Parenting in a pandemic – what could be harder? The familiar rhythms of family life – school, enrichment schedules, social appointments, even mundane grocery runs and haircuts have ground to a halt and found new expression in a C-19 impacted reality.
With four children aged 4 to 10, including a pair of twins, the circuit breaker announcement saw our brood cheering (no school, yay!) while the parents quietly commiserated at the prospect of parenting four different personalities simultaneously and 24/7! From the initial excitement of nimbly rearranging our home and lifestyle to accommodate home-based learning and telecommuting to starting new projects and hobbies, it has been an enriching past few months for our family of six.
While being homebound pulled our family closer, it also tested relationships as we literally stepped on each other’s toes (and toys) constantly. For the adults, our headspace often breached capacity with additional multitasking. The overcrowding in both mind and matter was real!
Parents are processing massive loads of information as they come while caring for our children (and elderly for the sandwich generations) with heightened health and hygiene expectations thrust upon us overnight. Meanwhile, we are still expected to deliver at work with blurred working hours and boundaries.
With such upheavals in family life, ensuing cabin fever, more than double-hatting in roles and responsibilities, it’s safe to say parents have been deeply impacted by this pandemic.
Time-outs and self-care can be a crucial first step to address some of the pressure we are experiencing.
Let’s catch the triggers before they spiral. It's always easier to call for a time-out than to heal from a breakdown.
Being aware of stress signals
Emotional and mental wellness begins with awareness and acceptance. Here are some common stress signals:
- Physiological discomfort, such as migraines or chest tightness
- General impatience – low tolerance in waiting for the children to complete their tasks or cutting them off midway while they’re talking
- Resorting to quick-fixes or issuing threats to get children to comply – “I’ll give you 3 secs for this, or else.”
- Feeling busy yet not knowing where time is going
- Excessive vegetating on devices
Cultivating trusted help
Calling for a time-out is easier said than done, as there are often obstacles even for things we agree are good for us. Understand our resistance to making time for self – are there external challenges, such as a lack of alternate carers or internal struggles, such as parenting guilt or difficulty in letting go?
Given that most parents have long draining days, being intentional is vital. Time-outs probably won’t materialise if left to chance.
Families with external help can delegate and empower those who work with us, and find a way to work through any issues.
It was a difficult decision for our family to hire a domestic helper after our twins were born. There are trade-offs, but we are grateful to have decent help over the past 4 years. It has given us the rest, sanity and opportunity to pursue non-parenting projects which in turn contribute back to our own well-being.
For families who care for children mainly on their own, my brilliant parent friends share that consistent routines with early bedtimes and training children to be independent with age-appropriate life skills are key.
The process of cultivating trusted help takes time and effort. Yet it is wonderful to witness the adage, “it takes a village to raise a kid,” being lived out in community, when family, relatives and friends come alongside us in the parenting journey, such as by watching the children for a few hours.
I could never say this as a first, or even as a second-time parent struggling to let go.
My mum, who has seen some of my intense parenting moments will always say (in Mandarin), “Take a step back, the journey ahead is long.” Such wise words. Our relationship with our children is for a lifetime and there will be many ebbs and flows. One moment does not define our entire course of parenting.
So after my twins came along, I finally understood why it's okay to pass our children to another caregiver for two hours of me-time or couple-time without feeling guilty.
It is two hours of sowing into our well-being and marriage for the long run.
Rest is a gift we tend to push aside too easily. But life without conscious and intentional rest is not sustainable, nor fruitful.
Cultivating a healthy inner circle
It is inspiring to see how my friends practise self-care. Many exercise, some play music, some bake, and one is growing an edible garden! These are wonderful expressions of caring for oneself and show that pursuing personal interests is essential for a healthy self.
Connecting with both my parent and non-parent friends reminds me that life is more than just diapers and discipline. We are more than just parents although it’s a big part of our lives.
Trading parenting stories of struggles and failures debunks the elusive “best parent” myth that breeds pressure and perfection, and encourages a continuous journey of becoming a better parent, which emphasises perseverance and progress.
Parenting from a place of rest
We parent better when we parent from a position of rest. While digitalisation is a great enabler, it can feel overwhelming and wear us out. I felt I needed to practise self-restraint as our world increasingly consumes and reacts to a constant flow of information.
In February 2020, I unplugged from social media for 40 days desiring more time for reflective solitude. Then came circuit breaker with the days and weeks blurring into each other, eventually leading to a 4-month break.
This time provided grounding and clarity, something I was yearning for. It also taught me that to function optimally, I require a clear headspace, an aspect I can control by simplifying my life, focusing on a few key things, and unplugging regularly.
In contrast, this pandemic is something I can’t control. But living in an overwhelming environment doesn’t mean I need to have an overwhelmed soul. We can possess possess inner composure in the face of storms.
So take a time-out, or go further and have that internal dialogue. Let's care better for ourselves and support those around us to do the same.
We need to take ownership of our wellbeing as parents. No one else is going to do it for us. Our children will need us to teach them that. Yet we cannot give what we have not received to begin with. Self-care is not selfish, it is giving.
© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Alicia Boo is a Family Life Educator with more than a decade of experience engaging youth, young adults and young parents. She holds a Masters of Social Science in Professional Counselling and her past work includes giving talks and workshops on relationships, work-life and parenting in the early years, as well as counselling and mentoring. Married for 11 years, Alicia is currently a stay-home mum to 4 children between the ages of 4 and 10. She aspires to impact and equip young people with foundations and skills for significant living and strong family relationships.
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