Amanda Zelechoski not only practices what she preaches; she practices what she researches.
As an attorney, licensed clinical and forensic psychologist specializing in child and adolescent trauma, she co-founded the site and resource, Pandemic Parenting, to help others and herself as a mother of three young boys.
During COVID lockdowns with remote work and remote schooling, “The stress at home can be bad,” says Zelechoski, associate professor at Valparaiso University, where she directs the Psychology, Law and Trauma Lab, and whose sons are 11, 8 and 5.
“I work full time and with three young kids here I am now responsible for home learning. What kept me up at night was thinking these stress levels will skyrocket with stressed parents and kids locked in their homes,” she says.
These are facts she has spent her career researching and her life preparing to address.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Zelechoski attended University of Notre Dame, with an undergraduate degree in psychology in 2002, then went on to earn both a forensic psychology degree from Drexel University in 2009 and a law degree from Villanova University in 2007. She had an internship at University of Massachusetts Medical School focusing on trauma. She has been at Valparaiso since 2011, conducting research on the impact and effects of childhood trauma.
Read more in Take The Lead on COVID and mental health
“In early March many of us saw what was on the horizon and became really worried,” says Zelechoski, who with colleagues launched a study of 450 families in the U.S. and Canada who were tracked for three months. The study is in the analysis and writing process stage.
With co-founder, Dr. Lindsay Malloy, who is Associate Professor of Psychology at Ontario Tech University, specializing in developmental and forensic psychology, and Director of the Development, Context, and Communication Lab, Zelechoski made the swift and informed decision to share the resources of their research.
“COVID-19 is taking a toll on Americans’ mental health and women may be taking the brunt of it. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53 % of women said they are feeling stress from COVID-19, compared to 37% of men,” reports WMCA News.
Ball State University researchers led by sociologist Richard Petts “surveyed 1,060 U.S. parents living with a partner of the opposite sex. They analyzed changes in the division of labor for household chores and childcare since the pandemic began.”
Petts reports, “For a subset of women about a third of women, things have gotten significantly worse.”
Read more in Take The Lead on inequities in parenting in COVID
“I’m sitting on information and data that could be helpful right now,” she says, so the first webinars launched in August, with 50-300 attendees every other week.
The team’s research-backed tips on parenting during COVID and leading a team of parents during COVID are urgent and necessary. “These are ways to be helpful and try to meet parents and leaders where they are,” Zelechoski says.
1. Acknowledge decision fatigue. “You’re exhausted, in stress and crisis. This is why so many women are leaving the workforce.”
2. “A lot of it depends on childcare. “Kids are home around the clock, some school districts are all remote and kids need around the clock supervision and teaching. My work hours are 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.”
3. Name and normalize the things you are experiencing. “If you are struggling and everyone else seems to be doing fine as you scroll through social media, you wonder why you can’t get it together. You are not alone. You are not doing anything wrong. There is no way you are being expected to manage all the things now.”
4. It looks different for many. “We are in the same storm, but not the same boat. If you are privileged, married, or a parent of color affected by economic and systemic racism—you are experiencing this in different ways. I can trade off care taking with my partner to be in a Zoom meeting, but a single parent cannot.”
5. Adjust your expectations. “Pre-pandemic standards do not apply. It isn’t fair and reasonable. It is hour to hour for most of us, you just need to do the next right thing. One next right thing is the most we can handle right now.”
6. What can you say no to? “Learn to say no.”
7. Across the board be flexible. “Leaders cannot have 9-5 expectations to be logged in and answer emails. Flexibility is about when are work hours. Offer staff and colleagues breathing room. Many are managing children’s emotional regulations.”
8. Prioritize. “Of these 10 tasks, ask that these three have to be done this week.”
9. Give clear directions. “Help employees structure time. We are all trying to have a professional persona, and we’ve all seen examples of kids busting into Zoom. Have some grace around that. The expectations for women are so different.”
10. Set boundaries. “For mental health professionals, these boundaries are the hardest part. How a women is perceived is different.”
“The mental health fallout of COVID will be for years,” Zelechoski says. As for Pandemic Parenting offering its resources, she says, that will be
“We donate all our time. As long as we can do it, we will.”
This post originally ran in Take The Lead.