Throughout the last six weeks, I cannot count how many times I’ve heard people sing the praises of teachers. For parents, stepping into the shoes of an educator has created a whole new level of appreciation for how hard teachers’ jobs are.
The increased admiration is largely due to the role parents are now having to play as stewards of their child’s education. And we’re finding out just how hard it is. We need to ensure our children are learning, but it’s even more important that we are monitoring and supporting their mental and emotional health during a time of acute stress and anxiety.
Without teaching degrees, we find ourselves supporting students’ learning. Without social work credentials, we’re caring for the mental health of our families. These are unprecedented times, and we can’t expect to be infallible superheroes who are capable of it all, especially at a time when our own stress and anxiety is heightened.
The social-emotional skills we cultivate in children are also critical for our own executive functioning and ability to navigate challenges and stressors. When the stress and exhaustion of attempting to work from home, care for our children, home school and manage a household causes us to become depleted, we are not the best versions of ourselves. We can’t produce our best work for our colleagues. And we certainly aren’t able to show up fully for our children, family, or friends when they need us most.
We must change the metrics by which we assess our success when so much is out of our control.
What if instead of burning ourselves out, we could make the most of this time home with our children? What if we could cherish the opportunity to all learn, work, create and play under one roof, and find new ways of doing so at the same time?
In order to feel full enough to celebrate this time together instead of resent it, here are some ways parents can take care of themselves during this time to avoid burnout.
1. Make your only goal to arrive on the other side.
Forego assumptions that this time home will mean cleaning the tops of your ceiling fans, finishing years-old baby books or home projects that have never been started. If you get to them, celebrate yourself. But otherwise, let go of any judgment of your parental success during this time.
Naps and bedtimes will likely be more challenging. Learning is definitely not happening in the same way as it is in a school building. We must change the metrics by which we assess our success when so much is out of our control.
2. Understand that children are resilient.
Stressful as this time is, it too shall pass, and we all will come out on the other side. The months that we are homeschooling our children will not ruin them, despite our lack of credentials. Our job as parents is to maintain the health and sanity of our families. We have to be gentle with ourselves. Above all right now our children just need our love.
3. Build in micro moments for your own inquiry.
When we’re constantly caring for others, it’s difficult to even identify or be aware of what we’re feeling ourselves. Meditation may be overwhelming right now, but even if it’s 10 minutes in the morning, try to find some silence to sit with your own feelings and thoughts. A stream of consciousness free write is a great way to excavate thoughts that are clouding our ability to take action or find clarity. If that’s too daunting, try a journal prompt like “I’m going to forgive myself for…” or “I am inspired daily by…”
4. Ask questions and instill boundaries.
Talk with your children about what they are learning and doing on their computers and phones, and decide if limitations or corrections are called for. (They probably are.) If we’re going to have 90 minutes of technology time, try to incorporate a 10-minute movement break. If we’re going to be online for most of the day, try to incorporate a device-free evening where you can play a board game or bake together. Being intentional about device time (for you and for them) can maximize the time together.
Breathing is the essence of life. When we are stressed, our brain activates a fight-or-flight response and we often forget to breathe deeply. Breathing nourishes our cells and organs and brings in new life and energy into our body. With each breath we can focus on the moment we are in, instead of letting ourselves get wrapped up in plans or distractions. Breathing allows for movement and for change. Here are some breathing exercises you can try at home.
6. Allow yourself to not be OK.
Most of the world is not okay right now, and as parents we often feel like we have to put on a front for our children. It’s okay to grieve about what you and your families are losing because it is sad.
7. Do you.
We are the best versions of ourselves when we are happy, inspired and full. What are the activities that bring you the most joy? (Baking, running, knitting, lifting weights?) For me, if I don’t dance regularly, my daughters feel my stifled spirit and our time together is void of creativity. This may look differently during a pandemic (read: Zoom dance classes), but prioritizing one activity per week that fills us up exclusively and not our children will yield dividends in the time we spent with them.
These are unprecedented times, and as parents our number one goal is caring for our children and seeing them through the other side. That said, if we don’t put on our own oxygen mask first, we won’t be able to do the work that’s required for them, our families, our colleagues or ourselves.