We are looking out the windows of our lives and see a world we don’t recognize.
One of my clients said that he “was grieving the world he knew” and not quite knowing how to cope with the world of the pandemic. It’s a rare week when I don’t see one or more clients who are crying under the strain of living in this new reality. Even if you are one to eschew masks and social distancing, you won’t leave home to find the world you once knew. For parents, the new reality of sheltering with children who are restless to run with friends is daunting. Even seeing family members, a traditional source of social support, has become complicated because some are sheltered, and some are not, and each party has to assess their risk tolerance. The realization that the virus is just not going away has moved us from acute to chronic stress. Every day is groundhog day replete with fears, anxieties, frustrations, and the desire to fight off despair.
Defining & Addressing Parental Stress
People I see in my private practice through the medium of video conferencing are not necessarily representative of the general population. But all parents with whom I talk, whether in counseling for themselves, their kids, or not in counseling, are feeling the strain. Gwen Dewar describes parental stress as “the distress you experience when you feel you just can’t cope as a parent. The demands are too high and the resources too little.” As I work with couples, I typically ask each parent to come up with a self-care plan. Like the request the flight attendant makes to have parents put their mask on before helping their child with a mask, parents have to start by taking care of themselves. And then right behind this is the need to sustain if not strengthen their marriage and their level of collaboration. Too often, parents of adolescents and young adults have allowed their children to hijack their marriage, demanding that their needs come first and using divide and conquer to get their way. Crisis and the accompanying parental stress will often expose any fault line in marriage and expand it.
Parents Are More Stressed than Non-Parents
According to a study by the American Psychological Association, parents are significantly more stressed than nonparents. Three-fourths of parents are stressed about a family member or themselves getting the coronavirus, disrupted routines and the need to adjust basic needs (i.e., food, housing), and self-isolation. If you are feeling stressed, you aren’t crazy, and you have a lot of company. Stress even before the pandemic is something we all could describe. Google “stress,” and you come up with 1.2 billion hits. Google “parental stress” and the hits are 246 million. Knowing we are not alone, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of encapsulates both the problem and the promise. The problem is that we are all stressed and, as such, we need to reach out to others for emotional support, ideas to cope, and available resources. Social support offers the promise of a buffer to unremitting stress. I am grateful for Zoom and video conferencing in my practice and in my social life as we have been able to connect with old friends this way.
10 Strategies for Parents to Manage Stress
Google “coping with stress websites,” and you will come up with 8 million. We know a lot more about stress than dealing with it, but still, 8 million ideas aren’t bad. So, I don’t think I can add a lot to the general discussion, but I want to highlight some strategies for parents in managing stress.
- Develop a self-care plan and enlist an accountability partner to keep you on point.
- Protect and strengthen your marriage. Take time for your marriage. Make joint decisions about the kids.
- Reach out to others routinely. Take walks, have a happy hour video conference, or lunch over zoom. It beats isolation, and you will feel better after doing this.
- Focus on what you can change in your environment and let go of what you can’t.
- Increase your resiliency through self-care, support from friends, reading, and learning how to manage the tension through meditation, prayer, yoga, relaxation exercise.
- Focus on the fundamentals that can strengthen you – exercise, sleep, and proper nutrition. These are the blocking and tackling of stress management.
- Engage the family as a “team” to combat the coronavirus and brainstorm how you will work together in this endeavor. Don’t be afraid to say you are stressed by the pandemic’s impact but reassure your kids that you and the family will prevail.
- Take care of your physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual health, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Stress can make us sick.
- Express and elicit statements of gratitude from family members to offset the negative repercussions and perceptions of living with the pandemic.
- Add your own strategy ____________________________________________________.
Do Your Own Report Card
Several years ago in my practice, I developed the concept of “Doing Your Own Report Card.’ By this I mean, by this we all need to take responsibility for our families and our physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual health. The above list of coping strategies could serve as a starter for a report card that parents could review weekly to celebrate accomplishments and identify ways to do better in the future. As the experts have suggested, we are in the early stages of this pandemic, and we won’t be sprinting to the finish line. This is likely a marathon, and we all need to practice perseverance and embrace the vision of a better and safer world tomorrow.
Take care, be safe, stay well.
For more helpful resources for finding solace during the pandemic, check out my other Coronavirus articles.