It is quite likely parents are experiencing emotions more intensely and dichotomously than they ever remember experiencing.
There are likely feelings of fear and anxiety related to unknown aspects of the coronavirus, finances, and the future in general. Many are experiencing a sense of powerlessness over the current circumstances facing themselves and their individual family members.
There may be frustration from figuring out how to perform essential tasks like grocery shopping without children or from taking on roles of teacher and guidance counselor to their children. Grief, from loss of loved ones to the loss of long-anticipated experiences or milestones, like graduations or weddings are also common right now.
Couples who do not spend as much time together normally may be finding it challenging to coexist without relational tension. Parents may be experiencing intense guilt for responding to children and loved ones in less-than-desirable ways. Many are also experiencing a sense of loneliness and disconnection from social supports they may have accessed frequently prior to the current pandemic.
Simultaneously, parents may be experiencing gratitude and joy over increased time with their children. There may a sense of relief related to the slowing down of schedules. Parents may be experiencing an increased sense of compassion and love as they become intentional in their endeavors to connect with and help others. Such an array of emotions can be confusing at times…and exhausting.
So, what gives?
First, breathe. Deep belly breathes to the count of 4, hold for 4, and exhale for 8. Repeat. Regulating the body’s nervous system through breath is the best first step to healthy coping.
Second, acknowledging the emotions is essential. Often difficult or unpleasant feelings are ignored, avoided, or denied; this leads to a building of tension and potential mental health crisis. Name the feeling and reflect on what about the current situation is contributing to the unpleasant emotion. Ask yourself, “Am I trying to control something truly outside of my own control? Am I expecting more of myself or someone else than is reasonable at this moment in time? Am I seeking understanding or power in this current moment?” We truly only have power and control over ourselves and only related to the present moment in which we are.
Next, be gentle with yourself as you maneuver through the interactions of your day and be gentle with others. You are not perfect. You have never been perfect. You will never be perfect. Your children are not perfect. Your children have never been perfect. Your children will never be perfect. Your partner is not perfect. Your partner has never been perfect. Your partner will never be perfect. We all make mistakes and fall short of perfection. By reframing our thought processes around expectations for ourselves and others, recognizing the stress of our current times, and allowing “good enough” to be acceptable, we can significantly reduce unpleasant emotions; therefore, making more room for pleasant emotions.
While we want to be mindful of the intensity and types of emotion we share with our children, there is a benefit to modeling for our children how to acknowledge and cope with difficult emotions. The essential message as we do so must be that you love them and are working to keep them safe and secure. Make no promises or guarantees for the future. Your child seeing you cry can normalize the experience of sadness; your child seeing you wailing uncontrollably may be a terrifying experience for them that takes away their sense of safety. We do not want to use our children as confidantes by sharing too much adult information with them; they do not have the capacity to relate on an adult level and can take on these emotions as something they need to fix or solve.
When we make a mistake in front of our children such as snapping at them verbally, acknowledge it and apologize to them.
- Move your body. Movement helps to regulate emotion as well as providing the physical benefits of increased heart rates, exercising muscles, and keeping joints lubricated. Walk, run, bike, or dance.
- Practice moderation – whether that is related to food, alcohol consumption or binge-watching TV. Anything in excess tends to lead to negative consequences. Excessive alcohol use can reduce the effectiveness of our immune system, putting us at increased risk during the current health crisis.
- Do something creative. Paint, draw, or crochet. Build with Legos. Make things with recyclables. Don’t forget to take pictures of your creations.
- Find time to connect and relate to others is important. A good old-fashioned phone call to hear someone’s voice and laugh together can provide a tremendous lift to the spirit.
- Teach yourself something new…and we don’t mean common core math skills. Learn to play guitar or ballet dance; there have been online resources giving away free lessons for a myriad of learning experiences.
- Declutter and/or organize an area of your home. When we feel the need for control, finding small ways in which we can this can be helpful. Monitor your expectations as you do this…you do not have to go full-on Marie Kondo to benefit from this strategy.
- Reach out to community resources for various individual or family needs. While there are shelter-in-place orders, most service organizations remain up and running in some capacity. Service delivery may look different but is still occurring; at our agency, many of our services have moved to teleconference vs. in person.
OhioGuidestone offers a continuum of care in order to provide pathways for growth, achievement, and lifelong success. We are here with programs to address mental health, addiction, and relational difficulties. You can reach us at 330-343-8171.
We also operate the only Domestic Violence shelters in Tuscarawas and Carroll Counties, along with 24-hour hotlines at both shelters. You can reach Harbor House at 330-364-1374 and Harbor Point 330-476-6056.
Author – Jennifer Benline, LPCC Domestic Violence Program Supervisor