFT has been passionate about helping kids and families since she was a kid herself.  She grew up in a family that experienced multiple sources of stress and has always felt a lot of empathy for other kids. When she became a parent herself, she realized how much support parents really need. She has become passionate about sharing parenting information with parents so they can better understand what is behind their child’s behavior. She understands that parenting can be a tough job and always strives to maintain a collaborative and non-judgmental relationship with parents.

She has a Bachelors degree from Smith College. Her major was Psychology with a focus on Child Development. She received her Master’s degree from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Her approach is Holistic and client-centered. Drawing on a variety of psychological theories, she creates a highly personalized therapy based on her client’s needs. She also uses information from other types of personal growth work and from various spiritual practices. She also works with parents or the whole family through coaching sessions. These sessions can focus on strengthening relationships and preventing problems or addressing a specific problem. Connect with Erica on her website: