Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Parenting in 2020: The "cool mom" trap

We know that children, teens, and young adults face conflicting messages about risks during the Pandemic. A healthy drive for connection is stymied by pressure to remain safe — socially distanced, masked, and armed for battle against COVID-19. We feel for our children, grieve over their disappointments, and frantically search for solutions, envisioning grave consequences to their psyches if they are denied access to their friends.

We hear conflicting advice in the media — everything from rates of COVID-19 spread among children to dire predictions of psychological fallout resulting from social isolation. Without clear guidance or support on a national level, families are left to interpret whatever information is available and make their own decisions. Some choose a strict level of caution regarding their child’s activities. Others develop creative solutions such as “pods” where families convene based on mutual trust regarding safety precautions. Still others ignore science altogether, claiming the Pandemic is a hoax.

Are you a "cool mom?"

While most families muddle through each long day, week, and month, they recalibrate their decisions on the basis of family risk factors, local case numbers, and what needs or demands are most pressing. These daily choices may be complicated by the “cool mom” (or "cool dad, grandparent, guardian, caregiver") dilemma — the pressure to appear invulnerable to worries. We long to be the cool parent who is light on rules, and now, willing to play fast and loose with COVID-19 precautions. Hey, we're not going to succumb to fear. I don't want to be the only parent on the block who keeps my child from parties and soccer games. 

We come from a culture where “being cool,” invulnerable, and even reckless is applauded in film, the media, and most social circles. From an early age, we learn that social approval often hinges upon our willingness to take risks. Those daredevil kids in elementary school were revered. Risk-taking, rebellious teens were admired, and at the very least, seemed to get more dates and boast legendary party adventures. Those who displayed more caution or conscientiousness were labeled as boring/fearful/no fun, even when their behavior was a sign of emerging maturity. 

As parents, we now face similar pressures. Unfortunately, social interactions in close quarters, without masks, are a badge of "coolness." It seems like the "cool parents" are more permissive, letting their kids ignore COVID-19 safety precautions. Often, these are the same parents who allow their kids to “free-range” with little supervision, rarely enforce a bedtime, or provide alcohol at their teen’s parties. We might even envy their cavalier attitude, their seemingly casual disregard for rules and limitations. It feels lousy to be a stick-in-mud, a limit-setter, the conscientious parent willing to weather our child’s wrath over rules. We also want our kids to fit in - especially our gifted kids who often already struggle with peer relations. Our own childhood experiences — of exclusion, teasing, or choices related to risk-taking — also may weigh heavily, imploring us to loosen any restraints, to throw caution to the wind. 

But now, in 2020, amidst so much struggle and disappointment, it is still our job to be the adult in the room. We can admit that, yes, this is a difficult time. We can acknowledge their frustration and distress.  But we still need to safeguard our children's, family's and the community's well-being, model mature and responsible behavior, and remind our children that they will get through this. We also need to protect them from our own anxiety and fears. It's no fun being the uncool adult - but right now, it's part of the job. 

Additional articles about weathering this difficult time:

Five essential guidelines for helping your child during this global crisis

Cultivating tolerance and empathy in our children and students

A lesson learned from the Pandemic

On Independence Day 2020: Tips for families of gifted children

Brave, new, connected, compassionate world

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Hop on "2020: The year of..." To see more blogs, click on this link.


  1. Well said. It has been a year of much confusion, but children can get sick, too.

  2. Thanks so much. This speaks to the pressure our family has felt. It is hard getting our kids to not feel bad because their friends are allowed to do more than we let them.

    1. Thanks for sharing this! I hope the situation improves.