Parenting in a Pandemic: Strategies and Support for Young Mamas

Before I dive in, I want you to repeat the following three statements:

I am more than enough.
I am doing a great job.
I am allowed to ask for help.

Terrific. I am going to ask you to repeat those statements again later on. Probably more than once.

It’s hard to do it all these days. (Okay, it’s hard to do it all when there’s not a pandemic.)

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed during this time, but I promise, you are not alone. There are many people trying to juggle parenting, work, life, love, while not completely losing it. While I’m not sure if we share the same parenting stories, I can promise you that I am trying to juggle these things, too. I’m sure that I am not doing it perfectly, but perfection is overrated and quite frankly, perfection has absolutely nothing to do with parenting, so set those tired expectations aside.

Sometimes we just need to find our people, you know, the ones who we may or may not know IRL but can help us find strength and support during complicated times.

Who are those people to you? Are they family? Friends? A group that you met on the Scarleteen boards? Are they a group of people online who share similar experiences and aren’t judgmental? Those are your people and the likelihood is that they, too, are experiencing the highs and lows of managing it all while staying at home or being an essential worker and taking care of everyone else except yourself. Hopefully, this will reframe some of these challenges for you.

Most people didn’t voluntarily sign up to be a full time homeschool teacher.

If you’re doing virtual school or homeschooling, don’t worry if you can’t do it all. Classroom teachers are trained. No one is expecting you to operate pandemic home schooling as if you had graduate degrees in education. So you forgot to turn in the homework. You forgot your kid’s Zoom session. Big deal. It happens.

Turn screentime into your ally.

If your kids are on screens more than you’d like (mine are!), take a breath. Most people have given up on their stringent screen time rules during Covid-19.

If you’d like to mix it up for them, instead of shows and TikToks, try putting on an art video. For example, Mo Willems (“Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus”) does a great lunchtime doodle for kids and families, Sparketh has free classes for 30 days, and The Kitchen Table Classroom has free crafting and art classes. Virtually visit a museum or tour a place you’ve always wanted to go. There are so many places with online “tours,” including the San Diego Zoo, which has live webcams to watch the animals and the Georgia Aquarium.

Time to repeat those three statements again. I’ll wait.

I am more than enough.
I am doing a great job.
I am allowed to ask for help.

Okay, moving on. We often like to work things out⁠ ourselves and not bring anyone else into our problems. That’s nice, in theory, but it isn’t helpful. No one can do it (and by it, I mean parenting) totally alone. No one knows how to gracefully navigate these complicated times. It’s not something that comes naturally to us, so sometimes it’s important to call in for reinforcements and reinforce others.

Would you be your own friend?

When I teach, I often ask my students to think about whether they would befriend themselves. What I mean by that is: are we the kind of person that we would want to rely on? This is a time to remember that we can be for others the type of support that we really need. So what do you need? Chances are, you are not the only one.

Make a deal with a friend to do a daily check in. Set a reminder on a phone or even put a Post It somewhere to remind you to call/text/videochat with a friend at the same time everyday. Sending someone a “You’ve got this” note can make a huge impact. (You can have that person call or text you the same affirmation, too.)

Take a break - even if it is only for 5 minutes.

There are lots of free health and wellness apps that give you the ability to take a 5, 10, 15 (you get the picture) “class.” Maybe you need yoga, strength, meditation. Maybe you just need five minutes to dance. Put on your favorite song and dance it out alone (or with your kid). A little break goes a long way. Just as an example: Yoga for Beginners is free, Peloton has a 90 day free trial of hundreds of classes you can do at home (no bike needed), and Calm and Headspace have free meditation.

Conflict resolution stay-at-home style.

Whether we like it or not, conflicts are going to arise. Parenting is tough is the best of scenarios. Trying to do it while under the microscope that is a quarantine or stay-at-home order increases the difficulty tenfold. Coming up with strategies to combat feelings of self doubt or frustration is critical, as are finding language and tools to reply to the people in your life who may (or may not) have the best of intentions and insist on giving you feedback.

While I know that you want to scream at times, keep in mind that it only creates a more volatile and uncomfortable situation for you and your child(ren). Owning your feelings but doing so rationally can be very powerful for you (and ultimately very frustrating for someone else). Now, that shouldn’t be the reason for a rational come-back, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. We need to know how to ask for help and also let someone know when we’ve got this and don’t need the added criticism.

“I am working really hard to do trying to do this. I feel frustrated and overwhelmed. It would be great if you could help me with ____________.”

“I know that you have experience with this and I promise that if I need help, I will ask for it.”

“I am really trying to do this well and it may not be your intention, but sometimes I feel like you don’t trust my judgment.”

And if you really are having trouble communicating with the people you are sheltering in place with, walk away for a few minutes if you need to calm down. Sometimes taking a moment to compose yourself is better than escalating a fight or argument.

You have the right to find resources.

Perhaps the greatest part of a digital world is the ability to connect and gather information from people and organizations all over the world. You are not alone, and plenty of people are looking for tools to assist them. Sometimes, you are not looking for advice, you may be looking to hear someone else’s story. We always have an ability to learn from others. And know, sometimes, you really are looking for help and you are entitled to it.

Okay, one more time. Repeat the lines.

I am more than enough.
I am doing a great job.
I am allowed to ask for help.

It’s easy to be so consumed our feelings of inadequacy that we forget the most important fact. Our children love us for us. They don’t care about all the little things that we worry about. They just want to know that we are there to love them unconditionally. That love is a two way street.