Being a Better Pandemic Parent: Lighten Up

High angle view of father and son wearing sunglasses

This year has brought us all to our personal edges. I’m guessing you are exhausted and done with it. You want your kids back in school with a schedule you can count on, and you want your life back to normal. You’re also probably juggling guilt about not being a good enough parent during these times and fear that your children are glued to screens and falling behind in school.

With spring in the air and vaccines on the rise, life as we once knew it is calling, but we are still very much stuck in the pandemic. Here are some suggestions to lighten up your life even under the Covid restrictions we still must abide by—for who knows how long.

  1. Practice the pause. Instead of reacting automatically when your kids push your buttons, do nothing for at least 10 seconds. You’re not going to teach anything worthwhile with that reaction anyway. Give yourself that time to take 3 deep breaths so your triggered amygdala has time to settle and your cortex can come back online. Create and remind yourself of a mantra. Ex. My child is having a problem, not being a problem. She just wants what she wants—that’s normal. This is about her not me. Disengage. Whatever works.
  2. Remember your kids are going through a hard time too. Normal fears, worries and frustrations are exacerbated and out of proportion. Not to say they don’t need your help, but they don’t need your worry about them to rise proportionally. Try to keep all this in perspective and let the top 20% of what you’re getting from them brush off.
  3. Schedule in break time for you. It might Family walking on path holding hands smilingonly be 15 minutes but it’s worth it. Whether it’s in the morning before the thumping of feet warn that your life is no longer your own or at the end of the day when your kids are occupied, once again, on a screen. (More about that to come.) Use this time for focus on you—with a cup of coffee or glass of wine. Choose something nourishing whether it’s meditation, reading a good book, a walk, calling a friend, exercise. But do find a way to tune in to yourself and pay attention. Are you feeling stressed, worried, depressed, strangely calm, nervous? Breathe into whatever you find. See if you can tap into the present moment where there is calm even if only for a few seconds.
  4. Connect with your kids, don’t try to fix things. Most of your exhaustion comes from what you think you should be doing, regret not having done, or fear having to do because of what you let slip. I’m not going to tell you never to do that again—but you do know that it is wasted energy, right?
  5. Practice child-focused mindfulness. What I mean by that is give each child 15-30 minutes of your choosing with your undivided attention. Say, “I’ve got 15 minutes and I want to spend it with you.” (How often do your kids experience you saying that to them?) Focus in on their minds, watch the gears spin, listen to their words, stay in the moment. Anytime thoughts of the past or future come in, acknowledge them and let them pass on. Practice simple acceptance with no agenda of your own. You’ll be getting the benefit of a mindfulness practice for you and giving the best gift you could give to your child.
  6. Hold a celebration once a week. Your entire family is and has been on overdrive for far too long. Celebrate what you all do for the sake of Covid. Once a week, take turns talking about what you did/gave up/were disappointed about/learned because of Covid. Congratulate your kids with a special treat for doing what has never before been done in the history of the world. Never have kids been in this situation—and with no choice. Like the front-line workers, they and their teachers are superheroes. You too. Celebrate it regularly.
  7. Know that this too will pass. You’re going to be okay. Your kids are going to be okay. This may seem like an eternity, but it really is a blip in time—especially in your children’s lives.

Now about those screens. I don’t pretend to have the answer, but I’m sure by now you have loosened up on your screentime rules in order to stay sane. Remember this is a blip in time. Talk to your kids about the special allowances for these weird times. Let them know when school gets back to normal you will re-access and come up with new guidelines together when their lives can be more active outside, in sports, in after school programs, with friends, etc. For now, make an agreement with them that you are loosening the reigns with the understanding that agreements will change.