First things first. Grace. Give yourself some grace. Whether you’re reading this during the COVID-19 crisis or another one down the road, parenting during a crisis is an exercise in giving grace to yourself and your children. Like an oxygen mask dropping down in a turbulent airplane, grace must be affixed to yourself first. Children don’t come with a manual, and parenting during a crisis can be incredibly difficult, and no one is doing it perfectly.
Stop and Take an Inventory
The first step in accessing that grace is to acknowledge what you are going through. I’m writing this during the pandemic of early 2020. If you are reading this in the same period, chances are your income just became extremely uncertain. Your social life has come to a crashing halt. Some of you are now around your children almost non-stop. You may or may not have toilet paper. You are going through some stuff.
If you are holding yourself to your regular standards, you may not have reasonable expectations. What is a reasonable expectation for parenting during a crisis? Here is a list of the basics that need to happen:
- Feed your kids
- Keep your kids hydrated and on their medical necessary regimens
- Make sure your kids go to sleep
- Keep them from imminent danger
- Model calmness and stability
These are things that have to happen to keep your children intact through this crisis. Of course you want to feed your children the best food you can. We are experiencing food shortages in some areas, so maybe we aren’t able to give them their favorite foods. Are they fed a healthy, mostly balanced meal? Check. Are they taking their medicine and getting enough water? Check. Trying to perfectly adhere to normal standards during a crisis can create anxiety in both the parent and the child. Routine and a sense of regularity is important, but perfection is not.
The focus should be on modeling calmness and stability. For children (especially those with special needs), routine is very important for emotional health. This disruption for them can cause behavioral problems that can drain parents, especially when they are not getting a break. Your children need to know their parents are emotionally available and can help them through this time. As much as things have gone weird for us, they are much weirder for them (if they are school-aged.) Their social structure has been disrupted and many of them are without the emotional maturity to process this disruption rationally. They will be looking to you for confirmation they will be ok.
What if You Aren’t Ok?
Depression, anxiety, grief and other trauma symptoms are normal reactions during times of crisis. However, if we are experiencing diminishing self-control, this can become harmful to our children. Some parents are getting no breaks from their kids and have very little support. This is especially difficult if this disruption is causing behavior issues in your child. A dangerous situation can occur if the parent’s mental health begins to break down. What can we do to help shore up our mental resources during this time?
- It is important to not suppress your unpleasant feelings. If we disregard our feelings and stuff them down, they have a tendency to erupt uncontrollably. Try to intentionally spend a few minutes a day acknowledging those feelings. We don’t want to spend all day there, but it is ok to cry. It is ok to feel overwhelmed and angry. It isn’t ok to let it affect our interactions with our kids.
- Limit news intake to once or twice a day. Yes, we want to stay up on what is happening, but it isn’t healthy to have a constant stream of disaster commentary entering our homes and minds. This barrage of bad news can impart a sense of helplessness that isn’t conducive to a calm and stable environment. This boundary can give you a sense of control over your day.
- Intentionally reach out to friends and family. Social ties can break down during times like these. They can also get much stronger. The difference lies in how intentional we are in maintaining them. We all need support and encouragement.
- Add as much physical activity as possible to your day. Exercise supports mental wellness and we can all use an added dose of that right now.
- Seek professional help if you need it.
We are all learning more about ourselves and our children than we probably wanted to know. We will all make mistakes. If we focus on the right things, our chances of coming through this as stronger families is much greater. And grace. Don’t forget the grace.
We are still open during this pandemic. We are now offering virtual consultations from home and from the parking lot. Give us a call and we will let you know which of these may be appropriate for your situation.