As we adjust to our new normal, all of us, but especially those of us who have young, developing humans in our care, are having to look at everyday choices in a whole new light. Things that were previously automatic for us, such as whether our child should go to school in-person or whether they should play with friends, now require us to take multiple different factors into account, weighing serious risk against reward and quality of life. Let’s be honest; the whole thing is emotionally and cognitively exhausting.
As parents, how do we take care of ourselves, watching out for our physical health and building our mental and emotional health, while at the same time doing this for our children, all during a period of unknown danger and uncertainty? How do we accomplish all of these difficult tasks while making choices that we’ve never had to consider before?
I see you, and I am living it, too. This is a time to press into support, understanding, acceptance and grace; for ourselves and for others. No one has a blueprint to any of this, but here are a few pieces of advice from the point of view of a mom of five and mental health professional.
- Start with self-compassion. Parenting is hard enough, but to throw on top this lens of confusion and non-existent empirical data, along with a million different choices that have great consequence and no clear route, is especially draining. Be kind and gentle with yourself; take care to use the same compassion for yourself that you would use for your children—when you don’t get it right every time, which I promise will be the same reality for each of us, when you can’t get it all done, when you just don’t know what the correct answer is…remember we all are in that same boat; none of us know how to navigate this. Be forgiving.
- Show compassion towards others. We are all in this together; this strange new time. Every parent you know is dealing with the same choices you are, and it’s not just parents. Our children’s teachers are working hard to find the right way to do something that’s never been done before. School administrators, pediatricians and friends of friends; all of us are walking an unknown path, dealing with complex decision-making, schedule disruption and stress, navigating physical, financial and mental health dangers, and much more. Be kind.
- Be accepting of others’ choices. There is a little anecdote I heard that goes something like, “if someone tells you they’ve decided they’re going to homeschool their kids, the compassionate, supportive response is, ‘That sounds like a really hard decision. I’m so glad you found something you’re comfortable with,’ and if someone tells you they’ve decided they’re going to send their kids to virtual school, the compassionate, supportive response is, ‘That sounds like a really hard decision. I’m so glad you found something you’re comfortable with,’ and if someone tells you that they are going to send their kids to school in-person,’ the compassionate, supportive response is, ‘That sounds like a really hard decision. I’m so glad you…’” Well, you get the idea. Each of us has a unique situation, and we are all struggling to find the right decision for our personal set of circumstances. Whether we have a live-in family member who is high-risk and must keep our circle tight and isolated, whether both parents must attend work in-person and there’s no one to stay home during the day, or whether we believe our immediate family members to be low risk for physical complications from the virus; each of us has to weigh all these individual factors and do what works best for our family. Be understanding.
- Have confidence in your own choices. Along the same lines, don’t let others contribute to undue anxiety on your part if they question the choices you are making for your family. Trust your own decision-making, and trust that you’re doing the best you can. Dialogue is healthy, armchair quarter-backing and judgement are not. Only you know the multiple facets of your circumstances. Be encouraged to hold your boundaries, whatever they may be. These are new times, and our health, safety and sanity are some of the top priorities. Be brave.
- Try to embrace flexibility. With the situation and much of the information we receive changing daily, what you felt comfortable with as the right choice last week may not be what you feel is correct this week, based on new information, new circumstances or both. You will also likely be changing your approach based on how things have gone so far. It’s not only okay to pivot, that is actually the goal; holding ourselves to just one choice or just one belief in this complex and completely unprecedented time is not realistic. Be open to change.
- Don’t be afraid to seek help and support. If you or a loved one could use additional support, whether with complex decision-making or processing difficult emotions, don’t hesitate to reach out. Seek trusted friends and family members to hold space for and with you. If you need additional support we at Ethos Behavioral Health Group would love to hold space for you and help you learn to hold space for yourself, your loved ones and your community. Our compassionate clinicians are experienced in helping clients navigate challenging times such as these. We support your personal boundaries by offering both telehealth and in-person appointments at every level of care. Be receptive of help and community.
- Lastly, it’s vital that we pace ourselves. Last march when this thing first started, my mindset was, “If I can just get through this crisis, things will be back to normal by summer/the fall/before the holidays/before 2021/etc.” Now that summer has come and gone and school is starting – we are all realizing that we’re not at the finish line and we don’t know where the finish line is. In fact, we can’t even see a mile marker. All I know for sure is that this is not a sprint, but rather a marathon. While we hope the finish line is just around the next bend, we have no idea how far away it actually is, so pace yourself. Take time for a rest and a water-break (self-care). Treating a marathon like a sprint is a bad idea; trust me, I have been trying it. Be patient.
Ethos Behavioral Health Group clinician, co-founder and Chief Operations Officer Ceci Hudson Torn is a loving wife and mother of five. She and her husband, Chris, recently launched their oldest daughter to Texas A&M, two into high school, one to middle school and one to elementary. Ceci has led an exemplary, long-spanning career in mental health and finance and holds client-centered care at the heart of her work. In addition to her leadership duties, she enjoys working with clients, including adults and adolescents, in her therapy practice. Find out more about Ceci and the rest of the Ethos management team here.