Pandemic Parenting Through A Self-Reg Lens
By John Hoffman
My kids are grown and no longer live at home. During this pandemic I’ve tried to picture what it would have been like to spend three months “confined to quarters” with our three boys back in the day. But I can only imagine.
The other day I heard a parent say something that gave me a bit of a window on what things might have been like for parents of teen. My wife and I were having an outdoor safe visit with a family of four. They have a toddler and a 14-year-old boy, who, in my limited experience, seems, “practically perfect in every way,” as Mary Poppins would say.
At one point during the visit the boy went into the house to get some fishing lures he’d made during the lockdown so he could show them to us. At that point his Mom said, “I guess you guys know that teenagers like to tell you that just about everything you say is wrong.”
She said this in a wry tone of voice, with a bit of an eye roll. But there was clearly some frustration/fatigue there. It got me thinking about how all the little (and big) parent-teen conflicts, and other stressors, could so easily get magnified in a time like this, when families are spending way more time than usual in close proximity. It’s not hard to imagine how various stressors could pile up, especially social, emotion and prosocial stressors. Then there are all the other stressors and anxieties in living through a pandemic. Excess stress puts us on edge, so conflict erupts more easily. Conflict drains energy, and that makes anything, including parenting, more difficult.
If you’re expecting the nice practical solution now, I ain’t got one. But I can think of something that might help a bit (and a little bit better is better than nothing!). That’s being mindful of not adding to our stress load. I know from personal experience that one common way parents add to their stress load is by being too hard on themselves when they aren’t able to make things go the way they’d like.
“My kid is—take your pick— “snippier than usual,” “doing too much screen time,” “staying up too late,” “not doing as much school work as I should be getting her to do.”
These things are frustrating and stressful for sure. But sometimes a substantial chunk of the stress in these situations is self-induced. We kick ourselves, mentally and emotionally because we are unable to manage (control) the situation the way we think we should.
I did just that during our family’s long ago struggles with night waking. About seven years in I realized that a big portion of my stress was self-induced. I was mad at myself for not being able to control this issue, and mad at the experts who were making “solving your child’s sleep problems” sound easier than it really was. Once I let go of trying to control the situation, and became kinder to myself, my stress was reduced considerably. My wife and I were better able to cope with the overt stressor (night waking), until the problem gradually petered away on its own.
There are two takeaways points here. One is looking at the big picture of stress, as opposed to the stress that is most in front of our eyes. Often we count on “solving the problem” as our deliverance from stress. Sometimes that works. But when it doesn’t, our hyper focus on finding the solution can leave us blind to the ways we add to our stress load. And often our self-induced stress is the stress we are most able to address in the short term.
The other takeaway is the just a reminder of the importance of going easy on ourselves—anytime, but especially in unusual and tricky parenting times like we’re going through now.
As Stuart says, self-compassion is a big part of Self-Reg. “Part of the paradigm shift is learning how to be kind to ourselves, too. It’s learning how not to beat ourselves up, because we will have those dysregulating moments.”