As foster, adoptive and kinship families face additional stress during the pandemic, practicing self-care becomes more crucial.
By Suzin Bartley
Caring for children in need is stressful even in the best of situations, but the unprecedented events surrounding the COVID-19 global crisis are adding a new level of anxiety for parents and caregivers. And just when we were starting to get the homeschooling routine down, school ended and we began a new era of a socially distanced summer.
When the normal support groups and planned activities outside of the home are no longer an option, it can become overwhelming. Whether you’re balancing working from home while managing 24/7 caregiving, dealing with anxiety from finances, or feeling isolated from social distancing guidelines, experiencing stress is normal. You are not alone or a bad caregiver.
Children learn from the behaviors of the adults around them, and the experience of those moments impact them long into their future. Taking care of yourself IS taking care of the kids in your family, but slowing down, managing anxiety, and finding balance while parenting sometimes feels impossible. This added level of stress is new to all of us and there is no perfect plan or “right way” that works for everyone, but to try to help you manage the anxiety of this new normal, we’ve put together five practices that can be very helpful. So, relax for a moment, take a read, and consider if putting any of these practices into action might help.
Give yourself a break. Parenting is a tough job and this unexpected detour from our normal routines doesn’t come with a detailed how-to guide. You are doing your best, so try not to be too hard on yourself! You’re learning as you go, and things may not always be just the way you’d expect or what it might look like for someone else. Know that this is OK.
Celebrate the wins, big and small. The children in your home have experienced trauma and challenges, and they’ve come to you looking for warmth and safety. Making it to the end of the day with your family’s well-being OK means you faced the challenges of the day and succeeded. That in and of itself is a win. Congratulations!
Ask for help. Sometimes asking for help is one of the hardest things to do and with social distancing requirements, can be even harder. Luckily, many of the supports you might find useful are moving online. Don’t forget about those support groups and parenting resources that have gotten you this far. You are not alone on this journey.
Try to slow down. Be in the moment. How many times are you going to have so much unscheduled time at home with your children? Cuddle on the couch, watch a movie together, bake cookies, or read a book aloud. Not every moment has to be perfect, but you might just find one moment of near perfection.
Here are some helpful tips drawn from mindfulness.com: Stop, wherever you are and take several deep breaths, focus on yourself and your surroundings. The goal is to pay attention to the present moment, the here and now, but without judgement. There is no pressure to quiet the mind or to stop thinking about what needs to be done, rather to pay attention to what is going on in your body and around you. Release yourself from judging and listen to your breathing to help reduce obsessing over the content of your thoughts.
Schedule time to be alone. Ideally, set aside 15 or 20 minutes per day to do something you enjoy by yourself. Anything! The demands of playing multiple roles in your life as a caregiver, partner, son or daughter helping aging parents, and working from home are real. It may be impossible to take time for yourself every day, but it can be invaluable to keeping your own sanity.
And finally, be kind to yourself, parenting is one tough job — especially right now.
We wish you safety and health.
Suzin Bartley is the executive director of the Massachusetts Children’s Trust, which is committed to preventing child abuse and neglect. They manage the website onetoughjob.com which provides resources and guidance for parents.