The 2020-2021 Marathon
I’ve been talking with other parents lately and the general theme I hear is that parents are tired. We are worn out, exhausted, and some of us feel a bit broken. This morning I was talking with two other moms, and we all agreed that we woke up this morning feeling grouchier and more unsettled than usual. Last night, when I put my 5-year-old to bed he cried for a long time and said “Mommy, I’m sad.” I asked him why, and he said, “I don’t know, I’m just sad.” When I walked into HEB today and saw completely empty shelves where milk, butter, and eggs used to be, I felt a little panicked and my eyes filled up with tears. What’s going on? We’ve been fine!
Here is the reality. For the past 12 months, most of us have been in a state of uncertainty. Our current daily life involves wearing masks, keeping our distance, wondering if our children are about to be sent home from school in quarantine due to an exposure, wondering if we’re about to be sent home from work in quarantine, wondering if and when we’ll get the vaccine, wondering if there will be summer camp and if there is, will we be comfortable sending our kids, wondering if it’s safe for our children to play with their friends, wondering if we can work from home one more day without losing it, and so on. Add to that the past week when most of us did not have power or running water and grocery supplies are scarce, and we are all near our breaking point.
If I’m being honest, it took me by surprise to feel so wiped out and low after the snow week. But realistically, we have all been living in a state of perpetual uncertainty and prolonged trauma for a year. At the beginning, we were very intentional about giving people grace and doing what we needed to do to manage our mental health. However, the longer this goes on, the harder it becomes to keep going. We’re at mile 35 of a race of unknown distance and the finish line keeps moving. So here’s my (unsolicited) advice.
1. Give yourself a break. We have been plodding forward for a long time. It’s okay to take a break. Maybe you need a day to cry. Maybe you need a day to have your spouse or partner take over all household tasks and you sit in bed and read a book or sleep. Maybe one day you hand over dinner and bedtime responsibilities and you go for a walk or take a hot bath. Perhaps you trade drop off responsibilities so one of you can drink a hot cup of coffee in the silence of your house or car. Perhaps you and your spouse trade off weekend days to each focus on yourselves. Take care of yourself. If you don’t there is nothing left to give to your children.
2. Be honest about your feelings. It’s easy when someone asks how you are to say “fine” and say something funny or sarcastic. But pick one or two people you can be honest with about how you feel. I have three other mom friends I feel I can be totally honest with on my broken days. They don’t fix it, but they will sit with me in that space and that eases the load.
3. Ask for help. It is really, really hard for me to ask for help. It is even harder for me to accept help. But this is a long haul. It’s okay to ask for help. Ask a neighbor to pick up milk for you if they find it at the store. Ask a friend if kids can play in her yard one afternoon and you’ll take the kids to your yard a different day so you each can have a break. If you are working on a big work project from home, ask your spouse to take the kids somewhere else for a few hours so you can focus.
4. Try to be patient. Let’s be honest. We lose our patience with our children, our partners, our friends. But they are all responding to these same situations in their own ways. One of my children gets very physically active when he’s nervous or uncertain. Another is more likely to cry or tantrum. Both of them need more physical contact when they are stressed. They need more hugs, more hand holding, more snuggles. It’s easy for me to lose my patience with the tantrums or the frenetic activity but if I take a second and remember how much they are dealing with, it helps me be more patient.
5. Find positive ways to channel the feelings. A long walk or phone call with a friend can help me enormously. My husband needs to be outside or go for a run. My oldest needs one on one time or to run around outside. My little guy needs snuggles or my physical presence near him to feel better. Others need to log off work completely for an hour and go outside. Find what you need that fills your bucket with positivity and helps you release the anxiety and stress in a positive way.
6. Remember that we are here to help. If you or your children are struggling, please let us know. We often joke about babies not coming with a manual and here we find ourselves in a situation where we are daily rewriting what we thought the manual suggested. While there is no manual, we do have other materials in our parenting library that may be useful. If resources beyond those are needed, we are happy to help your children and I have a number of resources for adults needing assistance. We are all in this together.