Home together 24/7. Home office, homeschooling, social distancing, essential work. Family life is unrecognisable from as little as a week ago.
The uncertainty and worry about the global situation, keeping your family safe and with enough supplies, supporting relatives and neighbours home alone, feeling thrown for a loop by the social distancing measures, trying to juggle working from home or essential work with doing school at home, loss of support network, fear of falling ill or infecting others, financial insecurity…
The invisible load just got heavier.
Even though you may be safe, it’s a whole new situation to get used to and you may be feeling vulnerable. For many the last couple of weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Our most important – and hardest – job as parents is to manage our emotional health so that we can help our children learn how to manage theirs.
Yet the challenge of finding time for a break, recharging the batteries and centering yourself just got even harder.
Expectations and what really matters
Be kind to yourself.
It’s ok if you feel overwhelmed, stressed, tired or listless. All of these feelings in the wake of current events may be a trauma response.
Expectations that school, work and how you find time for yourself can carry on as normal in an emergency, home setting are unrealistic.
Young children generally can’t yet occupy themselves for long periods of time. Live video calls will have the sound of kids playing in the background or the odd interruption. This is the reality of being a parent and working from home.
We have to find a new normal
And that new normal doesn’t have to include pretending you’re not a parent or only a parent, nor becoming a teacher or homeschooling expert overnight nor having the time and energy to learn a new language, a musical instrument or do art.
Do what you can and what’s good for you – and let go of anything that adds to the load and feelings of overwhelm.
Your child’s education won’t suffer if they don’t complete every assignment or a set number of hours of school work every day.
A stressful environment isn’t conducive to learning. Children learn through play and connection. And right now they’re learning valuable lessons about what it means to show up and take care of yourself and others during a global emergency and emotionally challenging time.
It’s ok – and important – to have a break to settle into the new situation.
What matters is that you take care of yourself so that you can take care of your kids. You can’t give your kids what you don’t have. There is wisdom in putting your own oxygen mask on first.
What matters is being able to show up for your kids, being present, listening and creating a new normal in which they feel safe, seen, protected and comforted.
Enjoy the time at home together. Make it as cozy, snuggly and fun as possible.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou
This new normal won’t last forever but the connection you foster with your kids will.
When you need time for yourself
What do you really need?
So often we just want time for ourselves!
Understanding what the underlying need is can help you work out what that could look like – especially when we’re all home together 24/7.
- Is it a moment to manage emotions when you’re feeling overwhelmed, worried or frustrated, dealing with your own trauma responses?
- Is it a need to feel safe and connected with other adults that you’re doing ok and not in this alone?
- Is it self-fulfillment and or feeling seen for the contribution you’re making?
- Is it time to work in home office?
- Is it sleep or exercise to counter physical and emotional exhaustion?
- Is it switching off to get some head space?
Young children don’t understand what it means when we want time for ourselves. They can’t identify those needs for themselves yet – their basic emotional needs are first and foremost connection and being physically close to us, especially in times of change and uncertainty. Wanting time to ourselves might be understood as wanting time away from them.
Here are some of the ways I’ve found to get some of my needs met with my kids, when time alone is hard to come by:
Taking a nap whilst they listen to an audio book, play Minecraft or watch a show…
Drinking a tea and reading whilst they’re colouring or looking at a book…
Going out for a walk where they can run ahead and you can take in some fresh air…(as far as still permitted and possible)
Creating a safe space for kids to play in one room whilst you’re next door catching up with your partner, co-parent or friend on the phone…
Reading books to each other…
Watching a film together (or several!)…
Or joining in the kids’ game, giving them my full attention and connecting with them – then, when they’re able and want to carry on playing by themselves, taking that moment to have some quiet time to myself.
One of the biggest gifts our children have is that they live in the moment.
Though they’re sensitive to what’s going on around them, our worries and concerns – and have their own big feelings about not being able to see their grandparents, meet their friends or go to school – they also carry on with the business of being a child.
Deeply connected to themselves in play, imagination and learning.
A great way to take a break from the pressures and uncertainty of this new reality is to join your child in their world.
If social distancing has also meant the loss of your personal support network, contact to friends, the help and support you would otherwise have had, it’s even more important to stay connected.
