The world is in upheaval right now. Regardless of the state you live in or what's happening with your work, school, friends, or family, we've all seen some major changes to the normal daily routine.
If you're also a parent, chances are you are going through one of the roughest seasons of life -- ever. I have three kids under the age of five and let me tell you, nothing has rocked my world more than bringing my third baby home a few months before a global pandemic. My mom hasn't been able to come to help me. We haven't been able to go to Target or the zoo. We have had no distractions from the daily grind. We have been at home, all the time, since March.
In that time, we've had plenty of rough days where one or all of us were crying. But we've also had beautiful days -- ones we wouldn't have had if normal life had just continued. I can't wait for the end of the pandemic, but I'm a big believer in being able to find beauty even in the harshest of seasons. (And I say this with the context that my home has been touched by unemployment, illness, new diagnoses and medical challenges, financial strain, depression, and anxiety.)
To survive as a parent in the age of COVID-19, here's what to do:
Redefine What Success Looks Like
If a successful day of family life previously involved things like school, childcare, daycare, grandparent visits, or social outings, well. COVID-19 has certainly upset the apple cart. Those are all important aspects of life, but in a pandemic where we have to make some changes, redefining what a successful family day looks like is key.
For me, a successful family day is one where we we are more patient than not, with fewer meltdowns than normal. The bar is low, but that makes it easy to have successful days. Now is not the time for overachieving.
Create New Normals
I spent the first two or three months of the pandemic waiting for it to be over. It was classical survival mode and denial, all wrapped into one. But as spring became summer, it also became apparent that I had to redefine my thoughts on normalcy and what a good day could look like.
We still have plenty of rough days. A four-year-old and a two-year-old endlessly at home with their parents and baby sibling is bound to lead to pent-up energy. But by doing more special things, like having a crafting and coloring time each morning after breakfast where they get to use new stickers, fun paper, and new crayons. This has become a new part of our fun daily life.
I can't wait till I can load the kids up and take them to a park or to Target for an outing to change things up, but until then, there's so much I can bring into the home to offer a fresh point of view. Stickers have been a big hit and don't cost a small fortune. Fuzzy sticks (what we used to call "pipe cleaners") have also been pandemic favorites, too.
Norms can and should adjust to seasons of life. While COVID-19 is no one's first preference, we can make it a season of life that our children can remember with some fondness.
Relax Wherever You Can
No one is under the delusion that parents have "more time" now that they're home more often, least of all me. We have far less. But the routine has shifted, and because of more proximity to our kids, this can become a positive thing if we find ways to frame it that way.
Basically, I now care a lot less about things that used to be important to me. Rarely do the kids "get dressed" each day. They wear clothes, but of their own choosing. More often than not, it's pajamas. This has cut down on laundry and makes them happy, which for me is a win/win.
That probably won't work for older kids who are going to school or Zooming for school, but if there's something you can let go of -- do it. I say this as an OCD mother who's realized there is only so much space in one day. Now that work time is also parenting time which is also cleaning time, which leaves little "space-for-me time," I'm lowering my standards wherever possible.
"The dishes can wait" has been a parenting advice refrain for years, but it took me till the pandemic to really just not do them when I've run out of steam or when I really just need a break.
In our house, we've also started having more family mealtimes and being intentional about that. It's not every day and it's not perfect, but it's something I've relaxed about. I used to want to eat my dinner in peace after the kids went to bed, but now, there's something poetic about eating amid chaos and laughter, happiness and the occasional food throwing.
Manage Your Stress
Most of us haven't lived through a worldwide pandemic before. We haven't experienced this volume of disruption to our children's normal education or childcare, or to our workplaces and employment. It's stressful! There's no way around that.
Managing stress is as essential for your own well-being as it is for your kids. don't underestimate the basics, either. Deep breathing is one of the most research-backed yet simple ways to promote stress-relief and to improve quality of life. Diaphragmatic breathing is easily done at home with no professional guidance, costs nothing, and can be worked into any situation throughout your day. You can deep breathe while you shower, work, change the baby's diaper, put the kids to bed, and even as you fall asleep yourself.
It's almost impossible to get to a gym, but even if you weren't in that habit before, don't neglect daily movement now. You don't have to do anything formal to get benefits either. Just move more. I spent weeks in the summer taking the kids for early morning walks; now I'm focusing more on yoga and stretching. Anything you do is better than nothing.
Many therapists are now offering telemedicine, so if you're stressed and need professional help, find some. There are apps that offer counseling services, but you can also find someone local in your area who does therapy, too. I check in with my therapist once a month and it's been beneficial and necessary.
If you had a baby just before or during the pandemic, give yourself some extra grace and support, too. Postpartum depression can happen for many reasons, but even if you've never been prone, don't ignore potential signs for it now. A pandemic is a big deal. Disrupted help after giving birth can lead to deep feelings of grief, loss, betrayal, and anger. They're all normal, but coping is far easier when you have a professional who is guiding you.
Above everything else: give yourself, your partner, your children so much more grace than you'd think you need. We're all just doing our best but in many cases having little breakdowns every day. This is hard. Young children may not know how to articulate it, but they see and sense the weirdness, too. It's scary for all of us -- grace and kindness, to self and others, is the best way to find the bright spots in this very stormy season.
Writer Aimee McNew has a Master's in Holistic Nutrition Therapy (MNT) and is also a Certified Practitioner of Nutrition Therapy (CNTP). Read her posts on nutrition and wellness at https://www.aimeemcnew.com/.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.