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Parenting through the coronavirus lockdown

Portrait of cute little boy painting picture with mom helping him, copy space

(CNN)Writing this was hard.

Practically speaking, I'm feeling overwhelmed. I am behind on work because we kept my runny-nosed but otherwise seemingly fine, toddler home from school for a few days to not worry his teachers.
My online shopping cart has been subject to a large number of orders and revisions. Do we need more toilet paper? Canned tuna? How much is prudent? How much is hoarding or even ethical?
    I, too, have taken a deep dive into the world of hand sanitizer on the internet. I still remain empty-handed. Then there's the extra laundry, the extra food prep and the firm commitment to making sure everyone gets to sleep on time to keep their immune systems in high gear.
      All this, and the question we've all asked so many times that we can barely recognize the words anymore: Did you wash your hands? Did you wash your hands? Did you wash your hands?
        Emotionally, I'm unmoored. I worry about my friends and family getting Covid-19. I worry about schools shutting down. I worry about schools not shutting down.
        Like many moms, I am the one in my marriage with a flexible job, which means that all scheduling upheavals are mine to manage and that I don't get paid sick days.
          On top of this, I spent two full work days reading everything I could find about the virus —research for this article. Like many, I went from cautious to nervous to panicked at a breakneck speed. The more you know. I saw harrowing photos of Italian hospitals. I read charts illustrating America's unpreparedness. Tom Hanks. The NBA.
          This is parenthood in the time of the coronavirus.
          It's demanding, emotional -- and to think I felt overwhelmed last month. For me and many others, managing the threat of the virus is adding a new and significant dose of domestic and emotional labor to our lives. If you are the mom in the family, odds are that most of this labor is falling in your lap.

          Managing the feelings and anxiety

          The act of parenting, or parenting well at least, requires some baseline anxiety.
          "Part of becoming a parent is about becoming hypervigilant to potential threats. You become a threat detection machine," said Darby Saxbe, associate professor of psychology and director of the Center for the Changing Family at the University of Southern California.
          What makes coronavirus anxiety so much worse than will-my-toddler-run-into-traffic anxiety is its potential for disruption of our daily routines combined with a deeper uncertainty about how it will play out.
          How long will our kids be out of school? How will we get our work done? And this goes for parents with paid employment, as well as those who stay home. Managing kids and a house is work.
          The logistical anxieties are far more severe for the millions of parents who are also caring for an elderly parent, or don't have access to paid sick leave. In normal times, this includes a quarter of private sector workers and 70% of low-wage workers, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families (PDF).
          From there, it's easy to drift to bigger, more existential questions. How many people will die? Also, pandemics are stress tests for societies. Will ours pass?

          Hijacking our parenting instincts

          "We wouldn't have a species if we didn't have these mechanisms for responding to our kids," Saxbe said. "But these global issues can hijack these systems for being a protective parent."
          Yael Krieger is a mother of three young children in Berkeley, California. Anxiety prone to begin with, she now finds herself in a constant battle with worst-case scenarios that keep bubbling up in her head.
          At the center of her anxiety sits all the unknowns, which are difficult to reason through. For one, our understanding of the disease and how it functions is extremely limited, and there are new findings every day. Also, she feels that the US government has given her very little reason to have faith in its ability to manage the outbreak.