As we enter our 6thmonth of managing life through a global pandemic, you may be asking yourself “when will this ever end” or “when will my life feel normal again”? Chances are, your little ones are asking themselves similar questions. The unpredictability of this virus and the unexpected changes in our routines are difficult and waiting for “normal” to return can lead to impatience, irritability and frustration. It may feel like some days you are drowning with everything going on at home, work and in the world.
While we look forward to a time when we can return to consistent, in-person play, education and many of the other things that we are currently missing through our shelter at home measures, it is possible to make this a positive and memorable time for your family. It is also important to take care of yourself and give yourself the same grace, empathy and compassion that you work to give to your kids. Practicing this together can become a shared experience of family self care.
Here are a few small reminders to help you and your family take care of yourselves and create meaningful memories during this difficult time:
1) Your kids are always watching. Isn’t it amazing that your littles ones who can ignore a dirty dish for weeks or somehow tune out completely when you are asking them to clean up their toys can magically not miss a beat when they pick up on us being stressed, anxious or frustrated? I am definitely not saying that we should hide all of our feelings from our kids or be fake but rather, I think it is important to use what is happening within us to teach valuable lessons to our kids. If you are sad, anxious or frustrated it is okay to let them know! Sharing your experience of hard feelings helps them learn that hard feelings will happen, and then they can learn how to better manage them. This transparency is also great when it comes to positive feelings. Sharing when you had a “win” at work, when you are feeling loved, happy or excited helps your little one have hope for positive feelings as well and to continue to see that there is good even in the difficult times. Sharing your feelings is emotional education for your kids. I encourage you to do it often!
2) We are experiencing a hard time. An extremely helpful reflection that I heard years ago and remind myself of often is that when kids are acting out, they are not giving youa hard time, they are havinga hard time. To be honest, this one blew my mind a little bit when I first heard it. Isn’t that so true! Your kids are struggling and that may often be difficult for you. Taking a step back to remember they are learning, growing and having a hard time can build empathy and compassion rather than irritability, reactivity and frustration. Take a moment to sit down with your child and explore what’s going on with them. Ask them to play, offer a snack or a distraction as a way to give them a break. You can even walk away and give them some cool down time. It is not “giving in” to a tantrum to respect that your child is struggling and may need some additional help right now.
3) Everybody needs breaks! As I mentioned above, when your child is having a meltdown they may just need a break to cool down and feel better. Adults need breaks too and Covid-19 sure has made those few and far between for many. If you are working from home, educating your child from home, not able to go out to dinner with friends or enjoy your volleyball league, you may be feeling stuck and worn down. You are not alone! In this time, I would encourage you to get creative for ways to give your kids breaks but also to prioritize breaks for yourself. I also want to suggest the idea of “micro-breaks”. Sometimes we can get stuck in this idea that a break has to be a long walk, a night out or a vacation but shelter at home is teaching us that we can find peace and that feeling of a break in much smaller places like sitting on the porch for 15 minutes watching a storm roll in, ordering takeout so that you can avoid cooking for a night, taking a bath after the kids go to bed, doing a video chat with friends from all over the country or even taking 5 minutes to stretch, breathe and enjoy some silence. These smaller breaks can bring a sense of calm to your day even when everything else feels like chaos. You may think you do not have time to take a break, but I would challenge that you do not have time to skip that break because taking care of yourself is as important or more important than any other task in front of you!
4) Its okay to not be okay. Many of us feel as though we have to be “on” all of the time at home, work and in our social lives and our current circumstances has only put that expectation on overdrive. Our emotional experience of our world fluctuates and it is healthy to have ups and downs in your mood. It is also okay to respect that you and your family are currently experiencing a global pandemic and many other stressors that you may have never experienced in your life so far. It is okay to feel sad, to need more sleep, to want to cry, to feel anger or frustration. We are all experiencing shared grief related to reduced contact with friends and family, possible loss of loved ones, disappointment of missing events that we were looking forward to this year. It is okay to be gentle with yourself, to have compassion and not feel the need to “be happy” all of the time. Moods are temporary and accepting that you are not feeling okay can also give you permission to practice some positive coping or self-soothing skills (and teach them to your ever-watching kids too!).
5) It is okay to be okay. Just as it is okay to accept and nurture our negative or hard feelings, it is equally okay to have positive experiences during this hard time. It may feel weird to experience joy and happiness when you know the world is experiencing this unprecedented time, but allowing yourself to find happiness, positive rhythms, routines and memories is extra important during this trying time. For some, this season has been a great chance to slow down, have a lighter calendar of events and spend more time at home which used to be a rare occurrence. Maybe this is the time for your family to learn to cook together, to read a book series out loud or to take nature walks in a local park. If you are finding your family to be even busier right now due to work, education or family obligations, this can be a time to explore new ways to escape into your imaginations together, create rituals around taking breaks (even micro-breaks), having family check-in to share a high point and low point from the day or week to bring moments of joy even in a busy or chaotic time. Whatever you are feeling, it is okay and accepting those experiences can bring feelings of peace and calm.
You and your family are handling so much change and uncertainty right now. Give yourself a pat on the back, an encouragement that you are doing your best and compassion that the tough days are temporary and its okay to take a break. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, reflect back on these reminders and take things one step at a time. At the end of the day, we give our memories meaning through our mindset and messaging to our children. How you take care of yourself and encourage emotions, imagination and peace in your day to day life can create positive memories even in this uncertain time.