Take advantage of ways to connect online, meet up on zoom for a virtual cuppa and chat (you can do that with me here).
Keeping our distance from each other doesn’t mean we have to do this alone. Together, we’ll get through it.
More intentional communication
Having to create a new normal for our family lives means more intentional communication with partners and co-parents. The schedules and structures that were in place no longer apply. It’s no longer clear who’s responsible for what, and when.
Revisiting expectations and taking the time to become clear on what you need makes it easier to communicate those needs.
What’s helpful is sitting down once a week to talk about what’s going on, how each person’s feeling and what they need. Then coming up with a plan to meet those needs.
Following that up with a daily check-in for 10 minutes over coffee every morning allows for us to be human, address new or changed needs.
We do the weekly check-in as a family with the kids, to find out how they’re feeling, what they think is good or not so good about the new situation – and to make sure their needs can be met in the weekly plan too. I check in with my children individually each day, too.
Talking about what you’re experiencing, what you’re thinking and feeling as a family is a good way to mitigate the potentially longer-lasting psychological effects of living through Coronavirus. It’s also a great time to give kids messages of reassurance.
Structure and schedules help when they’re meaningful
One of the most common questions I’ve been asked this week is, is it ok to relax schedules? And how to structure the day when external factors such as school and working hours, scheduled activities and commitments no longer apply.
It’s helpful to look at whether your existing schedule serves you as a family whilst you’re all at home together and whether it’s meaningful.
I think of the purpose of a structure for the day as providing orientation, a means of creating space for needs to be met, connecting with each other and with ourselves.
An arbitrary structure built around external expectations or what we think we should be doing doesn’t take into account the extraordinary circumstances, a family’s individual situation or the needs of family members.
What kids need most right now is to feel safe, seen and connected.
Having an idea of how the day will flow can help kids not to feel lost with a long, empty day stretching ahead. A simple framework could allow for regular check-ins, breaks, times to come together for meals, dedicated times when work and other activities can take place, time to do things together, to connect and make sure everyone is seen.
It’s ideally flexible and without rigid expectations, has room for adjustment and includes lots of free time to just be, connect and adapt to what’s most important in any given moment.
A schedule that has every minute of the day planned out from waking up to going to bed doesn’t leave space for individual feelings or needs, and creates stress.
Our days together are most peaceful when we’re at peace within ourselves – when our (emotional) needs are met.
Focus on avoiding power struggles and on helping to regulate feelings and meeting needs – your kids’ and your own.
Focus on having a good time together and doing simple things that bring you joy.
Then you’ll be more energised to make plans and think about what cooperation could look like from a place of connection.
Plan in times throughout the day when you can be present and connect with your kids and make deposits into their emotional bank accounts. You’ll be able to draw on them when you want to take that break and moment to yourself.
The best structure or schedule is the one that works for you and your family’s individual needs.
5 small daily habits that help you centre yourself
Check in with yourself throughout the day
How are you feeling? What do you need? What would help you get that need met? Is what you’re doing now and what you planned to do next serving those needs?
Focus on your breathing. Take long, deep breaths and breathe out slowly. Breathe out for longer than you breathe in.
If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, counting your breaths in and out whilst you do this helps activate your thinking brain, get grounded and move from reacting to responding.
In emotionally challenging times, staying hydrated helps you regulate. Drink more water than usual.
Keep a tally in a notebook or use an app to remind you to drink regularly throughout the day.
Both breathing and drinking water raises your oxygen levels, which helps bring the stress hormones down.
Think about what you’re grateful for
Our thoughts determine our feelings, which determine our actions. Proactively thinking about what you’re grateful for creates positive energy, which boosts the immune system.
Write down one small thing you’re grateful for at certain moments throughout the day, e.g. when you put the kettle on to make a cup of tea. Writing down one thing you’re grateful for before you go to bed can help you sleep better too.
Micro-meditation in bed
I’ve found that a micro-meditation in bed before going to sleep, just for a few minutes, can help calm your thoughts and sets you up for a restful night.
Repeat a mantra to yourself and when your thoughts start to drift off to other things (mine always do!), bring your attention back to the mantra.
The mantra can be something simple that comforts you, e.g. the thing that you’re grateful for or “Everything’s going to be ok.”