4 Ways to deal with the stress & anxiety of #pandemicparenting
Parenting can feel like a lonely endeavor in the best of times, and downright isolating during a pandemic. Let’s consider some strategies for reconnecting.
Between social distancing, monotonous daily living, and 24/7 family time, the feeling of “parenting alone” has been mounting exponentially, regardless of whether we have a dedicated co-parent or not. Questions I’ve heard whispered more frequently lately include:
“Am I doing this parenting thing right?”
“Is XYZ behavior normal in my kid?”
“How is everyone else handling the remote schooling/constantly being “on”/uncertainty so much better than I am?”
Without the information we normally can gain being around other parents at school events, during moms’ or dads’ nights, and even at drop-offs and pick-ups, our parenting questions can rise in intensity and pitch.
Here are some tips on how to avoid feeling isolated while parenting.
#1 Connect To Yourself
It may seem counterintuitive to start with “connecting to ourselves” when we feel isolated, but we tend to feel most adrift when we’ve lost access to our inner compass. In those moments, we flail around searching for the “right” parenting answer on social media, Google searches, and in book after book, feeling a deepening ache of disconnection the more divergent advice we come across.
In Untamed, author Glennon Dolye writes about getting still and finding answers within herself…
“In the deep, I could sense something circulating inside me. It was a Knowing. I can know things down at this level that I can’t on the chaotic surface. Down here, when I pose a question about my life — in words or abstract images — I sense a nudge. The nudge guides me toward the next precise thing.”
Easier said than done, though, especially while pandemic parenting. We need to intentionally schedule time to get quiet, then, even for just ten minutes a day. We can listen to a guided meditation; stand in our backyard, whatever its size; or simply, as Doyle did, sit in a messy closet as life swirls around us.
#2 Stop Scrolling
Social media seems, on the surface, to be the technological antidote to feeling isolated. We can join parenting groups for any child stage, parenting dilemma or rearing philosophy. We can throw questions out to friends and partake in the “hive mind” wisdom. We can simply vent and be “heard.”
Unfortunately, though, use of social media has been linked to higher feelings of isolation. Research published in the American Journal of Preventive Health found that “people who reported spending the most time on social media — more than two hours a day — had twice the odds of perceived social isolation than those who said they spent a half hour per day or less on those sites. And people who visited social media platforms most frequently, 58 visits per week or more, had more than three times the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than nine times per week,” according to NPR.
Seeing others’ curated lives can make us feel left out, like they’re having more fun than we are, and/or like we’re doing something wrong. We need to therefore intentionally limit our social media exposure, such as by removing the apps from our phones and accessing on computers only. We also need to go beyond curation and hear the full scoop from friends, which brings us to the next tip.
#3 Go “Old School”
Face-to-face interactions are the best cure for feelings of isolation, research shows. Between caregiving demands and social distancing requirements, however, that “optimal” can be a difficult or impossible feat.
We might think video calls are a close second choice, but studies show that talking over video can make us feel even more disconnected than if we hadn’t talked at all. As reported in The New York Times, “The way the video images are digitally encoded and decoded, altered and adjusted, patched and synthesized introduces all kinds of artifacts: blocking, freezing, blurring, jerkiness and out-of-sync audio. These disruptions, some below our conscious awareness, confound perception and scramble subtle social cues. Our brains strain to fill in the gaps and make sense of the disorder, which makes us feel vaguely disturbed, uneasy and tired without quite knowing why.”
Therefore, when a distanced, masked, outdoor meet-up isn’t in the cards, we should consider returning to “old school” ways of feeling connected. Think back to our college days and how we kept in touch with important friends then: maybe with some email – if it was even accessible yet! – but more often through handwritten notes and the good ol’ phone.
Handwriting notes after the kids are in bed – and feeling a long-lost thrill when the mail arrives with a return note – offers not only connection, but also relaxation and a return to something meaningful we lost along the way. An ear bud can make phone calls possible in just about any circumstances; while doing the never-ending laundry, monitoring a remote class session from nearby, or overseeing outdoor play. Yes, we want to be present with our kids. But when we’re with them constantly, occasionally doing double duty to stay connected with friends is not only okay, it’s necessary.
#4 Reconnect With Interests You Once Savored
If there is any silver lining to the horrendousness of a pandemic, it’s the access online events has afforded us. For instance, I loved to attend authors’ book launch events, writing conferences, and various talks before I had kids. With most of those events falling during kids’ bedtimes and at a sizable distance from my home, however, I spent most of a decade disconnected from these interests.
Now, though, most events are online! Even if I’m rubbing a kid’s back, I can pop in an earbud and listen to my favorite author speak about her writing process on a livestream. Or we can call up recorded events around our unpredictable schedule, even listening or watching in tiny chunks.
Not only does reconnecting with what we once loved helps us feel youthful and adds some excitement to monotonous days, it can enable us to find people whose interests match our own. While it’s wonderful to meet people based on shared circumstances – kids in the same grade, or living on the same street, for instance – there’s something deeply fulfilling about talking with people who love the same things we do. Through virtual workshops and interactive events, we can meet new people who provide us the mirroring that is key to our feeling of belonging, one of the pillars of meaningful, rich living. Even if the interactions don’t stretch beyond the event, simply remembering that there are others out there who think just like us is deeply gratifying and grounding, helping to combat feelings of isolation during challenging times.
- Professor & Author, Dr. Abigail Gewirtz, provides a roadmap for parents wondering how to best help their children navigate stressful world events and shares the tools needed to address tough conversations with their children.
- Our resident mama-of-twins-plus-one is here to tell you which pieces of advice you can delete from your mental hard drive in our guide to parenting advice you should feel free to ignore.