Parenting is messy at the best of times. It’s filled with worry about doing things right because hey, the little ones don’t come with a manual. As parents, we tend to worry about everything related to the little ones even before conception. We see those around us conceiving with ease or having a magical pregnancies while some of us endure painful procedures just to get pregnant or stay pregnant. And then add in the “advice” whether from people you know or even from the images and posts on social media. Imagine that stress and pressure just to conceive the baby.
We know that this level of stress has an impact on the baby’s brain development. You can read more in Steph Orphanacos post last week on Understanding the Brain. The delivery date comes and goes. What kind of delivery did you have. “oh you needed an epidural” or “hey you had a c-section, you know if this had been 100 hundred years ago the baby and you likely would have died“. How are these comments helpful? Let’s heap on more stress and worry on the parent. Then the baby arrives and we worry about their nutrition. The latest is that breastfed is best, but what if you can’t or choose not to? Worry. Also lots of “advice” and sometimes downright judgement. Toss in making sure we hit the milestones like sleeping through the night. Again we see around us what I referred to as “magic babies” those ones who slept through the night at an early age while we were still struggling bleary eyed. Are they talking at the right rate? Are they walking at the right time? Are they socializing well with others. Are we going to vaccinate them? Check out Adrienne Yeardye‘s brilliant piece on Rage agains the vaccine.
Then the child grows more, and perhaps they develop a condition, or have had the condition since birth. In an attempt to understand the doctors ask questions to determine, what kind of pregnancy, what kind of delivery was had? More looks to the parent. Still, not helpful because in that moment of worry for the health of a child the last thing parents need is to take on more judgement for things that we cannot go back and change.
My point with this narrative is parenting is hard work. Beyond the kids there is the additional worry about the physical needs for maintaining a safe place to sleep and food to eat and clothes to wear as they grow and grow. It takes a village except where has that village gone?
Now we add in a year like no other, testing all of our resilience and add in the additional new layer of parenting in the time of Covid. Add another layer of mess. If we were even lucky enough to have a village, that access unless we already live together is much smaller. The times of grandparents, aunties, uncles even friends stopping in to take the baby so you can shower, or take the kids overnight for the couple to reconnect because that’s an important relationship to nurture, those times are on hold right now. Then job security creeps up. Will we be able to pay the rent, put food on the table? All the while, the kids are home, and they are frustrated. The older ones are wanting to hang out with their friends and parents you are lame for making me stay in. Then what about school? “Oh you sent them to school? Aren’t you worried that they’ll catch it” Judgement. “Oh, you must be lucky to have all that spare time to be able to homeschool them”, hurtful, insensitive and wrong. The list of stressors goes on and on. We are all just doing the best that we can. To be honest, that’s what I need to see on social media. The solidarity of the parental community saying, it’s tough, but we can do it. Guess what? The person posting the picture of nailing the perfect bread was crying in the bathroom this morning. The person who posts, nailed my workout this morning had too much wine last night. The posts are but a small window that people are wanting to share and not reflective of the full truth. The best thing I did was stop comparing myself to other parents. Yes maybe they paid off their mortgage but they didn’t have $1000 out of pocket monthly medical expenses. So step 1. Stop comparing yourself. It’s a sh*tshow right now. You are doing the best you can. And, you are being watched, so put your energy where it’s worth it.
With all of those dynamics swirling around we are the example our kids look to. They are watching us as we react. They are watching what we do with feelings. They are watching how active or not we are. They are watching the nutrition we are consuming, in the form of food, or even in the form of the media we consume. They are silently observing and storing to their developing identities “this is how we do things in these times”.
Like it or not a parent’s well being is an integral part of the family well-being. Even more so as we are all in the same space together for much longer periods of time. Winter is looming and more restrictions are being placed on us limiting outings greatly. So what can be done?
Take care of you. It’s not just a nice thing, it’s a necessity. If you were on a plane and those masks drop you know you need to put yours on first. So here we are, parenting in the time of covid and the masks have dropped. How are you putting on your mask?
Self-care is getting a lot of attention. And pushback too from the overtired parent snarkily saying, yeah, when do I fit that in? Suggestions of soaking in a luxurious bath or taking time to journal while yes good may create feelings of frustration because they require additional time or effort. Sometimes it can be even smaller. Maybe it’s opening the window to air out the house. Maybe it’s tidying a part of a room so you can sit for 5 min with a cup of tea. Maybe it’s limiting your watching screens time. Maybe it’s going to bed a bit earlier. Maybe it’s a walk around the block. Maybe it’s an extra hug goodnight even though the little ones getting out of bed again is frustrating. Maybe it’s letting out that good cry that’s been stuffed in there for a really long time. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s time to play.
All serious all the time takes a toll on our bodies, our thoughts, our creativity and our ability to give back. It’s a theme I see in myself for sure and that pops up in my healing practice with the burnt out parents that show up. We’ve been socialized to be responsible adults and somewhere along the way we lost our ability to play. The challenge to parents this week, and I hear you, the to do list is long, put the list down for a second. Put the phone down for a second. Get out there and play. Crawl around, make that fort, pull out the old Monopoly board or the game of life, finger paint or just partake in an old fashioned snowball or pillow fight. That 5 minutes of play and laughter will trigger the release of endorphins. These endorphins not only make you feel good in the moment but work also to lower blood pressure, stabilize moods, reset your brain chemistry and also relieve pain. And the science shows that those effects can last for hours afterwards. Laughter may not make Covid disappear but it can bring you back into the present moment, back to the reason you embarked on this parenting journey. The kids. Be present with your kids. They’ll love you for it.