By: Cristina Trette
Along with most mothers in America, I have been through a lot this last week. I have gathered information from from accurate sources, stocked up at the grocery store, stayed tuned into the CDC guidelines, adjusted my work life, took the plunge into homeschooling, and am finding creative ways to keep my home running smoothly.
I am not going to sugar coat it. THIS IS HARD!
My kids are I are staying home and diligently practicing social distancing and the lockdown orders. I am missing the school drop offs that gave me a full day of uninterrupted work. Having friends over, which tends to make life happier for all, is a thing of the past. Events, trips, and celebrations are canceled.
With the exception of daily exercise, I am in my house with my kids all day every day with no sign of when it will end.
And underneath all of this is some amount of fear that we could get very sick. Or experience an economic depression. Or both.
I am a therapist. It is my job to hang out with others on their worst days. And right now I am in the same boat as my clients. I am trying to figure out how to keep my business afloat while working from home with my online schooling kids. At the same time I aim to maintain my love life, health, and well-being.
All of my therapeutic practices, skills, strategies, and tools are being put to use right now. The good news? They work.
I show the kids that I've got this
Every part of my being exudes that I am here for the kids. I am keeping the boat and passengers secure in the midst of turbulent seas. My verbal language, tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions show them that I've got this and I have got them too. I am their secure base that lets them know they are safe in this world even though the world suddenly feels unsafe.
I acknowledge and validate their fears
When they come to me with questions, I listen. If I do not have the answer we look it up. When they share they are scared, I let them know that I get it and that it makes sense they are scared right now. In these moments, I do not distract them, redirect them, talk about the bright side, or focus on gratitude. I meet them exactly where they are. And at the same time, I stay strong and stable so that way I don't get swept into their fears too.
Yet I share some vulnerabilities too
I am not at all always roses and sunshine. I get irritated, tired, cranky, sad, and more. As much as possible I allow myself to feel what I feel. My kids have seen me cry, yell, and all in between. I am an imperfect humans with all sorts of emotions running through me throughout the day. When appropriate, I share some of my vulnerable feelings with them, which gives them permission to feel what they feel too.
I manage my stress
I carry stress too. And I know how to cope with it. I catch myself when I dip into catastrophic thinking and shift into more accurate thoughts. I call or text others if my stress levels rise too high. I pay attention to what is happening in my body. I use my breath to help me regulate. I practice compassionate, reassuring, positive, and affirming self-to-self talk. Sometimes I speak this way inside my mind to myself, and others times I say out outloud. My kids often overhear me say, "Come on Cris, you've got this".
I turn to others
I talk to my life partner, friends, family, mentors, coach, and therapist. Behind every great therapist is a support system and another great therapist!
I get up before my kids
I aim to wake up at around 6:00 am every morning. This time is critical to my mental wellness. In the early morning hours I enjoy my cup of coffee and get some work done before the kids get up. Once they are up at and at it, I focus 100 percent on them for awhile.
I give them focused attention first thing and in short spurts throughout the day
By 7:00am the kids are up. They want my attention in the morning. So I stop my work and hang out with them. They get hugs, kisses, eye contact, and smiles every single morning. I make and serve breakfast and chat with them. Then sometime between 8:30 am and 9:30 am we all get to work.
I hold structure
After the kids eat breakfast they get dressed and ready for the morning. They make their beds. They sit at a table for schooling. We take breaks. We keep a regular lunch, dinner and bed time. Kids thrive with structure. I recommend sitting down and writing out what you want structure at your home to look like. There is no need to try to follow a perfect and unsustainable ideal. You may not mind if your kids are in pjs all day and do their schooling from bed. You may be OK with everyone sleeping in. The key is to get very clear about what works for you and your family and implement this.
We have fun
We have been pretty goofy over here. Laughing, dancing, telling jokes, and telling funny stories. Collectively we are finding ways to bring joy into our captivity. It helps so much.
We clean up our messes
I mean this literally and figuratively. We are working together to keep our home life organized because harmony and freedom follows order. When we run into conflict, which we do and will, we repair and reconnect as soon as we are able to.
Yet I lower the bar
Yes, they may watch too much TV. Yes they may be on the phone with friends as much as possible. Yes they may be more clingy or clamoring for attention. Yes they may exhibit irritating behaviors. Right now I am leaning into them when this happens. One of the best ways to elicit harmony is through connection. More on this later.
We are allowed to exercise outdoors as long as we maintain 6 feet of distance between ourselves and others. I am a runner and rarely miss my morning run. I have been running every day and will continue to do so. The kids are also getting outside and doing bike rides, skateboarding, or playing around in the yard. It is so important to exercise outdoors at least once every day.
We take breaks
For me, I decided to take a few days off of online counseling so I could catch my breath and get us organized. I know not everyone can afford to do this. For you it may be asking your husband to watch the kids so you can soak in a bubble bath with a glass of wine. Or putting on your headphones and going for a long walk alone while your husband is with the kids. We all need breaks from the intensity of juggling kids, the house, and work. The kids need breaks too and we are working together as a family to figure out exactly what that looks like for each of us.
What are you doing to maintain your mental health and family peace during lockdown? I would love to hear about it in the comments box below.
Cristina Trette, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working almost exclusively with couples and parents. She has a private counseling practice online. Her specialty is centered on helping couples create harmonious relationships, families, and wellbeing. To learn more about Cristina visit www.cristinatrette.com.