A Mom On How Her Family Balances Self-Care & School During COVID-19
Like most parents, I feel the stress during this unusual and extraordinary time. Mothers, fathers, and caregivers of children are facing impossible decisions as they perpetually rise to step into new and more robust, hands-on roles as co-educators and, for many, as the entire social construct most kids will have regular interactions with. Besides the tremendous amount of work this entails, especially when partnered with jobs, relationships, and expectations of their own, parents are under a remarkable amount of pressure to make the best of a situation that is challenging at best. Inevitably, the first thing most of us with young kids will let slide is how well we take care of ourselves because taking care of them feels like it absolutely has to be the priority. While it's true, it's also important to recommit to demonstrating care for ourselves, too.
Here are six ways my family has learned to up our self-care routine this year, at our most stressed and swamped and, more importantly, why now is the time to model what it means to be a healthy human for our little ones.
Make it a family affair.
Similar to a chore chart, we created a self-care chart with daily, achievable tasks for everyone—you, your partner, your kids—anyone who's a regular part of your home life. The key to this is making super-attainable checklists like drinking 10 glasses of water, having a serving of fresh fruits or veggies with every meal, or spending two minutes of breathing deeply together before or at bedtime. By filling these checklists with easy-to-accomplish "wins," it positively enforces your efforts, making you more likely to keep coming back for more.
Ask for what you want (and need).
It's true, it's not as easy to find or accept help these days, with social distancing guidelines in place and our desire to keep everyone safe and healthy. If you have another helpful person around your home and family regularly (a partner, grandparent, neighbor, friend, etc.), don't be afraid to reach out and leverage whatever community you do have to cover with your kids' home schooling while you take a 20-minute moving-meditation walk or the first shower you've managed in four days.
If you truly are an island, as so many are right now, remember that your kids can be your community, too. Of course your kids have needs that have to be fulfilled (and it's tough to reason with a baby or a toddler), but older kids want their parents to be happy, knowing their happiness directly translates to happiness for everyone. Younger kids can play alongside you while you stretch on the living room floor or can be your jogging buddy for your morning run. Sure, it might eat into their regularly scheduled art or snack time, but they'll be better for it.
If we don't demonstrate to our children how important it is to leverage the love we have in our lives and our communities to strengthen who we are as individuals, they will never learn it. So, when you feel guilty for asking for that time, remember, you're not asking for permission for yourself; you're granting permission to your children to ask for what they need, too.
You can't be all things to all people.
Things are different now. They might be for a while. Like many, I've mourned the loss of what my "normal" was while recognizing the shortcomings of "normal" for so many in our society, and I'm ready to embrace whatever chapter comes next. But the thing is, no one knows what that will look like yet. Right now, we're in the trenches of building something more sustainable, more conscious, and hopefully something that feels and fits better for more of our society.
We must understand that we will not be the glowy, magical home-school teacher we'd promised ourselves we would be if we ever had the chance. We must understand that we will feel like we're phoning in our business obligations when we've got a baby on our hip, and that's just where life is right now. It isn't what any of us predicted or ordered, but it's here, and we must demonstrate empathy to ourselves most of all and know that our children will not be ruined for it, and neither will we.
Find the fun in self-care.
Remember that most of us don't fully pursue self-care and well-being until we've done things to beat up our bodies, minds, and souls and that self-care and mental health is rarely something our kids are taught to focus on. As intuitive as kids are, they need to learn, just as we did, that taking time to give yourself what you need is an important skill and something that will help us be kinder and better for our family and ourselves. Give your kids a guidebook, beyond the checklists, of self-care options like taking a bubble bath to relax (as opposed to just getting clean!), using an app like Calm or Headspace to meditate, finding an audiobook or podcast to get inspiration from, writing in a journal to help process feelings, calling a school friend they haven't talked to in months for connection.
Switch the complaining.
If you're like most of the world and start your day with some form of media, it's easy to get going on a tirade from the moment you open your eyes. When you find yourself cursing the world around you and feeling very "why me"-ish, call yourself out and turn your burdens around.
For example, on a video call I truly didn't want to be on for work, I reframed it to say to myself, "I'm so lucky I have someone who wants to meet with me so eagerly that they're willing to take time in a pandemic to talk to me virtually." That alone completely transformed the way I went into my video call and made the rest of my day feel brighter somehow.
As parents, there is probably no greater gift we can give our children than teaching them how to alter perspective to see things from an optimistic point of view. Our kids need optimism now more than ever, and if they're not getting it from us, chances are they aren't getting it.
Be nice to yourself.
Lately, I've been trying to talk to myself like a friend. When I mess something up, I say, "You really tried to do that well, and it was harder than you thought! We'll try that again sometime, and you'll be so much better at it now that you know what doesn't work." When my house is a disaster two days after I spend three hours finally deep-cleaning it, I say, "You had a clean house for two whole days! Next time, the kids will chip in, and we'll figure out a good plan to keep it looking better for three or four days!"
Most of us are our own worst critics, and if we hope to raise children who love themselves more than we are able to, we have to be aware that our inner voice is perceptible by them, and we are literally building the scripts our children will someday use to talk to themselves. Be kind.