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Parents are reeling from COVID decision fatigue

It's been 18 months. You'd think we'd be somewhat accustomed to pandemic life at this point, right? You'd think with some experience under our belt, parenting within the reality of COVID would have gotten easier or something.

But it hasn't. It's gotten harder.

Writer Allison Benedikt published an essay in Slate today titled "I Have No Idea What I'm OK Letting My Kids Do During COVID Anymore" and no headline has ever been more relatable. She describes the thoughts so many of us parents have as we make a dozen daily decisions about how, when, where, with whom, and with what measures in place we'll allow our kids to have a social life.

If only the answers to such questions were simple. (They're not.) And if only the consequences of such choices were not potentially life or death for someone we may or may not know. (They are.)


Pandemic life is hard on us all, but pandemic life as a parent feels impossible. Every decision we make feels fraught, and there seems to be less and less rhyme or reason to the choices we make at this point. Each decision gets weighed against an ever-changing pile of data and guidance, the current COVID reality of our local area, who is vaccinated and who isn't, and our knowledge of the COVID-consciousness and carefulness of the families of the kids our kids want to hang out with.

And that's just to decide if some form of hanging out is going to happen or not. Then we get into the inside/outside, masks/no masks, how-close-can-they-be, what-about-eating, wait-that-kid-never-keeps-his-mask-over-his-nose considerations. Decisions, decisions, and more decisions.

We know that our kids need to socialize with other kids and we already did the Minecraft playdates for months on end thing. But figuring out what we are comfortable with, balancing it with what other parents are comfortable with, weighing it with what we think the guidance is for each situation, and constantly staying on top of it all is downright exhausting.

Some days it feels like we should just toss up our hands and say, "GAH. I give up. Do whatever." But then you remember that "doing whatever" means staying in this mess for longer, and also your kid could end up killing someone, even if they don't get sick and die themselves. We're over it, but we can't be over it.

I don't know any conscientious parent who isn't confused and exhausted at this point. We see statistics that show kids are not at high risk of severe disease or death from COVID, and then we see that pediatric hospitals are filling up with children. We see people talking about how the death rate for kids is low, but we also don't know what long-term health impacts there might be from a COVID infection. I have a friend whose teen son almost died from a COVID exposure that led to MIS-C and severe ongoing health issues, but also, MIS-C is rare. Our personal stories clash with the statistics, leading us to various conclusions based on various data and criteria, none of which is set in stone.

As Benedikt pointed out in her Slate article, it was actually easier earlier in the pandemic when we were just asked to stay home. The rules were clear and choices were sucky-but-simple. School? All online anyway. Playdates? Nope, can't. Have to go to the store? Mask up. Hate it? Yep, but at least we know what we're supposed to do.

Now we have to think about how much risk is too much and how much carefulness is overkill. I consider our family to be on the "very careful" end of the spectrum, but then I see someone walking around outside wearing a mask when there are no other people within 30 feet of them and realize some people are far more careful than we are. Everyone's threshold is different, everyone's risk-benefit calculation is different, and it runs the gamut from "We're living like the pandemic doesn't even exist" to "We basically never leave our home." How are we supposed to live in a society with this kind of chasm between people's pandemic handling, much less figure out how to parent our children in it?

It doesn't help that some of us got a little taste of normalcy this summer. Our youngest is 12, so everyone in our family is vaccinated, as are nearly all of our friends. We got to hang out for real. We got to feel carefree for a little while, and it was glorious. Then Delta hit, breakthrough infections increased, the school year began, masks are back, and the decisions became more complicated again.

Now we're in this weird purgatory of constant decision-making where every choice feels like the wrong one. After 18 months of this, the decision fatigue is real.

Hang in there, parents. I'm not sure I can honestly say "we're all in this together" at this point, but at the very least, there are millions of other parents who are feeling the same struggle you are.

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