Welcome To The Weird Summer Of Parenting During COVID-19

With no clear guidance from the top, American parents are making very different choices for their families right now.
Parents are making their own choices about what's safe and what's not for their kids this summer — and trying not to judge others making very different decisions.
Parents are making their own choices about what's safe and what's not for their kids this summer — and trying not to judge others making very different decisions.

Since March, Jennifer Gottsch, her husband and their 7-year-old son have not seen much of anyone, aside from her sister, brother-in-law and their 3-year-old. The two families live about six blocks apart in California, and pretty early on in their state’s coronavirus lockdown, they decided to “integrate” their little bubbles. None of the adults goes to work outside their homes. (Gottsch and her husband work in the hospitality sector, and both were furloughed.) They’re mindful of limiting trips out of the house. The sisters haven’t seen their mom in months.

But over the past few weeks, Gottsch has noticed many of her friends and acquaintances are breaking out.

They’re hosting get-togethers or letting their kids go to sports practice, all of which Gottsch has learned “via word of mouth (texting) and a bit of social media,” the 40-year-old told HuffPost. “I think most are hesitant to broadcast via social media at this point. I’ve expressed to those friends that I totally understand the need to branch out, but that we’re just not ‘there’ yet.”

Welcome to the weird summer of 2020, when — in the absence of any kind of official guidance about what is safe for children and families — parents are making widely varying decisions about how much to let their kids out into the world, even among families facing the exact same circumstances and using the exact same information.

Sure, people have always parented differently and the temptation to judge others’ decisions has always been there. (See Amy Poehler’s excellent anti-mom-shaming motto: “Good for her, not for me!”) But our disagreements now during the COVID-19 pandemic — and the patchwork national reopening — feel deeper, more visceral.

What does it mean if you’ve spent months trying to cram in full workdays without a babysitter, because you’re trying to minimize exposure, while your BFF is taking her kids to day camp and hosting outdoor dinner parties?

How do the coronavirus decisions other families make impact our own?

And how can we slog through this big mess together with our compassion intact?

“This is such a tough choice for everybody,” said Karina Ostoich Sheehan, 44, a Pennsylvania-based mom of four kids who also happens to be a school psychologist. She and her husband recently decided to let their children out of the house much more this summer (wearing masks and sticking largely to small get-togethers with families they know and trust) because they believe the mental health benefits outweigh the potential risks.

Yet Ostoich Sheehan has asked her older kids not to document any of it on social media, not because she fears any kind of judgment, but because she doesn’t want them making friends feel bad.

“We’re in uncharted territory here, and everyone is going to make different decisions. I really respect each decision families make for themselves,” she said.

Sofia Aldaz, a 31-year-old mom of a 5-year-old girl in Texas, has also found herself facing parenting choices she never expected and often coming to very different conclusions than her parent friends. She’s been allowing her daughter, who was growing extremely lonely, to have playdates for a while now, but only after she “interrogates” the other parents, she joked.

“At first I was nervous to even bring up the topic since we’ve been so strict and vocal about social distancing from the beginning. I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching,” Aldaz said. She has had some potentially awkward talks, like the time she approached one mom about a playdate — spelling out the precautions she and her husband have taken themselves — and the mom flat-out declined.

But fortunately, the families she has spoken with have all been respectful of each other, even when they’ve ultimately come to opposite answers about what they’re comfortable with. “They were all very open and honest — I’m assuming! — about their current situations,” Aldaz said.

Of course, all of this is happening in the summer, so it’s basically a lower-stakes preview of what parents will likely face in the fall. Many schools are likely to reopen, and parents are going to continue to make varying decisions about what they should do.

Case in point: there have been several early polls in various parts of the country asking parents how they plan to handle the question of “to send to school or not.” And the results so far? Totally and completely mixed.

Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.