Every parent made a decision at some point to be a stay at home parent or to work part-time or full-time. Suddenly, we’re all being asked to be stay at home parents AND working professionals – without any hours of the day! This means that something, somewhere, has to give. This can be a significant source of anxiety and self-doubt, as we’re just as not effective as we used to be. Adjusting to this reality requires “radical self-compassion.” This means forgiving yourself for being unable to do everything at 100% and accepting that if we hold ourselves to the same standards we have in the past, we are destined to fail. Give yourself permission to not be something other than what you used to view as the ideal worker or parent. Let yourself change some of the internal and external rules that you live by. Whether it’s about screen time, snack time, bed time, or anything else: it is ok to come up with new rules for this unprecedented situation.
I recently gave a talk on this topic, and thought it may be helpful to share some of the questions I received, and my answers, to illustrate radical self-compassion:
Q: How do I be the teacher that my child needs and still be their parent?
A: So, on top of being a full time stay at home parent, and a professional working from home, many parents are feeling pressure to make sure their children get the most out of the distance learning. The truth is, we aren’t teachers. Home is for helping children feel safe and supported. Yes, school is important, and yes, having Zoom class can be helpful. The truth is, not all children are going to be able to engage in distance learning. Is encouraging your child to participate in distance learning causing you and your child more anxiety? Are you fighting more and more? Consider giving yourself and your child a break by putting less pressure on distance learning. The emotional stability of the house will be far more important for your child than whatever they may (or in this case, may not) be learning from distance learning. Forgive yourself for letting your child’s mind wander during a zoom class, or to miss a class or two if necessary.
Q: I have always been so strict about screen time. Am I hurting my child if they have more screen time now?
A: First, the research is clear that kids CAN learn from educational shows, they just learn better with a person. Second, more importantly, there is no clear research that says screen time is detrimental (https://www.dana.org/article/the-truth-about-research-on-screen-time/). Third, even more importantly, screen time can be an important tool for your self-care, which in this case is the same as your child’s care. If you are nervous about the amount of screen time, rather than thinking about it as a matter of time, think about what you use it for. Are you using it so you can finish a work call, make dinner, or take a mental health break? Accomplishing any of these is probably a greater benefit to your home than whatever your child loses from watching a bit more TV. Allow yourself to use screen time as a tool to help you juggle your many, many responsibilities.
Q: My child wants to play with me all day, but I have work meetings and other responsibilities. Why cant they play by themselves? How do I get them to play by themselves more?
A: Your child is probably used to spending every day in a class or daycare, or with a nanny or other caregiver. This means your child is used to social connection all day long. Recognize that they simply may not be used to playing alone, and may not be able to verbalize that they’re looking for that missing social connection. Forgive yourself for not always being able to give that connection, since work or other responsibilities sometimes have to take priority. Set reasonable expectations for you and your child, and help them understand why you sometimes cannot be available as a playmate. Then, if you can – take even 10 minutes before your next work call to connect with your child. If you can’t find that time, just remember that you’re doing sometime else because – at that moment – your family needs it to take priority.