Being a mother or caregiver in these unprecedented times of pandemic presents us with many challenges. Our lives are complicated by uncertainty. From week to week, or even day to day, we are confronted by significant changes which may include instability or lack of employment, the pressures of working from home, isolation from family, friends and community, anxiety about our health and the health of others, while at the same time, perhaps, managing the demands of home based school.
The impacts of these changes may have affected you and your children in a range of ways, including increased worry, mood changes, more tension or conflict at home, less care of one’s health and wellbeing. We may have experienced mental health problems for the first time in our lives, or existing problems may have been been exacerbated.
This week, The Age reported on a British study in Manchester which showed that the mental health of women and parents of pre-school-aged children had deteriorated more than experienced in other sectors as a result of the pandemic.
It’s vital for mothers and caregivers to find ways of managing the impact of these changes for themselves and their children. These people are typically juggling the competing pressures of attending to the needs of children, being an employee perhaps now at home, being a wife/partner, and caring for extended family members. And who do we find is typically last on the list for caring attention? Mothers.
If you are in this position, here are some suggested tips to support you:
Try to develop a good daily routine for yourself and your children. Setting some structure and expectations for the day can help with motivation and a sense of control. Make sure to include time spent outside to get sunshine and fresh air, as well as exercise and regular breaks to reduce intensity of focus on screentime.
Be flexible in your expectations of yourself and your children. Some days just may not go to plan and that’s OK. Try to find self-compassion as you think about the day you’ve had, rather than self-criticism and judgment. Reflect on any changes that might need to be made in your daily routine and the expectations placed on you by yourself and others. Perhaps you might need to scale back. The demands some people make of themselves can verge on the inhuman.
Try to keep to regular meal times and sleep times, and of course make sure you eat well. Try to be mindful of any unhelpful patterns like emotional eating or alcohol misuse.
If you have a partner/spouse, make sure they’re on board with all the new demands in parenting and household duties. Set regular time aside to discuss how you’re managing the challenges together and if changes are needed. Develop a team approach.
If you’re a single parent, perhaps seek a loved one to be a sounding board for you or provide active assistance.
If you’re struggling to manage "school at home" and work demands or the chaos of younger kids, explore potential solutions. Is it possible to adjust or reduce your working hours or take time off? Talk to your child’s teacher about what can be done to support your child.
‘I’m bored, Mum!’ While this familiar complaint from kids is an inevitable part of lockdown life, it's frustrating to have to deal with it on top of everything else, but try to stay calm and avoid taking on the additional job of chief entertainment officer. Encourage your child to write up a list of activities ... some not involving screens. Be ready to add a couple of ideas. Consider setting restrictions on screen time or making it contingent on completing chores or doing some non-screen activities.
Finding connection and support. Try to make regular time to connect to loved ones. If your kids are doing school at home then support them to do the same. Of course, try to make time to engage with your partner/spouse in an active way,such as a special dinner or a shared walk. Or just try to listen closely to each other.
Be there for your kids as much as you can manage. Through lockdown you are probably spending more time together than usual, so try to be open to moments of fun and sharing as a family. Brainstorm some ideas as a family: movie night, games, a walk to get an ice cream, cooking a special meal, a dance challenge etc.
COVID anxiety. While you might feel anxious about the pandemic it’s likely your kids don’t think about it as much as you do. Try to answer their questions about it simply and also provide reassurance. The most important thing is to listen to them ,whether it’s about COVID or anything else.
When it all gets too much – step away and take a pause, even just for 30 seconds. Notice and try to accept what you’re feeling and rather than judging yourself, find some self-kindness. This is hard. Remember that you and millions of others are struggling with the impact of this pandemic.
Schedule some time in your week to do things that support you:t. It might be exercise, social connection, meditation, baking, music, reading, gardening or whatever nurtures you. Activities that give you a present-moment focus are very helpful.
Just remember if you’re really not OK, it’s vital that you ask for help. And do consider seeking professional counselling if you feel you need it.