By: Dr Justin Coulson
Pandemic parenting. It’s intense and surreal (and sometimes claustrophobic). There are so many new expectations on parents at the moment. Many of us are working from home, managing our own stresses in a new environment with more or less technical difficulties.
Many of us are schooling our children at the same time (also with more or less technical difficulties). We’re trying to keep our kids mindfully entertained at a time where playgrounds are closed and playdates are banned and without letting them turn into screen zombies. And we’re still trying to teach our children manners and kindness.
I hear from parents everyday who feel under prepared, overwhelmed, and out of control. I want to tell those parents… it’s OK to do less. Nothing in our lives has prepared us for parenting in a pandemic. Do less, or in some cases, nothing at all.
You don’t have to be a full time entertainer
It’s OK for your kids to watch more TV, play more video games, and create more Minecraft worlds. I’ve talked a lot about screen time and its downsides, but I’m also a parent. I know how challenging it can be to keep kids off screens when they’re stuck at home all the time. Give everyone a break, and loosen the rules a bit.
If you can, continue to guide them toward high quality programs and inspirational activities, and try to keep a balance in their day. Focus them on creation and connection more than consumption.
We’re all consuming more social media – it’s natural as we try to keep in touch with friends and family during isolation. But it’s also easy to slip down the rabbit hole of comparing ourselves to others.
Other people may look like they’ve got it all together. They may seem to have happy children who move from online yoga classes, to maths worksheets, to outdoor time while the parents sit back and get all their own work done in their tidy house. This may make you feel an anxious drive to do more and more each day.
Don’t. Instead of doing more things, consume less social media. And when you are on social media, use it for good – to keep in touch with your friends and your family and to read and spread positive messages.
Relax about schoolwork
I had a mum tell me today that she is doing schoolwork with her kids from 8.30am until 4.30pm and they’re still not getting it all done. That is too much. Primary aged children should be doing one or two hours of school work a day when they’re home with you – maximum! The rest of the time they should be playing, or exercising or reading or just hanging out. Just because the school sends home that work doesn’t mean you have to do it!
Instead of doing everything, focus on a few things:
Getting active, especially outside, will change your mental outlook and that of your children.
There is much research that shows that exercise helps support children’s mental functioning that is central to cognitive development. It helps relieve stress and develop better mental health. And it just plain makes us feel good. That’s a great thing, especially right now.
Focus on making connections
You and your children both need to stay connected with friends and family even while practicing physical distancing. This could be in the form of Zoom calls, writing letters and emails or dropping by little gifts, cards or cookies they’ve helped make. Some teens I know have even been secretly ‘heart attacking’ each other’s cars and houses (covering them with paper hearts).
Strong social connection is associated with increased longevity, a strong immune system, lower rates of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem and greater empathy. So, while it’s OK to do less, perhaps this is the one area where we should be doing more.
Choose a few priorities each day
Choose just a few priorities each day and make sure you get them done. Life feels better when we can tick a few boxes. I recommend exercise or activity for an hour, learning for an hour and a project around the house for an hour. Doing less, in this case, will actually yield you more because you’ve created a list and checked the items off.
At the end of the day…
It’s not only OK to do less, I strongly encourage it! We’re living in a pandemic. Take each day as it comes. Be gentle on yourself. Be gentle on your kids. The house will be messier. Your time will feel stretched. You will worry about not doing enough. But you are.
Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families.
About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.