Sanity Parenting--Pandemic Style
Parenting during quarantine is a special challenge, for sure. Here are some quick tips to keep life running smoothly (you don’t need to be a parent to benefit!):
Stop and take two (deep breaths). This sounds so simple but can be challenging when surrounded by our family (especially with the demands of little ones) 24/7. Taking a few breaths counteracts fight-or-flight, our body’s reaction to stress and perceived danger. Repeat regularly.
Create a (flexible) schedule. Especially if working from home, we need to have some blocked out uninterrupted time for focused, deep work. Be prepared to revise, of course. If co-parenting, communicate often with your partner about what is working and what’s not, then problem solve together. Decide who will attend to kids when so it does not feel haphazard, otherwise, frustration and resentment can build.
Put your own oxygen mask on first. Take periodic 5-minute mindful breaks in the midst of your day and protect that time. A mindful break can be as simple as waking up a few minutes early to read or meditate, taking a brisk walk alone, a bit of stretching, or setting up a weekly phone call with your friend to chat. Identify what fills you up, what puts a smile on your face or increases your energy. Figure out a way to carve out just a few minutes of your day for these things.
Take a SNAP Break. When you feel on the verge of a meltdown take a SNAP break: Stop, Notice body sensations (drop the shoulders, soften the jaw), Accept (that this is how it is right now), and Pay attention to the breath (notice the inhale and exhale to calm yourself). Stop, Notice, Accept, Pay attention to the breath. A SNAP break works remarkably well, but is not fool-proof — there are times when the meltdown wins out. In which case use the After the Meltdown Mindful Break.
After the Meltdown (Yours). First, calm yourself with a few deep breaths. When we are under stress, our bodies go into fight-or-flight. The part of our brain responsible for planning, processing, and seeing the big picture slows down as the emotional part of our brain takes over. Breathing deeply calms fight-or-flight just enough so we can think clearly and are once again able to choose what we say and do.
Second, offer yourself compassion while taking responsibility for your meltdown. Without self-compassion, we continue berating ourselves and remain stuck in shame, which is counterproductive to positive change. Instead, identify where you went off-track, how you might handle it better next time, repair with your child, which might be as simple as a long hug with an apology and then let it go, forgiving yourself for being human. By following these steps, our children learn through example that if we try our best, take responsibility for our mistakes and learn from them, and communicate with sincerity, relationships flourish.
Validate feelings and cultivate gratitude. First, we need to acknowledge that parenting during a pandemic is hard. And though there is always someone who has it worse, there is no need to feel guilty for not feeling grateful every second of the day. Just because you are feeling sad, frustrated, exhausted or overwhelmed does not mean you are ungrateful, a bad mom, etc. Acknowledge that you are caring for you kids 24/7 without the help of your usual village. Then focus on what it is you are grateful for.
Lower expectations and keep the longview in mind. Lower expectations of yourself, your partner, your kids, screen time. Get your kids outside to play whenever possible, but know that if they play six hours of video games on a rainy day, they can still grow up to be functioning, productive members of society.
It can be helpful to consider, “Will this matter a week, a month, a year from now?” Most often, the answer is no.
Offer yourself high-fives. Congratulate yourself for your efforts—every small change matters on your path toward sanity and balance.