Updated: Aug 16, 2021
Anxieties are givens of parenthood. Being obsessive about our children’s safety, anticipating every illness and mishap, and protecting our kids from our personal stress is second nature; protective instincts go on autopilot immediately after giving birth. However, this past year, even the most practiced of mommies and daddies would have to dig deep into wells of resilience. We’re no longer handling run-of-the-mill stress; we’re facing an extraordinary event. One that would likely take a bit more time before it ends.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a physical health issue. It also takes a big toll on psychological well-being. Parents, because of their nurturing and protecting roles, are vulnerable in unique ways. Suddenly, a parent's everyday anxieties are magnified a hundredfold, which can tax their abilities to cope.
“When my child so much as sneezes, I worry about taking them to an already packed hospital and getting no assistance,” Gino, father of two, confided. Mia, caring for a newborn, worries about her baby getting jaundice due to not enough sun. Jonathan fears new COVID-19 variants and worries if they make kids more vulnerable. This amidst working parents juggling work-from-home duties with caregiving, entertaining stir-crazy kids, and a lot of disinfecting.
It does take its toll. Which is why it’s important for parents --- as it is for all members of the family --- to be mindful of their mental health during this difficult time. We must practice some extra self-compassion and self-care.
Here are some tips on how parents can protect their well-being and stay resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Plan your self-care --- before planning anyone else’s.
Families are recommended to have a well-being plan: simple, everyday activities that would help manage stress and keep things positive despite challenging circumstances. But parents, as with what flight stewards advise us, must put on their mask first before putting anyone else’s. The best care you can give your family is to be in a well frame of mind.
Admit it, your children’s school/playgroup time, and your partner’s work time is your personal time off. Now that you’re all together every day, it’s hard to carve alone time. But try to sneak in even 5 minutes to quiet down, do some breathing exercises, and meditate. And when it all gets too much, remember that many things can wait. You can leave the dirty dishes in the sink, you can set down the baby in the crib for a while, so you can center yourself.
Maintain regular routines --- or create one.
Routine is the busy parents' best friend. When you are working from home while at the same time monitoring your children's online classes --- all the while preparing meals, doing the laundry, and protecting your toddler's curious hands from danger, you need some organizing. Have a family sit-down and negotiate who should do what and when they can do it. This way, each important task has a champion and children will know what to expect --- avoiding stressful disturbance when you least need it the most.
Routine also helps maintain wellness habits. Try to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Take your meals at roughly the same time every day as well. Maintain predictable patterns of play, exercise, reading, prayer, etc. Get sun if your window, balcony, or home garden allows it.
Routines are comforting to children, even if at first, they may resist. It adds to a sense of normality and therefore security. It also keeps things in order in a household, which lessens the feeling of things getting out of control. More so, steady biological and social rhythms protect well-being; studies show that it prevents mood problems and lethargy. If anything, it keeps life moving ---and hopefully keeps the boredom away.
Talk to your children about what’s happening, in an age-sensitive manner.
Some parents keep discussions of the pandemic to themselves. But children ---even very young children --- often can sense what’s going on. Not being able to discuss the situation can be more stressful than the virus itself ---especially as fake news abound. So do sit down with your family to explain what’s happening and encourage each member to share thoughts and feelings
This dialogue, however, must be tailor-fitted to your child’s age and level of maturity. You can tell younger children that there’s a virus that brings sickness and staying at home helps protect them from it. Validate their fears and anxieties but communicate that they are as safe as possible. Stick to factual statements; do not lie. It’s okay to say that you don’t know.
You can share your feelings as well; it can be therapeutic for kids to know that even mommy and daddy are afraid and confused. But do emphasize your positive coping strategies so that they can model these behaviors.
Best practice: plan with your partner how to do this, so you present a united front.
Employ reasonable precautions, but don’t obsess on what you can’t control.
At this point, our best weapon is in our hands ---literally! Do practice standard advice on how to combat the virus, namely hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and keeping our immunity up. Follow lockdown regulations. But try to be aware when you are catastrophizing or imagining the worst possible scenario, and consequently is getting debilitated by worries about things yet to happen.
Allot for yourself “worry time” --- maybe 20 or so minutes when you can entertain fear and uncertainty. Remember, all kinds of emotions are normal; there is no right or wrong way to react especially during these abnormal times. Journal about what you feel, talk to your spouse or other adults. But after that worry window, let go of the things you can’t control. Examples of these is the current scarcity of test kits, family members from far away). You can be proactive, ask yourself “what if” questions (e.g. what if a member of my family do exhibit symptoms?), but focus on crafting the most workable plan given the circumstances rather than nurturing a general sense of helplessness.
Focus on silver linings.
Without undermining the gravity of the situation, focus on the blessings of the situation. The clear sky that you only get to appreciate today as it was covered with smug before, the extended family time, the touch-base with one’s spirituality. Many see crisis as an opportunity to evaluate life and re-align priorities. Keep a gratitude journal and be mindful of each little moment you spend with the people you love.
At the end of the day, the world may be going crazy, but to your children you are the world. As long as you keep well and focused ahead, they themselves would find their resilience within --- and find that things are, well, quite alright.
Written by Kay Vardeleon. Kay is a registered psychologist and is co-founder of Childfam-Possibilities Psychosocial Services. She is mother to Erin, who is doing her best to entertain her mama in these difficult times.