Parenting is hard enough as it is, much less during a world pandemic. Schools and child care centers are closed across Alabama and many people are working from home. That means families may be bumping up against each other more than usual. One place that’s seen is through the Parenting Assistance Line (PAL).
The organization is a non-profit housed at the University of Alabama. It started in 2007 and is intended to provide help or just a listening ear to frustrated parents and caregivers. Parents can call, text or chat online with a parenting expert.
“We still get calls about everything,” Amy Walker said.
Walker is a parent resource specialist. She said issues typically range from how to feed an infant and potty train a toddler to disciplining a teenager. Now that coronavirus has disrupted life, the number of calls are increasing and the subject is changing.
“We’re getting calls about parental stress,” Walker says. “Because parents are not only being parents, but they’re being teachers also.”
With schools closed in Alabama through the end of the school year, teachers are offering instruction online or sending home packets. Parents are left to be the in-person interpreter of those lessons.
“Parents are dealing with things that they’ve never had to deal with before,” Walker said. “And the stress levels are going up.”
Walker recommends parents set a routine as close as possible to how things were before the pandemic, while accommodating the school work. She said some teachers suggest students spend only two hours on instruction.
“I had one mom, she said my kids can’t sit at the kitchen table and do school work all day long,” Walker said. “I said, ‘please don’t expect them to do that because at school they’re not sitting at their desk all day long.’”
Walker suggests parents mimic a regular school day, when students would move among lessons, visit the library or break for lunch or recess. She adds parents need to understand it’s OK if the routine isn’t followed perfectly. Children still will learn.
People who answer the hotline calls are also preparing for other needs. For instance, a parent may want help with utility bills as more people find themselves out of work. PAL can refer callers to other agencies.
Not all calls are serious. Walker remembers one in which the caller wanted to pass along a message to University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban. But, she said, the most heartwarming moments are when a parent calls back to tell them a suggestion worked.
“The repeat callers that call us back and say, ‘Thank you,’ for being there are the ones that make us happy,” Walker said.
Parents or other caregivers can call or text the Parenting Assistance Line at 866-962-3030. It is a free service.