As a working mama of three boys, all between the ages of 5 and 11, I want to first say to all my fellow parents: “I feel you, deeply.” This. Is. Hard.
All of our lives have been turned upside down in ways we never could have imagined. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were signing our kids up for spring activities and making travel arrangements for spring and summer breaks, and at the same time, it feels like a lifetime ago. Even now, it still seems hard to believe that we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has cost us, our families, and our communities so much.
I also want to say that you are doing an amazing job, even though I know it often doesn’t feel like it. We have all, for the time being, lowered our expectations for our kids, for the order and cleanliness of our homes and even ourselves. We’ve had to do it to survive. We simply cannot do it all, and we certainly cannot do it all well, and that’s okay.
As a clinical psychologist who is supporting my patients exclusively via teletherapy, a parent who is on-the-job learning how to support my kids during at home “crisis schooling,” a devoted partner, a cook, a cleaner, and a deeply sensitive soul—it would be an understatement to say that I have been overwhelmed at times. I know I am not alone in this. We have been asked to hold, adapt to, figure out, and manage on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, more than our nervous systems are designed to handle.
We have been asked to hold, adapt to, figure out, and manage on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, more than our nervous systems are designed to handle.
One thing that has become clear to me during these past few months is the waves of shock, and often grief, that come with every new loss. The moment we found out we had to start “crisis schooling” our children from home. The moment we found out schools were closed for a few weeks which then turned into the rest of the school year. The moment we found out we didn’t have a job anymore or a friend was diagnosed with COVID-19. The moment we heard sleepaway camps wouldn’t be operating this Summer. The moment we were planning drive-by “birthday parades” instead of in-person birthday parties. The moment, the moment, the moment… The list just goes on and on. While we are astonishingly resilient beings, able to adapt and pivot at warp speed, we also resist change and deeply grieve the profound losses that it brings.
So, how do we as parents take care of ourselves when so much is being asked of us? How do we find new ways to support ourselves when the old ways are no longer available? How do we find the space to nurture our own tender, vulnerable hearts, and the hearts of our loved ones?
We do it mindfully—as imperfectly as it may be—one moment at a time. We do the best we can to stay connected, rooted, and grounded. We look for the good. When we stray, which we will do daily, we come back again and again. Find time for what grounds you—walking, meditating, yoga, cooking, journaling, cycling, running, qigong, painting, dancing, hiking, singing—the possibilities are here for us.
While we don’t know yet the long-term effects of this unique time, we do know it is affecting each of us, so the best we can do is try to take care of ourselves along the way. It’s actually the MOST important thing we can do for ourselves, our children, and all those we love and come in contact with. I want to share with you 7 intentional ways of being that have profoundly supported me and many others in holding ourselves with tenderness and compassion. May they bring the same support and strength to you.
7 Ways to Nurture Your Heart as a Parent
1. Allow Your Inner Experience
Most of us have lost count of how many different feelings we experience in a day, how many disappointments we have had over canceled events, and how much grief we have felt for all the rapid losses and changes. Can you give yourself space and permission to feel the ever-changing waves of emotion? We know from experience and research that “What we resist persists,” so when you stop resisting your emotions and allow yourself to feel how you feel, you may move through challenges more quickly and with greater ease. When you fight what you are feeling, it builds up and often gets expressed in unhealthy ways. You can’t escape yourself—so why not try embracing yourself instead?
2. Practice Acceptance
Isn’t this one just the hardest to do?! There are so many things happening that we and our kids do not like, but no matter how much we wish things were different, they simply are not. Life is actually a lot like the weather: We have no control over whether it’s raining or the sun is shining. How we feel about each of those weather patterns depends on the meaning we give to it. The weather itself isn’t “good” or “bad.” For example, inches of snowfall may be either welcomed if you are on a ski trip and looking for fresh powder to sail down the mountain side, or it may be lamented over if you need to drive on the roads and your car is now stuck in the snow.
There is no doubt that the repercussions from this pandemic are causing us pain, but our resistance to accepting things as they are adds another layer of discomfort, causing us to suffer. When we can meet our reality as it is, that is the moment options become available to us.
3. Be Flexible
If you are anything like me you probably like to have some semblance of control of your life. Don’t we all? One thing is for sure right now: Just when we settle into a routine, something changes. Allowing yourself more flexibility in your own self and within the family will invite a greater sense of ease right now. I know that many of us worry about the lasting effects this time will have on our kids and honestly, we don’t know yet. But as a psychologist who has worked with children, teens, and families for the last 20-plus years, I can tell you this. Your kids will be okay.
