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Parenting amid the Covid-19 pandemic:  A time to practice self-compassion

April 1, 2020
By Simcha Samuel, PhD, Psychologist 

Writing this blogpost, I’m sitting beside my toddler who is watching his third episode of a Netflix show about two bunnies, and it’s easy to get sucked into a self-critical thought spiral. It sounds something like this: Other parents are planning scavenger hunts for their kids around the house or taking their kids for walks right now, and look what you’re doing – you’re not engaging him the way he deserves

Social distancing during the covid-19 pandemic can leave us with a lot of time in our heads. Add to that the pressures of entertaining a kid without access to their friends, schools or usual activities, and it’s easy for self-criticism to creep in, potentially leaving us even more depleted and distressed. This is why it’s especially important to practice being compassionate with ourselves during this time.

To start with, let’s address a common misconception: Self-compassion doesn’t mean letting ourselves off the hook. We can think of it like being a good parent to ourselves, holding ourselves accountable without going to either extreme of being permissive (‘it’s ok to let him watch 8 hours of TV per day and eat chocolate for all 3 meals’) or overly harsh (‘you’re a bad mom if you’re not actively engaging him the whole day and preparing Instagram-worthy scavenger hunts and organic meals’).

Here are some steps (1) that you can use to practice self-compassion as a parent during the covid-19 pandemic:

  1. Validate emotions: It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, exasperated etc. Parenting in itself can be stressful and draining, but doing this during a pandemic, while trying to balance work, is a lot for anyone. Not having access to the usual comforts, facing lots of uncertainty, and having less control over things, can add to this stress (3). It makes sense to feel this way.
  2. Notice the common humanity of the experience: So many people and parents are feeling these emotions across the world right now. We are not alone. Emotional pain is a normal part of our human lives. Talking to friends virtually can help affirm this. Remember that what people post on social media isn’t a representative sample of how they’re feeling or acting (as parents or as people more broadly) the rest of the time.
  3. Use kind words for ourselves that we would use for friends: I find that the preferred wording here is pretty person-specific but it can be something like ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this, I know it won’t last forever and that you will get through it but I also see that it isn’t easy right now. Remember that you’re not alone, and you’re strong and resourceful.’ If you’re a parent trying this out, you may want to add ‘being a parent can be hard enough, and there is no perfect or right way to do it. Some days will be harder than others but that’s to be expected and you’re doing your best.’ Reminding yourself of your coping skills (resilience, social support, other resources) can help combat feeling overwhelmed. Also make a point of highlighting the things you’re doing right and the small ways in which you might be surprising/impressing yourself!
  4. What can we do to help ourselves given how we are feeling? This can include things like taking breaks for self-care at home (e.g. reading for fun). It’s also important to focus on what we can control, including eating well and exercising. Maintaining some kind of daily routine is key here too to help reinstate a sense of normalcy (e.g. get dressed instead of staying in pyjamas even if you’re working from home) (3).

So, like a good parent, these steps represent a nice balance of validation and problem solving, without being overly permissive or harsh. We are all going to slip into self-critical talk at times in the coming weeks or months; the challenge is to catch yourself doing it and see if you can practice compassionate self-talk some of the time; that, in and of itself, is an important thing that we can model for our children. And most gratifying of all is when we can see it mirrored back to us (like when I overhear my son saying to himself, with a shrug and a smile, ‘it’s okay – it was an accident!’).

Happy practicing and take good care everyone!!

references

1. Neff, K. & Germer, C. (2018). The mindful self-compassion workbook: A proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength, and thrive. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

2.Harris, R. (2015). How to develop self-compassion in just about anyone. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1__Q3UcT9Q8VuSbiRm7x7-xjaxy5xkrba/view?usp=sharing

3.Harris, R. (2020). FACE COVID. https://e-tmf.org/app/uploads/2020/03/FACE-COVID-How-to-respond-effectively-to-the-Corona-crisis-by-Russ-Harris.pdf

 

About the author

Simcha Samuel received her PhD in Clinical Psychology at McGill University, in Montreal, Quebec, and is a psychologist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogs, podcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.
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