WTF Is 'Good Parenting' in the WFH Era?

If you're feeling like a failure, don't

The right thing to do isn't always apparent in the best of times. But in exceptional times like these, the right thing feels less obvious than ever.

I am trying to be brave and strong for the kind, talented, butt-busting creatives I get to work with every day, because I know that they, like me, just want someone to tell them we'll be back to work soon, even though they, like me, have no idea how true that is.

I try to be funny for those on my social feeds because I know that they, like me, are struggling to find lightness of any kind. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I'm not. But I feel like making someone, somewhere, smile for a moment is a worthwhile endeavor.

Mostly, though, I am, like many of you, struggling with how to be a WFH dad.

I have been alone in my apartment with my 1.5-year-old son for 17 days. No other family. No outside help. For 17 days, I've had no human contact outside of a boy whose first words every morning are, "ANNA? ELSA?"

Parenting in these conditions, under the long shadow of COVID-19, is difficult. But trying to be a dad while navigating the extraordinary business challenges we are all trying work through—it has made me feel like a failure. I'm so supremely focused on trying to help our staff, our clients and our business that I have left Maddox sitting in his high chair for an hour or more as I take meetings. Or left him in his crib long after he wakes up from a nap, just so I can get a couple more emails out. In an effort to keep my eye on work, I've let him roam free, twice resulting in him falling off my bed. Both times he was OK. But no thanks to me.

Every day during this crisis, I failed at the most important job of my life, the Little Voice inside me is quick to point out. And when I listen to that voice, which is more often than I would like, I believe it wholeheartedly.

But it isn't true. What IS undeniably true is this: My Little Voice is an asshole. And if you are crazy enough to put your entire heart into this business, as I have, I am guessing your Little Voice is probably an asshole, too. 

It's so easy to find fault with ourselves in this time. The parent we imagine ourselves to be under the cover of co-parents, or schools, or babysitters or nannies, and the parent we are when all of that goes away in an instant, are very different people. It's jarring, and it's difficult to reconcile. But does it make me a bad parent?

No.

An imperfect parent, sure. But perfection was never a realistic goal. I'm far from perfect at everything. And no critic of mine—and there are many—could ever be as hard on me as the Little Voice.

For 17 days, I have spent every waking hour focusing on how to salvage or reimagine existing ideas, proactively pitch new ones and keep everyone sane (even if I couldn't do the same for myself) while spending 15 of those hours feeding, bathing, teaching and entertaining my son.

We cut father-son mohawks. Hid under the covers for hours on end. Converted his crib into a basketball net. I introduced him to asparagus. Chick peas. Spicy Water (seltzer) and The Atlantic. We listened to Bill Simmons late into the night and read Llama Llama every morning. 

And we watched Frozen. Good lord did we watch the holy hell out of Frozen.

Maddox is happy. He may have a bad haircut, but he's happy. And those 17 days are unlike any 17 we will ever have again. Despite what a failure I believe myself to be, Maddox is healthy, well-fed, well-adjusted, and doing about as well in this moment as anyone could be.

Cut yourself some slack. We're in uncharted waters here. You are not a bad parent because you have to focus on work. And you're not bad at your job because you have to take a break to read Pout Pout Fish.

Be safe. Be well. Don't listen to that asshole Little Voice. And, as best you can, try not to spend too much time in Arendelle.

That place will drive you crazy.

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Ryan Wagman
Ryan Wagman is the chief creative officer for 160over90, the creative agency owned by Endeavor.

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