How do you cope with parenting during lockdown?
Parenting is never an easy task, but right now in lockdown, we’re under enormous strain.
The nine-week point is fading into the past. Our children have been at home for longer than the summer holidays. When will it all end?
There’s no break, no back-up.
You’re getting pulled in different directions, and it’s a big challenge figuring out how to cope with the situation. The task of parenting is more challenging because your child’s behaviour often regresses. They seem more disturbed, upset or clingy.
I am a parent too
It’s a given that we love our children, but when we decided to bring these little people into the world, we couldn’t have imagined we’d be at home stuck during a global crisis.
When I did my therapist training, there was no lesson on ‘how to cope with Armageddon’.
I’ve been digging deep to find a way through for my family.
It’s helping me.
My genuine wish is to reach out to you, from one parent to another, to ease things for you too. Here are four ways to cope with parenting in lockdown I’d like to share with you.
1. It’s OK Not To Be OK
A parent or not – it goes for everyone.
Now it is an awkward moment in your life, and you are not alone. We are together in this storm, you in your boat and I in mine – two metres apart! It’s scary, and it’s lonely, but one thing’s for sure – we’re all in the storm.
Notice the other parents in the world; you can be sure that a whole lot of others are feeling it right this moment. It’s also natural to feel pleasant AND painful feelings all at once; we’re complex creatures.
Some of us are experiencing ‘parental burnout’. In times of chronic and overwhelming stress, it’s natural to feel exhausted, alone, and fed up with parenting. It’s natural to feel like you’ve lost your old self and dream of running away from your kids.
I’m feeling lots of it too. My children are the most important thing to me in the world, but I’ll be honest with you, there are many times that I don’t enjoy parenting right now. I want time off. Sometimes their laughs fill my heart with joy and gratitude, and sometimes, oh my goodness, do I wish I could binge watch Netflix.
Why is it normal to feel so much?
Part of the reason we’re feeling like this is because it causes a problem with our biology. Deep within our brains we have three core systems designed to meet our basic needs:
(1) The Threat System: Detects danger. Triggers fight/flight/freeze. Feelings are anxiety, anger, disgust.
(2) The Drive System: Move us toward essentials for survival, such as food/achievement/sex/status. Feels exciting, energising.
(3) The Soothing System: Helps us to rest, digest, and connect with loved ones. Feels calm, content.
Our Threat Systems are working on overtime, our Drive Systems can’t go anywhere, and our Soothing Systems can’t access the time or social support we need to calm the whole thing down. We are meant to raise children in safe and loving tribes, so ‘lockdown’ is a biological recipe for human psychological suffering. It is not our fault that it is so hard. It’s biology.
When you try to distract yourself, look for the silver lining, or drink a sailor’s load of rum – the storm will still be there.
When you struggle hard against the storm (i.e. engage the Threat or Drive Systems), your mind and body can feel more tired and overwhelmed. And when you’ve lost it, shouting at your kids, the storm is still there. What a bummer!
If distraction doesn’t work, what does?
Struggling with the Threat or Drive Systems can’t get you out of it, so what can?
Begin by looking through a different lens. Rather than push away your discomfort, you can think about how to engage with it in a helpful and supportive way.
It helps your Soothing System to come online. More about that later. The first step is to acknowledge the following:
- It is a very tricky time.
- It’s OK Not To be OK.
- It’s biology.
- It’s not your fault.
In this suffering, we can connect.
1. Notice and name it: See if you can notice and say to yourself ‘Ah, here’s my threat system going again. It’s triggering feelings of frustration. I’m having the thought ‘I wish my little darling would F* off’. What effect does this have?
2. Let the wave come, stay, and go, in its own good time: One thing about a wave is that it always passes. Just as we can’t hold on to moments of happiness forever, each intense and painful feeling will also pass. If you stop fighting it and let yourself bob along like a star fish, you might be surprised to find it easier to wait out the storm.
3. I’d like to invite you to imagine me coming to be under that rain cloud with you. We don’t have to do or say anything. I’m just there to support you. Imagine my expression looking at you, my tone of voice. Do you need anything from me, like a supportive hand? Doesn’t have to be me, just anyone who you find supportive. Take a moment to imagine.
2. Be ‘Good Enough’
How do you handle everything that’s on your plate right now?
Spoiler alert – you can’t!
The thing is, even under normal circumstances, it’s impossible to be a perfect parent.
It’s impossible to fulfil an ideal. I can tell you – I know a lot from my undertakings to raise happy and healthy children. Surely I can be a perfect parent, right? Still, every single day there are several things I wish I’d done differently and I outright screw it up.
Remember your threat system
Remember that overactive Threat System. It’s pumping, so your mind is bound to be calling you all sorts of nasty names right now. Here are some of what my mind says: ‘I’m a terrible parent’, ‘I’m damaging my kids forever’, ‘everyone else is coping better than me’.
The Threat System is doing its essential job of trying to keep you all safe. It’s just that it’s a little over-eager and biased towards negatives.
It works on a better safe than sorry programme. The trouble is that when it starts to dominate your behaviour, it damages the quality of your relationships and you lose sight of their little faces looking up at you.
