“I’m exhausted. I feel overwhelmed, even though I’m running around so much less than I was before.” Kate*, my new client, shared this complaint at the beginning of our first session. A mother of four kids between preschool and fourth grade, Kate is also a full-time accountant, now working from home. She and her engineer husband are trying to juggle their jobs, the kids’ virtual schoolwork, the parenting, the housework, and still find some time to nurture their marriage.
I had to agree, it sounded impossible.
Even in a pandemic, with many of our usual activities drastically minimized, most parents are feeling like all they’ve done is shift from running around outside of the house to trying to keep on top of a hundred things at once from inside their four walls. The past year and a half has been a tough adjustment for kids and their parents! How do we find balance? How can we take care of ourselves and “all the things” at the same time?
The answer is, we can’t. And it’s time to stop living under the delusion we can.
It’s not realistic, it’s not healthy, and it’s not even possible. If there’s one thing (or two) COVID has taught us it’s that we really only have today; we’ve also learned it’s the quality of the relationship we have to ourselves and to those we love most that’s more important than ticking all the boxes.
So, how can you cope best inside of the chapter of life we’re all navigating? What is the greatest gift you can give to your children during this chapter we’re all navigating? Self-care!
Let’s hope there are two trusted, loving adults in your kids’ lives (maybe it’s a spouse or partner, a parent, your sibling, a neighbor, or a friend) someone you trust to step into your shoes once and a while or (hopefully) more often so you can recharge. Because that, my friend, is what you need to do to get you through the long haul. There is no room for guilty feelings here, we are in the middle of a pandemic, it’s oxygen mask time for every parent!
First, after thinking about what your parenting strengths are, find 30 minutes of quiet time to sit down with this other trusted adult who is willing to pitch in where your kids are concerned and ask, “Where do you shine?” Divide and conquer. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last year it’s that one person cannot be responsible for everything. This doesn’t have to be a forever arrangement but while we’re in it we’ve got to work together.
Next, between the two of you (or the three of you if you are lucky enough to have more than one adult in your life you’d trust with your kids), figure out what isn’t necessary to keep up with. Maybe you clean the bathrooms weekly but only dust once a month. Maybe you both love to clean and you take turns each time while the other person takes the kids to lunch in the park. Working together you come up with a reasonable way to address what is most important to get done.
What’s most important when it comes to schoolwork? Getting the A or showing up and participating no matter the outcome? How can you make the time in between classes lighter? What about making breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner while playing your favorite tunes and dancing around the kitchen? (I do this; after 33 years of making dinner, I will tell you I hate cooking, even worse? Trying to figure out what to make.) Music has a great ability to change and lift the mood in the house, use it whenever possible.
Most important of all…how can you get even a few minutes during the day to recharge your battery? Kids need structure to thrive, not all the time, but for important transitional times like bedtime, mealtime, and quiet time which means you’ve got to be in charge and they’ve got to feel that. Not from a power struggle tactic, from an energetic level because you are crystal clear about these times of the day. Tackle those first.
How can you create time to breathe? Is it getting up 10 minutes early to meditate each morning? Is it grabbing 20 minutes with the baby in a stroller as you walk around the block? A nightly bubble bath? The past year has been nothing but one pivot after another, it’s also been a tremendous opportunity to think outside the box.
You can’t do it all, but you can let some things go and work together on giving your best with what you’ve prioritized. That’s all any of us can do!