It finally clicked for me that the challenge of parenting in quarantine feels far too familiar—for me, COVID-19 is a flashback to my first days of motherhood.
Nine years later, here I am. Same sudden, sweeping type of change. New and overwhelming burdens and external expectations that, somehow, we can continue to maintain our former and new realities at the same time. And, no clear sense of when this heavy time will lift and life will return to the way it was.
How to manage this second round of new parenthood level stress? I try to imagine I am talking to the new-mom me nine years ago. What do I wish she had known or thought to do in this moment?
1. You are doing enough. You are enough.
In the following list of things I’m about to rattle off to you, you may find a lifeline–that is, any one of these may help you manage all of this better. But, remember, you’re already doing enough—even if you take none of the following advice. Your baby (or, now, your kids) really need you more than anything—the real you, not some ideal you. You are right by their side (even if that feels smothering right now). That alone gives them support, security, and love that transcends any technique, any approach or anything you can provide. You are all your child needs. Just try to remember that and get through each day, one day at a time.
2. Sleep, as much as you can.
Prioritize sleep when you can get it. It really is like putting on your oxygen mask first in turbulence. You will be a better help to your kids, coworkers, and partner—not to mention a better, healthier and happier you.
3. Go outdoors as much as you can.
Scientists know that all you need is two hours per week of time outdoors to experience restorative benefits—hurrah! And, we’ve learned that you can make “outdoor” time for yourself, no matter what kind of green space, if any, you have at home. Find out how to hike safely with kids during this time, or read more about how to bring the outdoors in when you are stuck inside.
4. Keep the humor flowing.
My wise colleague recently wrote about the importance of humor and laughter after her daughter noticed that her mom hadn’t laughed in a while. Read more here about how helpful a little humor can be, and how it’s okay to be silly, even, if not especially during tough times.
5. Reflect on what went well.
First, at the end of every day, ask yourself: What went well with the kids today? Sometimes it’s obvious. Other times, you have to look past moments you know were not your best to find a tiny nugget of success, sweetness, or affirmation. But, at least one is always there—and those moments put wind in your sails.
Second, try to identify something for which you are grateful. This is one we do as a family during dinner, too. Focusing on gratitude has been proven to help you sleep better, feel more positive emotions and be a more compassionate and kind person. It may even help boost your immune system.
I have taken to writing my answers to both of these questions in a notebook next to my bed. No matter how rough the day, it helps me end on a better note.
It’s funny, but just knowing that I am going to write in my notebook each night helps me notice sweet moments with the kids more during the day, and I am more attuned to the things for which I am grateful. So, not only do I put myself in a better place for sleep, but I am also seeding my day with positivity.
There are silver linings to all of this. My kids are outdoors even more than they were before. They are loving the chance to play—and play is having a really big moment. I also get to see some amazing moments of joy and learning (sprinkled between the sibling squabbles) that I would not otherwise have caught. However you can do it, notice, and shine a light on these positive things—they are lifelines that can buoy us through this storm.
My husband, co-founder, and partner in all things, meditates for 10 minutes right after he wakes up every day, and he has for years. As a new mom, I envied his “ability” to do that but didn’t realize then just how doable it really is. Since COVID started, I have been trying to fit in the same dose of meditation right after I put kids to bed, and I must admit, on the days when I build it in, it makes an impact. I look forward to the quiet time, and even 10 minutes of stillness gives my body and mind a calmer end to the day. There are many reasons to enter into meditation—for the spiritual benefit and to manage stress. To find an entry point, start with a trusted app like Headspace, Calm or Insight Timer.
7. Exercise, however you can.
In my heyday, before kids or COVID, I ran for three miles nearly every day. I felt like I was flying, and my challenges seemed to settle into place with every step. Now, I can’t remember the last run I took, let alone a run that felt that good. But, I have been able to build in little bits of exercise. I just needed to set more realistic expectations and focus on a stress relief goal. Every morning, the kids and I do a 7-minute workout together. We try to go for a walk every afternoon and make those walks even longer on the weekends.
Helping the kids build mindfulness and movement into the week’s schedule has helped too. Ivy is a huge fan of Cosmic Kids yoga, and my bigger kids love Stop, Breathe & Think Kids to help stay centered.
Nine years ago, I thought I could do it all. But I am a bit more humble (and tired) now than I was then. Hopefully, I’ll listen this time!