Today is day 1 of lockdown in South Africa. Worries are plentiful. The ripple effect of Covid-19 is being felt in a myriad of ways that impact us physically, financially, mentally, emotionally and socially. Some parents and caregivers are heartbreakingly being forced to be away from their children in this lockdown period  For those of us who are with our kids in this time, we are asked to dip into some extraordinary parenting because we are homebound all the time with no outside escape or distraction from the demands (and yes the joys) of parenting.  We need to think about how best we can cope with this time ahead.

Losing it

A couple of days ago my son said to me “ Mom, please can you leave us alone, you are bringing a very negative energy.” Trying to balance the verbal punch with the fact that it was said politely and was quite amusing as he is not really one to connect with energies, I had to recognise that yip it was indeed true.  I have definitely not been projecting rainbows and light as I snap, nag and shout at my sons. We are going to lose our cool sometimes whilst parenting in close quarters, let’s not kid we do it even when the quarters aren’t tight, we are human. We are juggling our stressors and the truth is they are juggling theirs. These are unsettling times for all to say the least. We need to know that when our kids behave badly (and they will) and when we behave badly (and we will) there is always something that feeds that behaviour. Neither our kids nor us are setting out to be awful. We need to be sure to acknowledge when we have behaved in a way that does not feel right and we know has gone too far and really has not been helpful. A big clue is when we have behaved like a tantrumming, out of control child. We need to acknowledge our behaviour, our words and actions.  We need to explain our feelings that whilst we felt frustrated/angry/upset/disrespected, we did not want to show up and behave as we did. We can apologise and we can try and problem solve about how things could have been handled differently. We can authentically acknowledge that we will try do it differently next time. We don’t have to do this straight away, we can do this when some calm has been restored. Don’t make it a lecture, say you are sorry and why, keep it short and simple and allow your child to speak without you reacting all over again.  We mustn’t sweep it under the carpet and pretend it never happened and leave it to fester in our minds and theirs.

Coping Strategies

What we are trying to do when we are trying not to ‘lose it’ is to buffer our response from the triggering stimulus (eg.uncooperative/rude child/messy rooms). We are not aspiring to be the epitome of calm and zen parenting, we are striving to respond firmly and in a boundaried and effective way. We don’t want to respond in an out of control way. We need some buffering and that buffering is what I am always going on about…. self-care. Now with lockdown that means self-care in small spaces but it is even more important than ever and needs to be prioritized if there is any possibility of us showing up for our kids in ways we would prefer. Remember everything we do here is what we also role model for our children.

Self-compassion is needed in bucketloads at the moment. There are 3 core components to self-compassion. Firstly, we need to be kind to ourselves rather than critical. Kind of like talking to ourselves as we would to a friend when they are having a rough time. Secondly, we need to understand that we are part of a common humanity, our experience is shared and we are not alone. Thirdly we need to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings which means recognising them but not being overly attached to them. Please google Kirsten Neff and self-compassion to find out more about this, Kirsten Neff is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas and is the leading expert on self-compassion.

We are also going to need to use tools that help us cope, all of these are helpful in being more mindful, in helping us process and externalise our feelings:

  • Journaling – keep a book next to your bed and make a habit of writing every morning.  Write about what is hard, funny, sad, what you are grateful for. Don’t judge or edit what you write, just write.
  • Breathing – if you have a breathing technique that works, use that, otherwise google short breathing techniques that you can use. It is impossible to remain as intensely enraged or upset if we breathe
  • Meditate – find a meditation that works for you. There are loads of free meditations online. If you are not convinced, google studies on the effectiveness and benefits of mediation.
  • Exercise and movement – there are amazing free and paid online resources that we can tap into during this time. Commit to doing at least half an hour of some sort of movement every day.  

Just a note on drugs and drinking. Believe me I aint holier than thou on this! Those hysterical drinking memes and videos have had me LOLing and Ill take an LOL where I can get them. Sure, we may be laughing about how we may need our escapes where we can get them but it needs to be said that these escapes are not our healthiest options and don’t really make for energised present parenting in the long run. They can affect our moods and our behaviours so we need to be mindful about how we are using them, how much, how often and what our children are seeing.

Structures and Routines

Lets not get ridiculously strict with routines but we really really need them now. The days may blur into each other. We need to help kids and us differentiate between holiday time/weekend time and school time. Where kids are old enough include them in thinking this through. Small things like , you can stay in pyjamas on the weekends but must get dressed in the week. Kids can have more screen time and later bedtimes during the weekend than the week. Identify key chores that have to be done because we are a family trying to work together. Draw up a list of activities that kids can do that they can consult instead of always readily and irritatingly declaring boredom. Kids do better with consistent and clear boundaries, routines and structures – we need to remain cognisant of this even in lockdown.

These are unchartered territories, lets try be mindful of how we get through these times. We will get through this, we have to get through this and maybe we will come out the other side wiser, more connected and more mindful parents. For now, I am going to try and work on my negative energy. Good luck to us all.