Lindsay Powers is the author of the book You Can't F*ck Up Your Kids, and a Yahoo contributor.
As the coronavirus pandemic closes offices, restaurants and schools indefinitely, parents have prepared lesson plans. We have downloaded educational apps. Had careful conversations about the importance of hand washing with little ones. Filled pantries with two weeks of food and, apparently, months worth of toilet paper.
But we've seemingly forgotten something vital: To take care of ourselves.
It's not selfish to feel overwhelmed and need a moment to collect ourselves. We won't screw up our kids if we break down and cry. And our kids will certainly bounce back if we admit that we don't have all the answers right now. There's no such thing as a perfect parent, and we don't need to pretend to be one.
In fact, by being authentic, we may be teaching them a great lesson.
"The benefit to children seeing us as parents be vulnerable is that children learn that it is safe to feel emotions and show sadness, show they are scared," says therapist Sadie Miller, who runs a private practice in New York state and is soon opening a "therapy barn." "All too often children see people 'trying to be strong' and and while I believe there are certain things children should not be exposed to if possible” — a parent getting hysterical several times a day vs. shedding a few tears in front of your kid — “the message we are sending our children is that you 'hide' when you are sad, and we are happy all the time. So then they internalize that and feel like it is not okay to cry in public or be afraid."
Besides, when we parents hide our emotions, we're not fooling kids.
"Pretending everything is okay when it is not and hiding things just confuses children," Miller says. "They have good intuition and can sense when things are off, even if they do not know what exactly is going on. Parents should be real with their emotions. It gives children permission to be real with their emotions, too."
Accept you can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself
"It is always important for parents to prioritize personal mental health and self-care in order to be effective, healthy parents," says Miller. "This is especially important at a time like this when there is a very real health crisis going on. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs reminds us that, right now, our basic physiological (food, water, rest) and safety (feeling secure) needs are in question with this health crisis. When our basic needs are not being met or are in question due to issues with supply/demand, it is natural for people to be in a state of heightened anxiety.
"It is important for parents to allow themselves permission to not be perfect in a time like this and to take care of themselves," Miller adds. "Children model behavior and take our emotional cues on how they should feel in uncertain times like this. This makes it important for us as parents to really be easy on ourselves as we are all going through a tough time. "
Miller suggests that parents have an "age-appropriate conversation with children about what is going on and that it is a little scary, but that the parent(s) will do whatever they can to keep everyone safe."
Rely on technology as a tool. Consider showing children how germs are spread (and the importance of washing hands) through this viral YouTube black pepper trick. Don't be afraid to turn to Netflix when you need a break, as well.
But at the same time, don't be afraid to turn off or take a break from technology, especially if the endless scrolling and constant stream of news is just making you more anxious.
Try one of these ideas to relieve anxiety
Consider journaling. "The power or getting things out from your head onto paper, even if it is just rambling, can be very rewarding," Miller says. You may also think about keeping a family journal, where everyone takes turns writing (or drawing) experiences about what's going on in the world right now. It might be interesting in the future to look back at what a surreal time the world is going through.
To break up the endless stream of anxious thoughts running through your head, try the countdown trick, counting backwards from 5 to 1, listing things that you're interested in, such as this example on Instagram:
Also consider therapy if you can afford it, or if it's available to you. Apps like BetterHelp and TalkSpace have sliding scale fees, and sessions available via video, phone and email. Many other therapists are offering video and over-the-phone sessions.
But don't feel like you have to spend tons of money in the name of "self-care."
"Even things such as taking a bath, watching a show you like... all can be forms of self-care in a stressful time such as this," Miller says.
Ignore all the judgment out there
For some parents, all those home-school schedules flying around online right now may be helpful. For others, they may induce anxiety. And that is perfectly fine.
Different methods of coping will work for different families, and you shouldn't feel the pressure to follow anyone else's routine — whether that's doing math worksheets or bingeing on TV, or a mix of both.
And let's check our privilege if our biggest stressor is "I don't want my kid to watch too much TV." There are parents who don't have the option to work from home. There are parents who are employed in workplaces that have been shut down completely, leaving them without a steady paycheck or the knowledge if they even have a job anymore. There are parents who can't afford to stock up on two weeks of food and toilet paper.
Know that, while this isn't easy, it could be so much worse.
Take it one day at a time
Parents are under enormous pressure under normal times, from astronomical childcare bills to the struggle to juggle all the things in a culture that doesn't always value caregiving.
And these are not normal times.
Things will become manageable again. It won't happen today, and likely not tomorrow. So do what you can to feel protect your energy day-to-day — and be kind to yourself in the process.
For the latest news on the evolving coronavirus outbreak, follow along here. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.