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Parenting in the Time of Covid

Doing more—so much more—with less, and finding enough grace to go around.

Is parenting feeling lately like that dream where you are standing alone on stage before a crowd, dressed in your pajamas, and realizing you haven’t even read the script? You are not alone! Most of us are experiencing anxious feelings of uncertainty, loss of freedom and routine, and sadness—a kind of grief—and we may see that played out in our children’s behavior. There is no chapter in that mythical parenting handbook for this.

Isolated, we feel that our kids are pushing our buttons and fear they are blaming us for the restrictions. We wonder how their caregivers and teachers manage to spend the better part of the day with these perpetual motion machines that seem to need constant engagement or never seem completely happy. We scour the blogosphere for crafts and learning activities to keep them occupied, only to find ourselves physically and emotionally spent at the time of day that demands the most of us, dinner and bedtime. We lose our patience, yell and resort to more time outs than an NHL free-for-all. We engage in pointless power struggles with three year olds, shouting matches with our preteens, and have to pry our teens from the dark recesses of their rooms. We become impatient with the constant questions, not realizing that questions may be our little ones’ way of reassuring themselves that the grownups are still in charge. We may wonder if our better angels are in quarantine and ask ourselves, “Am I becoming that parent?”.

It may be a little comfort to know we are ALL that parent when stresses reach a point at which we are simply not equipped to cope. Relationships with your child may feel fractured right now but although everyone may feel pretty miserable and whole-family sob fests may be a thing, you are still rightful occupants of the throne at the center of their universe. Your tears are a testament to your gut feeling that this isn’t the way you want to be together.

Why are our little ones coming unglued? Children connect with their parents on such a deep level that they truly do sense and feel what we feel. Grieving is a complex emotional process even for us. Our children take it all in but do not have our skills to articulate or to fully understand the roller coaster of emotions. Children’s behavior is always a barometer both of their emotional state and ours. You may notice mood swings, changes in sleep habits, increased irritability, frustration or aggression, regression in developmental milestones like potty training, a return to a pacifier or refusing to drink except from a sippy cup.

What to do? The first step in reconnecting with your child and bringing more serenity into your home is nurturing the relationship with oneself. Being present to your own struggles can help you be more compassionate and responsive to your child’s. Recognize that you are utilizing amazing powers of creativity and adaptation to simply protect and feed your family in an entirely new environment. You may be taking stock of your own fears or even how comfortable you are being alone without the distractions of work, shopping, social events or entertainment venues. It is a good and healthy thing to acknowledge our discomfort with change. The very best way we can help our kids with their own grieving process is to honor that process within ourselves and ‘take care of you’.

“When exactly am I to take care of me?”, you ask. Let’s face it; that hour long candle lit bubble bath is not going to happen. Taking care of you means giving yourself some grace for your own feelings of anger, sadness and frustration. As adults we know we can acknowledge and work through some of our feelings by talking about them with friends, with candid humor, with a good tear-coaxing movie, by physical and creative activity and by immersing ourselves in nature. Let your children experience that self care alongside you. They will learn valuable life skills by observing how adults acknowledge and manage their emotions in healthy ways.

Accessing your own coping skills will look different for each family. Do what works for you:

  • Simplify. Simplify your activity during the day, allowing you to focus more on your relationship with them than the real or supposed expectations of the outside world.

  • Make space. Making intentional space for noise and big muscle physical activity outdoors as bookends to the day,

  • Acknowledge. Gently acknowledge when big feelings have overwhelmed your child (or you) and switch gears for a reset.

  • One-on-one time. Set aside a few minutes a day for a real live ‘face time’ with each child to review the day and quietly give them an outlet to communicate what is on their mind. It is tempting to rationalize away or fix their discomfort, but the most powerful way of comforting them is to simply be fully present to what they are feeling, keeping space for them, listening without comment or judgment, just as you would with your most trusted friend. Even a simple routine like a 5 minute evening recap can have a profound impact on a child’s sense of security and normalcy.

  • Involve kids in decision making. Engaging teens as full participants in as many decisions as possible. Present issues like the equitable distribution of household tasks and how much and what kind of group vs. solitary activities will meet the needs of all family members for both connection and privacy.

  • Find joy. Do more of whatever your family does together that helps you notice the heart-breaking moments less and the heart-melting moments more.

“At many times throughout their lives, children will feel the world has turned topsy-turvy. It’s not the ever present smile that will help them feel secure. It is knowing that love can hold many feelings, including sadness, and that they can count on the people they love to be with them until the world turns right side up again.” Fred Rogers

Whenever your world feels topsy-turvy, I hope you will remember to reach out for the understanding and compassion you deserve. I hope you will turn here for encouragement and inspiration. If help with articulating a comprehensive approach to parenting for you and your family helps meet your long term needs, I hope you will consider me an ally.

- Renée

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