The experience of parenting in 2020 won’t be forgotten anytime soon. For many of us, this past spring marked our first experience with an unprecedented loss of normalcy and control – beyond our comprehension. Everything we traditionally counted on to provide a sense of safety, structure and routine for our families was taken away. As fall approaches, we wait to hear whether our children will be going to kindergarten, to high school, or to college. Will our family ski trip be cancelled? Will our son or daughter be married at our favorite inn? Will our children see their grandparents this year?
The realization has set in that not only has life as we know it been turned upside down, but that it is going to stay this way for a while. The uncertainty created by the pandemic is very real and can feel frightening at times.
That said, I want to encourage you to view this time as an opportunity to really reflect on your values and reframe what is truly important for yourself and your family right now. Not unlike the famous ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz, we do have power and we can create a peaceful life for ourselves even during a global pandemic. The following skills can truly become your superpowers if you put them into practice.
- Embrace acceptance. As a parent who has invested blood, sweat and tears to give your family the best, the challenges of the pandemic can feel paralyzing. Whether that means your child is delaying attendance at a prestigious college or you’ve got little ones glued to their iPad while you navigate working from home, letting go of previous expectations and accepting the situation will make a difference. Part of acceptance is also validating your whirlwind of emotions – you may feel angry, frustrated and frightened. Once you acknowledge that, you can move forward and focus on what you can do vs. what you can’t control. Accepting the situation helps us feel grounded, giving us a firm footing to build the world we want for ourselves and our family.
- Slow down. In a strange way, the craziness of this time forces us to pause and take inventory of our lives. Whereas before you might have spent a weekend running around to a million activities and gatherings, now you can take time to appreciate things in a simpler light. Allow yourself to be present in the moment and enjoy the reality that you can only do so much planning right now.
- Recognize your resources. Our old system may have collapsed, so we need to build a new one with a network of supportive people. If caregiving help is an issue, enlist a family member or friend to read a book, draw a picture or play a game with your child over Zoom. Older teens can take advantage of free virtual activities provided by libraries and museums. I also recommend staying connected to the people in your life who can provide encouragement when you are having a rough day and challenge you when you are stuck.
- Redefine success. I encourage you to think of success in a different way. Long-term goals may stay the same, but the path there may look very different. In this time of uncertainty, looking at goals in the short-term may prove to be a more efficient way of reaching those long-term goals. For example, if my child is unable to participate in the event that would be the stepping stone to a successful future, how do I think outside of the proverbial box to prepare him or her in a manner that is within my control. What can I offer my children through my own wisdom, talent, skills, and experience? How do I model success for my children through our daily interaction? Children more apt to respond to what they see than what they hear.
- Find the value in practicing vulnerability. In a world of intense vulnerability, take the opportunity to be honest about your need for help. Fear thrives in isolation. There is strength in asking for help. As Brené Brown writes, “To be authentic, we must cultivate the courage to be imperfect – and vulnerable.” Allowing others to be supportive offers the opportunity to experience a sense of camaraderie and a sense of community.
- Be kind to yourself. Make no mistake – uncertainty is very challenging and for this reason it is important to treat yourself with the utmost love, kindness and respect. You can begin by simply asking, “What do I need right now? What would it look like to do something healthy for myself physically? Who do I have to support me emotionally? Am I being mentally stimulated? What simple changes can I make to take better care of myself?” Unfortunately, our culture has embraced the notion that drinking wine when the kids are in bed is tantamount to self-care, but that is misleading. Taking care of yourself must happen from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. If you are struggling, I encourage you to find a virtual therapist to provide guidance and support.
As we navigate this time of uncertainty, this can be a valuable opportunity to re-evaluate and re-prioritize what is most important. If we cling to the idea that everything always must be perfect and on-track, we may miss the opportunity to experience the joy that is put before us in the moment.
Self-Compassion Is a Necessary Survival Skill
By Maggie Tipton, Psy.D.
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