Every single person is affected in some way by this very changed world. Loss and change are universal. As parents we now face heightened levels of anxiety, doubt and uncertainty as we carry our family’s well-being from a financial, health, educational, emotional and spiritual perspective. So much feels out of our control. Working with parents and being a parent myself, I know the low points that we get to only too well. In just one of my personal parenting lowlights over the last few months, I have passed my son the phone as I sat in a heap of frustration and despair on the floor, to call his principal and say that he was leaving school FOREVER because virtual school was virtually driving the two of us to very dark places. I am pleased to say that he didn’t make the call and he has not left school. We can actually now laugh with each other at that low moment but believe me when I say there was no hint of laughter on the cards at the time. I was feeling out of control. In this time of so much stress and having to juggle perceived and real demands, I think it is useful to look at some of the ways that can help us feel less out of control and empower us with taking an active role in sustaining ourselves and our families through this time.
I share these ideas with you for a few reasons. They are all things that we can do for ourselves, they are not dependent on finances or other people. I am not making them up, they are research based and provide help to many. My intention with the work I do and the blogs I write, is not to add to the overwhelm parents feel. Often, we think we have to enact a myriad of big changes to feel an impact and are so overwhelmed at the thought that we do nothing and we feel powerless. I am a strong believer that changing something, even if it is small can have far reaching ripple effects on our families.
Helping our children tap into their brave
Finding that sweet spot of knowing how much to push and how much to let go particularly in stressful times and heightened anxiety can be challenging to say the least. We need to hold onto the knowledge that children thrive with authoritative parenting. They need the balance of being seen, heard and understood and having this reflected to them but they also need consistent and fair boundaries to help them feel contained in the world. Karen Young is a psychologist and author who focusses on anxiety, I find her reflection and question useful in trying to help us think of our role in supporting our kids and placing demands on them ‘ With anxiety, avoidance will build avoidance, and brave will build brave. When responding to a child or teen with anxiety, the question we have to ask is, “Will my response build their courage or shrink it.” ‘As parents we are pretty much in the business of trying to help our children build their brave and so as we help them to adjust to going back to school, staying at home, managing school virtually, not seeing friends and family, not knowing all the answers etc we should be aware of how we are responding to them and engaging with them, anxious or not. We should try respond in ways that helps them feel contained, safe and courageous even in their changed world.
That’s all good and well, but how do we show up as these authoritative parents when we are stressed and struggling ourselves?
Lucy Hone a resilience researcher emphasises the need to find hope in the face of adversity. She provides 3 key strategies that resilient people portray that help in navigating difficult journeys. These strategies put us in the driver’s seat of our journeys whilst feeling and acknowledging the pain that we are in they also help us do what is supportive.
- Resilient people get that shit happens to all of us. It helps us to contextualise that feeling of ‘why me?’ This does not for a second take away the reality of the pain experienced, the sadness or the struggle but it is a reminder that adversity is part of life for all of us.
- Resilient people are good at choosing where they select their attention. Again this is not about diminishing the negative but rather about also focusing on the positive. Find what you remain grateful for even in the face of the pain and even if it is small things.
- Resilient people ask the question “Is what I’m doing helping or harming me?” This seems like such a simple question but asking it and answering it honestly can help us be more discerning about how we spend our time. Is scrolling through social media helping or harming me? Is reading every Covid-19 stat helping or harming me? Is focusing on what I’m missing helping or harming me? The answers may be different for each of us but it is helpful to be reflective about how we are spending our time and choose the more helpful option.
Self-Compassion and Self-Care
If we want to have the energy to take more control in shaky and uncertain times, we must prioritise taking care of ourselves and being kind to ourselves. Kirsten Neff, is pretty much the self-compassion guru. She helps us understand that self-compassion means treating ourselves as we would a good friend with kindness and compassion (in case you needed crib notes). Our self-talk can take a nasty turn when things aren’t going as we would like, you know the kind of stuff…” The other parents are managing this all much better than me” “I am a failure” “I have damaged my child” “This is how it will always be” The stuff that serves no purpose other than feeding negativity and making us feel stuck and helpless, impacting our resilience negatively. Rather she tells us we should be kind and mindful and recognise that our experiences link us to a common humanity.
We all got the memo that we are meant to be taking care of ourselves but it’s the first thing to fly out the window in the face of many demands. We have to find ways to do better and stop paying lip service to self-care. Things like meditating, mindfulness, journaling, exercise and movement are good for us and we can all do them despite the doubts that we fill our heads with – the internet is awash with options if you are not sure what to do or how to do it. It is about making the time, and sticking to the time and believing that we are worth the time. The wonderful spin off is that our kids see us role modelling healthy self-care. That’s a very good thing!
Connection and Compassion
When the journey is hard, some of us want to hunker down and go inward because the experience is so deeply personal and no one can ever quite understand exactly what we are going through at a particular time. It can feel very lonely. But the mental health benefits of staying connected to others are plentiful. We can and should be thoughtful about who we connect with and who nourishes rather than saps our energy.
Even in the darkest times, those who are able to continue to give in ways that feel meaningful, feel the mental health benefits of giving. The need is huge out there! So, call the friend you know is struggling, make those sandwiches, knit those beanies – small (and big) acts of kindness go a long way for our own wellbeing and the greater good. It’s a total win win.
It is hard at the moment. Taking some control will not make the hard go away. These ideas give us something to anchor ourselves and our families in a healthy way in a stressful time. Remember we don’t have to go large, something small is fine. We owe it to ourselves to take good care as we navigate this very bumpy journey.