Coronavirus has turned parenting into nonstop, all-consuming guilt

Commentary: The coronavirus and quarantine have everything dialed to 11.

Mark Serrels Editorial Director
Mark Serrels is an award-winning Senior Editorial Director focused on all things culture. He covers TV, movies, anime, video games and whatever weird things are happening on the internet. He especially likes to write about the hardships of being a parent in the age of memes, Minecraft and Fortnite. Definitely don't follow him on Twitter.
Mark Serrels
4 min read

I don't regret having children but right now things are especially hard. 

Janine Schmitz/Getty

Today someone asked me if I ever regretted having children. 

Despite writing one -- or maybe even two -- stories headlined "Don't Have Kids," of course the answer was no. I don't even know if it's physically possible to regret having children.

The biological response to becoming a parent is just so powerful, so overwhelming, that it's difficult to go back. Your children are here now and you love them. Obviously. They are a constant to the point where imagining life without them is to imagine an intense loss, a grief that's unbearable to sincerely consider. 

No, I don't regret having children, but right now things are definitely … tougher than usual.

Welcome to the Apocalypse 2020. For me and parents all over the world, it's roughly week five of a coronavirus lockdown that has us in an unthinkable position: stuck indoors with our children, trying to make sense of a pandemic that's transformed life as we once knew it. 

And the guilt is all-consuming. Right now I'm drowning in guilt. 

My wife and I have two boys, a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old. The oldest is in elementary school and has really good hair. The youngest goes to daycare three days a week, and his hobbies include being the physical manifestation of the arch-demon Paimon. Right now, like a significant number of parents, my wife and I are home alone, home-schooling the pair of them, while trying to work full-time jobs at home. 

It's... a lot. 

Actually, it's a daily melange of unhinged insanity. Lesson plans collapse into chaos. Zoom meetings are punctuated by the squawks of bird-children pleading for whatever snack they've become fixated on in the last five minutes. Pure madness. The other day -- and I promise this happened -- one kid pooped in the bath, then the oldest spotted the disintegrating poop and began projectile vomiting all over the bathroom in response. 

Just two minutes ago I broke up a fistfight over Jatz crackers. Completely normal behavior. 

I've spent years documenting some of the wilder behavior of my boisterous young children -- tales of them destroying my consoles and deleting save files on video games. I always approached it from the ironic distance of an unhinged young father, enraged at the chaos, but secretly and obviously in love with the children who make his life so unpredictable and entertaining. Sitcom shit, basically. The reality is my kids are no less crazy than others. I'm the same as any parent trying to figure out how this stuff is supposed to work. 

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But if I'm being honest, I don't remember parenting ever feeling this difficult. The coronavirus and, more specifically, quarantine have everything dialed to 11. 

And the guilt is a never-ending cycle.

I feel guilty when best-laid lesson plans go awry. Guilty when I plonk my kids in front of a TV to jump on that Zoom meeting, guilty when lunch is peanut butter sandwiches, again.


Kids across the world are now being schooled at home, and that's a big adjustment for many parents. 

Justin Jaffe/CNET

I feel guilty because I'm less productive at work, guilty when I have to go AWOL to set up school exercises or install a million apps on a painfully underpowered iPad. I overreact to an innocent request for a lollipop one minute, then flat out ignore a temper tantrum the next. 

Then later, upon reflection on the psychological cost of all these actions and micro-aggressions: guilt. Copious amounts of guilt. Never-ending streams of guilt.

Then there's the shared meme statuses on Facebook, making parents feel guilty for being too good at planning. Relax! Let them have fun! But what does fun even look like? Does watching six straight hours of Bluey count as "fun" or nah? Do educational apps teach kids anything at all or are we all kidding ourselves?

Google: "How much physical exercise should children have a day?"

Google: "How much chocolate is too much chocolate?"

Google: "How to stop every single waking hour from devolving into a state of uncontrolled anarchy?"

Then there's the cabin fever. Should I take the kids for that walk? Maybe, but parks are closed and that new article says kids can spread disease to older people without showing symptoms. Should I buy a home swing set? Probably. But can we afford it?

More guilt. More exhaustion.

Exhaustion from the guilt, from the sheer mental energy required to do your job effectively yet somehow home school children resistant to the idea of sitting still for five whole minutes in a home setting. Exhausted from not having the respite of the office, or child-free spaces like the gym. 

Guilt for wanting to be free of your children in the first place. Guilt for not savoring these moments like we're supposed to.

Guilt. Feeling like you're a few steps behind where you're supposed to be, collapsing into bed -- absolutely done, laundry unfolded -- sleeping the sleep of the dead, before waking up to do it all over again. 

So no. I don't regret having kids. Not even close. I wouldn't change it for the world. But Lord Jesus Christ Almighty, I'd happily chop off a digit or two for a few days away from it all.  

That would be … nice.

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