Parent burnout is real in "normal" times let alone in the middle of a pandemic. As parents are moving into their second or third month of being home with their kids, many are feeling the burn. We're now under the pressure to care for our children, home school, manage the household, feed everyone (all. day. long.), give haircuts, and work a full-time job. If you're having a difficult time, you are not alone! We sat down (virtually, of course) with Dr. Sarah Bren, Ph.D. to weigh in on a few easy things parents can do to alleviate parent burnout.
1. Set realistic expectations and be kind to yourself
It is critical to set realistic expectations and to take into consideration the context in which we are finding ourselves. This will not last forever, this is a crisis, it will eventually end. Until then, we need to give ourselves permission to approach parenting--and life, for that matter--from a different vantage point and be willing to use different strategies. It is okay to adjust some of the standards we held pre-pandemic. Give yourself grace, give yourself patience, give yourself permission.
2. Create a predictable routine or rhythm to your day
Think of this routine more like a rhythm, a predictable order of events. We are creatures of habit and we like knowing what is coming next – adults and kids alike. Predictability is also an important antidote to anxiety; when we know what is coming next, we are able to feel a sense of control over our environment and are able to relax and be more present in the moment. Children are also able to take a more active role in participation and planning if they know what the day’s routine or rhythm is.
Importantly, your routine does not need to look like a rigid timetable. In fact, it shouldn’t. Kids think in concrete terms (activities) not in abstract ones (time), so instead of lunch being at 12 on the dot, followed by 30 minutes of play time, try having some play time, followed by lunch, followed by play time, followed by nap (or whatever order of events works for your family). Pay attention to hunger cues, sleep cues, and behavioral cues to determine when the natural transition to the next activity should take place. Be flexible – if something is feeling good, allow it to be.
3. Breathe: Build in breaks and be mindful of transitions
Even if it’s only five minutes, try to find some time and space to be alone and to breathe. Remember that deep breathing helps to calm your nervous system down and allow you to access the part of your brain that is responsible for problem solving, planning, focus, and decision making--basically all the things you need to be working hard for you right now. It is also important to remember that transitions are very significant to kids. This is especially true with younger children who are still learning how to shift sets, and are very sensitive to changes in their environment. When you are transitioning from one activity to another, or when one parent is taking over a care giving shift, give your children ample warning and build in extra time so that transitions can be slow and intentional. This time investment up front will save you time in the long run by reducing resistance and tantrums.
4. Keep Things Simple and Slow
This is a unique opportunity to slow our typically hectic pace and do fewer things with more intention. Don’t feel pressure to create fancy and elaborate projects and lessons right now. Remember that your kids are ALWAYS learning--that learning happens through play, through their interactions with you, and through the daily rhythm of family life.
There’s also an inundation right now of offerings for virtual activities and ideas to keep your kiddos busy, which is lovely and so generous, but it can also feel overwhelming. Maybe pick one, and then sprinkle in some quiet time with books, some time outside in fresh air if that’s an option (or time in the tub for some sensory play if not), hugs and cuddles, and lots of child-led independent play.
About Dr. Sarah Bren, PhD.
Dr. Bren is now offering virtual services for family therapy, parenting coaching and postpartum support. You can connect with Sarah through her website, www.drsarahbren.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.