Health & Well-being

Controller, Avoider, Absorber or Glider?

Pandemic Parenting Styles

It’s hard to fathom that we’re currently approaching the end of our second year since Covid-19 started making its way around the world. Yet here we are, with our lifestyles and livelihoods still significantly impacted by the pressures of a pandemic.

So, how are we all coping? I don’t know about you, but each time I hear those official announcements on what stage or phase we are now entering, I flip into this weird autopilot reaction to the news. I recently talked to a group of parents (actually my mates, but still a fair sample I reckon) about their coping mechanisms and found that while we all have different reactions, there are some common threads in how we’re responding to the challenges. And with that completely unscientific research under my belt, I came up with four default styles for parenting in pandemic.

1. The Controller

There is nothing like a pandemic to highlight just how many aspects of life are actually out of our control. This is more challenging for some of us than others. A classic reaction of the controller can be illustrated by yours truly, in particular how I responded to the PM’s announcement that we were entering phase 2 recently (and all this talk of phase 3 has got me tightening my grip too). I automatically went into control mode, unaware of what I was doing until later in the evening.

I started talking obsessively about all these random fitness goals I wanted to put into place, the new daily schedule I wanted to establish and the revised routines I was going to set in motion so my family could have more structure. Planning, micromanaging, updating my iCal, writing checklists – I was all in. The ‘Be Still’ message tattooed on my wrist, for times such as these, was completely disregarded as I spent a messy evening frantically grasping for any control I could hold on to.

After a few hours of incessant rambling and ranting about the new routine, my husband very graciously said to me, “Babe, you’re a little bit intense tonight.”

After a few hours of incessant rambling and ranting about the new routine, my husband very graciously said to me, “Babe, you’re a little bit intense tonight.” He was right, I was intense. My brain had gone into full ‘I need to be in control’ mode.

And here’s where is gets confusing. Old me was a little bit obsessive and over-routined, full stop. But since the pandemic began, I’ve had no real motivation to do anything except the bare basics. Which leads me to the second pandemic parenting style.

2. The Avoider

Standards famously dropped during those endless days of lockdowns past, and I suspect it will be the same story for parents thrown into rolling self-isolations. Trackpants elevated to ‘home office chic’, ‘daily’ showers becoming more like a ‘sometimes’, teeth brushed inconsistently and the same story for hair. You find yourself with a dreadlock on the back of your head that you obsessively comb during a team Zoom meeting. Because, A, who has the energy for any of it, and B, who actually cares?

Your usual well-structured, fairly well-organised self is long forgotten in the aftermath of a Covid announcement.

Motivation has gone, exercise a thing of the past. Getting out of bed, keeping kids entertained enough to not break the house or each other, achieving minimal work requirements and providing a basic dinner consisting mostly of boiled things is your idea of a successful day. (I mean heck, eggs on toast or even porridge is totally a dinner.) Dust bunnies pile up and the clean laundry is stacked behind the couch for folding ‘one day’. This is about survival, and anything outside of basic human needs is not possible right now.

3. The Absorber

This type puts their body on the line, taking the hits and cushioning the blow for their family – quite literally.

The announcement is made, the mind feels relatively calm, you get on with the day and keep working through your checklist. Work deadlines, school pick-up, swimming lessons, dinner prep, homework, chores, family time, bedtime routine, check, check, check. Suddenly you realise your neck is locked up, you can’t turn left or right, you have a throbbing headache bordering on a migraine and you feel absolutely exhausted.

Since the news hit, you’ve been getting on with your day like any other day, taking it all in your stride (or so you thought), but a few hours later you realise the pent-up emotion has manifested itself physically. It’s like your body's lovely way of saying, “Hey, I know what you're doing, you’re stressed but not doing anything about it. You’re ignoring your needs so I'm going to force you to stop by giving you lots of signals to make you listen to me!”

Time for a hot bath, calming music, aromatic smells to unwind, and maybe a trip to the osteo tomorrow!

4. The Glider

These types have a remarkable capacity to just go with the flow. They typically have four or more children and still maintain a Zen-like calm. They never look frazzled or bedraggled (like many of us with one or two children). They hold down a job, cook fresh meals and their homes are tidy and clean.

Nothing seems to phase them; they don’t look into the future and panic at what might come. There is absolutely no catastrophic thinking here – these guys are living in the moment and seem to take life’s obstacles and setbacks firmly in their stride, shrugging off any problem that tries to interrupt their chill life.

When all the kids are home, the gliders are either in their element playing school teacher with calm and organised order, or they're living their best life – unschooling and letting nature and curiosity take root so the kids gain meaningful experiences. Screen time? It could go either way here too – it’s either device-free and everyone's cool with it, or everyone's on a screen anytime they want and it doesn’t bother you one bit. Girl, you are a vibe.

They typically have four or more children and still maintain a Zen-like calm. They never look frazzled or bedraggled (like many of us with one or two children).

All laughs aside, there are quite possibly elements in all four of my mostly made-up stereotypes that we can all relate to. And interestingly (frighteningly?), I’m sure some of us (or just me?) can live out all four personality types in a single day, maybe even before lunch! I’m not sure if that’s encouraging at all, but it’s certainly intended to be – this ‘parenting in a pandemic’ gig is hard work and it’s completely understandable that we’re having some big reactions to ever-changing updates and the ominous prospect of self-isolation. And then there’s the prospect of caring for sick whānau members, on top of everything else in our parenting world. It’s a lot.

And it’s not easy, but we’re proving to be a resilient bunch in the face of constant change and trying circumstances. Whatever ‘parenting in a pandemic’ style has become your default, keep looking after yourself and prioritise self-care so you can then take care of your family. Calm breeds calm, and all parents – from the controllers to the gliders – play a vital role in keeping the vibes calm at home, pandemics or otherwise.

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker works as a PR Specialist, Writer and Presenter for Parenting Place. She is a mum of two, runs her own marketing consultancy business and has a background in high school education where she specialised in health and social sciences. Holly is co-founder of

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