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Parenting during pandemic has brought incredible opportunities for growth, mindfulness and presence
September is around the corner and Becoming Us will be focused on "Parenting" for that month's sessions. Becoming Us, brought to you by BetterHelp, is a group session designed to help us articulate our emotions to better understand how to become better people as we navigate through this journey toward the new normal - whatever that even means - because every day is a new challenge.
Group sessions are a great way to share stories about how we're dealing with certain struggles. Think about the success of AA.
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For these sessions, a BetterHelp therapist will open up with an overview of the particular topic. A moderator will, mostly me, will ask people to share their stories that relate to the topic, or the group can ask questions, make comments or just listen. This is about you sharing your stories as a cathartic way to understand your situation and as a way to help others as they can relate to your story, and maybe even be inspired by what you share.
Q: Homeschooling seems to be the biggest challenge for parents, particularly if they work. Has this also been a struggle for households where at least one parent isn't working?
Hilary: Parents, whether working full-time, working part-time, or not working during this pandemic, have all had their own set of challenges transitioning to homeschooling during this pandemic. Most parents have been searching for time, flexibility, patience, routine and certainty.
Although a family with one parent who is not working may have had more flexibility in shifting gears and finding time to navigate the new reality of homeschooling compared to a family with two working parents, that does not necessarily mean those parents did not have their own struggles as they were thrown off course just as working parents were.
The degree and variation of struggles may have more to do with the core family dynamics, the ages and developmental level of the children, proficiency with technology and being able to complete work independently, and the ability to take responsibility for completing some work themselves. For example, a parent with two young elementary students may have had to devote more time and energy to homeschooling if those children had different learning styles and different learning levels, all while needing more constant attention, teaching and guidance than older students who are more proficient at reading and navigating technology. This responsibility may have taken more time and energy than older or more advanced students who could engage in virtual learning more independently, thus leaving less time and energy for other responsibilities, regardless if those responsibilities are related to work or household duties.
The nature of one’s profession and company, and the flexibility within that job, can make a difference as well. Even if both parents are working, one parent having more flexibility within their job may make it easier for the family unit to shift gears as needed, yet again, that does not necessarily make the struggle any easier. Finding time to balance work, family life, homeschooling, emotional and physical health, household duties, and self-care requires intentionally shifting focus to find a balance and new family routine – for all parents. All parents and caregivers have been working to balance the emotional and physical energy needed to concurrently provide the care, attention, structure, routine and guidance a school would provide, while continuing to uphold work duties or household responsibilities.
Yet, we can grow from this struggle and from our experiences last spring that were thrown upon us unexpectedly, leaving us unprepared and overwhelmed. There is hope for the next chapter. We have grown from these experiences, adapted, and became more resilient. We can use our experiences from last semester to learn how to implement a new routine, find patience, be grateful and be present in the moment – whether that is while working, homeschooling, parenting, or finding time for self-care.
Q: The other challenge of course is how do you manage yet another day without playdates or after-school activities?
Hilary: I am asked this question on a daily, both on a personal and professional level. Managing another day without playdates or extra-curricular activities is where creativity seems to meet sanity. Nearly overnight, our routines (for parents and children) were thrown off course.
Socialization is a critical component of daily life. We are human beings and social creatures. Therefore, losing those routine activities and socialization can be detrimental for our emotional and mental health, our physical health, and our overall well-being.
With that being said, we need to be creative and find a new routine. For younger children, that may mean scheduling safer playdates (outside, with socially distanced activities) with families whom you are comfortable with and can quarantine with you. While it may seem monotonous to limit yourself to a few families, it can provide a comfortable outlet for the entire family while feeling confident that these families are engaging in practices that align with your values and beliefs about safety throughout this pandemic. Mixing up your outdoor activities can break up the monotony of day-to-day outings and add different dynamics to common activities. For example, something such as mixing up the playground you visit early in the day to avoid crowds, building a boat to float down the creek rather than just playing in it one day, learning to ride a bike without training wheels, making kindness rocks and placing them throughout your walk rather than just going on a walk, or finding a new picnic spot for a late afternoon brain-break can make these daily outings more engaging and fun. Finding activities that can be done outside while social distancing can be essential for our mental health.
In addition, Technology can be our friend here. As we may be more limited in regards to which in-person activities we can engage in outside of the house, technology opens opportunities for new activities to learn inside of the home. For example, my daughter has tried virtual piano lessons and acting classes, both of which were not convenient when offered in-person during our pre-quarantine routine. Yet the flexibility of these virtual courses have provided her with the opportunity to learn new skills on her own time or from the comfort of home without accounting for travel time or juggling other extra-curricular activities.