Lockdown or not, parenting is intense and tricky. You’re doing the best that you can.
Here’s a thing – did you know that it’s better for your children that you are not always fully responsive and tuned in. There’s research showing that you build a child’s resilience when you are sometimes not there to meet their needs and needs. You just have to be there a sufficient amount of the time – you only need to be good enough.
Bonus Point – when you say sorry to your children, it helps to repair your relationship. It’s an opportunity to teach them vital skills in conflict resolution, and it builds trust that you will always come back to them.
The most important thing you can offer your children is your intention to love and care for your family. Notice that intention within yourself.
So, go easy on yourself. Here’s a chance to do what I said earlier – engage with yourself in a helpful and supportive way. Let the Soothing System say hello. Let yourself be ‘Good Enough’.
1. What would you say to a friend in a similar situation? When you imagine me or someone else supportive under the rain cloud with you (practical pointer #3 under ‘it’s ok to not be ok’), what would we say to you?
2. Tune into your caring intention for your children. Explore what else you value as a parent. Connection? Play? Support? What else?
It can change what you do.
Instead of trying to keep up with everything you would normally do, what if this could be an opportunity to nurture yourself and your relationships?
If you need a family mental health day, take one. Prioritise the chores which absolutely have to be done, put aside all the ‘shoulds’, and give yourself permission to say no. Try asking yourself, ‘what’s really the worst that would happen?’ You can do the rest when this is all over.
3. Say sorry: If you’ve lost your temper, make it right. It will help you all.
3. You Matter too
After walking the dog and taking the bins out, what time is there to look after yourself? Self-care is often way down the priority list, and that is just plain wrong.
Many of us know how the sayings go – ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’, and ‘happy parent, happy child’. They’re true. When you’re exhausted, it’s hard to parent in the way you want to.
But it’s more than that. Yes, your wellbeing is essential so that you can look after other people. And, you aren’t just X’s parent. You are an important and worthy person in your own right.
By caring for yourself, you can deliberately engage the Soothing System. You can recharge your batteries. You can develop a more supportive relationship with yourself.
As you read that, did it sink in? Or did you notice your mind throwing up objections? Many parents believe that ‘self-care is selfish’ and that ‘there are too many other things to do’. What protests show up in your mind?
I have struggled with ‘it’s selfish’ myself until something clicked for me a week or two into lockdown.
It is not about saying ‘me first’. It’s about saying ‘me too’.
Lockdown has pushed me to dig deep and develop my self-care mindset. I’ve personally found it helpful to notice the opportunity here to build resilience and grow as a person. I certainly wouldn’t want to belittle the experience by suggesting it’s a good thing, but I wonder – could there be an extraordinary opportunity here for you too?
There is an important caveat here. All the self-care advice going round can feel like another thing you ‘should’ do. A burden. Another reason to feel guilty. You can’t just recreate a spa in your bathroom or go and play golf – you are a parent, after all!
For this reason, I’m going to say something controversial. It’s not about what you do; it’s about how you do it. Again, it’s about engaging with yourself in a helpful and supportive way.
What genuinely feels helpful to you?
If it’s a run or yoga then great, but if your mind is beating you up about it, then put it on hold and find something that suits you better. Here are some quick, realistic ideas.
1. Tune into your caring intention for yourself. It is like the tip above to tune into your intentions towards your children, but this time it’s for you. It takes no time of all, and it’s a frame of mind. What do you want for yourself? What would be helpful to you?
2. Find the moments: Find what feels good in little moments.
3. One surprising way to give yourself a breather: Sing out loud a nursery rhyme or lay down on the floor and kick your legs up and down. Experiment by radically shifting your actions. When you come out of the stress cycle it gives you the space to feel and do something different.
4. Find Your Tribe
Humans are social animals, so physical distancing is biologically tricky for us.
We’ve evolved to live in tribes. Family, friends, pets, friendly strangers activate your soothing system. It’s why a hug or a good chat helps you to feel calm and connected. We need this to feel balanced.
Tribes help you raise children too. Grandparents, aunts and uncles are needed to help with the demands of raising children. In these modern times, we need childcare and schools. Society values paid employment more than parenting, but that doesn’t suit the way we’ve evolved.
Recognising you need a tribe helps you to understand why it is an awkward moment in your life.
Here is my call
If you haven’t found them yet, go and Find Your Tribe. Reach out to them in helpful ways.
If you’ve got friends or family, connect with them. If they’re a bit rubbish, there are good people out there. Start looking for them.
Many community events and parent groups are going online, which makes it easier to meet them.
Granted, it takes more effort at the moment. It might also highlight some relationship issues that were there before all this. Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Call, don’t text: Faces and voices are better at activating your soothing system. Video calling is best, phone calls are good, and text messages are better than nothing. If you’re about to send a text, try picking up the phone instead.
2. Unblock the blocks: If you’re mind really objects to going easy on yourself or self-care, talk it through with someone supportive (real, or me under that cloud with you again). What do you find so difficult about it? What’s their perspective?
3. Reach out to us: We’re here to support you if you need us. We get it, and we can help you work through any issues. Don’t struggle on alone any more. Get in touch.