How to Stay Sane While Pandemic Parenting
Dr. Cara Natterson has literally written the book on kids and parenting – she’s written a few, actually. Known for her many, totally amazing parenting books (including the Care & Keeping of You series, Worry Proof, and her latest book, Decoding Boys) the pediatrician and parenting expert is dropping some serious parenting wisdom on our community. Read on for Cara’s awesome tips on how to be a rockstar parent — even if you’re freaking out.
our q&a with dr. cara natterson
What’s your advice for an extrovert child who’s living an introvert’s lifestyle?
So an extrovert is a person who gets their energy from others, and an introvert is someone who gets their energy from themselves. What this means is that an introvert is generally pretty happy to be on his or her own and really gets a lot of energy from quiet time and downtime and activities that may not require other people. And when you’re stuck at home and quarantining, that doesn’t tend to be too much of a challenge in terms of what gives you your energy. But if you’re an extrovert and someone who really wants the fuel of other people’s energy around you it can be a little tricky when you’re stuck at home.
My best advice is to find ways to connect with people virtually even if you can’t be in the same physical space. There are tons of ways to drive energy from other people and there are tons of people across the internet showing us novel ways to do that – whether it’s creating music together, or creating videos – I’ve seen zooms where people pretend to pass a ball or high five each other. You can start planning virtual projects with friends, tons of DIY projects to start with people around you and there are lots of communities having video and real-time conversations online. You don’t have to worry about feeding your extroverted self if you’re living in a physical distancing world.
How can we help manage our kids’ anxiety when we’re anxious ourselves?
We need to deal with our anxiety, right parents? Gotta put our own life preserver on first before we can help others. Meaning we need to manage our own stress and anxiety in order to help them with theirs. They do as we do not as we say – and so start doing great self-care at this time. That includes things like eating well, which can be hard when it’s tough to get to the market or the markets are kinda empty. That can mean exercise, or new exercise routines if you’re used to getting out of the house. Sleeping, really good sleep routines are critical. Hygiene – take a shower! Meditate – if you’re not a meditator you might want to learn how. You’ll be able to manage what your kids are asking you to manage – from housework to schoolwork to emotional work – you can only handle those things if you can take care of yourself.
If we have to quarantine from our own kids, how can we help our children cope with that?
Let’s go to the basic medical recommendations. If someone in the house has COVID, that person should be quarantined from the rest of the people in the home, meaning that they’re sleeping in a separate room, having minimal contact and ideally have their own bathroom – and that if they’re passing through the common areas of the home that those areas are getting wiped down and that kinda thing. It’s really hard if you’re the primary caretaker and you’re the one who needs to be quarantined – you’re gonna need some help there, especially if your kids are young and need help caring for themselves. Emotionally, you just want to explain to your kids why you are trying to keep your germs away from them. For older kids, it’s a pretty straight forward conversation, and if they want to revisit it you can do it from the two sides of a door, or over Facetime or text – but for people who have younger kids, it’s really tricky to say mom or dad needs to be in this room while you’re in that room. So use really simple examples like, “Hey, there’s a germ spreading around, and we’re really trying to keep that germ from spreading to more people, so I’m gonna stay in here and you guys are gonna stay in there”, and give a time frame. The time frame differs but right now, if you’re 72 hours out from having a fever or 14 days out from the onset of symptoms, you’re in the clear – but check the CDC’s recommendations as they’re subject to change.
How do we manage our tempers when homeschooling, managing the household, maintaining our jobs and maintaining other relationships is taking up so much mental headspace?
I don’t know! I’m in it with you. There’s no perfect answer here – we’re human. When we’re stressed or when we have a lot on our plates, sometimes that comes out in anger. So use the strategy you might have when your kids were little or maybe you’re still using this strategy – count to ten, take a breath, give yourself a timeout from whatever it is that’s frustrating you at the moment. It’s really hard to be in close quarters with everyone constantly all the time and especially when you’re asked to do things that don’t generally fall on your plate like having to educate your child if you don’t feel like a qualified educator, it can be a stressor. My kids are a little older, they’re doing a lot of it with me – it’s really helped reduce a lot of my stress and frankly, it’s teaching them life skills that I never was taking time to teach them before. We’re all scrubbing down the bathrooms together, we have a laundry system, a school system – there’s no perfect way to do this but you’ll find the way that works best for your family.
What’s your advice to help us cope with the failure we feel as working parents simultaneously try to homeschool our kids when we see perfect insta-homeschoolers?
It’s rough trying to do your best and feeling a little bit like you’re flailing and going online and going on social media and seeing other people posting about doing it perfectly – but the other side to that is those awesome videos of parents complaining that it’s all falling apart. And they’re not complaining because they want sympathy, they’re just venting out into the universe and making everyone smile and feel better because we know that none of it is perfect. Social media presents the highlight moments – don’t be fooled, don’t go on there and feel like you’re the only person failing. Tune into the posts that make you laugh and make you feel better, and if those perfect posts aren’t helping you then just skip ‘em and move on to the ones that feel more human – or post your own! Let’s start a movement around ‘em – at a certain point if we don’t laugh, we cry, right?
How can a single parent stay sane, juggling a job, home responsibilities, child care and more during the quarantine?
As a pediatrician, I’ve always had tremendous respect for single parents. The job is massive – a single parent who is managing everything operating from a home base is being asked to be superhuman and this is really, really difficult. It all comes down to how old your kids are too – if your kids are older, enlist their help. This is a time to give our kids the benefit of the doubt that they’re able to age up a little bit. Sometimes we throw our kids into scenarios where maybe they’re not ready for it, but we’ll see how they do and it might help them grow – this is one of those times. Push your kids to help cook, to be a part of the basic home routine. If you have pets, they can become the sole caretaker of the pets. For people with younger kids – single parenting can be really, really challenging because developmentally they’re not there yet, and they’re physically unable to help you the way they want to. Do what you can, form a support group with other single parents, have zoom meetings, come up with strategies and share them with your friends – and me! I’d love to hear them.
How can we help our kids maintain connections with friends and relationships during the pandemic?
This is super important. We are social animals – this is tricky. It’s counter to how we are wired as humans. My best advice to you is to come up with stop-get measures that work in your family. One piece of advice I can give is to relax your screen rules. Not that your kids are on social media constantly or gaming constantly but that you’re encouraging them to get on video chats and engage with friends that they would if they were at school. My kids have been very vocal that it’s not the same – the way my daughter articulated it was, “we’re not out in the world creating these new memories.” As in it can kinda feel like a forced conversation at times because there’s nothing new to talk about and not much going on, but it’s important to connect virtually. There are also people working to connect offline, physically (while six feet apart) by taking walks with people they know, they’re desperate to see and hungry to see – at least you can do it in a physically distant way. I don’t know if that advice is going to change or not but for now, I’ll share it – you don’t want to put anyone in an older age group at risk so I wouldn’t do that with anyone in a risk group but if there’s a way to see someone but stay physically distant – go for it. Take a bike ride, go for a jog, that might fulfill that physical connection need.
We’re so grateful to Cara for joining us on our Instagram and taking the time to share such candid, awesome insight with our community. To learn more about Cara and all the awesome things she’s doing, be sure to check out her site.
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