There are few roles that require as much time and sacrifice as that of a parent. And as much love as there is to go around, we all have limited energy stores. So it is no wonder that as the lines blur between our work and home lives, many parents are struggling to keep up – both emotionally and physically.
To give a little relief to parents, several HealthWISE mental health clinicians have put their heads together to address some of the concern’s parents have shared with us. Before we dive in, we are reminded that parenthood includes learning about strengths you didn’t know you had and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed. While there is no way to be a perfect parent, there are a million ways to be a good one.
For many parents juggling children and work duties, the most prevalent concern is how to balance being both a ‘good parent’ and a ‘good employee’.
Our experts encourage parents to rethink their tendency to judge themselves, which is both unnecessary and unproductive. Why do we think we have to always be ‘good’? What if it’s ok to just be ok?
Often we forget to think long term. We all have good days and bad days. Parents are encouraged to look at their lives over longer periods, month to month instead of day to day. They will be surprised at how much things tend to balance out.
Parents are also reminded that they’re not alone in feeling out of balance, and that everyone feels this way at some point. Having a set daily routine may help your family feel more centred. When you are feeling unsettled, it is a good time to connect with colleagues, peers, team leaders and even your children (at an age appropriate level).
Another struggle parents identified was feeling guilty for enjoying their work more than the time they spend with their children.
‘Be realistic!’ is the first piece of advice our clinicians have. Parents need to recognise that while their work load may not have increased, their time with their children has – and much of that time is now spent trying to fill a role most haven’t trained for, that of a teacher. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the frustration in trying to fulfil schoolwork expectations when you don’t have a teaching degree, just as there is nothing wrong with admitting that sending your children back to school after term break can be a relief.
Parents should also give themselves permission to enjoy their job. You can enjoy many parts of your life and still give your all into being the best you can be, no guilt required. Pencilling in fun times with your children is also a good idea.
For those who just can’t shake this guilty feeling, turn it into something productive. Guilt can be a powerful motivator, and it can be worth listening to your thoughts and feelings and letting them provide insight.
Another difficulty parents identified was their efforts to become Super Mum or Super Dad and ‘be everything to everyone’.
Take off the Wonder Woman and Iron Man suits, say our clinicians. Superhuman is too high a goal to set for yourself! You can’t do everything, just as you can’t develop a cure for COVID-19 or create world peace. You can only do what you can do.
We can’t teach our children that mum or dad will always fix it, because that’s just not true. Children need to know that there is a limit and it is ok to tell them ‘No, I will let you do that yourself.’
Being present is the most important thing for both your partner and your children. Remember to prioritise yourself as well, because if you don’t take time out for self-care and YOU fall over, you’ll take everything else with you.
Many parents reported feeling like a failure either because they feel like they’re not managing, or because other people appear to be thriving, at least according to social media.
Switch off social media for a while, suggest our clinicians. We have a habit of only sharing the positive things in our life, and it’s worth considering why those who appear to be thriving feel the need to share so much. Are they seeking approval or validation?
Now is also a good time to reflect on what is most important for your family, rewrite your schedule and cut back on expectations so that you’re not setting yourself up to fail. Childcare, schools (and grandparents) exist for a reason, and no one can be expected to both work fulltime and take care of children fulltime.
Don’t sweat the small stuff – as long as your children read, write and do some maths daily, you’re doing ok.
Encourage your children to identify and discuss their feelings with you. Discuss ways you can empower them to deal with these feelings, and share ideas for managing expectations and outcomes together.
Anxiety and feeling overwhelmed was a concern for many.
We are reminded that this is a normal human reaction. Parents are encouraged to find ways to direct their attention to what is most important, such as creating a vision board with images and words or using mindfulness, yoga or breathing exercises to regain focus.
Workers should consider accessing their business’ employee assistance program to talk to a professional if they feel like they’re not coping.
For anxious children, there are resources around to help explain the virus. It is ok to acknowledge that some people will die – children can manage this and adjust to death when it touches their lives. It is important to take the time to listen and acknowledge how they feel, and not to dismiss their fears.
Let children know it is OK to be worried, and talk about their feelings. If you’re a parent, work with your children to establish new routines for the whole family.
Help them to stay connected with their friends, and reserve special times in the day for fun activities. Challenge them and yourself to have ‘COVID-19 free’ talk time.
Please seek support for you or your children if you need to:
Kids Helpline, Phone Counselling Service – 1800 55 1800
Sibling fights and its interruption to work was another struggle for parents.
Our clinicians acknowledged that conflict resolution is tricky and changes depending on ages. Although installing a UFC octagon and putting in ear plugs are possible solutions, parents can also work on coming up with a shared plan with their children for managing fights. Sometimes it is best to let them sort it out for themselves. If this is not possible, it may be helpful to set aside some catch up time during the day, and asking the youngsters to write down anything they want to work out with you when you are on a break. Family apps to limit time on devices could help if the devices are the cause of conflicts.
We’ll leave you with this – parenthood doesn’t come with a manual. We can either make ourselves miserable or make ourselves strong… the amount of work is the same.
Every day is a new beginning, take a deep breath and start again.