Parenting is hard enough without a pandemic to navigate. We should be congratulating ourselves for just getting through the day, instead of us beating ourselves up for not measuring up to the Pinterest post next door.
We all want our child to internalize the best of us and leave the rest. That’s why modeling self-love and kindness for yourself is a gift you give your child. Lead by example and you will end up raising a compassionate adult, with healthy boundaries and lots of love to give.
When you hear that inner mom-guilt voice whisper, “You’re not doing it right,” or “you’re not good enough,” here’s what to say to yourself instead.
1. “Perfect is an illusion.”
There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, so vanquish perfectionism as a way of showing yourself grace. Measuring yourself by an impossible standard is setting yourself up for certain failure.
Instead, ask yourself if there’s an old script you’re trying to follow. Is it your own voice, a ghost from the past or some thread from our culture that became embedded in your head? Observing how you raise an impossible bar for yourself during a crisis may give you insight into how hard you are on yourself in general. Remember, the illusion of perfection serves only as means to destabilize your confidence.
2. “It is a good day when my children feel loved.”
Now is the time to let some standards slide. Something that has soothed my parenting soul for nearly a decade was the Freakonomics episode, “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting” when their guest, asked to comment on TV time for children, said, “People call them electronic babysitters as if it’s a bad thing. But babysitters are good, and nothing’s wrong with being electronic.”
Yes, screen time standards have slid so low they’re lost under the couch with the remote control and the dust bunnies. But go easy on yourself and remember that this is not forever. Perhaps set a daily goal for your family that feels reasonable and attainable and then give congratulations all around when it’s achieved (to yourself too!). For example, “We will do one family activity a day that does not involve screens.” Even if that’s bath and dinnertime, consider it a win!
3. “This, too, shall pass—but in the meantime, I am entitled to my feelings.”
Especially during times of global crisis, it is easy to discount your own feelings as unworthy of attention. After all, how can you indulge in petty disappointments when so many are scared and sick?
I am here to tell you that you must honor your own tiny corner of horror and go into these feelings before you can come out the other side. The child in you needs to be heard before the adult can take the reins. For a great resource on teaching yourself self-compassion, check out Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion Workbook.
4. “I am sexy, I am desirable and I want to share my love.”
I can hear you laughing out there. I know that the quarantine breeds toxic doses of togetherness and romance might be the last thing you’re thinking about. However, assuming your co-parent is your live-in life partner, don’t shirk on sustaining that relationship. Set your bar low, but meet it.
If you have to search dusty memory banks of when you and your partner once had time and energy to be intimate, perhaps your bonding time will be you two sitting on the couch together reminiscing about when you once had time and energy to be intimate. That’s a start. Physical intimacy during the at-home parenting years can feel woefully scheduled and somewhat artificially manufactured, like using a grow-light on a timer for your indoor plants. However you may grieve your wild days, while you’re potted, find your photosynthesis. The parental connection is integral to familial happiness. With all the work and sacrifices you make for your family, perhaps this can be the most mutually enjoyable one.
5. “I consume the media, it does not consume me.”
Before checking the news, ask yourself, what am I needing right now? Do I need more news? Did I just check the news 5 minutes ago? If you feel the need to stay engaged with the media, titrate and triage. Check reputable sources, moderate how often and curate your messaging. For every glance at NPR, scroll through Good News Network. Listen to helpful podcasts in the background, while you’re washing up, or when you need to take a break. There are some great resources out there right now. A bunch of my favorite emotionally uplifting, entertaining and educational podcasts also have a few episodes devoted to navigating this particular challenging time. I highly recommend Dr. Laurie Santos’ Happiness Lab, Untangled and How-To with Charles Duhigg for refreshing ways to gain insight into ourselves and the world.
6. “My kids aren’t the only ones who need to have fun.”
Finally, don’t forget that you can also lose yourself in play, if you find a way that suits your style. Watch a movie about connecting with your child (and your inner child) through play. If you like to build, dump out a bunch of Legos on the floor and get started. Your child will follow. Do you like to paint? Cover the table with newspaper, grab a couple of old shirts and make masterpieces. Are you musical? Perhaps you and your child can jam. Does your child insist on playing with toy cars and you’re more of a dollhouse gal? You’d be surprised at how well your child will respond to a bunch of cars talking and going on adventures. Playtime doesn’t have to be a drag. Make it fun. After all, you really did like to play a long time ago, those instincts were just run over by a bunch of shoulds and have-to’s. Vanquish the perfect, let it slide and play.