by Meghan Fitzgerald
Seven weeks into shelter-in-place, it finally clicked for me that the challenge of parenting in quarantine feels far too familiar—for me, COVID-19 is a flashback to my first days of motherhood. This led to another thought, maybe imagining going back to help that new mom could help me manage the stress of this crazy new reality.
When I first brought my oldest home, it was as if everything I knew—my body, my social life, my work, my ability to eat or shower when I wanted to—had all vanished in an instant. What I knew before was, instead, replaced by an all-consuming new job to feed, sleep train and keep this precious new baby alive. And, no matter how friends who had made it through this phase assured me, I was uncertain that I would ever sleep or that life would ever be normal again.
And, how did I respond? First, I tried to nail all of the new mom stuff (at which I, of course, faltered and failed). In addition, I stayed determined to keep as much of me going as I possibly could. Did I sleep when Maeve slept? No! I did laundry, took a shower or made a proper meal for myself. I actually encouraged my mom to head home early so I could “learn to balance it all on my own” (An error I most certainly did not repeat with kids #2 and #3).
What was I thinking? Why didn’t I shift my expectations and just sleep when she slept, trusting that it would all be there waiting for me when this fog lifted?
Nine years later, here I am. Same sudden, sweeping type of change. New and overwhelming burdens and external expectations that, somehow, we can continue to maintain our former and new realities at the same time. And, no clear sense of when this heavy time will lift and life will return to the way it was.
On Friday, March 13th, school stopped. Babysitters stopped. Friends and family went online. Life as we knew it ground to a halt. Suddenly, it’s all on us to maintain what we already had on our plates while keeping our kids engaged, supported, healthy and happy all day long. Though we are beyond blessed to be employed and to have work that can be done safely from home, we were overwhelmed by how to do it all.
Supporting kids with online schooling is proving quite stressful. For many of us, the planning and preparation competes with other things we need to do to keep life going, so it steals from sleep or exercise time. There is no downtime, and our regular personal outlets, especially the social ones, are just not there like they used to be.
How to manage this round 2 of new parenthood level stress? I try to imagine I am talking to the new-mom me nine years ago. What do I wish she had known or thought to do in this moment?
In the following list of things I'm about to rattle off to you, you may find a lifeline–that is, any one of these may help you manage all of this better. But, remember, you're already doing enough—even if you take none of the following advice. Your baby (or, now, your kids) really need you more than anything—the real you, not some ideal you. You are right by their side (even if that feels smothering right now). That alone gives them support, security and love that transcends any technique, any approach or any thing you can provide. You are all your child needs. Just try to remember that and get through each day, one day at a time.
Prioritize sleep when you can get it. It really is like putting on your oxygen mask first in turbulence. You will be a better help to your kids, coworkers and partner—not to mention a better, healthier and happier you.
For me, shooting for eight hours means going to bed as early as I can Monday through Friday. An extra TV show or flip through Facebook may have to wait for the weekend, but I rarely really miss it as much as I think I will.
The old me would have rationalized that five hours of sleep qualified as “enough.” It took hearing Arianna Huffington speak at a small conference for entrepreneurs about her experience for me to wake up about sleep. Arianna shared how insufficient sleep led to her breakdown, then asked for a raise of hands from those who felt they needed less sleep than most people. My hand, along with 90% of the other go-getters’ hands in the room, shot right up. It was humbling and quite moving to learn we were all wrong—we all need our eight hours.
Scientists know that all you need is two hours per week of time outdoors to experience restorative benefits—hurrah! And, we’ve learned that you can make “outdoor” time for yourself, no matter what kind of green space, if any, you have at home. Find out how to hike safely with kids during this time, or read more about how to bring the outdoors in when you are stuck inside.
My wise colleague recently wrote about the importance of humor and laughter after her daughter noticed that her mom hadn’t laughed in a while. Read more here about how helpful a little humor can be, and how it’s okay to be silly, even, if not especially during tough times.
First, at the end of every day, ask yourself: What went well with the kids today? Sometimes it’s obvious. Other times, you have to look past moments you know were not your best to find a tiny nugget of success, sweetness or affirmation. But, at least one is always there—and those moments put wind in your sails.
Second, try to identify something for which you are grateful. This is one we do as a family during dinner, too. Focusing on gratitude has been proven to help you sleep better, feel more positive emotions and be a more compassionate and kind person. It may even help boost your immune system.
I have taken to writing my answers to both of these questions in a notebook next to my bed. No matter how rough the day, it helps me end on a better note.
It’s funny, but just knowing that I am going to write in my notebook each night helps me notice sweet moments with the kids more during the day, and I am more attuned to the things for which I am grateful. So, not only do I put myself in a better place for sleep, I am also seeding my day with positivity.
There are silver linings to all of this. My kids are outdoors even more than they were before. They are loving the chance to play—and play is having a really big moment. I also get to see some amazing moments of joy and learning (sprinkled between the sibling squabbles) that I would not otherwise have caught. However you can do it, notice and shine a light on these positive things—they are lifelines that can buoy us through this storm.
My husband, co-founder and partner in all things, meditates for 10 minutes right after he wakes up every day, and he has for years. As a new mom, I envied his “ability” to do that, but didn’t realize then just how doable it really is. Since COVID started, I have been trying to fit in the same dose of meditation right after I put kids to bed, and I must admit, on the days when I build it in, it makes an impact. I look forward to the quiet time, and even 10 minutes of stillness gives my body and mind a calmer end to the day. There are many reasons to enter into meditation—for the spiritual benefit, and to manage stress. To find an entry point, start with a trusted app like Headspace, Calm or Insight Timer.
In my heyday, before kids or COVID, I ran for three miles nearly every day. I felt like I was flying, and my challenges seemed to settle into place with every step. Now, I can’t remember the last run I took, let alone a run that felt that good. But, I have been able to build in little bits of exercise. I just needed to set more realistic expectations and focus on a stress relief goal. Every morning, the kids and I do a 7-minute workout together. We try to go for a walk every afternoon, and make those walks even longer on the weekends.
Helping the kids build mindfulness and movement into the week’s schedule has helped too. Ivy is a huge fan of Cosmic Kids yoga, and my bigger kids love Stop, Breathe & Think Kids to help stay centered.
Nine years ago, I thought I could do it all. But I am a bit more humble (and tired) now than I was then. Hopefully, I’ll listen this time!
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