Wait, I Didn’t Want to Be a Stay-At-Home Parent! Parenting Amidst a Pandemic
It feels like Day 1001 of this quarantine, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been feeling stir-crazy for quite a while now! I love my family—they are with me through thick and thin!—, but I guess I just didn’t expect them to literally be next-to and on-top-of me throughout every hour of every day. Being home so much is bringing up conflicting feelings for a lot of us. Sometimes, it’s gratitude as we gaze upon our loved ones and think Gosh, we are making such great memories right now. Our relationships will be forever changed by this! While, at other times, frustration pours out of us as we watch the kids argue over yet another toy.
So let me just say, if you’re experiencing these things, I’m with you. And it makes sense: we are dealing with hard things! Staying at home with your kids when you’re used to shifting your attention to work or other activities for long periods of time is hard. Managing the shifting feelings of love, guilt, joy, frustration, and exhaustion is already tough, and now we’re doing it for both ourselves and our kids. So let’s look at some ways to manage the chaos and soothe our stress as we survive this pandemic together:
Now, typically, you’d know what to expect from your kids’ behavior. You know how much they can control themselves and what limits they’re testing. However, these are not typical times. As the pandemic changes their lives and routines, chances are high that your kids may regress in some areas: potty training (more accidents, less communication), emotional control (more meltdowns, stronger reactions than normal), energy levels (rising and falling quickly), etc.. They may not be operating at the same level they were before, and they will need more patience, forgiveness, and gentleness because of it. The same is true of you. You may notice that you are reacting more quickly out of stress, anger, annoyance, and sadness too. You may notice your own energy-depleting quickly. This means you will need that same patience, forgiveness, and gentleness with yourself when you make mistakes.
Set an Intentional Routine
Part of adjusting your expectations might include creating a new schedule together. We are creatures of habit, so having a “social rhythm” really helps to manage our emotions, meet our bodies’ needs, and reduce anxiety. And let’s be real: suddenly being at home with the kids is a huge shift in anyone’s rhythm. It can help to shift into a structure that includes waking and sleeping times, eating times, and fun times (reading, playing inside/outside, puzzles, etc.). Depending on the ages of your kids, you might add school, work, and/or naps as well. Setting up a routine can be a great opportunity to get the kids involved too! Have them name some of their favorite activities, and add these to the schedule so they have something to look forward to every day. Consistency will help everyone settle into this new rhythm, so giving the kids 1-minute or 5-minute warnings before switching tasks will reinforce the structure while allowing them time to finish up what they’re working on.
Create Space and Name Feelings to Connect
Even with 5-minute warnings and schedules, this pandemic brings up a lot of emotions in us, and that means these emotions may surface at unexpected times. This might look like: a screaming meltdown over not getting to watch that one special television show, crying over what to wear for the day, or even just feeling too down and unmotivated to get any chores done. When these emotions are running high, it can feel like your whole body is holding onto what you’re feeling. Anger tightens your forehead and burns in your belly; anxiety raises your shoulders and tightens your chest; sadness weighs down your body and eyes.
When you notice a strong emotion in your child, you may notice one rising in you as well. This is an opportunity to say “Slow down” to yourself, and instead of reacting out of your discomfort, simply tell your child that you notice they are upset. Ask them to tell you about where they notice their emotion in their body. Ask them if their body needs to do something to relieve that emotion. Practice some deep breaths with them in that moment. Creating this space for them to notice and feel what is going on in their bodies will help them balance those feelings rather than feeling overwhelmed by them.
Look for and Name the Positive
Kids are full of creativity, and this can be an opportunity to witness their geniuses at work. Look for the things they are doing right, and let them know you see it!
“Libby, I really like seeing how much effort you put into building that fort!”
“Jordan, those are some really yummy muffins. I noticed you have been trying out some new ideas, and they’re definitely tasty!”
These kinds of comments go a long way with reinforcing the behaviors you want to see from them. It also helps their brains build more positive connections by making them feel understood and seen. This enhances their creativity all the more, and it builds their trust in you as a parent.
I’ll say it again: notice those expectations, especially for yourself! You were not prepared for parenting like this, and you couldn’t have been. Your anxiety matters; your stress is real; and your social rhythm is just as mixed-up as the kids’. Your tolerance for mistakes, annoyances, and problems may be much lower than it normally would be, and that is okay. This is a time for being very gentle with yourself. You might need to name your own feelings in your body and acknowledge when you’re doing something right. You might need to loosen up on your own expectations for yourself because you are not just a parent right now: you are a parent in a crisis. Nobody is going for a “Parent of the Year” award right now, we are all surviving and adjusting in a series of difficult circumstances. So, include your own fun time in the new schedule, move your body in the ways it needs to move in response to emotions, and encourage yourself in everything you can.
More than anything else, be gentle with yourself!
Connect with Perspectives Therapy Services to discuss your needs.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland and Fenton, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Additionally, we offer psychiatric care in the form of evaluations and medication management. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.