Pandemic parenting: the pleasures and pitfalls of relaxed health measures in Alberta

A mom and her daughter wear face masks while waiting for a train. (Getty Images)

Becoming a parent is always an emotional time and the days and months that follow are filled with all kinds of challenges, but becoming a parent during the COVID-19 pandemic introduced a whole new set of trials and tribulations for Albertans.

After two years of health restrictions of varying levels, most of Alberta's measures – including mandatory masking in the majority of indoor spaces – were dropped on March 1.

Now, over a month later, mothers who gave birth during the pandemic are still finding themselves adjusting to the "new normal," some with trepidation and others with joy.

'SHOULD HAVE BEEN RELAXED A LONG TIME AGO': SOME MOMS LIKE THE LACK OF RESTRICTIONS

Calgarian Ashley Sceviour, a mother of two, views the relaxed rules as a welcome reprieve.

"I think they should have been relaxed a long time ago," she said.

For Sceviour, one of the hardest times during the pandemic was explaining to her children why things like visiting the playground or a friend were off-limits.

"I think it was very frustrating," she said. "They don't understand why they can't go interact with someone."

Diana Izard, a counsellor at the Calgary Counselling Centre, says mothers who are happy to get out more now that restrictions have been relaxed shouldn’t feel any guilt.

"I think it is important to potentially remain cautious about what you're exposing your child to, but I think that this is a moment that everyone's really been looking forward to," Izard said.

WILL MY CHILD'S LACK OF SOCIALIZATION HURT THEM?

Sceviour gave birth during the pandemic, and has concerns that her one-year-old Wilfred and four-year-old Evangeline haven't been socialized enough due to various pandemic restrictions.  

"We're going into kindergarten this year, and they're seeing that every kindergarten we spoke to, they're having that issue," Sceviour said.

Calgarian Miko Collette, a mother of two, was so worried her children weren't getting enough socialization during the pandemic that she ended up launching her own day home.

Collette was on an extended maternity leave from her job with the Calgary Board of Education when COVID-19 hit.

"My kids weren't getting any socialization and it was really affecting them," she explained.

Collette's two sons, Tadashi and Takeshi, are six years old and three years old respectively.

Takeshi was diagnosed in utero with a heart condition and has had developmental issues since being born.

Due to her youngest son's health conditions, Collette decided against putting her oldest son in daycare during the pandemic.

"I actually ended up making a Kindergarten pod for myself, so he and two other boys would come to the house and I would teach them Kindergarten. And then I ended up finding two additional boys that would come to the house, so that my youngest son could socialize while I was teaching," she explained.

She said the situation was one that worked for her family because she was able to limit her sons' potential exposure to COVID-19 while still getting them the education and socialization that they needed.

"My kids, I didn't realize how social both of them were until the pandemic hit," she said. "When the pandemic hit and they weren't seeing anybody, they were like, 'I just want a friend. I just want to play.'"

Izard says parents shouldn't worry too much about their kids having any developmental delays due to the restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

"Kids are always learning and growing and developing," she said. "And I think the socialization will come. I think kids are going to be able to catch up developmentally."

'MORE STRESSED': RELAXED RESTRICTIONS CAUSE CONCERN FOR SOME MOMS

While some parents, like Sceviour, may be enjoying the relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, others, like Collette, are unhappy with the changes.

"I wish that all of the masking requirements were still in place," Collette said.

"I'm more stressed. It's a lot harder now, because my one son who is immunocompromised, he won't wear (a mask). He doesn't feel like wearing masks to begin with, and now that nobody else is wearing a mask, he doesn't feel like he has to wear the mask."'

Aside from having an immunocompromised child, Collette's father is also battling cancer and has a weakened immune system, making it even more important for her kids to be healthy if they wish to visit him.

Collette says she still takes the kids in her day home for public outings, but they remain masked.

"The rule while they're with me is that they have to mask just because when we do go out in public, that's something that's very important," she said.

"So we have to sit down and talk about 'how long do we keep our masks on? The whole time. What do we do when we get in? We sanitize our hands. What do we do when we leave? We sanitize their hands.' So that we know all of the rules before we go in, so that there's no surprises and nobody gets upset."

Collette also tries to take the kids to public places at the start of the day when they aren't as busy.

"When we're outside I'm much more relaxed about things, but when we're inside, like libraries, sometimes we go to a mall, I refuse to take them to play places or anything like that, just because I don't trust that there will be some kind of cross-contamination."

Collette said they also don't allow visitors to their house unless they've taken a taken a COVID-19 test before hand and tested negative.

WHETHER OR NOT YOU LIKE THE CHANGES, DON'T EXPOSE YOUR CHILD TO UNDUE STRESS

Izard says she and her colleagues at the Calgary Counselling Centre are hearing mixed reactions to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

"Most parents that had children during the pandemic, it was harder for them to face the isolation than the prospect of things opening up and being able to get back out. But on the other end of that spectrum, I do know of some new mothers who said that it feels weird to try to navigate that."

