Parenting During a Pandemic – How to Bolster Your Own Mental Health
By Michelle Hirschy, Upper School counselor
Tips to help parents prioritize their well-being.
Being a parent undoubtedly brings tremendous joy to your life, but if we are all honest, this pandemic has forced parents to face challenges that are far greater than we could have ever imagined. Whether you have small children, teenagers or anything in between, this past year has tested parents’ patience, fortitude and well-being. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics has shown that more than one in four parents reported worsening mental health since the pandemic began. With research linking parental mental health to cognitive, social, emotional and behavioral outcomes for children, parents must take care of themselves during these unprecedented times.
In these times of acute collective anxiety, it has never been more difficult to focus on our own self-care. It has also never been more important. What has been a challenge for most parents is reimagining what this looks like given the complexities of our new normal. What worked last year or even six months ago may no longer apply. So what can parents/caregivers do to bolster their mental health right now? Here are some tips:
Find “me” time. While a weekend away, a date night or a trip to the spa may be in the distant future, all parents must find a way to get some alone time. Right now, this might look like a 10-minute yoga video, a walk in the neighborhood, or a bath after the kids go to sleep, but however you decide to spend this time, it is just important that you prioritize it. Don’t feel guilty for carving out this time for yourself. Remember, you cannot take care of your children without first taking care of yourself. Their well-being is directly related to yours.
Be realistic with yourself. If you find it challenging to manage all of the expectations on your time right now, you are far from alone. Be patient and exceedingly realistic with what you can expect of yourself. Many are balancing childcare, Zoom classes, work and household responsibilities with less support than ever. Did you have to relax your rules about screen time so that you could finish up a work call? That is OK. Is your house in disarray? You are not alone. Removing the expectation of perfection or even pre-pandemic success is essential to protecting your mental health.
Focus on the aspects of your life that you can control. It is easy to get lost in the various issues and challenges our world and perhaps your own family is facing right now. The trouble with living in uncertain times is that your thoughts can travel into an endless abyss, most of which is exceedingly stressful. Are your worries keeping you up at night? Write them down and put them into categories, what I can control and what I cannot. Make an action plan to address the issues within your sphere of control and acknowledge the need for acceptance of the issues outside of that sphere.
Seek support. This support may come from family and friends, or you may be at the place where talking to a therapist would be helpful. Remember, we are living in extraordinary times. Not only is seeking outside support useful for you, but it is also a wonderful model to your child. You are letting them know that it is OK to ask for help, it is not a sign of weakness, and you are human too.