The Brave New World of Parenting in the Pandemic

Tips for parents to stay sane during COVID-19.

Posted Jan 03, 2021

This post was written by Ellen Luborsky, Ph.D.

We didn’t ask for this. Who would? 

Who would sign up for a year of wearing masks and being wary of any person you see?  

What parents would choose to be the drill sergeant who keeps their children on Zoom all day?  

But here we are, in the strangest version of Brave New World.  

How can you find ways to cope and even thrive in the midst of restrictions and adversity? 

I am going to offer some ideas, but first I need to put a huge pause to this positive thinking. The best coping strategies don’t take away grief. They don’t make illness go away. They don’t, unfortunately, cancel hardship or tragedy.

The challenge in this Brave New World is to find ways to feel alive in the midst of all that is hard.

Expect Imperfect

Don’t expect it to go smoothly. That superhighway got closed. Instead, be proud of yourself and your kids for figuring out daily life. That usually means a trial & error process, sometimes beginning with chaos and frustration, before new patterns take shape.

Don't Forget Yourself

Parents often put their own needs last, which means they never get to them. In Corona Land, that does not work. You are the engine that makes it all happen. If you are too depleted, how can you be there for anyone else? Take daily breathers to refresh yourself. 

Breathe

Try deep breathing. Close your eyes and take a long slow inhale, from your abdomen all the way to your heart. Now exhale down to your belly to the count of five. Repeat three times and then open your eyes. Take a quiet moment to see the world with fresh eyes.

 Elijah Outman, age 12
Photo by Elijah Outman, age 12
Source: Elijah Outman, age 12

Break It Up

Take a break to move. Anything counts. Stretching counts. Leave your chair and stretch up to the ceiling. But getting out the door helps even more. Fresh air wakes you up and makes you feel alive. And look out for trees, sky, birds, and leaves. Monet’s haystack paintings are of the same haystack in different light. Look again, and see what you see.

Exercise

Do whatever form of exercise you can find. Take a yoga class online, go for a walk or a run, do jumping jacks with the kids, have a dance party, look up a portal for a total body workout. Do what speaks to you. 

Expect to Be Interrupted

It will happen. If you dare to work or do a class online or take your own pure quiet moment, the kids will probably interrupt you. It will bother you less if you expect it. Be glad and grateful when that doesn’t happen.

Gripe

You don’t have to love everything. You are allowed to be totally frustrated. Go ahead and speak it or write it down. There is no one right way to do this.

Here are a few options:

  • Write: Try a free write: GIve yourself a few minutes to write down whatever comes to your mind. Don’t stop and look until you are done. Or you can start with a story stem, such as “ I feel...” Or “I wish...” No editing, no moralizing. You can clear your mind by writing it down.1
  • Share: Reach out to a friend or family member. She or he is bound to be going through frustrations too. If you find it’s hard to be heard, try receptive listening. Take turns sharing what is on your mind. The listener’s job is not to give an answer, but to hear and understand. That means Person A might say how frustrated she is that COVID is never ending, and Person B’s job is to really ‘get’ the feeling, and say something that conveys that.
  • Find therapyWhen your concerns feel like they are too much to live with, or when you have symptoms of distress that are bothering you, getting professional help can be incredibly helpful. A trained professional is a necessary resource when you feel ‘beyond yourself’ or too depressed to carry on. In Corona Land, therapy can happen online or by phone.

Accept Yourself

No one can live through this time without difficulty. For many, it’s much worse than that.

Don’t suppress your real feelings. When feelings are avoided or denied, they don’t go actually away.  

They may take other forms instead. Have you ever gotten a headache when “it’s just too much”? Accepting your own feelings can actually help them dial down in intensity. 

Tune in to the Kids

A child can snap you out of a gray mood if you let her. Try looking into her eyes and finding your way to share her feeling. See if that can take you both toward a smile. That’s what Daniel Stern called attunement.2 

Tune in to what he is doing. Sharing his focus helps it become more meaningful for both of you. 

See What You Can See

This eternity of COVID has taught us not to count on old expectations. We need to let old norms be the clothes of last season.  

This is a time to practice the art of invention.

“We shall see what we shall see,” wrote Wilhelm Rontgen in 1896. He was talking about his discovery of a wavelength know as X-rays. He is letting us know what you might find if you wake up the spirit of discovery. 

 Ellen Luborsky, Ph.D.
Source: Ellen Luborsky, Ph.D.

Ellen B. Luborsky, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with decades of experience helping children and adults with the range of problems that come with being human. Her short but true stories about young children were awarded top prizes by the New York State Psychological Association in 2010. A book of those stories is expected out later this year. She coauthored Research & Psychotherapy: The Vital Link with her father, Lester Luborsky, Ph.D., in 2006. (Review)

References

Pennekaker, J.W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8(3) 162-166.

Stern, Daniel (2010) Forms of Vitality: Exploring Dynamic Experience in Psychology and the Arts. Oxford University Press.