The Washington Post

Parent struggles to retighten the rules that were loosened during pandemic

- Carolyn Hax Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/gethax.

Dear Carolyn: I was seven months pregnant and had a 4-year-old when the coronaviru­s shut things down in 2020; you can imagine what a very hard two years it has been. I bought into the whole, “Parents, just do what you can to survive,” language, and I cut myself huge slack.

But now, two years later, I don’t parent according to values I used to hold dear: My kids eat tons of sugar and snacks, they watch tons of TV, they are spoiled, they throw tantrums, and it’s because of constant “letting things slide” during the pandemic.

How do I now get our family culture back to something I respect? How do I cut back screens when they were an essential daily part of the kids’ lives, and they throw fits at any, even minimal, reduction? How do I explain that they don’t get sugary treats constantly now that life is slightly different?

I feel as if I’m drowning and it’s all my fault, and I don’t know how to parent going forward from here.

— Drowning

Drowning: You’re going to “parent going forward” the same general way you have all along: by doing your best under the given circumstan­ces, one decision at a time.

You’ll have to change some specifics, sure, because they aren’t getting you the results you want. That’s standard, though. The exact conditions of the past two years may have been horribly new to us, but the twin imperative­s of navigating the environmen­t we’re in and adapting as it changes are as old as having kids.

The one adjustment I’d make to your general approach is to stop seeing your kids’ tantrums and “fits at any, even minimal, reduction” as a sign you’re doing something wrong. Their pushback is a sign you’re moving in the right direction on curbing their sense of entitlemen­t. Don’t back away now.

It’s just going to take time and consistenc­y. Those, plus deep reservoirs of calm and resolve on your part, and on the part of your co-parent, if there is one.

If that sounds impossible — if you feel as if your every tank is drained of every useful resource — then remind yourself that it’s not energy you need to fill your reservoirs, but confidence. The loving certainty that you’re right to reset your limits now is the renewable resource you need most when your kids are screaming at you.

Fix this goal in your mind: You are the loving and gently unyielding holder(s) of your new, more appropriat­e lines. You have different answers now, to reflect different conditions. You keep different snacks in the pantry. You present different decision trees to your kids: “Do you want X or Y?” where both X and Y are parent-approved and their preferred Z is not an option. You don’t “explain.”

If none of this feels natural or doable, then please check out the Parent Encouragem­ent Program. Its offerings are accessible, common-sense, and many are free. Start with the aptly named introducto­ry program, “Why Don’t My Kids Listen to Me?”

And stop beating yourself up. You did what you had to do. Now, you’re going to do what you have to do. As you will keep doing, in response to whatever conditions you get, until they’re grown, and letting go is the thing you have to do.

Just like you, they’ll adapt.

Join the discussion live at noon Fridays at washington­post.com/livechats.

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 ?? NICK GALIFIANAK­IS FOR THE WASHINGTON POST ??
NICK GALIFIANAK­IS FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

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