If you keep wondering who exactly is behind all those Facebook memes about being bored and binge-watching TV shows, you’re not alone. As a parent, your reality is probably more like cooking ALL the meals, keeping siblings from fighting and trying to provide some semblance of classroom activities while attempting to work from home, or head out to an essential job, or navigate filing for unemployment benefits. So it’s no vacation. It’s pretty darn stressful. While your kids’ needs are important, don’t neglect your own needs. Here are some tips from local mental health professionals for helping you keep mentally steady during this incredibly stressful time.
Talk to your kids about your needs.
“The irony of the current state of social isolation is that although we have reduced the number of people we have face-to-face contact with, we as parents feel smothered with no alone time,” says Jennifer Jim, L.P.C., a licensed counselor in Oregon who works with children, parents and families. “I advise talking to your children about this need in comparison to an activity they enjoy. For example, ‘You know how you love taking baths with your Paw Patrol figures? Mommy really loves taking a walk by herself sometimes. Do you think you could help make sure we both do the things we enjoy today?’” Jim says the benefits to this approach pay off in myriad ways, from making it easier to draw boundaries later, to helping ease “mom guilt,” to modeling healthy communication.
“Self care could not be more essential,” says Veronica Sullivan, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in the Portland area and the mom of a toddler. “If you don’t already meditate, this is a great time to give it a try. If you have no idea how, there are apps like Headspace and Calm that will teach you everything you need to know and even have sections for kids.”
Lowering expectations for yourself and your family is the greatest gift you can give yourself and your family.Megan Barella, M.S.
Shift your expectations.
“When I think of the mindset changes that are most helpful in times of crises, I think of compassion and a need for gentle, reasonable expectations, both of yourself and of your children,” says Sullivan. She acknowledges that seeing people doing Pinterest-worthy crafts or elaborate color-coded homeschool plans can make parents feel that they should be doing those things at home as well. Instead she says to focus on what is most important right now. “Keeping your kids safe and healthy is the #1 goal—having compassion for yourself and your kids, knowing that you all are doing the best you can,” says Sullivan. Megan Barella, M.S., a certified Positive Discipline parent educator who helps families with virtual coaching programs and a mom to an 11-year-old, agrees, “This is not normal times in parenting; this is crisis parenting. Lowering expectations for yourself and your family is the greatest gift you can give yourself and your family.”
Accept that things are difficult right now.
“Sometimes our minds fight against acceptance,” says Jim “It feels as if I accept this current reality, I am resigning. It is the exact opposite. In accepting that this is a temporary state of existence (schools will reopen, work will begin again, movie theaters will be filled) can allow us to release some of our anxiety.”
Jim recommends thinking back to a difficult time when you felt you would not succeed, but did. “Childbirth is a great example of this mental process. It is difficult both mentally and physically — and this is mostly accepted as a universal truth. So rather than fighting against the idea that childbirth is difficult, we prepare by attending birth classes, making birth plans, talking with loved ones. So if we could frame the pandemic in that same way ‘This is both mentally and physically hard, but I will do my best, connect with loved ones and make plans on how I’ll get through this temporary state of life’ we can be more successful.”
Include right-brained activities in your daily schedule.
“Every day, even if it’s for 5 minutes, and especially if your emotions are running high, be sure to include some right-brain activities, like movement (walking counts), painting, drawing, crafting, dance, music, meditation or yoga,” says Barella, “Connecting with your right brain, you will create safety from within when your logical left brain isn’t getting a sense of safety and stability from the outside world.”
Communicate with your partner to give each other breaks.
“Communication of expectations and needs is key right now. Even if you think you’ve been clear, error on the side of MORE communication,” says Sullivan “Talk about how you each will get breaks, even if the definition of breaks might be different now than in non-crisis times,” says Sullivan.
Cool off if you need to.
It’s normal to argue with your partner, but these are not normal times and arguments can escalate quickly. “When we are in fight-or-flight or freeze mode, which many of us are in frequently right now, we literally can’t access the logical part of our brain that is responsible for problem solving and rational thought,” says Sullivan. “If you find yourself getting heated with a partner, you need to calm down physiologically. Call a timeout for at least 20 minutes. Take a walk or a shower, play with a pet, or do some deep breathing, then come back to it.”
Honor that most relationships are strained right now.
“Your relationship/marriage is not unique in the stress,” says Barella, “So try to not personalize it.” She suggests scheduling time together to watch shows or movies that make you laugh. “Laughter is the best relationship tool we have right now,” she says.
Show your appreciation.
Jim also suggests that partners try not only to express love for each other, but for appreciation. “Start a nightly thankful routine,” says Jim. “Say thank you to your partner for something specific that happened that day. Depending on the partner, they might not reciprocate immediately. Do not set the expectations that they will, but do it because you know it will help you feel connected. But if the partner does reciprocate, celebrate it and be thankful.”