Just when we settle into a routine, something changes. Allowing yourself more flexibility in your own self and within the family will invite a greater sense of ease right now.
They will remember the special moments like staying up too late to watch a family movie, an extra ice cream scoop, long bike rides, and even binge-watching shows or getting to play video games for endless hours. They will also remember the energy of the house and how it felt because, like anything else, our emotions are contagious. This doesn’t mean you throw all rules out the window—structure and containment are also important, but this is a time when we all need a little extra connection, comfort, and flexibility.
4. Be Compassionate
I have always found it helpful to hold in my mind (and heart) the idea that when someone is being a “difficult person” it means that they are hurting in some way. While this doesn’t excuse their challenging or upsetting behavior, it does help us to come from a place of compassion when trying to make sense of it, and maybe even relate to them.
In our attempt to juggle it all, we too can sometimes become the “difficult person.” There is no greater gift or healing balm than self-compassion in those painful moments.
What has become clear to me is that we are all hurting in some way right now, so we are not always our “best selves.” This includes our kids. I have found that they can quickly vacillate between being sweet and playing together, to sudden angry outbursts and relentless fighting. While this can cause whiplash sometimes, when I see that their behavior is coming from a place of hurting, it helps me to approach them from a place of connection and healing rather than reactivity and punishing.
This idea also applies to ourselves! In our attempt to juggle it all, we too can sometimes become the “difficult person.” There is no greater gift or healing balm than self-compassion in those painful moments.
5. Find Space to Forgive
Forgiveness is such a complex, dynamic experience to unpack and move through. As adults, many of us are still holding on to and struggling to forgive others (or even ourselves) for past mistakes. So how do we practice forgiveness when dealing with both big and small hurtful (though often unintentional) acts every day while we are all “home together”?
My kids have been incredible teachers for me in this arena. Just like I mentioned how they’ll shift from happy to furious with each other in the blink of an eye, it’s equally astounding how quickly they can go from fighting back to laughing and playing. While my nervous system seems to take longer to recover than theirs, I have come to really appreciate the ease with which they can shift and let it go. It’s not often wrapped up in a pretty bow of hugs and apologies, but they release the angry, hurt energy and allow connection to be restored.
See where you are holding on to past hurts, and invite your grip to soften, even if just a little. Your heart will thank you.
6. Practice Gratitude
It is easy to get bogged down and even depressed by all the losses, fears, and sticky 24/7 news cycles. Yet, just as there have been many challenges during this time, there have also been many gifts. I have found that right now, the joy is really in the small things—a beautiful flower found on a walk, friendliness of a neighbor, stumbling upon inspiring sidewalk chalk, and all the mini moments of connection throughout the day.
Our experience shows us that energy flows where the mind goes, so just take a moment and reflect on the nature of your thoughts. Are you in a constant state of worry, reading every news update that pings your phone? Are you scrolling social media for endless hours a day comparing your less-than-stellar sourdough loaf to the “perfect” one your Insta-friend made? Are you finding it difficult to keep your irritable thoughts to yourself?
…Or are you focusing on what’s going right instead of what’s going wrong? If you shift your focus to some of the good aspects of this time, notice how it feels in your body and what happens to your mood. Researchers have long found that practicing gratitude increases our physical and psychological well-being. What are you grateful for right now? Take a few moments to really sense into it and feel the shifts in your whole being…
7. Remember it’s “For Now”
Given all the unknowns right now, it’s easy to slip into thinking our current situation is going to last forever. We sometimes need tricks to help us come back to the moment and stay connected to the fact that everything, and I mean everything, changes. One way I have found is to add these two simple words to the end of your forever-feeling statements: “for now” or even, “right now.”
For example, “I can’t believe summer camps are canceled!!” you can change to: “I can’t believe summer camps are canceled for now.” Or “I can’t handle my kids being home all the time!!!” to “Right now, I can’t handle my kids being home all the time.” These words have helped so many people and families I work with to shift from overwhelm to a greater sense of calm and ease. Our overwhelm comes from running too far off into the future and trying to figure out the unknowable.
When we return to the present moment, acknowledge the pain of this moment, understand that this moment will change, and offer ourselves and our kids compassion and understanding, we can open up to the profound knowing that right now, in this moment, we are all okay.
While parenting in a pandemic is something none of us ever dreamed we would be doing, we are actually more prepared than we think we are. Each of us can attest to the fact that parenting is a crash course in learning how to deal with ever-changing moods, moments, crises, and needs. We are everyday superheroes and superheroes doing everything we can to protect, support, and guide our families! Sometimes we just need little reminders that everything we need to traverse these challenging times lies already within us.