By Guest Blogger Christine Murray, Ph.D., LCMHC, LMFT
Life has been filled with uncertainty since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this back-to-school season seems to bring more uncertainties and questions than ever before for children and families. If you’re like me, your mind is filled with thoughts like:
Will schools stay open? If they close, how long will they stay closed? Will my children switch to fully remote learning or some sort of hybrid schedule?
If things change with my children’s schooling, what will this mean for my work schedule?
Is it wise for my children to be participating in sports or after school activities while the pandemic is surging again?
And even some of the seemingly smaller uncertainties: How long will I be sitting in this car rider line, and what if this makes me late for work?
Chances are, you have a lot of worries and questions on your mind these days that are unique to your family. Parenting always involves a lot of ups and downs, but parenting in the middle of this uncertain back-to-school season feels especially tiring, stressful, and overwhelming.
Most people struggle with uncertain situations. It’s natural to like to predict our schedules, routines, and environment. Remind yourself that if you’re struggling with all of the uncertainty right now, this just makes you a typical person who is in the middle of anything-but-typical circumstances.
However, since it seems that this uncertainty is here to stay for a while, below are a few tips to help you navigate through uncertain times as a parent.
Focus on taking one day at a time.
Pre-pandemic, many parents were used to having their schedules and plans mapped out weeks and months in advance. While some advance planning is still helpful, try to stay focused on addressing your and your children’s needs, schedules, and plans within the current day and, maybe, week. Of course, you can’t predict everything that might come up in a single day, chances are you do have a more clear vision of what will happen in the short-term. Focus on the things you do know, and trust that you can navigate the future days as they come as well.
Try to set–and reach–a few manageable goals for each day.
Examples of these goals might include finishing a time-sensitive task at work, helping your child set up a system to track their homework assignments, scheduling an upcoming doctor’s appointment, or making sure your child has the supplies they need for school or an after-school activity. As each day closes, allow yourself to have a moment to feel proud about getting those tasks done. And if you weren’t able to get to those items during that day, remind yourself that it’s likely some other more pressing tasks came up that you did address, and you can revisit your original goals another day. Avoid over-complicating your life by taking on unnecessary tasks, especially during an already-stressful time.
Do some contingency planning, to the extent that it is helpful and not more stressful.
You may find it helpful to consider possible future scenarios and how you might address them if and when the situations arise. Contingency planning can help ease your worries if you find yourself ruminating on “What if?” questions. Rather than keeping those “What if’s” bouncing around in your mind, take time to think them through fully and develop some possible plans of action you could put into place if needed.
For example, imagine a parent who is worrying about what would happen if their children have to go back to remote learning since the parent is back to on-site work. This parent might think through possible strategies they could put in place once that happens (e.g., finding child care or asking an extended family member to help with the remote learning), as well as steps they could take right now to be more prepared for the possible scenario if it happens (e.g., asking their boss if remote working and/or flexible schedules would be allowable). It is possible that this type of contingency planning could lead to more stress if you find it’s adding to your worries. However, ideally the goal of contingency planning is to help you feel that, if an unpredictable situation occurs, you already have some ideas for how to manage that situation.
Take care of yourself and lean into your support network.
Finally, practice intentional, regular self-care during these uncertain times. Our Healthy Relationships Initiative E-Book on Self-Care for Parents and Caregivers is one free resource you can use to identify ways to build more self-care into your life. Remember that self-care isn’t just about getting a massage or doing yoga (although those certainly could be helpful parts of a self-care plan). Self-care is bigger than that: It’s about prioritizing your own health and wellbeing among all of the other demands on your time and energy. This includes surrounding yourself with positive social support, including friends, family, and perhaps a professional counselor or therapist. Be willing to reach out for the help and support you need right now–for your own and your children’s wellbeing. These are indeed difficult times we are living in, and we can help navigate the uncertainty we’re facing by intentionally caring for ourselves, our children, and the community around us.
Christine Murray, Ph.D., LCMHC, LMFT, is the Director of the UNCG Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships, where she also oversees the Healthy Relationships Initiative. The Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously here.
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