With this new balance, it is critical to intentionally find time for self-care as parents. As our children have less activities outside of the home, and thus require more time and energy from us, it is imperative to find time for self-care, whether that is going for a run, reading a book, mindfulness, meditation, having an adult conversation without interruptions, cooking, or sitting in a quiet closet or bathroom for a few moments. Implementing self-care into our daily routines is not only beneficial for us, but also beneficial for our children. It allows us to be more patient and present with our children, while also modeling the importance of self-care and finding balance for our children.
Q: A lot of people enjoyed the downtime with their kids, but come fall, the routine can get tiresome, especially if the kids can't go out and play with friends/get exercise with sports. What's advice on how to keep kids engaged and purposeful, while also maintaining some alone time for yourself to tend to work or other activities?
Hilary: Finding a routine, rather than a schedule, can help create a balance between keeping kids engaged, finding purposeful activities, having alone time, and allotting time for other responsibilities such as work, school or household duties. Developing a routine that incorporates consistency from your child’s school routine, in addition to household and work routines, can yield a healthy balance for families.
I encourage finding a routine, rather than setting a strict schedule, as our days do not always go as planned. Unexpected work meetings pop up. The weather does not cooperate. Accidents and unexpected events happen. Trying to control a schedule, when so much is out of our control, can seem self-defeating at this time. Yet, a routine can be maintained consistently.
Staying consistent with a routine that works for your family as much as possible is important. As the state of affairs is continuing to change, this can be a challenge. Yet, even if only one or two things remain consistent, such as reading or walking at the same time every day, this can give the entire family a source of stability to rely on, which can alleviate stress and disruption in the evolving and adapting schedules and circumstances from the coronavirus.
With that being said, however, breaking up the routine from time to time and finding things to look forward to can also boost creativity, enhance overall wellbeing, and break up the monotony of daily life at home.
Q: Social media has been a great outlet for kids to share and engage. At the same time, it can have a negative psychological impact by making kids constantly compare themselves to others, or by normalizing bad, inappropriate behavior. If we limit the time, what does that look like for elementary, middle school and high school?
Hilary: Having access to technology and social media can be a healthy outlet for kids to connect with their friends during time. Whether it is via Instagram for older kids or FaceTime for younger kids, technology is a helpful resource we can use to our advantage to socialize and stay in touch with friends and family. Yet, with that comes the importance of boundaries. Setting time limits, taking technology breaks, and finding a balance of screen time, other activities, face-to-face interaction, schoolwork, and other responsibilities is critical. These boundaries may vary based on the ages of children and the family dynamics, yet some ideas include charging phones and devices in the parent’s room to avoid use overnight and giving the devices back once the children are dressed for the day and their beds have been made, removing access to social media while engaging in school work, and earning social media time by completing other responsibilities.
This time also opens the door for open communication and discussions about screen time, and how to balance interacting with the world via social media while also recognizing the boundaries and limits that are necessary for our wellbeing. While at home with our children and monitoring their use more, we can also encourage discussions about what they are sharing on social media and who they are communicating with, and assist them in developing healthy self-esteem and perspectives while on these platforms. These times at home are filled with opportunities to assist our children in developing autonomy and a healthy balance within the social media world.
Possibly most importantly, this is a convenient time to have valuable discussions as a family on the possibility of threatening situations that occur on social media, such as exploitation and abuse, while we are available to monitor our children’s use more while home. It is important to raise awareness of the misuse and manipulation that can occur on these platforms and help them implement healthy boundaries and perspectives while on social media.
Q: How important is it for kids to work/chores as a routine?
Hilary: Throughout adulthood, incorporating work and chores into our routine is critical. While the decision to offer rewards, such as money, in exchange for chores is a personal one made by each family and an issue that could be debated, the importance and value of chores is more universal. Having children engage in household chores or work creates consistency for families and helps promote a sense of teamwork, control, responsibility, and organization within the home. While we are all at home more, this is an opportune time to instill these responsibilities and values in our children while lightening some of the load we carry as parents.
Q: What's been the overall impact of COVID on parenting? Do you think parents are becoming better because of it?
Hilary: Parenting during this pandemic has had many challenges, yet also has brought incredible opportunities for growth, patience, mindfulness and presence. Many families have refocused and reprioritized the family unit, which in my opinion is a beautiful thing. We have been learning how to be present while with our children, present when working and present when alone. This can be a time to not only grow independently, but grow together as a family and grow closer with each other. As the demands can be exhausting for parents, we can use this opportunity to learn how to adapt and find balance through self-care. We can use this time to find gratitude in the little things, and find patience for the big things. As parents, we can use this time to be more involved in our children's education, while also helping them navigate this new way of life and the lasting impact this pandemic may have on our community. As parents, we have the opportunity to promote resiliency during this pandemic in an environment that is fostering anxiety. Albeit difficult some days (parenting is hard!), I do believe parenting during this pandemic yields an open opportunity for growth as parents and reflection to become better parents and a stronger family unit.
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Joined Vator onHilary Stover is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and telemental health therapist in South Carolina working with clients on an individual and group basis through online therapy via the BetterHelp platform.