If your world is anything like mine, the juggle during this pandemic is painfully real. With working from home nearly 100% of the time, my roles of mom and running an education company overlap constantly. I’m often left feeling overwhelmed and as though I can’t do anything as well as I used to! The “mama guilt” can be crippling. I find myself in a constant dilemma of feeling like I should always be putting my energy and effort somewhere else. I worry about whether I am being a good enough parent and being present with my family while also trying to focus on preparing for a big presentation and worrying about work. I have dealt with a toddler tantrum minutes before going into my home office to present to a Zoom room full of stakeholders on more than one occasion. Full transparency- I’m burned out. I’m completely exhausted from spending this last year trying to ensure my company survives, while surviving pandemic parenting. And I know I’m not alone.
Fear, anxiety, stress, and uncertainty are theme words for the last year of survival. I’ve used these words consistently when writing blogs, talking to educators and empathizing with friends. I don’t know anyone who isn’t struggling – and struggling is an understatement. The American Psychological Association recently reported 63% of parents say the school year has been extremely stressful. That same survey reports 77% of parents of 8-12 year olds said the school year is causing them additional stress. The longer this goes on, the harder it is getting.
As parents, we’ve been put into the role of managing everything. I mentioned the heavy guilt I have felt over the last year- this has been one of the most reported feelings from parents during the pandemic. We have fallen into perpetual feelings of never winning and never being able to do enough. Reserves of strength, energy, positivity, and sleep are now long burned out… and many were burned out by the end of April 2020. Then the summer hit and kids were out of school with camps and daycares closed, leaving many parents without supervision for their children. More than 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce due to lack of child care (as of September 2020) and the levels of exhaustion have caused a tremendous amount of internal family stress. Family dynamics and responsibilities have shifted and Moms are picking up the majority of the burden. Nearly 80% of moms report they are solely responsible for children’s online learning. While we will table this problem (of Moms leaving their jobs and taking the majority of the burden of virtual learning) for another conversation or blog; it sheds light on some of the consequences of having to shut schools down for the last year.
It feels like we are living in a state of constant disappointment. As parents, we have the added bonus of being the messenger of bad news to our kids over and over again. There have been many times I’ve thought, “It can’t get any worse, right?” And then I make the mistake of turning on the news only to feel more defeated. As a former counselor, I’ve always paid attention to patterns and themes which often provide meaningful information about people, situations, environments, thoughts and behaviors. Lately, the theme has been…loss. Loss of people’s health and wellness (physically, mentally and emotionally). Loss of social life. Loss of events, gatherings and celebrations. Loss of small businesses. Loss of normal. And, the worst kind of loss, those that we love. The emotional distress can be a lot day after day and it’s causing parents to consistently report:
- Children’s screen time has increasing
- More yelling in the household
- There is no time to recharge
- There is no consistent social interaction
- Feelings of being a bad parent
Can you relate? It takes intention and motivation to ensure that we are taking care of ourselves as parents so we can be there and be mentally and emotionally healthy for our kids.
Tips for Parents
Here are 5 ideas to put things into perspective and give yourselves the dang breaks you need to ensure your families are not just surviving but thriving the best you can, during these unprecedented times:
- Lower the bar- In almost all situations, you will hear me say to make sure you have high expectations for yourselves and your kids. I believe in setting the bar high and going for your dreams. But, the truth is, there is nothing normal about what we’ve all been through over the last year. It’s been filled with uncertainty, disappointment, fear, change, exhaustion and everything in between. Right now, the healthiest decision for you and your family is to take the pressure off. Understand that, for now, you are going to do whatever it takes to make sure you stay as mentally, emotionally and physically healthy as you can. That’s going to mean letting things slide that you maybe wouldn’t normally like more screen time, cereal for dinner a couple more nights a week, or being ok with your kids wearing the same sweatshirt for the third time this week. You’re going to eventually be able to elevate that bar again. And that’s going to feel really good because you thrived the best you could during what feels like an impossible time. Remind yourself that whatever your kids lost in “development,” they gained in having a parent who was not exhausted and overwhelmed.
- Wing it- Many parents tend to thrive on routine and schedules. It helps us stay organized and feel like we can better control our lives. One of the most challenging realities of this pandemic is we feel our power to control and structure our lives has been taken away. After you take a deep breath, use this time to step outside of your comfort zone and give yourself a chance to grow and be resilient. We can only grow when we put ourselves in situations that aren’t comfortable and predictable. So I say wing it- allow for things to unfold and see what happens. Control your controllables.