Whether you're a parent who is pleased with the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, or one who is frustrated by the move, Izard says the important thing is to try to reduce the level of stress kids may be exposed to in the home.

"If they're living with parents who are very highly anxious or fearful about the current COVID situation, that can really impact a child's development," Izard said.

"So for example, if we have one mom that says to her kiddo 'make sure that you wash your hands, you don't want to get COVID and die' -- I mean, that's a really extreme example -- that can create a really anxious kid. Whereas, on the other end of the spectrum, you might have a parent that says, 'don't forget to wash your hands, it's just a part of our routine. When we come in from the house, we wash our hands' and that kid's not going to be anxious, the parent is mitigating that fear that the child will experience."

"It's okay for parents to know about the risks, but I would caution them from sharing too much about those risks with the kids."

BREASTFEEDING DURING THE PANDEMIC: WHAT'S CHANGED

Another area of parenting that can cause stress for many moms is breastfeeding.

Whether you're attempting to get your child to latch, concerned about your milk production or worried about breastfeeding in public, there is a lot to consider.

Leanne Rzepa is a registered nurse and lactation consultant through Nourish Lactation, a company she owns.

She says the pandemic has actually impacted her company positively.  

"At first, when COVID entered our world, I wasn't sure how I would be able to continue," she said.

"I wasn't sure how comfortable new moms would feel about having another person in their home. But my business has been very busy. I think most new moms are feeling more comfortable about having somebody come into their home versus taking their newborn out into a medical office or having to wait in a busy clinic."

Furthermore, Rzepa says the pandemic has seemingly prompted some moms to breastfeed for longer than they thought they would.

"I have had moms who were initially considering weaning, contact me and say, 'I know we're still in the midst of a pandemic, I want to keep breastfeeding because I want to be able to give my baby as much protection as possible.'"

Rzepa offers in-home and virtual sessions for clients, and says offering virtual sessions has allowed her to work with people who live outside of Calgary and might not have as easy access to lactation consultants.

"I can assess a latch, it often takes a helper to hold the phone to like move it to different angles so I can get a really good look at the baby's latch, but I'm also able to assess for tongue tie or lip tie through a virtual console as well."

Some women can find the prospect of breastfeeding in public stressful or unappealing, and those concerns can be heightened for some due to the pandemic.

"I haven't seen that personally with my clients," Rzepa said. "But I know that it is that is real."

"Breastfeeding in public has kind of always been a hot topic even before the pandemic.

"If a woman is out in public with her infant, she might still want to find a more private, enclosed, safe, socially-distanced space to feed her baby, perhaps not so much for privacy, but just for exposure. If she's sitting on a bench next to a stranger, she might not feel as comfortable breastfeeding versus going into an enclosed private nursing room where she is able to keep a safe distance from other people."

Rzepa said another reason clients reach out to her is because they've gotten so used to feeding at home they're unsure what they need to focus on to make it an effective feed if they do it in public.

"They're not sure," Rzepa explained. "'Do I need to bring my breastfeeding pillow? How do I get set up? How do I get comfortable outside of my home environment, in order to feed my baby out in public?'"

Whether feeding in public or at home, being comfortable is important.

"If the mom is comfortable, then her milk is going to flow more easily, and babies are very in tune with how moms are feeling. So if a mom is feeling especially stressed, or anxious, that actually raises our stress hormone called cortisol, and if that cortisol level is quite high, it can actually prevent the oxytocin hormone, which is the milk flowing hormone, it can prevent that hormone from being able to have the milk let down,"

HOW TO HANDLE YOUR ANXIETY

Whether you're experiencing anxiety over breastfeeding in public, or just the prospect of heading out in public amid decreased health measures, you just need to take things one step at a time.

Izard says, for example, if your end goal is to feel comfortable taking your child to Kindergarten, you can start with a playdate with another kid outside, then another playdate indoors, followed by more indoor playdates until you feel more comfortable.

If you find yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed, she says to stop and focus on your present moment.

"I am currently doing the dishes," she said, as an example. "Okay, what does that feel like? As I add the warm water and the soapy bubbles, let's stay in the moment, because I think that helps keep people grounded and out of that worry cycle."

Izard's most important takeaway is that there's no sense in using a lot of mental energy on "things that we can't change or that we can't know the answer to."

If you are feeling anxious or stressed, you can reach out to the Calgary Counselling Centre.

"We accept intakes either online through our website or over the phone," Izard said.

"We're open six days a week, so Monday to Saturday, and I would say counselors typically booked between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m."

For more information, you can visit the Calgary Counselling Centre's website.