As a family therapist and as a parent, I have started to call these times during COVID to be the time of "NO BREAKS, EVER!" Some of us are with our kiddos ALL. OF. THE. TIME. It is exhausting. There is no balance. All the typical things we do to find balance, drop our kids of at a family member's house, hire a babysitter, SEND THEM TO SCHOOL are not an option. And, it isn't like an endless strip of weekends or spring breaks, we now have to be with them during their online school time, monitoring them, their activities they are submitting, keep them on-task, etc. We are not supposed to take them to parks, libraries, zoos, etc. We are sick of our kids...and, I am pretty sure they are also sick of us.
The toll that COVID is taking on parents, kids and family life is significant. I am seeing it everywhere personally and professionally.
Here are 5 suggestions to help families make it through these difficult times:
Maybe relax rules around Screen Time: You may need to relax your rules about screen time. I am not saying let them be glued to a screen 24/7, but if you are a parent that usually lets your kids watch 20 minutes a day, maybe allowing PBS kids to give you an extra break would be something that would be good for all of you! I love the Spark and Stitch institute. They have great resources about balancing media and parenting. https://sparkandstitchinstitute.com/
Negotiate with Teachers: I have a kindergartener and I was about to pull him out of school and homeschool him (which sounds a little like torture for a parent like me who is not very organized) as spending so much time in Zoom calls and meetings felt quite developmentally inappropriate. Can you talk to your child's teacher(s) and work out something that still meets some of the educational goals without resulting in your child hiding under the table for 45 minutes screeching and spitting venom like a Dilophosaurus (true story). These poor teachers are doing their best under impossible circumstances. They know this isn't the best for kids and yet they are required to do what is demanded of them. If the teacher isn't sure about making some changes, contact the principal or school social worker or school counselor. And, don't put any extra stress on your self about this year of schooling. We are all doing the best we can.
Advocate for your own Self-Care: I am not talking about pedicures and bubble baths. I am talking about time for you to be "off-the-clock" in the sense of parenting. I know so many parents have very few resources at this time, so you may have to be more creative in finding solutions. If you have a partner or spouse or friend that can manage said children for a bit, ask them and return the favor by watching their kids. In fact, you could even plan for an outdoor situation, to try and reduce exposure. And, wear masks, of course. You could drop your kids off at a sledding area with your friend and then drive 3 blocks away and call your best friend, your favorite aunt or listen to an audible book. You may only get 45 mins or so, but that break can help us feel a tiny bit more refreshed when we see our kids again. And, our kids benefit from these itsy-bitsy breaks as well.
Up your playfulness factor! When your children are pushing you to your limit by whining or perseverating on a certain dinosaur toy that they want for Christmas (again, true story), when you feel that frustration building up in your body, try to pivot and instead of yelling or something else not helpful, try something super silly and playful. For example, turn into a tickle monster and chase them around the house! Tell a knock-knock joke. Do something, anything other than the typical frustrated response. And, see what happens. It could be a fun experiment.
Gratitude changes your brain! Another thing that can help us feel a little better and build some resilience is to challenge ourselves to write down our gratitude, say it out loud, acknowledge it somehow. Here are some ideas: write things you are grateful for on scraps of paper and put them in a jar or shoebox and keep them for a time when it would be helpful to pull them out and read them. You can have your kids draw things that they are thankful for and add that to the container. You can all even decorate the container. Or, just write them on a whiteboard or paper and put them up on the wall somewhere where you will see them often. If you want to be private about it, maybe grab an old notebook and create a gratitude journal. However you do it, gratitude is something that can help us all. Teaching our kids how to be grateful is also helpful, but no pressure to do everything all at once. Parents can focus on this self-care technique for themselves first. check out this article: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain
And, if life truly is feeling overwhelming and these sorts of tips do not feel like they can have an impact on the kind of stress you are experiencing, it is time to contact a mental health professional about how to feel better. I work with parents individually or as family systems. Feel free to contact me via email email@example.com or call 651-362-5790 to schedule a free consultation!
All the best!