COVID-19 has created a time of uncertainty, overwhelm, and family isolation. As parents, we put pressure on ourselves to work, parent, and homeschool, all while trying to keep ourselves mentally well. In the midst of the current pandemic, we are in a position where we must support our children amidst our own struggles.
Here is what I have noticed in my own family during these weeks of social distancing:
1) We are all grieving.
We can refer to the experience of living through a pandemic as stressful, overwhelming, and full of change and uncertainty, but it goes deeper than that. We are all experiencing deep loss – loss of our routine, our sense of identity, physical connection, and loss of control over many parts of our lives. Although the loss is collective, grief is a personal journey that we must navigate in our own way. It’s unpredictable and ever-changing. And as members of families, we need to experience our own grief while respecting and supporting the grief of those around us.
What does grief look like? It may play out in that child who is struggling to get going in the morning, isolating themselves in their room, yelling at their parents, or struggling to focus. Various emotions of grief will play out for all of us at times – sadness, anger, confusion, blame, relief. We can’t individually hide from our emotions as we are used to doing in a busy, easily distracted world. Similarly, we are intimately faced with each other’s grief while we are home together. It is our role not only to identify and accept those emotions as natural parts of grieving, but to also provide an atmosphere of emotional expression. When we actively learn to sit with, feel, accept, and express our emotions, we organically grow into healthier people.
Through difficult times like these, we have the opportunity to teach our children that they feel better when they make better choices.
2) We are struggling with control.
We all have a relationship with control. Some of us give up control too easily, while others hold on to it in whatever ways they can. Mother Nature occasionally reminds us that we can’t fully control aspects of our own lives. No matter how hard we try to make plans and achieve goals, sometimes we can’t ensure that things go a certain way.
It’s vital that we find ways to exert control over certain aspects of our lives, and to surrender control of others. As parents, we may try to fulfill our needs by exerting too much control over our children at this time because there can be great satisfaction in creating and enforcing rules and routines. Although we have responsibilities to our children to assist them to achieve health and wellness, it’s important to remember that children need to experience a degree of control over their lives as well. This can play out through their involvement in developing new routines and rules, choosing activities that their family can do together, and experiencing natural consequences of their actions.
In our home, we’re reminding our teenagers about important activities for each day and then allowing them to create a schedule that includes those activities in time frames that they choose. We’re struggling with limits related to technology use, but we also know that with this extra time, they are learning when too much feels like too much and being forced to get creative about developing new interests. Through difficult times like these, we have the opportunity to teach our children that they feel better when they make better choices.
3) We need predictability and novelty.
There is significant evidence that the rhythm of routine creates a calmer and more settled nervous system. We absolutely need some predictability and order at a time like this. Grieving can be exhausting, and it’s key that our bodies develop some rote behaviours that we can rely on each day. I’m not very good with routine, but my husband is. He’s not as good at novelty, which is my area. We are needing to team up right now to find a balance for ourselves and our family.
We have agreed that there are certain routines that we absolutely must enforce with our kids. They must put devices away at a certain time, get up at a certain time during the week, continue to do their Saturday chores on Saturdays (even if it feels like just another “Blursday”), and help with dinner and the dishes. We never go to bed without saying goodnight, I scratch my son’s back every morning to help him wake up, and, if we’re angry, we always talk it out and apologize after.
However, living within the same four walls day in and day out is leading to the need for novelty like never before. We crave change, excitement, and adventure, which is why we got in the car late one night and drove outside the city to go look at the stars. We ate cake waffles with whipped cream for breakfast. We are playing new games, watching new shows, trying new recipes, having new discussions. We’re seeking new ideas to help our brains keep working and our moods from dipping. Our quest is to keep seeking a healthy balance of the same and different.
When we reflect on this pandemic in the future, we will remember the emotional tone in the home, and whether we felt supported, connected, and settled.
4) Connection is more important than excellence.
Another parent said something profound to me a few weeks ago: “After this is all over, I want my child to look back at this time and remember that I was patient, calm, and fun.” She had been judging herself for not helping her child enough on school work, so I had asked her what she felt was most important right now. When she referred to looking back and remembering, I was reminded how powerful our implicit memories are. Rather than carrying a lot of detailed memories about the progression of events in our lives, we tend to recall through emotion, body sensation, and meaning.
When we reflect on this pandemic in the future, we will remember the emotional tone in the home, and whether we felt supported, connected, and settled. We will recall the way our family interacted, what kind of activities we did together, and how we felt about ourselves.
We all have demands that we need to respond to. However, we are setting ourselves up for failure if we expect excellence at this time. The stress in our bodies results in ongoing increased levels of cortisol and adrenalin flow in our bodies, which can decrease our energy levels and make it difficult to focus. If we focus on our responsibility of modelling calm and regulation, our children will benefit emotionally and otherwise.
It is inevitable that we will all change and grow during this time, not from creating personal goals and forcing activity, but from learning how to sit with our own emotions as well as our family’s, and letting go of what we cannot control. When you later look back at this family time during COVID-19, what do you hope to recall?
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