How to keep your &^#! together while parenting through a pandemic.
Coronavirus-related anxiety is crushing pretty much everyone right now.
But if you’re a parent to a young kid, you’ve probably got another pressing concern: How to get through the day while simultaneously trying to work and entertain your children or get them to do their online schoolwork. And having no idea how long you’ll have to keep this insane juggling act up for.
Right now we have precisely zero answers for what things might look like next week or next month, both for ourselves and for the world. What we do know for sure? “Kids are intuitive. If you’re amped with anxiety, they’re gonna feel that,” says Perri Shaw Borish, MSS, LCSW, BCD, founder of Whole Heart Maternal Mental Health in Philadelphia.
In other words, even while you’re juggling fear about a pandemic with fear about how you’ll manage your next Zoom meeting without your kid melting down in the background, you’ve gotta keep calm for the sake of your family. Here, Borish shares six smart strategies that can help.
You might alternate between feeling anxious or straight up desperate about having everyone at home 24/7 and reminding yourself that your situation could be much, much worse. You might also feel like a bad parent for dreading being cooped up with your offspring.
All of those emotions are completely acceptable. “Right now people feel trapped,” says Borish. “Tell yourself it’s okay that you feel distraught or anxious right now, and it’s okay that you don’t want to be stuck in the house with your kids. It doesn’t make you a bad parent.”
Accepting how you feel won’t stop your toddler from destroying the house or your third grader from refusing to do her homework. But it will stop the flood of guilt, so you have one less thing to be down about.
Structuring your days won’t just help everyone get their work done. It gives you a much-needed sense of security. “We need predictability and repetition. We need to know what’s coming next. Those boundaries help us feel safe,” Borish says.
This doesn’t necessarily have to involve one of those color-blocked schedules. If the idea of mapping out every hour only stresses you out more, start by focusing on a few anchors everyone can count on. Sit down for a screen-free breakfast as a family before starting work or school, Borish suggests. Get outside for a socially distant walk or bike ride every afternoon.
Last but not least? “Keep your kids’ bedtime consistent,” Borish says. They still need their sleep even if they aren’t physically going to school or day care. And being able to count on that nightly quiet time can help you keep going, especially on hard days.
Taking care of yourself is harder when you’re in crisis mode, but it’s even more important for keeping your stress levels in check.
Start by eating well. “Don’t overdo it with sugar or foods that will negatively impact your mood,” Borish says. Make it a priority to get some form of exercise every day too, however you can. “Read a book or have a cup of tea. And put your face in the sun even if it means standing by the window,” she says.
Finding time to do stuff for yourself right now might be harder than usual, but it’s not impossible. Take shifts with your partner after work or on the weekends so each of you can have some time to be totally off duty. If you’re flying solo, carve out time for yourself before your kids wake up or after they go to sleep. Even if you have work and chores to catch up on, you can still take 15 minutes.
You might be terrified to the core right now. Or about to lose your &^#! if you can’t get 5 minutes of alone time ASAP. But you’ve got to keep it together in front of your child. “Just because you’re anxious doesn’t mean you get to project that onto your kid,” Borish says. You don’t want them to feel like they have to take care of you.”
If you’re nearing the point of totally losing it, stick to the same strategy that gets you through everyday stressful situations with your kids: Walk away, take a few minutes to regroup, and come back once you’re feeling calmer.
It’s important to talk about what’s going on and give your kids a window into how you’re feeling, of course. Just do it in an age-appropriate way. Instead of saying how scared or stressed you are, be vulnerable in a way that focuses on your child’s feelings, Borish recommends. To a 5-year-old, you might say “Not getting to take you to the playground is hard for me too.” To a preteen, you might say, “I’m really disappointed too that you won’t be able to go on your eighth grade class trip.”
They help slow your heart rate and plug the flood of stress hormones like cortisol to your brain, making them instantly relaxing. And you can do them anytime, anywhere. Including when you hear your kids fighting in the other room or when a co-worker makes an annoying comment about having your toddler in your lap during a Zoom conference.
Try incorporating deep-breath breaks throughout your day, and pause for a literal breather whenever you feel the tension really starting to well up, Borish suggests. These exercises are easy to do and only take a few minutes.
If you reach a point where you’re feeling overwhelmed or are having trouble coping, reach out to a mental health therapist. “One thing that’s important to know is that therapy can be done on any platform right now,” Borish says.
While mental health professionals usually require counseling to take place in-office, therapists can currently offer counseling on the phone or via video conference, even if you’re a new patient. “We’re trained for this, so use us. We’re here,” she says.
Marygrace Taylor is a health and parenting writer, former KIWI magazine editor, and mom to Eli. Visit her at marygracetaylor.com.