The parents of quiet, self-entertaining children spent the pandemic just as stressed out as parents of little monsters, suggests a new study in Social Science & Medicine.
A two-week survey tracked hundreds of parents through 13,360 parent “moments” throughout their days in April and May 2020, and oh what a hot mess those moments were: Pandemic parents were stress cases, according to the findings, much more so when juggling work and kids, and less so on non-workdays, at 9 p.m., and when they were “not with the focal child.”
Solo parents logged higher stress levels than parents with two adults at home—because, well, parenting is a two-person job in the best of circumstances and a four-person job during a pandemic nightmare.
One surprising finding: Factors like the number of children and child gender—which can be proxy for degree of parenting difficulty—did not alter stress levels. Neither did parent education level. In other words, the parents of one gentle, easy child were probably just as stressed as parents herding troupes. This means that parents can stop quietly asking themselves why they didn’t quit after one: Nearly all parents with kids at home melted down through the pandemic.
“Parents need respite in the form of childcare and child-only activities to reduce stress,” said coauthor Paul Gruenewald, scientific director at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, in a statement. He suggests skills and tools to identify and reduce stress, such as heart-rate monitor apps and deep-breathing techniques, to “help parents cope with extremely difficult situations.”