• The coronavirus lockdown means that both parents are more likely to be at home than before, meaning the roles and responsibilities that once felt so routine are changing fast

  • Therapist Annie Broadbent explores why co-parenting in lockdown might bring up such difficult feelings and how parents can adapt to working more closely together

  • Our therapists and counsellors are available to work with you online – find your therapist here

We arrive at relationships carrying our relational history; so too does our parental identity emerge from our own experience of being parented. This can manifest in powerful core beliefs about what’s right and wrong for our children. In attempting to work together in raising children, parents find themselves having to let go of a part of their world view that they might be so attached to, it can feel a threat to their existence.   

Add a lockdown to the mix and we find ourselves on fertile ground for relational breakdowns – parental and romantic. Parents are juggling paid jobs, full-time childcare, home-schooling, domestic work, financial concerns, not to mention trying to find time for some self-care. How do both parents get their needs met? How do couples negotiate the division of work, childcare, sleep, exercise, time for personal projects? Whereas pre lockdown there was one arrangement of role division, now couples are living in each others pockets 24/7 and suddenly having to reconfigure who does what, when.

How the coronavirus lockdown may have changed parenting

Those parents who are used to running the roost, now find themselves watching their partners make a tea they know the kids don’t like, play games in a different way, put their babies down for naps at the ‘wrong’ time, deal with tantrums in a way they disagree with. Or perhaps there are parents whose jobs took them out of the house much of the time and now they find themselves having to make decisions about aspects of childcare they’ve never had to consider, under the watchful eye of their partner.

The Covid-19 lockdown experience confronts us with a level of uncertainty most people work hard to avoid. Control is the go to mechanism for combatting uncertainty. We cling to those aspects of life we feel able to control the most – whether that’s eating, exercise, sex… And whilst any parent will agree that there is no way of controlling a child, feeling in control of how we nurture the development of our children might feel more important now than ever.

How parents can adapt to the lockdown

How can parents accept the lack of control over their partners independent approach to childcare sufficiently that they may fully enjoy their allocated time off to sleep, work, exercise, bathe…whatever it may be?

This is a great opportunity to surrender to our fundamental lack of control. Differences and inconsistencies in parenting approaches are unavoidable. So, rather than resisting the conflict in parenting strategies, it can be helpful to accept this is inevitable in these circumstances, and take a few moments at the end of each day to debrief on the parenting journey that took place. Take turns in sharing feedback about what you each witnessed, what you felt worked and didn’t work. Hold your beliefs lightly if you can, remembering that they are partly born of your own experience of being parented, and so are your partners. Turn to parenting resources you trust, to consider an unbiased view on your child-rearing. There is a middle way. Together, make some choices about which styles worked more successfully for the relationship you want to have with your child/ren. The crucial thing is the relationship you have with your children, not their behaviour. This is a chance to offer consistency for our children.

There are also those times when things get explosive, when the dark side of every parent emerges. Life in lockdown creates the perfect conditions for overwhelming feelings, an inability to self-regulate and obstacles to support. If our inner state is in turmoil, our capacity to regulate our children is dramatically reduced. And everyone’s inner state is in turmoil right now, including many children. So it is entirely understandable that there are more conflicts and explosions of emotion than there might ordinarily be.

On top of this, there’s no way of parenting in private, which means those experiences of overwhelm, when we struggle to parent, are now constantly on view. How is it to know your shadow side is being witnessed more than you’d like? It’s one thing to come to terms with our own moments of overwhelm, but what about when you see it come out in your partner? How is it to see your partner shout at your child?

It can be terribly difficult to be as compassionate towards your partner as you might hope when it’s your child in the firing line. And of course some times it is our job to confidently step in and take over when we see them evidently overwhelmed and unable to self regulate. But just as you endeavour to do with yourself and your child, there is great value in striving to accept your partners limits and imperfections – it’s an important part of any relationship and will also help facilitate your own self-acceptance.

For processing these darker moments, parents can engage in more structured listening partnerships with each other and/or a trusted friend. This involves the parent in need taking as much time as they want, to talk through the particular experience that triggered the eruption of emotion, and to let the full spectrum of feeling be released – cry, rage, remember. This goes on until the parent comes to a place of closure and understanding about that particular incident.

Annie Broadbent is a verified welldoing.org therapist in SE1 and online

Further reading

7 ways to manage conflict in relationships

Why couples therapy benefits even healthy relationships

Why empathy is important in parenting

7 tips for mindful parenting

Can you ever be prepared for parenthood?

What parents need to know about talking to teens