Making parent wellbeing a priority during this next big change
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Parents must nurture their own wellbeing during this next big change if they are to be of benefit to the children in their care. We have come so far from the early days of COVID-19.
Do you remember the Israeli mother hiding from her fighting children in her car? She pulled out her phone and recorded her feelings about homeschooling:
"They don’t stop eating. How’s he feeling? Ask me how I’m feeling! Falling to pieces! I go from one child to the other. Here’s science, here’s math, forget it! And how am I supposed to know all those things? Now, our children will find out how dumb we are. It’s not right... You’ve finished us off. It’s only the second day...If we don’t die of [coronavirus], we’ll die of distance learning.”
These hilarious words were spoken by Shiri Kenigsberg Levi. It was day 2 of online learning in Israel. It resonated with thousands of parents across the globe. Parents suddenly found themselves in the role of teacher, worker, parent and half-decent partner.
We can almost hear the Eye of the Tiger theme music play as you rose to the challenge. You may have armed yourself with ways to stay calm during a pandemic. Perhaps you read our emails about nurturing the mental health of your children. We can see you, cape billowing out, hands on your hips, sweatbands on, ready for COVID 19.
However, times are a-changin. Rapidly. Again.
If you happen to live in Australia you will, in fact, be in a period of transition. Albeit a foggy, sticky, clunky one. Overnight the NSW government announced that public schools will return to full-time school on Monday the 25th of May.
And yet there is no collective deep breath out.
This holding of the breath may be due to a few reasons:
- Potentially you had just found your rhythm as a family and were actually starting to enjoy yourself
- You may be concerned about how your children may cope with another change
- There is a well-founded fear that at any time your school could close again (due to confirmed cases in that community) creating more instability
- Your child may be anxious about returning to school, social distancing and what the new way of doing things may be like
The transition out of lockdown is set to be a complex and uncertain phase.
We didn't come up with that line, the World Health Organisation did. As humans, uncertainty is something we struggle to be comfortable with.
So we have 3 take it or leave it tips* for managing this next phase of transition as a parent:
1. Focus on what you can control (as opposed to what you can't)
You can't control what the government will announce next. You can't control whether there will be another cluster of cases. You can't control a sudden spike in numbers and a return to restrictions.
Here is the thing. Focusing on those things will drive you nuts.
What can you control?
The food you eat, the time you go to bed, the exercise you choose to do, your intake of media and where you get it from, the people you talk to. Julia Baird has a wonderful analogy of penthouse and basement people. The analogy being, you get in a lift with a friend and when you get out you will either feel like you are high and energised at the top of a penthouse or a little like you have just had the life sucked out of you and are deep down in the basement. Surround yourself with penthouse people. You can also control how kind you are to yourself and others.
2. Adopt the mantra: same boat, different ocean
Same boat: COVID 19.
Different ocean: perhaps it was nothing but tranquil waters, for others, there may have been constant choppiness, even treacherous conditions.
You may have hated it, that does not make you a negative person. You may have loved it, that does not make you a better person.
Same boat, different ocean.
As you come into physical contact with more parents you will hear their stories and experiences of COVID-19. For some, this period may have caused a spike in anxiety and loneliness. For others, it will have been a magical mooch time. They will tell you about the benefits of going slow, how they have never felt more connected with their children, their new skills in meditating and baking bread or how much their child has developed in their reading and violin playing as a result of homeschool instruction.
You may hear, "I'm not ready to go back to normal. This was such a special time for everyone" You will nod your head and smile, agreeing and all the while silently having a surge of jealousy, regret, contempt and shame. Why didn't I turn my son into a maths master? Why didn't I become a yoga instructor? Why did I literally throw them at the school gate this morning repressing the urge to scream "FREEDOM" just as convincingly as William Wallace in Braveheart?
Same boat, different ocean.
Because the fact is the weather conditions have been different for all of us depending on our situation, where we live, our work requirements, the age of our children, what our partner's capacity has been like to help, our own fluctuating mental health. Be kind to yourself. Perhaps your chance of becoming a certified yoga instructor will be in the next pandemic.
3. Fill your own cup
You will not be of benefit to any child in your care if you don't prioritise your own wellbeing. Do things that bring you joy, be with the people that make you laugh, jump in the ocean, sit on the sofa with a book while smaller humans potter about. Whatever fills your cup, do it. With a full cup, you can continue with your sweatbands and Eye of the Tiger music for longer.
Grow Your Mind is an evidence-based wellbeing program for schools and families. We want all children, teachers and parents to know the positive strategies you can use to nurture and protect your mental health. Over 90% of children who have been taught our program reported a higher level of confidence in taking care of their wellbeing as did teachers who undertook our accredited NESA course.
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* Take it or leave it was inspired by our dear friend and volunteer of Grow Your Mind, Lizzy Kirby. She is a therapist, a social worker and a legend. Each Tuesday she runs a Take it or Leave it offering on her Instagram account: lifeunfilteredcoaching