"This Pandemic Feels Endless"

Self-compassion in three steps.

Posted Jul 25, 2020

 “This pandemic feels endless. It is breaking me. It is unsustainable. I’ve been trying to work so we have income, home-school my kids (with no experience as a teacher), and I’m staying up till 2am trying to get everything done,” Rosa told me, crying during our telemedicine session. “There are no supports that I can rely on. No family, no childcare. Nothing. I feel so bereft. The camps are closed this summer, and who knows if there will be school in the fall? I can’t do everything. I have no bandwidth, I’m tired and irritable and I yell at the kids and my partner all the time. It is just too much…I’m feeling stuck and depressed every day now.”

Yes, it feels impossible, and I hear this from so many parents. Mindfulness and compassion are especially important now, during the pandemic, when so many parents are stressed and worried and the pressures feel insurmountable. Mindfulness and compassion won’t make the virus disappear, but they can help us cope. I like to think of them as snow tires in a storm. They won’t make the storms and bitter winds of life end, but they will give us some traction. And right now, self-compassion is especially needed.

But what is self-compassion and how can it help? It is simply caring for ourselves the same way we would if a loved one was struggling. It’s that simple. Mindfulness and self-compassion serve as anchors (even life-savers) and are tools that can help us learn to stay calm and steady in these impossible and overwhelming times. When tempers flare, when we melt down or blow up (as we all do), self-compassion can help us recover our balance and develop resources to help us stay sane and loving.

It also helps us repair the damage we may have caused. So many parents go into cycles of shame, guilt, denial and self-loathing when we make mistakes.  No one is a perfect parent. Knowing that we are human, and that we all have anxiety and despair, we all have our limits, can be enormously helpful. Rather than hate ourselves or berate ourselves when we have a hard day and yell at the kids, or feel like the Worst Parent in the World, self-compassion can put the terrible, bad no good day in perspective. We all have them. This is the territory of being a parent. This is when being kind to oneself can be sustaining. and can make a huge difference for our children as they learn to deal with adversity and handling difficult emotions by watching our example.  

Yet, what is important to recognize is that most things don’t go the way we want them to go, and while we like to think we have control over life, we don’t. For example, can we control this pandemic? Can we control the economy? Self-compassion can help us see the limits of what we can control and learn how to make the best of what we cannot.

So, what can we do to get some more traction in these challenging times? My favorite all-purpose gold standard practice is what I call "Self Compassion Lifesaver for Parents."

There are three simple steps:

1. Acknowledge that this is a moment of difficulty. Validate your feelings. Let the words feel natural. You might simply want to say, “This is hard, really, really hard.”

2. Parenting is full of tough moments. Many parents (especially now) feel this way. I’m not alone.

3. Add words of kindness. Let me be kind to myself. Or, if that is too hard, let me aspire to be kind to myself.  Feel free to put a hand (or two) on your heart.

You can do this in just a few minutes. And it can shift your day. Unlike almost everything we seem to be doing these days, self-compassion isn’t one more thing to check off the endless to-do list. There is nothing special you need to do. You don’t even need to close your eyes. Think of self-compassion as a relief, a healing balm, a few moments of rest that restores us. It is a way to nourish ourselves, care for ourselves, and find some sanity. And a way to help us enjoy being parents, even in these difficult times.