By Carrie Campbell, LCSW-C
As a parent in a pandemic, you have likely taken on many new roles. Not only are you a parent to your child, you may now also serve as their teacher, their coach, their entertainer, and their friend. On top of that, you may be responsible for part- or full-time work that you formerly did outside of your home and likely when your children were in school or childcare. Please take a moment now just to take a deep breath and acknowledge that this change is no small feat.
We are parents though, so we know that raising children requires flexibility and sacrifice. It can be almost second nature to push aside our own needs and struggles in order to ensure that our children have what they need. In the short term, this is a good thing and a helpful reflex. It seems clear now though that the quarantine part of this pandemic will be long term and that kids will likely be out of school for much longer than we ever anticipated. Therefore, it is more important than ever to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves so that we can effectively take care of our kids over the long haul.
Where Do I Even Start?
As with most things, it is important to evaluate how you are actually doing. I’d start with the basics: Am I sleeping enough? Am I eating relatively healthy? Am I drinking enough water throughout the day and moderating any alcohol consumption? Am I getting any exercise or time outside?
From there, an emotional check-in is also important in these unknown and anxiety-producing times. How am I feeling? Have I acknowledged the things I have lost? Have I acknowledged the things I have gained? Do I have another adult I am regularly talking with and sharing how I’m doing?
To be able to best care for our children, we need to be taking care of ourselves. As the old adage goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Pushing our needs aside can seem heroic and sometimes almost necessary with all the craziness happening in our homes and in our world, but if left unattended for too long it could have disastrous results.
When It Feels Like There’s Not Enough Time in the Day
Although almost all of our outside activities and festivities have been cancelled, there still seems to be no end to the things that need to be done day-to-day. It’s easy to focus on what is urgent but not always on what is important. One helpful tip is, instead of creating a long to-do list each day and feeling shame or frustration for all that remains unchecked, set one intention for your day. It can be as simple as “today I intend to read a book with my child” or “today I intend to enjoy mealtime as a family.” Setting one priority for the day can feel a lot more attainable and can help you to focus on what is most important to you and your family.
Include something small for yourself as a part of your routine each day. Consider taking a short walk alone first thing in the morning, reserving 15 minutes a day to read for fun, or ordering delivery once a week to reduce the burden of cooking and cleaning a meal.
Remind yourself that taking time for yourself is not selfish, but is often necessary. Creating space for your mental health can be a positive way to model setting good boundaries for your children. Plus, your interactions with your family will be more positive if you aren’t running on an empty tank all the time.
You are Doing a Good Job
In case no one has told you lately, you are doing a good job. It is so important to give ourselves grace and extend that grace to others as we navigate a global pandemic together for the first time. Take some time today, with your partner, significant other, or best friend, if you can, to evaluate how you are caring for yourself in this unique time and how you can support your partner to do the same.
It’s possible you’ve realized that you have neglected your own needs and emotions in trying to adapt and survive these rapid changes. At Milestones, we are here for you in the transitions of life. A healthy step in caring for yourself may be to reach out to a therapist and to process where you are. Would you allow us to come alongside you?
We are caretakers and nurturers to our children on a daily basis, let’s be intentional about doing the same for ourselves.