When the coronavirus lockdown began, U.S. families went from constantly busy to completely shutdown. Parents felt stress about the pandemic, but many were also surprised. They were enjoying their kids more and they did not want the time together to end. Parents say they don’t want to return to the crazy schedules packed with kids’ activities after coronavirus ends. But will they follow through?
No feature of the American family is more consistent than being busy. Starting at the youngest ages, kids’ lives are heavily scheduled with activities. That’s because parents believe that children won’t reach their potential without them. Parents constantly run their children from one developmental opportunity to another. After all, who knows which one will help them find their passion?
It’s easy to think that this is just an issue for higher-income families. But that’s not the case. Parents who can’t afford enrichment activities for children also believe in them. High standards for parental investments in children are now the norm.
This is all coming from a generation where most parents work. Even so, working parents spend more time with their children than mothers who stayed home in the 1970s. That’s a lot of family time, but at the same time American families are time-poor. Parents, and especially mothers, do not have enough “discretionary time.” When is there time for parents to choose what they want to do? The same goes for a lot of kids.
It’s a problem, and it’s burning families out.
This was the situation right before the Coronavirus pandemic swept the world. Shocked parents found themselves at home, sheltering from a deadly disease. Suddenly, they were responsible for everything. Parents were working full time from home, managing young children, and supervising e-learning. It was a huge strain.
But there was more time.
All the time in the world for nothing.
“Soccer season was about to start,” said Vikas Gupta of Verona, NJ, a few weeks into lockdown. “We have three kids in travel soccer, so that’s all we do. There is no time for anything else. But now we are in quarantine. Before we had no time for anything, and now we have all the time in the world for nothing.”
To many of us, that’s what it felt like at first. A lot of boring time without enough to fill it. This certainly wasn’t true for everyone, especially for parents whose children have special needs or are very young. But a remarkable number of families noticed a shift.
Without homework or activities, without commutes, families began to rediscover each other. There was time to hang out. Gupta explained how much he’s been enjoying his kids. “The other day my kids were leading my wife around the house, stopping to take deep breaths with eyes closed. When I asked what they were doing, my older daughter said, ‘Meditation walk, Daddy. You’re interrupting.’”
How many parents are enjoying the extra time with their kids?
I started to hear similar stories from other parents. Was enjoying family during coronavirus lockdown common? On May 11th, I asked parents on social media to answer a brief, informal survey. 100 of them participated.
There was no question that parents were feeling the pressure. 88% said their stress level during Covid-19 was at least moderate, and 50% said their stress level was high.
What about family time? 94% of the parents said that during Covid-19 their families were spending more time together. For some of them, that time was a source of stress. But 60% of parents said they were enjoying their kids more during the lockdown.
“My 9-year-old and I have just had so many deep conversations about all sorts of topics,” commented one mother. “It really grew our relationship.” Other parents shared their surprise at new skills their children learned. “My five year old started making her own lunch while I was on conference calls. She just did it,” wrote another father.
With these experiences, would parents change the way they schedule their kids when the pandemic ends? A remarkable 75% said they would make changes going forward. These parents plan to spend less time in activities and more time as a family. The time families had found was precious and they were not willing to give it up.
One parent summed it up this way, “In seconds you could be sick, we need to slow down and enjoy life.”
Will parents follow through on lighter schedules?
The status quo for parenting is to make sure children get as many enrichment opportunities as possible, even at the cost of family time. Parents may be questioning that during lockdown, but will they continue in the future? Going against the status quo is extremely hard.
That’s what Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics and economist a the University of Chicago, wanted to examine in his new study. He enrolled people who were having a difficult time making a life decision and evaluated whether they were biased toward the status quo. Participants were then asked to flip a coin between their two choices. If the coin told them to make a change, they were more likely to do it than they would have been. This was true regardless of their bias.
The best part was that when people did follow through and make a change, they were happier than those who did not.
‘Society teaches us “quitters never win and winners never quit,” but in reality the data from my experiment suggests we would all be better off if we did more quitting’, said author Steven Levitt in a press release. ‘A good rule of thumb in decision making is, whenever you cannot decide what you should do, choose the action that represents a change, rather than continuing the status quo.’
Parents have known for a long time that life was too busy. Coronavirus lockdown has shown many of them how life might be different. Here’s hoping that when it comes to kids’ activities, parents do a little more quitting.
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