This letter is for you, for all the parents living through a worldwide pandemic.
You have found yourself into a really new situation. It does not matter if you are a stay-at-home parent, or if you worked part-time or full-time before; now everything has changed. Maybe you still go to work, or you work from home, or you lost your job; but in any case, you are now probably also in charge of “teaching” your kids (or help them with distance learning) and keep up with the rest of the expected daily tasks. It is impossible to fit working, teaching, parenting and self-care in 24 hours. You can feel really overwhelmed about all this situation, maybe you think you are doing everything wrong (I do every day!), but you are not! We don’t need to be the best parent, the best teacher, the best worker, the best partner and still have time to take care of ourselves. It is really vital that we lower our expectations.
This has been our “new reality” for a while, but it will pass, and the only thing we can do is to accept it and make the best of it. What we are demanding to our kids and to ourselves is what is creating tension and stress at home. There is too much demand from schools, work, and from ourselves; even more than when we were living in a “normal” situation. With everything that is going on, do you really think that it is a priority for your kid to complete so many activities and assignments? Do you really need to clean the floor right now? Do you really need to plan another craft for tomorrow, or bake a cake from scratch?
Many parents believe that their role is to engage their children in stimulating activities ALL.THE.TIME. But actually, our kids don’t need our direction to develop and learn, they just need to feel safe and trusted, and a good environment that brings opportunities to explore and create. When we created Kabana, and when we started our Homeschooling program, we didn’t do it with the purpose of proposing more activities to fill the day, more tasks to be completed, but on the contrary, we wanted this space to start a conversation about which kind of space and play opportunities we are giving to our kids, how we are creating spaces where they can cultivate their interests, and most importantly how we are connecting with them. And with that, hopefully, release some of the pressure that we are putting on ourselves by thinking we need to be entertaining our kids. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of independent play and its incredible benefits to children.
We need to find a balance, create pockets of time for parents to get things done or simply enjoy some “me time”. We all need it. Our advice is to do one thing at a time. Yes, it can seem easy and simple, but it means a lot of things. What we mean is that when you are with your kids, you give them uninterrupted attention and deeply connect with them. It can be only sitting with them while they play, looking into their eyes, and being present. Giving 100% of our attention will make them feel safe, connected and ready to “let us go” later. If, on the contrary, we are trying to work while “playing” with them, we keep checking our phones or are being distracted, it will make us all feel more anxious and overwhelmed. Let’s try to do one thing at a time, find a schedule that works for all of you [in each family it will look different]. It is not a rigid schedule full of activities, but just maintain the routines that make your kid anticipate what is coming and feel safe, especially meals and bedtime routines. For us, it works to start the day together preparing and eating breakfast. Then, my husband starts his workday and I share an activity with my son. After a while, my son knows it is time for mom to work, so although we will still be in the same room, he is playing independently for a while. Some days it works nicely and we are in a calm environment, other days it lasts just a few minutes, and some other days he will need me all the time and I will have to work longer at night after he is in bed, and THAT IS OK. Another good option is to allow kids to participate in your daily tasks, you will be surprised of how much they love to cook with you or learn how to fold the clothes and clean the windows.
I tell myself this is a new and difficult situation for all of us, but that will pass (sooner or later) and we will go back to our [new] normal lives. And, when I am feeling overwhelmed, when I miss time for myself, I tell myself that I am allowed to stop and to ask for help so I can find a moment to take care of myself. Stay here and now. Allow yourself to have different feelings and embrace them. It is normal that some days you feel sad, scared or tired; but remember that your kids also feel sad, scared or tired, so connect with yourself, connect with your children’s feelings and help them find resources to deal with them. Help them to express their feelings about how they are living this situation (drawing, books, music… usually art connect us with our emotions). Prioritize communication, connection and common enjoyment; emotional support and accompaniment are much more important than school tasks, especially right now! This will pass and we will remember it forever: what memory do you want to have of it? And … what do you want your kids to remember?