As we keep hearing these are unprecedented times and I’m sure most parents can attest that parenting in self-isolation and being with your children 24/7 during a pandemic is not something any of us were prepared to do. While there are definitely some beautiful upsides to being able to spend quality time with our kids, much more than we ever though we’d be able to do, it is undoubtedly a tough, exhausting and draining road ahead. I reached out to a friend of mine, who is a registered psychologist and co-founder of The Bumpy Road, a practice that specifically works with mothers on issues such as motherhood, relationships, parenting and career for some tips on how to navigate this time. I’m sharing what she told me below.
How can parents maintain balance when at home with their kids for what seems to be for the next few weeks/months?
We need to pace ourselves and importantly lower our expectations. We have been thrown the world’s biggest curve ball and need to recognise that this is a big adjustment ‘so we may need some time to find our groove. At this stage most of us are still trying to figure out what ‘balance’ looks like with some days working out better than others. It is likely impossible to merge all responsibilities of our pre-COVID and post-COVID worlds so I would start with:
1. Prioritising what is important right now—that may be work, getting the kids established in routine educationally or trying to palm off as many responsibilities as possible to help soothe the angst within the household as we all know that it is difficult to do anything from a distressed state of mind.
2. Work out how those priorities can be met—acknowledge and build acceptance of what has to be let go of and timetable your day and allocate your resources to top line priorities
3. Work on the foundation of home, household and family that are going to get you there. For example non-negotiable exercise in the morning, food shop and prepared meal purchases/planning, (virtual) connection with those outside the house.
How can parents ease the pressure to be productive and fill their kids’ days with endless activities?
Ah, this is a work in progress in my house. We need to recognise that this is a HUGE shift for the kids too and they have not been in a situation with so much unstructured time with no book ends. We need to gradually condition them to having less parental availability and engagement (perhaps compared to the pre-COVID world).
For preschool and older kids, establishing a routine and involving them in what that routine looks like for the day, what (directed AND self directed) activities they would like to do. Choose things that they are familiar with and can accomplish on their own e.g. lego/play-doh/colouring in may be appropriate to the younger ages and then also agree to time where you will actively participate with them. Unfortunately you are likely going to have to relax your standards on screen time if the demands of kid and works keep colliding and you need to steal those longer stretches to give to your work or home tasks that are non-negotiable. It’s a constant of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ at the moment.
What are some ways to ease the guilt for parents who are trying to juggle working and caring for their kids at home and feeling like they’re not doing both very well?
It’s important to realise that the way we think about a situation i.e. the mindset, plays a significant role in defining our perception of a situation. So whilst COVID is providing us all with significant hurdles, guilt is a feeling which is often magnified by unhelpful thinking. For example if we fail to adjust our expectations of what can/should be achieved at work, we are likely going to experience anguish about work output or our parenting capacity.
It is very important to acknowledge this change in circumstance and be conscious about our expectations at both work and home. The fact that we are turning up to both in a 50 per cent capacity is not an inditement of you. These are significant responsibilities, or if we can call them ‘jobs’ and all of a sudden for circumstances beyond us, we are required to do them in tandem. The difficulty is not because you are failing – make sure you do not fall into the pitfall of interpreting this mammoth challenge as a personal failure. Simply pick up the phone and call a friend and you will see that we are all in this together, in this world and the best we can do is the best we can.
What are some coping strategies when parents may be feeling overwhelmed and just a little over it?
Wherever possible connect with you support group and prioritise self care. You are an important cornerstone and it is important to put your needs first so that you can meet the demands around you.
This may look like a quick FaceTime from the car or an online exercise program for 15 minutes in the morning. The micro top ups is where you are going to find the resources which help re-energise and give you the boost to get your momentum for your next challenge.
What are some of your tips to help getting through each day of isolation with kids a little easier?
Make sure you are prioritising connection with your kids. The more connected you are the safer the kids will feel and the more cohesion you are likely to feel. This is an investment that pays dividends in so many ways and will help improve your navigation through each day.
Involve your kids in setting a plan for the day – the more involved they feel the more engaged they will be and the less arguments you are likely to face
Be realistic about what is achievable – whether that’s balancing work and kids, play and household or kid vs adult time. It’s a balancing act
Make sure you are active – this may be alone or combined with the kids. This is a non-negotiable
Make sure your kids are connecting with others too via the phone, video conference, letter writing or even emoji sending. This way they may feel less reliant on you to fill their cup.
What should parents do when faced with endless questions or complaints from their kids as to why they can’t do the things they usually do?
It’s important to keep finding age appropriate ways to communicate the circumstances of COVID. Make sure you continue to ask them if they have any questions. Point out differences that they may be able to observe e.g. less traffic, shops closed, playgrounds closed etc. It is important not to stoke anxiety but ensure that they build an understanding of this first in a lifetime and abstract event.
How can parents help their children through such a big upheaval in their routine?
With compassion and patience. Given the COVID virus is not visible, it takes quite a lot of cognitive gymnastics for children to really embed an understanding of what is happening in the world. Whilst our ‘normal’ routines have been changed abruptly, it is important to create new routines for example rituals at the dining table, a board game before bedtime, having a dance together at morning tea time – whatever is age appropriate. This will help give them some new anchors and is an opportunity to use this time as time to connect with your kids even though you may be more time poor than ever.
What should every parent aim to have in their emotional/mental survival kit to help getting through this time easier?
Given we are so physically restrained, many of these tools relate to the way in which we look at our circumstance. Here are some examples of important ways to optimise your wellbeing through the way you think.
- A motto of ‘good enough is good enough’… more then ever we need to embrace this now
- Find ways to catch and reframe negative thinking e.g. This is a disaster – changed to – This is my opportunity to show that I can work flexibly- share these with your friends as it will help both you and them!
- Exercise every day even if it’s just for 10 minutes
- Take one day at a time and recognise the small wins within each day.
For mums in particular who may find themselves left with the lion’s share of the domestic/child-rearing responsibilities during this time, how can they avoid feeling overwhelmed?
It is an important time to renegotiate these domestic responsibilities. Now more than ever, the significant load of parenting and household responsibilities will visible. I would recommend scheduling time to negotiate the priorities and division of these responsibilities. Be careful not to fall into the trap of doing more of what you were doing because of prior circumstance. The goal posts have moved and this is your opportunity to move with them.
You can find more information about Belinda and The Bumpy Road here. Follow her on Instagram at @the_bumpy_road.