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A Shoulder to Lean On: Support for Parents During a Pandemic

A few weeks into quarantine, someone on Facebook posted a YouTube video from a few years back with the comment: “This is now the reality for all of us.” It’s the BBC news clip where Professor Kelly is in his home office doing a live interview talking about North Korea, and his daughter comes marching playfully in while he is live on air, followed a few seconds later by her baby brother in a walker. Then the fantastic scene where the mother of the children comes sliding into the room and takes the children out. In the meantime, Professor Kelly tries to maintain a serious and professional posture…

There have been so many parenting struggles since the beginning of the pandemic. Parents juggling children at home full-time while trying to work from home as well (the math does not work on that one!). Then, parents trying to homeschool their children with online-learning—oh! yes—and still working from home. The math on that one doesn’t work either. Then, a summer where most activities were not up and running… wonderful weather but, once again, a lot of responsibility on us parents!

Then, the fall confusion of whether we should send our children back to school or commit to homeschooling… this pandemic has been a chronic demand of stress on parents and has robbed us of our caregivers and support people—or otherwise known as supporters of our sanity!

We haven’t been able to alternate playdates, have sleepovers at grandparents, etc.

And now with what seems to be months more of this, we parents need to pull together!

Here are two of my go-to strategies to help us make it through these tough and unusual times.

Fill Your Pot Daily

A wise woman told me years ago that “You can’t feed your family from an empty pot.” Those words have stuck with me over the many years of raising a family. As parents, we want to give everything to our children, and we sacrifice everything for them. Especially in these times where there is even more pressure on parents, it is an even bigger struggle to find time for ourselves. And yet, it is even more critical now to take care of ourselves so that we have “something in our pots to feed our families.” By this point, we are all getting a bit short-fused and cranky, possibly even feeling low ourselves. Our children are navigating their way through this pandemic and have lots of emotions that go with their experience. They turn to us to help them navigate their world of feelings. In order for us to do this, we need to have enough capacity to tend to their emotional needs.

Taking time for ourselves doesn’t mean we are selfish or a neglectful parent; in fact, it is just the opposite. By doing this, we also model to our kids that it’s OK to tend to our needs as well as the needs of others. Prioritizing self-care probably means having to let a few things slide to make time for this (the dishes can wait).

So, How Do You Fill Your Pot?

First, reflect on what recharges you in effective ways. This may also look differently than binge-watching Netflix (we all love that, but it may not be recharging in the way we need). It may mean a short walk alone, enjoying a cup of tea looking out the window, journaling, working on a puzzle, or doing a mindfulness exercise.

Then, place it strategically in your day. Waiting until the end of the day (after the kids go to bed and the dishes are done) is likely too taxing on your system. It may feel more supportive to put in one or two “rests” throughout the day. For example, taking 15 minutes in the middle of the day, and 15 minutes at the end of your workday before you pick up the kids or before they come home.

Emotional Connections: Choosing Quality over Quantity

Boundaries are hard right now. Everything happens at home! And when we have been home all together for endless days and endless hours, things start to blur together. There may be a lack of clarity as to when it is work time, home time, family time, chore time, etc. It all seems to be lumped together. We may have more quantity of time physically together in the home, but not quality connection time. And we may also think that since we’ve seen each other all day, we’ve spent time together. This isn’t true. And a child’s need for connection does not pause for a pandemic. Nurturing a secure connection with your kids will communicate love and importance to your children and have a side benefit of better behaviour.

Three Simple Steps Help Quality Connections

First, actively identify and mark different times and activities. Especially around quality connection time. This might look like naming things, such as family time, work time, date time, special us time, etc.

Then, take a moment to transition to each “time,” and allow a few minutes to settle into each activity. The pandemic limits our ability to go out to places which may naturally mark the transition for us. Before we start our designated connection time, we might ask “is there anything we need before we start our special time together?”

Finally, tend to each “time” with the dedicated activity set for it. To get the most of connection time together, resist the temptation to multitask or allow yourself to be distracted or interrupted by your phone.

Final Words

I hope these suggestions support you and your family in getting though this pandemic with a little more caring and kindness.

Hye Kam, MFT

A licensed couple and family therapist in Montreal specializing in relationship challenges.