Written by a local and recognized family therapist, but shared as personal experience.
I really like to be prepared for the “what ifs” of everything. I always have first aid kits in every car and medicine cabinet. When my husband and I consider a family vacation we spend hours gathering information about hotels, restaurants, and activities that other families have found enjoyable. When I go to the pediatrician’s office my list of questions is VERY detailed (and sometimes with bullet points). I can make a pros/cons list a mile long about even the smallest of decisions. I feel fulfilled in my role as my children’s protector if I have prepared for all of the “worst case scenarios.”
I know I am not alone in this, and I only need to look at any media source since COVID-19 has become a part of our vernacular, to know that the entire world is doing the same thing. The television news is bombarding us with information. You can’t go to an internet site without finding overwhelming amounts of advice on what you should be doing right now. There is the straight forward and clear, “Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay 6 feet apart” but there is also endless amounts of advice and opinions about what to do in our homes: “create your new normal”, “find a schedule and stick to it”, “10 ways to be a great teacher at home”, “A million ideas to keep your child from being bored,” “Make your home an anxiety free zone.”
There is just too much, and it often contradicts each other.
I am NOT a teacher and I don’t want to be one, although I can probably direct my child to the day’s lessons. My kids have been bored at some point in every single day (as have I for that matter), and every time I think we have some sort of a schedule I inevitably make changes to it, almost as quickly as the government guidelines change. Most of all, I can’t possibly imagine creating a space where anxiety doesn’t show up, at least a little bit right now. It’s an anxious time, it just is. Being human means experiencing a bit of anxiety. It is a naturally occurring emotion, a helpful one if understood and managed correctly.
No doubt, though, anxiety can be a pretty intolerable feeling, especially when it gets really big.
That is why we all seek (more like desperately crave) information, direction, and expert opinions when anxiety creeps in. We look for certainty, especially when we feel immense uncertainty. So, it is only natural that we would do the same thing right now, when risks feel like they are around every corner. Our attempts to gather as much information as quickly as possible, to become informed and prepared, to feel competent and confident, are all with the goal of protecting our family. Yet, competency and confidence come more from our own experiences than from gathered information from outside sources.
The truth is, there is no right way to prepare for an unprecedented pandemic. We have to turn to what we already have, and already know. No amount of additional toilet paper is going to ensure the safety we are seeking. We need to use the resources we have found useful in past situations. We need to turn inward, be our own guide.
What are the strengths your family has used to get through difficult times in the past?
What parts of your parenting often make you feel proud? After this is all over how do you want your children to describe their parents and what they did for them?
Really, what if you just stick with the things that have always felt good to you? If cooking great meals is your jam, keep doing it. If telling bad jokes has brought eye rolling giggles, keep ‘em coming. If warm, wordless hugs and snuggles have felt incredible before, they will feel good right now. If sitting in front of the TV together for hours is your family’s regular routine, by golly, it should continue.
Listen, the bottom line is: this is brand new to all of us!
None of us are experts at parenting in a pandemic, and right now it is difficult for our best selves to show up. We are all going to be TRYING our best, no doubt, but there are just too many uncertainties, too many stressors, too many changes, too much anxiety for us to be grading any of our actions. It doesn’t matter what arsenal of information we gather, we will fail at meeting high expectations, or winning an “A+ PARENT” award right now…sorry if you were really hoping to earn that logo on a mug.
So quit trying! Instead, be “A PARENT”. Be present, show up. If that means you nailed it in developing a home school schedule and your kids appreciate that, great, but if it means you simply made it through a day without murdering a family member, that is JUST AS great.
The antidote to anxiety and fear is not only preparedness.
See if you can also combat those emotions with curiosity, with playfulness, with togetherness. Try to take a break from the endless stressors demanding your attention and do something just for fun. Or sit with your children, without expectation, and just see where your conversations and actions go? Exchange roles with your children and let them be the expert. Ask them if they have any advice for the adults and try to follow it for a bit. Jump in some puddles with them, dance and sing, move your bodies, create something together. At the end of the day, gather together and try to recall something that made you each smile. There is almost always something that did, yet if we don’t take the time to really remember those smiles, they can blend in and fade away. Basically, see if even for just a bit, you can shift your attention from trying to protect, trying to be the best, and instead try to save some space to connect. After, take note of your anxiety levels, and your children’s, have they lowered?
And if you can’t do ANY of this, that is ok too! These days, “good enough” is plenty.
Personally, even when I look at the times I have prepared expertly for our vacations, or scoured my pros/cons list before making a decision, none of that is what my family remembers, or finds most useful, after it’s all over. Honestly, the memories and stories we savor the most are when things went wrong and we just “winged it”. The time we got lost in a city, all disagreeing and screaming at each other about which direction would take us to safety, we still laugh about it until we cry. More frequently than I would like to admit, I have to throw my pros/cons list away and just “go with my gut.” Almost every time I present my questions to a physician they retort with, “That is up to you, you have to decide what it best for your family”. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what I often find myself saying to clients in my own office. Finding what works for your specific family is your “special sauce” and its unique ingredients make it delicious to you and your family!
There will always be uncertainties in the world.
We will always fear we don’t know everything, aren’t doing a great job, aren’t the best parent. I do know for certain, though, what our children will remember most about these times; the scary times, the hard times, the sad times. They will remember the moments spent together, their parents showing up for them, the connection they felt with those who they looked to for safety and security, they will remember the love.
Many of our children’s schools have gone to a different grading system in order to adjust to all of the changes right now. They have switched to pass/fail, or as my son’s school calls it: credit or no credit. Why don’t we set these standards for ourselves, as parents? At the end of the day do you think you earned credit for your parenting? Did you show up? Did you participate? Did you try your best with what you had on that given day, even though you may not have produced your best? During this time when not much feels safe, do you think your child felt safest with you? Do you think your children know that you love them?
Well then, you earn credit, and you can claim you’re the prized mug with “A PARENT” printed in bold. Because being “A PARENT”, any parent, right now takes extraordinary effort. I hope you recognize that. Feel proud, raise your mug high…and fill it with your special sauce!
Resa Hayes, MA, LPC, NCC
Child and Family Therapist, Parenting Consultant, and Child Development Specialist