When I had kids living at home, it didn’t take a crisis like the one we’re in now to make me feel crazy. As a single mom in need of emotional healing, I had a limited ability to be a calm and present mother. I have many regrets, and like many mothers, wish I could turn back the hands of time and do a better job. That’s not possible, but I can share what I’ve learned during thirty years as a psychoanalyst, and from my own personal recovery, with those of you who want to be better parents now.
A Wake-Up Call
Perhaps this whole Coronavirus is a wake-up call to reevaluate our family systems.
With most of the world on some level of a Coronavirus lockdown, many people’s lives have been turned upside down. We have become a society of constant activity, and now we are faced with old-fashioned, stuck-at-home lifestyles. This significant change, even if temporary, is stressful, but change is a good thing when met with an open heart and mind.
Think about it. For centuries, children, except when outdoors, entertained themselves with games, sports, toys, and friends. In the past sixty decades, children have instead kept themselves occupied with television, then electronic activities. Social skills have shrunk under the flickering lights of digital rather than human contact.
With the standard routine of kids going off to school, no one expected that now, the entire family would be restricted to their residence trying to work and parent at the same time. The prior family-distancing at work and school has been replaced with not-enough-space at home — or so it seems.
There Is a Way
I’ve heard different reactions from parents concerning how they are coping with all this family time. Some parents feel tortured, while others feel glad. Parents with young children are at a loss on how to work and keep kids entertained.
Now is a great time to teach children life skills, such as cooking, paying bills, and housekeeping, that will help them the rest of their lives.
First, talk with kids and let them know it’s okay to be angry and upset, and encourage them to put those feelings into words rather than acting them out.
You can explain the problem, why it’s so severe, and let them know that “we’re all in this together, we don’t know for how long, but this will pass.” That’s the first step.
Then, have a family discussion about how to work together as a team. Giving kids a voice on what they want and need is an integral part of the conversation. Have them be a part of the decision-making process, and they will be more likely to commit.
Next, set up a schedule: work hours for parents’ work and kids’ schoolwork, breaks with free time alone, and time together. Break housekeeping into categories and delegate according to age-appropriate responsibilities. Meal preparation and dining also include family participation.
Try to spend most evenings as a family, playing games, sharing favorite television shows, and engaging together in activities that are inclusive to all. Get your kids’ input and feelings about what’s happening in the world.
Parents have to be the ones to discipline themselves to follow the routine; it’s worth the effort. With continued communication, families can build a greater sense of cohesion than they experienced before the virus.
Toddlers and Teens
Toddlers require the most attention, but they, too, can be taught self-sufficiency. A parent of a child at this age, should adapt themselves to the child and not expect the reverse. As difficult as it may be, the toddler’s needs for attention and care are the priority. Older kids can help with caretaking so that parents can focus on providing an income.
Teenagers are at their best when they are treated like intelligent and capable young adults. This is a time of balanced independence with cooperation focusing on oneself along with the needs of others. Explaining things to them will elicit their participation. Let your teenager know you need their help and encourage them to take a role alongside you. It’s excellent practice for their future relationships.
When we approach the current crisis with love, we can turn an unwanted situation into a beautiful time of growth. Rather than feeling trapped and resentful, we can be grateful for this time together, because all too soon, the kids will be gone.
You have a choice. Do you want to look back at the Coronavirus crisis as a time when you felt like running away from home, or do you want to remember it as a time when you were the best family you could be? Is family the most important thing in your life, or do your kids feel they need to stay out of your way, locked in their bedrooms, learning to take care of themselves — in not-so-healthy ways?
Your kids are watching and learning from you. How are you educating them to cope with unexpected misfortunes? Are you teaching them to medicate the stress with food, drink, drugs, tuning out, or other distractions? Or are you teaching them to make healthy choices and get through this as a loving family?
Teaching kids to see that every crisis has a silver lining, and to maintain a sense of humor, are invaluable skills for surviving misfortune.
Every moment of every day is a gift. If you are healthy and alive, you have been blessed with another day. Your children need your love more than anything — more than a perfect house, material things, or any other replacements for time and attention.
There is no lack of love, only a lack of willingness to show that love. Are you willing to use this current health crisis as an opportunity to build good family memories?
Can you relate? Please share your comments or insights below. I’d like to hear from you.
If you want to connect with Dr. Donna Marks and find out about her tools and programs on how to Reclaim Your Power Over Addiction, visit her website, https://drdonnamarks.com/