I often think about the parents I work with as ‘super parents’ ☺ We’re the kind of parents who believe in the power of connection, relationship, and understanding the brain. We invest so much time and energy learning about our children and (mostly) about ourselves. This is no easy feat. Parenting, in its everyday form is challenging. Parenting with mindfulness and self-awareness is next level.
Our kids guide us on a journey to our highest highs and our lowest lows. They fill us up like nothing else, and they drain us, like nothing else ever could. Add to this a child with different needs and a parent who has to work extra hard to keep up with all the additional demands on time and energy AND still provide the parenting we believe our children deserve – and the situation becomes significantly more complex.
This is in ‘normal’ circumstances – i.e. the world as we knew it 3 weeks ago.
Enter Covid-19 and our lives have changed into something unrecognisable. All we want, are the challenges we faced 3 weeks ago, because as the saying goes…better the devil you know….
We have certainty about just about nothing at the moment and it is a scary place to be. Human beings crave certainty. We avoid change at all cost. Our blanket of security (whether it was our favourite blanket or not) has been ripped out from under us and we are all hanging mid air, not sure what to even think about in terms of what next. We are all trying our best to find even an ounce of certainty and we can’t, because at the moment it doesn’t exist. We have been shaken to our core. We feel it and it is disconcerting to say the least. Our kids consciously and subconsciously use us as a model of how anxious and stressed they should be and so it is no wonder that we are seeing more stress behaviours and anxiety in our kids. When we get stuck in a stress cycle, so do our kids. Yes – that is a ridiculous amount of pressure for us to be under. I get it.
I also get – and seem to remember, although it seems a bit of a vague memory right now with everything that is going on – that we, parents of kids with differences are VERY resourceful. We are VERY resilient. Finding ways to make things work in less than ideal circumstances, is what we do for a living – day in and day out. We are also really good at looking for silver linings and finding the blessings and gratitude in things others pay hardly any attention to. These capabilities will stand us in good stead in these times. We just need to remember that we have them! There is some certainty in that – we know we have done hard things before, and we still can.
So, in and amongst all the change and uncertainty, I want you to try to remember and focus on the following three points:
Your life has been turned upside down. Knowing you, you want to do just as good of a job as a parent, employee, family member and every other role that has been impacted, as you were BEFORE all of these changes happened.
Accept the fact that things have changed. Adjust your expectations accordingly. You CAN’T do everything in the same way you did before. You can do it well, but it will look different. Hanging on to the idea of how things were and trying to replicate that in the world as we know it now, is a recipe for BURNOUT.
I want to invite you again, to really sit down and think about what your expectations are and what they are based on. What can you, and do you NEED to let go of, to stay sane in this time? Staying sane is a good starting point and we can build from there! ☺
You might need to accept that you can’t be a full time educator in the same way your son or daughter’s teacher was, as well as a parent working full time from home. You don’t need to educate your kids for 6 hours a day just because that is the amount of hours they spend at school. You might not respond to work emails in the same timeframe and with the same consistency as you did before, simply because you are now also juggling educating and caring for your kids at the same time. Be clear about your own boundaries and limitations. If you don’t, you will burn out and every role that you’re in will be negatively impacted.
Give yourself permission to slow down and realistically evaluate what you can and can’t achieve in a day. Plan your day so your energy is spent intentionally, mindfully, ad wisely.
Have compassion for yourself when you start to feel guilty about not ‘doing enough’. You are enough. You do enough.
Connecting with what you can control creates a sense of certainty and security that we all need in this time. Keep stopping your thoughts when they go down the rabbit hole of ‘what if’s’ and ‘what about’s’…when you don’t know how something will turn out, no amount of thinking of possible scenarios or outcomes will help you to know more. It is a natural thing to do and also the biggest driver in our own anxiety and stress. Practice stopping those thoughts when they start. Find a mantra to repeat to yourself when you do find yourself going down that rabbit hole. Something like: ‘I don’t know and no amount of worrying will bring a sense of knowing/change the outcome’ or ‘I will know when I know, until then, I don’t know’. That’s it.
In this time there are some things you CAN control and you are best placed focusing on that. You CAN control how you think about what is happening. You can choose to either think of it as ‘everything is wrong’ or you can choose to look at the situation with curiosity and wonder (a lot of what we try to cultivate in our kids). We can see it as an opportunity for growth and change and there has been a fair bit of thinking in this way for kids with neurodevelopmental differences. Is this a time that has the potential to really benefit them?
Our kids often struggle in the world as we know it with feelings of overwhelm, loneliness, confusion, shame, fear, insecurity, the list goes on. If this time of change, staying home can mean they relax more, move more, learn more, lower demands and become more self-directed, strengthen family relationships, gain life skills, get comfortable with their thoughts and feelings, discover new things, feel more successful, become more aware, have the space and time to think, accept themselves more, become more grateful and just feel more comfortable in their own skin…then it would be a win?
Perhaps this time in which they are not constantly around other people, being talked at, not being told to do this, do that, sit still and meet others’ expectations, can be a time in which their brains really have a chance to take things in, grow neural connections and understand themselves and the world more.
It might take a bit of time for them to settle in to this new normal, but at the moment, time is all we have. So better get settled and watch how this unfolds…rather than wishing or willing it away.
Your mindset is your child’s compass. Your stress, your perspective, your thoughts and actions will determine how you all emerge from this into the new normal. You can’t drive when you are exhausted and burnt out. Going on autopilot will only last for so long.
Step into this time and place and role with awareness. Awareness of your own responses to what is happening around you and a commitment to do what it is you need, to stay grounded and present for your kids. This is as simple as stopping throughout the day and taking three deep breaths – loosening your jaw, dropping your shoulders away from you ears and just checking in – how am I? What do I need to let go of? It is about those of you in two parent families being deliberate in turning to one another to check in and see how you both are – what do you both need? How can you support each other? Those in single parent families need to find alternate ways of reaching out – phone calls, skype and zoom calls, spirituality and the like.
Connection is our biggest and most significant buffer to stress.
Don’t be the tough guy ☺ Reach out, connect, ask for help, ask for a hug, ask for space and time and take it. Your kids and your family, your job will not only survive…they will thank you for it!