Pandemic parent guilt is real. Here's what experts advise

"The idea that we have to keep up with what other people are doing or trying to normalize things as best as we can and do things the way it used to, it really weighs heavy."
YORBA LINDA, Calif. (KABC) -- Mental health experts say more and more parents are feeling torn between the guilt of having their kids miss out on fun activities and the fear of exposing them to the coronavirus.

As the holidays near, mother of two Erin Riley of Yorba Linda feels stuck between a rock and a hard place.

"Going to a kid's birthday party. People are having kids' birthday parties," she said. "Do we even do that? Do we even go to that?"

Riley said "parent guilt" sets in when she sees friends on social media posting where they took their kids.

MORE: Tips on how to manage your mental health
EMBED More News Videos

As part of Mental Illness Awareness week, we asked Southern California residents what they do to help manage their mental health during this difficult year. Eyewitness News viewers shared what they do.


"Well, so-and-so went to the Irvine Park Pumpkin Patch. Should I be going to take my kids to take pictures?" she said.

And when Riley does say yes, she feels awful about possibly exposing her family to illness.

"You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't, right?" Riley said.

Behavioral Health Specialist Cathlyn Fraguela Rios of Providence Health said, "The idea that we have to keep up with what other people are doing or trying to normalize things as best as we can and do things the way it used to, it really weighs heavy."

Mental health experts say it's okay to say no, but tell your kids why.

Providence Health psychiatrist Dr. Arpan Waghray said, "You know you have a wall that will come up whether it's your preteen or teen and you can't communicate unless you genuinely empathize with them and validate their feelings. They're very smart and they'll understand what you're saying as long as you validate them emotionally."

Experts say if you really think about it. It's not the parties and the holiday dinners we care so much about. What we really want from these gatherings is connection. And even though we're staying apart, we can still make emotional connections.

EMBED More News Videos

ABC7's Denise Dador got tips from Psychiatrist Dr. Luis Sandoval, Psychologist Dr. Cheryl Grills, and "MomAngeles" blogger Laura Gerson during a virtual town hall about how to cope during the pandemic.


Families can cook traditional recipes together on zoom. You can send presents ahead and open them together virtually.

Rios said, "I think that there's a lot of opportunity to still do things that feel like you're joining even if it's not the same way."

For Halloween, Riley planned a candy scavenger hunt with relatives in her bubble. It's all about doing what makes you feel comfortable.

She said, "You're the parent and it's your child. You need to do what's best for you and your children."
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.