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PARENT SHAMING IN THE PANDEMIC

By Irena Ioannou

I’ve always admired people who are vocal about the current state of affairs, who march at demonstrations and scream at the top of their lungs about animal rights, education reform, or the financial crisis. Even if at times I do not fully agree with their point of view, the passion with which they express their opinions impress me because in my mind having a strong opinion is a lot better than having no opinion at all, or even worse, not caring about anything beyond your microcosm.

At times I have felt guilty for not taking an active part in public demonstrations—technically there is always time when you look hard enough for it—and for getting bogged down by my everyday responsibilities while letting campaigns and grand ideas of change pass me by.  I have also often felt guilty that in a way I’m relying on others to save the world, too timid or indecisive to make my views public.

A deeper problem for me lies in the fact that the more I read about a subject, the more I feel like I can root for either side or understand the dynamics played out in the background. A sad aspect of public participation in our democracy at this moment is that expressing any opinion publicly is often followed with intense scrutiny and an instant labelling of your political affiliation.

In Greece, schools start in a few days and wearing a mask will be mandatory for every pupil above the age of four. As expected, the Greek public has reacted to the decision with grave concerns and mayhem.

In my country, and perhaps worldwide, you are either a traitor and/or stupid if you don’t follow the majority’s view. You are expected to fanatically fight either for or against a proposition. The press is equally divided—the word ‘independent’ gradually disappearing from public use—and hot debates are treated as opportunities to throw mud on the government, present or previous. Parents are not exempt from this pressure to conform, leaving no space to allow for the added responsibility of making decisions on behalf of the family.

As if that is not enough, as parents in the Covid-19 era we are expected to take on more roles by the day—we have suddenly become zoom technicians and fake news detectors, teachers and medical experts—and we are expected to have an informed position about almost everything. Any effort to make sense of the world feels like we are in the middle of a storm, with every scientist and expert on earth tugging at our sleeves to pull us in their direction.

Here are some thoughts from a parent navigating the pandemic.

It is normal to feel uncertain.

When the world turns upside down, it is normal to feel overwhelmed. There is no blueprint for life, no single right path and no scale to measure right calls or wrong turns. Sometimes we make wrong decisions, we feel vehemently about something, then have an epiphany or read new data and change our minds. It is desirable to exercise caution, even towards agencies’ decisions that claim to know better. History is full of experts who had done their homework and knew better and disagreed with uneducated parents who could not tell right from wrong.

Feeling guilty should make us suspicious.

Finger-pointing and ridiculing are common tactics in social media nowadays and calm, sensible interactions are the exception rather than the norm. As in everything, whenever someone dismisses our opinion as naïve or tries to make us feel guilty in order to silence us we should get suspicious. It is every parent’s right and obligation to question the decisions that pertain to their child’s well-being, and accusing them either of not taking their child’s health seriously or shrugging off the consequences for the rest of the population is simply unethical.      

Voicing our thoughts can be liberating.

By reaching out and talking in person and face-to-face to someone. Social media and the press can be easily manipulated while offering a distorted view of reality, and public demonstrations are not for everyone. Instead, there are many people in the same situation with us, perhaps silent, possibly equally troubled and burdened about this new era of things. People, uncertain about their reactions towards change. We can never find our ‘tribe’ unless we reach out and share our concerns. In the company of like-minded people our stress can be relieved, and our problems seen in a different light.

In my experience, it is the parents who are trying to navigate life in an ever-changing world. Who are suddenly left with the weight of the world on their shoulders and look around baffled. These parents don’t need patronizing or criticizing for the questions they pose and the decisions they reach. They have enough on their plate already. These parents need and deserve respect. And maybe we can all work together towards getting through the tough times.

Irena Ioannou writes from Crete, Greece and her work has recently appeared in Crannóg and Betty Fedora. She is currently working on her first novel. She is a mother of five.

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