A question I’ve been hearing professionally as a counselor and personally as a mom, wife, sister and friend is “When will this end so we can get back to normal?” That answer is not easy, and it keeps changing. In fact, one of the only constants during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the feeling of uncertainty as we all struggle to adapt to a shifting sense of “normal” and manage the fear, anxiety and stress that come with it.
On top of that, many of us – like parents – are taking on new roles. In addition to the everyday pressures of working and keeping our tiny humans alive, we are now educators. You’re not wrong if you think this is a lot to expect – it is – but here are some ways I’ve been managing the pressure.
1. Prepare for Success
Put on your boss hat. You’ve been tasked to lead a big project for work; what do you do? Most likely, you have meetings and come up with plans to tackle the project. Treat e-learning similarly. Start with a family meeting and create a schedule so your family has a framework for school days. Mine includes learning time, play time and quiet time/rest time. Rather than a rigid plan, it’s a work in progress that adapts to the changing needs of my family and helps us structure the day so that everyone’s needs are met.
2. Reset Expectations
The house is messy and screens are rotting the kids’ brains. In a normal situation, these would be things I worried about, but life during a pandemic is not normal and expectations need to be reset to a more realistic and attainable level. What needs to get done in order to ensure your family is OK? Are the kids safe? Are they healthy? Are they learning something? If the answer is yes, you get an A.
Some clients have been reporting feeling pressure to start new projects – baking, writing, hobbies…etc. Where is the pressure to be “productive” coming from? Resist that critical voice in your head that compares your life to others who may seem to have everything figured out. That’s an unhealthy narrative that puts you in the role of not being enough for your family. During the pandemic, we are doing more with less, so lower your bar and refocus your priorities.
3. Get Some Guidance
With e-learning, what are you working toward and how much time should you spend doing it? I spent the first couple of weeks of e-learning doing all the things in every email I received from each teacher. Bad plan. With three kids and a job, that quickly led to burnout.
Now my efforts at teaching my kids are more targeted. First, I asked each teacher to provide a benchmark in each subject that the kids need to reach before the end of the year; that’s what we’re working on. Secondly, I got some guidance from my state’s board of education about how much time each kid should be spending on e-learning based on their age/grade. For example, it is recommended that my kindergarten twins get between 30 and 90 minutes a day of learning time. This was less than I expected and helped me configure our schedule and feel good about our learning plan.
4. Seek Out Connection
The irony of this pandemic is that we need to isolate to stay healthy, but humans need connection to survive. We may not be able to seek out connection as we typically would, but it’s still essential to our mental health to feel connected and supported.
Everyone is struggling right now and there is power and comfort in being able to share your experiences with others facing the same challenges and feel supported by them. Connect with friends and family, especially those who are in a similar situation. If we shove down our feelings and bear our struggles alone, they only become heavier and harder to manage.
5. Survive and Arrive
A client told me she felt like she was living in survival mode and that’s accurate. Doing what you can to get your family through this pandemic in the healthiest way possible – both mentally and physically – is the goal and it’s going to take support, a reset of expectations and trust in yourself that you’re doing your best.
When my grandmother was alive, her favorite saying was “This too shall pass.” As a child, it was annoying; as an adult, I know how right she was. We will be OK. We’re being asked to flex our adaptability muscles more than ever, but that’s what we do; we’re resilient and we adapt to make it through to better days.