- If you are doing your best- that’s the best you can do – You know what? Our “best” is going to be different day to day. That’s okay. Many of us are walking around with our plates constantly overflowing all of the time without any ability to empty our plates right now. We are full of stress, overworked, tired, overwhelmed and just hoping that tomorrow feels a little better and easier than today. We are experiencing collective grief (find my blog on that here) When grieving, you are surviving and life is unpredictable. So, you need to get in the practice of asking yourself, “did I do the best I could today?” If not, then think of small ways you can do better tomorrow. If you did, then that’s a big win, right now 🙂
- Family Check Ins – Something that can be easily overlooked during a crisis like this is just simply remembering to check in with your partner/spouse/kids. A simple, “how are you today?” can go a long way. It can open the door to unknown feelings and issues. With anxiety and depression skyrocketing with parents and kids, it’s a simple way to look out for one another. We often assume our kids and spouses will come to us when they have something difficult they are feeling or experiencing but if the door isn’t opened for a conversation, so much is unsaid. If nothing else, this pandemic has forced the world to realize the huge importance of relationships and social, emotional and mental wellness.
- Our Children can be our best medicine – Recent research has shown that some of the best and healthiest ways parents are getting through the pandemic is stopping and being mindful of just how therapeutic children can be. While they are certainly feeling the stress of all of this, they also have this amazing ability to overlook the struggles and live in the moment. Take time to put everything aside and just sit and play and talk with your kids. Let them take you to an imaginary place far away from the realities of what we are all experiencing. I promise if you are able to sit and play with horses or trucks (favorites of my children) it will give you the perspective you need to keep going.
For good reason, parents are worried about how to address the pandemic with their children. How much do you share? What should you say? How do you know when your child needs additional support?
Here is a short list to help you along with a link for additional information:
Addressing Children’s Fear
- Be Honest- it’s important to explain that people are getting sick and offer a safe level of truth to kids. It’s important to talk about how scary it might feel but that there are things we can do to stay healthy.
- Simplify and translate for Kids- As a counselor, I used to constantly remind parents that adult brains aren’t the same as kid brains. They don’t have the experience or brain development to process problems the same way adults do. This may seem logical but, oftentimes, we believe our children are “smart enough or mature enough” to handle adult issues forgetting that their brains just aren’t prepared. It’s important to be intentional about translating and simplifying your messages to put it in a way that is developmentally appropriate and won’t cause additional problems or stress.
- Validate Children’s Feelings– This is probably one of the easiest but most underused strategies. Sometimes, kids just need you to identify that you see and understand how they are feeling. Sounds so simple, right? Even as adults, how often do we just want someone to validate our feelings so we feel heard? Simple way to start-“I can see you are feeling ((emotion word))…
- Keep in touch with loved ones and friends-It feels like it’s safe for me to recommend getting out and seeing people safely. For some, this is long overdue and you are already figuring out ways to socialize in our new normal. Others may have to work through your own fears and anxieties. It’s important to remember the little eyes and ears in your home are watching and listening to how you are responding.
- Model how to manage feelings- As an extension from the previous suggestion, learning how to manage your feelings and behaviors will directly impact how your children manage theirs. Modeling is the number one way for kids to learn appropriate reactions and behaviors- including how to control your emotions.
- Tell children before leaving the home– To reduce anxiety for children, casually and simply letting them know when you’re leaving and when you plan to be home can reduce their stress. It allows for them to know you are gone but that you will be back. This is an easy tip to prevent stress before it starts.
- Forward thinking- this is temporary– I think we might all be getting into the mindset of “this pandemic is never going away.” We all have reason to feel that way but I encourage you to train your brain to start thinking forward each time. A good, quick tip is to identify something you are excited about when this is all over. For the purpose of this exercise, I will use live music. When I have a thought around this pandemic never ending, I will force myself to visualize being at a concert with live music. That triggers positive thoughts and energy and redirects the stuck mindset. I will forewarn you this is harder than it seems. It takes practice! But, it’s also a great strategy to use with kids. Talk with them about something they are excited about or looking forward to when this is over. They might want to draw a picture or describe it to you in a way they can remember. Then explain that each time they feel upset or stressed about feeling stuck in the pandemic, they need to try really hard to picture themselves in that moment, in the future. I will leave it up to you what is and isn’t realistic in their world.
- Extra TLC– I think we could all use a little extra tender, love, and care these days. Affection helps reassure kids they are safe and loved. It’s also good for their self-confidence, self-esteem and positive mindset. Here is a great, recent article that outlines the amazing benefits of hugging your children each day.
Additional Parent Resources-
I hope each of you are hanging in there and taking care of yourselves during these challenging times. I know the day to day is difficult. I believe we are all going to look back on these times and have amazing stories to tell our grandchildren! Better days are certainly ahead of us and, personally, I can’t wait to learn about the resilience, perseverance, adaptability and other positive things that just might come out of these devastating times.
Until next time…