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Chandra Severin is executive assistant to the CEO and publisher and manager of the administrative department at The Globe and Mail.

Parenting hasn’t always come easily to me. But parenting during a pandemic? Now that’s a whole new challenge.

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I have two children, ages 4 and 8, and like most parents, I’m now trying to figure out how to do my job from home (I’m manager of the administrative department and executive assistant to the CEO and publisher of The Globe), while also keeping my kids entertained, fed, active and not forgetting everything they learned in school.

The key to my survival? I’m setting the bar pretty low. And I refuse to feel guilty about it. (This Globe article from parenting expert Sarah Rosensweet titled “Lower your standards, and other parenting tips to help you in this time of crisis” helped – as did this piece from Kimberly Harrington in The Cut: “Set the bar low. Lower. Keep going. Right there.”)

I’m done feeling like I need to spend hours doing homework with my kids. Done feeling like I need to help them produce crafts we can show off on social media. Done feeling like I need to cook them gourmet meals every day. Done feeling like I need to replace their friends and social life during every moment of this pandemic. I’m done trying to act like a mom who has it all figured out.

Initially I had big plans. I scoured the internet for fun ideas and bought crafting materials, learning workbooks and games. But after a few days of trying to make Pinterest-worthy crafts between Zoom meetings, and feeling my anxiety mount with every passing second, I decided enough was enough. For my mental health, my husband’s and theirs, it was time to, you guessed it, lower our standards.

Now, the theme around our house is, “Who knows what the day will bring?” And I’m looking for shortcuts that make each day just a little bit easier.

And that starts with meals. While the rest of the world seems to have suddenly embraced their inner Martha Stewart, I’ve realized I hate cooking more than ever. I’m told I can “make my own starter" instead of buying bread at the store, but for this mom, that’s a hard no. Yes, I’ve made a banana bread or three from scratch, but I’ve also found an easier way to “bake”: I purchase pre-made cookie kits from local bakeries, which include sugar cookies, icing and sprinkles. (Check out these great ones from @ledolci and @jambakeshop in Toronto.) No work for mom, kids can be creative and cleanup is easy. Bonus points for supporting local businesses.

When it comes to exercise, I’m finding it next to impossible to get any myself, so imagine the stress of trying to ensure my kids do. My inbox is flooded with online classes for the whole family and my daughter’s gym teacher even sent ideas for fitness at home. But most days I just can’t find the time or energy to fit these in – let alone get them to focus long enough to do them. Luckily, we have Just Dance for our Nintendo. It (and the occasional dance party courtesy of DJ D-Nice) has become our daily exercise in the form of a mid-afternoon break. (And it checks “Nintendo” off my son’s wish list for the day.)

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On the homework front, we’re no longer worrying about the curriculum our kids’ teachers send digitally. Starting “school” at dinner time, after we’ve signed off work, just isn’t reasonable. What’s really going to happen if my kids return to class having done no mandated work? As Nipissing University education professor Carlo Ricci told The Globe’s Caroline Alphonso: "Nothing. Nothing is going to happen.” Instead, my kids make a list every morning of what they want to do that day, and the only rule is that it must include something educational (and I use that term loosely). At the moment, a crossword puzzle or book counts as educational. Heck, if my son wants to build Lego on his own, and read the instructions himself, I consider this learning and fun combined.

Ultimately, I decide what on that list they’ll do each day, depending on how much time my husband and I can give them. Whether that means an hour of screen time or five to fill the void, we’re not counting.

All the moms in my Facebook feed seem to be posting about how much they’re loving this endless family bonding time. Good for them, but this version of bonding isn’t for me. Sure, I’m having fun with the kids when we squeeze out a few quality moments, but what this experience has shown me is how much I need time to myself and with my husband and how having that makes me a better mom.

My only goal is for us to come out of this sane and healthy. I can’t stress about what I’m not teaching my children. I can’t worry about relying on the TV to entertain them or that they’re spending too much time entertaining themselves. In fact, I consider this an important step in teaching them to be independent people. We eat dinner as a family every evening, we dance every day and our kids know, pre- and post-COVID-19, how loved they are. This is what works for us and I hope everyone else focuses on what works for their families, rather than stressing over what they think they should do.

What else we’re thinking about:

One of the other things we are enjoying right now is a podcast called But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids by Vermont Public Radio. Each episode features questions from kids that are answered by experts in various fields. Topics range from, “Why don’t spiders get stuck in their webs?” to my kids’ favourite, “Why do we poop and fart?” At only 20 to 30 minutes long, these keep my kids engaged and amused while also educating their curious minds.

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