Finding the balance between being grateful and being authentic about how stressed we are is not easy, but it is essential.
I think we can all agree these are unprecedented times we are living through. Never in my life time have I experienced the fear of a pandemic and schools being closed, along with gyms, restaurants, and playgrounds. We are in uncharted territory here. Even if you are staying fairly optimistic and rational, there is global fear in the air. This is a lot to process for any individual, but at the same time you are a parent with your kids at home and they likely have many questions you can’t answer.
The dial on our stress levels has turned up and most likely the dial on our calming access tools has turned down. Many of the ways we are used to releasing stress are no longer available. Maybe normally you leveled your stress by going to the gym, a yoga class, getting together with friends, sitting in solitude, or going dancing. Now these calming, stress-relieving activities are no longer available to you in the same way.
You may have lost your income and are facing financial insecurity or uneasiness of the unknown. Or you may be continuing to work and have the stress of unsafe working conditions or loss of childcare. Perhaps you’re working from home with your children, but you are trying to manage them and create a daily flow. Maybe you’ve been forced to cancel vacations, birthday parties, or weddings. You or someone you know may have COVID19. Maybe you and your partner are home together and handling your stress in different ways. You might be thinking of all the people and families that are suffering in drastic ways. Or perhaps you or someone you know tested positive for COVID-19. You are trying to manage all of these complex personal emotions, and then you are a parent. It’s likely you’re also trying to calm, explain, settle, entertain, cuddle, soothe, and empathize with all of your little cuties.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge this is baffling and overwhelming. Take a moment, make up a phrase about what you are feeling. Close your eyes and think it silently or say it out loud. For example, “This is flipping bananas,” or “This is f@*king wild,” or “I am overwhelmed.” Whatever you chose, I want to acknowledge it absolutely is, and you have every right to feel that way. I see you, I hear you. It’s real. Even with all of this, somehow we are all going to get through it. We will get through this because we have to; there is no other way. We can’t go backward. And you are not alone. Connect with the energy of all the parents on this planet. We are here with you, together.
The reason I’m encouraging you to get in touch with your own feelings is that talking to your kids about daily flows and social distancing doesn’t work unless you as the parent are connected and authentic. There is no use pretending that everything is the same as it was two weeks ago, because it is not. There is no use in pretending that everything is delightful, because it is not. In my experience, suppressing feelings leads to extensive passive-aggressiveness and emotional explosions. We do not have to express all of this to our children, but we do not want to pretend the emotions aren’t there at all. We can adjust to the reality of today and do the absolute best with what we have.
It is time to rewrite our story. It is time to create a life that can thrive (or function) with added stress, unmet needs, and uncertainty. It can look similar to your life two weeks ago, but it is not the same. We do not have to try to recreate a life with 8-3 school work and all our extracurricular activities. We can create a new version of our lives to include the present moment. So hit the delete button and start to modify your script. If you are painting a picture of your life, start to add in some new colors. If you are composing a soundtrack of your current existence, add in some new songs with the old familiar ones. We have this moment in our new reality, let’s make it work.
Ways to make it work
How in this reality can you stay connected and centered? If you are going to work, working from home, and/or the primary caregiver, how can you relieve your stress? Can you find ten minutes in the morning and evening to meditate or practice deep breathing? Can you walk in your neighborhood, smell flowers, bake a cake, garden, or create something? Can you utilize the multitude of live streams available right now and participate in a virtual yoga class, exercise class, art class, or go on a virtual tour of a museum? Could you find 10 minutes in the middle of the day to lie down on the floor? Could you switch off with another caregiver to have some moments of solitude? Can you call a friend? Reach out to a coach?
If you have a partner could you trade off foot massages? Could you take a bubble bath with bath salts and essential oils after the kids go to bed? Would it feel good to have your hands busy creating by sewing, crocheting, knitting, hitting a baseball, or building? Are there feel-good sitcoms or movies from your youth that might make you smile, laugh, shut off your brain, and let positive endorphins in, like Friends, Fresh Prince, Family Matters, Little House on the Prairie, Labyrinth, Space Jam, or any comedy you love? Is there music you can listen to with headphones that will make you feel calm or happy? Could you take many small moments throughout the day to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and say a mantra? If you do not have a mantra, you could pick a positive thought or affirmation like “I am love,” “I am peace,” “I’ve got this,” “I am brave,” “I am connected,” “I am part of the universe,” or “I will get through this.”
If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, try to get specific about what it is that you feel stressed about. There is a lot of global stress, but how especially it is showing up in your life? Is there something that can be adjusted? Maybe a routine can help? Perhaps letting go of a strict schedule could help. Is there something you can simplify? If you are in need of food, is there an organization you can contact? And maybe filtering your news source is useful. You might also find limiting the amount of time you are on social media could be beneficial. There might not be a way to minimize your stress, but there may be a way to soften it.
I am constantly amazed by the magnitude of influence the practice of gratitude has on my life. The definition of gratitude is the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Gratitude in no way means pretending to be happy when you are not, or to ignore the stress, sadness, or suffering you are feeling. In my opinion, it is to lean in and feel all of that, and still attempt to see the beauty in the chaos. There are many ways to practice gratitude. One popular way is to think every day of three things that you are grateful for, and one positive thing that happened each day. I would suggest increasing the number during these uncertain times. Gratitude can be found in the simple acts or the large, the specific or the general, and it is always dependent on your individual view.
For me, today, I am grateful I am healthy, the sun is shining, I have time to write, the flowers are blooming, I have food, a house, a family, a community that is coming together, and ways I can help others. I am grateful for hospital staff, grocery store workers, childcare providers, farmers, scientists, and everyone doing their best. I am grateful for cozy socks, coffee, and my dogs. It might change tomorrow but this is today.
Being authentic with our feelings, embracing our vulnerability, being grateful, adjusting our lives to fit the moment, and being empathetic to ourselves and others will be how we move through this erratic and uncanny time in history.
Rachel Maietta is a mom, certified parent coach, preschool teacher, and founder of Wholehearted Parent Coaching. She has worked with children of all ages, and loves to support parents. If you are interested in coaching and would like to start a 10-week parenting journey, you can receive a free consultation. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram for blogs, ideas, and parenting information, or use the form below to contact her directly.