Families are having a hard time.
As we approach the one year mark of navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not surprising that families are struggling in multiple ways. Even in ordinary times, many parents struggle to balance work and family responsibilities. And these are far from ordinary times.
Cooped up at home during the short days of winter, parents of young children and teens are facing unprecedented pressures. The boundaries between work and family have been blurred for the many parents who now work from home. And for extended periods, they have also become reluctant home-schoolers during school shutdowns.
How can parents balance their conflicting and oftentimes overwhelming responsibilities?
The answer is not to do more. Instead, what is important is for parents to prioritize their mental health and mood. Research shows that a parent’s mood has a big impact on setting the tone for the entire family.
5 Parenting-Mood Boosting Tips
Exercise – The Natural Mood Booster: Exercise is an important buffer in managing stress, anxiety and moments of overwhelm. Often people think about exercise in more rigid ways, such as a 5 km run, 50 laps in the pool, or a 1-hour weight training session. If you love exercise that approach may work well. However, if you are not a natural “exercise-lover” taking exercise in small chunks is better than getting no exercise. Consider starting with 5-10 minutes of exercise daily. Setting small goals may be more realistic and achievable and then you can start feeling the benefits that come from moving your body.
Appropriate Venting: Verbally venting or sharing your feelings can significantly reduce stress and a sense of isolation and loneliness. Sharing vulnerably in this way with a safe friend or support person increases your sense of connection with others. Chances are likely you may hear “I get that, I feel the same way sometimes,” which helps you remember you are not the only one experiencing these challenges. Create an expectation and a boundary by calling a friend and asking, “Would it be okay if I vent for five minutes?” Giving your friend this heads up, they understand they are being asked to listen and offer support, nothing more.
Cut Yourself Some Slack: Be realistic about what you can accomplish on both the work and the home front. It is impossible to expect the exact same level of productivity as pre-pandemic time. Too often people make this unfair comparison and feel they are under-performing and internalize feeling bad as a result. Given that the world is completely different, it is impossible to achieve the same results. Be kind and compassionate with yourself. Tell yourself “I am doing the best I can with what I have to work with right now.”
Setting Boundaries: If you are working from home, it can be difficult to keep clear lines between work and family time. Work is ever-present, and chances are you are not getting as much accomplished working from home as you would in the office. Or perhaps the demand to be more productive is a new pandemic reality. At the end of the day, turn off the computer, pack up the paperwork and resist the temptation to check your phone or emails during family time. Kids are sensitive to not having your full attention and emotional presence and this can lead to an increase in behavioural acting out. Setting these boundaries can help ease some of the tension that may be creeping into your family time.
A Parenting “Time Out”: As parents, you are going to feel frustration and anger. If you are having a hard time keeping it in check, remove yourself from the environment and give yourself a “time out.” If possible, go for a walk around the block. This would be the best option as getting out of the four walls of your home creates the biggest psychological impact. However, it may not be feasible depending on the age of your children. In that case, perhaps you could take a walk around the yard. And if that isn’t possible, take yourself to your bedroom or bathroom and close the door. Do some deep breathing and intentionally use this time to “reset.”
The Takeaway Message
Parents are under extreme stress as a result of the pandemic. My heart goes out to every family raising kids at home during this time. Each development stage from babies and toddlers to school-age children and teens present unique challenges and parenting demands.
My hope is for parents to loosen the reigns on the expectations of themselves while boosting their self-care to give them a fighting chance of managing this incredibly difficult time. Parenting has never been more challenging than it is currently.
If you are struggling, we are here for you. Our team of therapists have been helping moms and dads just like you navigate parenting during the pandemic since last March. You too can experience the relief that comes from seeking professional help to reduce your stress and increase your sense of well-being.
by: Mary Joan Brinson MSW, RSW