Let’s play a quick game of Lockdown Bingo. Eat a mouthful of your littleun’s Cheerios if you’ve heard someone say the following about the coronavirus quarantine:
● It’s given me the chance to re-evaluate my life and find inner peace.
● I actually take more steps a day now than before.
● I’ve lost eleven pounds, written three novels and earned an OBE for services to banana bread-making.
● I’ve finally had the time to pursue my lifelong goal of becoming a papier mache grandmaster.
Okay, you might not have heard those exact things, but you know where we’re coming from. The internet is awash with people gleefully telling the world how the pandemic has given them the time to start new hobbies, realise lifelong dreams and launch side-businesses from their immaculate sewing rooms. And how you should be doing it, too.
We disagree. Because whilst we’re only poking a bit of fun at those who have discovered a new lease of life during lockdown (and more power to those who have!), we think it’s important to highlight that, for most people, life during the pandemic is harder.
And this is particularly true for parents, who have to juggle keeping their littles one cleaned, clothed, fed and entertained with working a full-time job or keeping the house in good order or looking after co-dependents or walking their especially energetic cockapoo or worrying about bills or…
You get the idea.
All of which leaves little room for learning three new languages before noon or tightening up your tightrope-walking skills.
But on the plus side, it has inspired us to provide a few tips on helping you keep your cool and manage your frustrations during lockdown.
Take some alone time
Just because you’re a parent, doesn’t mean you can’t take some much-needed alone time. If you have a partner, share the load by taking time-out turns to decompress, have a nap or try to beat your Subway Surfers high score. If you’re parenting solo, wait until the little one’s in bed and take a long soak in the bathtub (recipe includes half a bottle of bubble bath, a chilled glass of Sauvignon and a good ol’ page-turner). Failing that, put them in front of their favourite TV show for an extra hour or so whilst you do yoga or grab a cup of tea and finish the crossword.
Think this sound a bit selfish? Well, consider this: when you help yourself, you help your little one. A de-stressed parent is a better parent. As is commonly referred to in the parenting world, there’s a reason airlines advise parents to put their oxygen masks on first - so that they’re in a better position to help their little ones, who can’t do it themselves.
Take direction from your child
Lockdown is an opportunity to connect in different ways to our children. In ‘normal’ life, we’re all busy getting ourselves and our kids to where we need to be that life becomes a military operation. And for that operation to succeed, you have to be in charge.
But being in collective quarantine means these regimented structures have become less, well, regimented, and there’s more freedom as to how you and your child spend your time. This is an opportunity to let your little one lead the way.
Ask them what they want to do and what they need to feel happy at home during this weird time. Ask them if they want to do something with you or on their own. Ask them to make a list of what they want to do in the next week and see how many they can tick off. To maintain the usual parent-child structure, you could turn the things on your child’s list into be rewards for doing schoolwork or chores.
Handing over the keys to the agendamobile lets your child know that what they think and feel matters. It gives them a sense of autonomy and empowerment, and helps them develop their concentration, imagination and problem-solving skills.
It also helps you understand what your child’s into. Do they want to paint? Do they want to learn about the stars? Do they want to don a lab coat and crack open your old chemistry set? Giving your child more of a free reign may just unearth a passion they carry with them their whole lives.
Of course, they might just want to watch Inside Out for the eighth time that week, but that’s where the power of writing that list comes in. Inside Out doesn’t belong on the list, it’s a reward for striking things off it.
Practice mindfulness in times of stress
Let’s face it, our little ones can be little so-and-sos at times. So when you start to feel like anger bubbling to the surface, here’s a simple, stress-busting routine you can try to encourage mindfulness and keep yourself calm.
Step 1: Find your ‘you’ spot.
Go to your favourite chair (we’ve all got one, right?), plant your feet flat on the floor, place your hands in your lap and try and sit with a straight back.
Step 2: Be aware of yourself.
Ask yourself what you’re thinking and feeling. If it’s anger, stress or anxiety, don’t judge yourself. Everyone feels that way - just know that it will pass. Notice where there’s tension in your body; in times of stress, it will likely be focused around your core, and so we practice deep breathing to relieve it.
Step 3: Focus on your breathing
Close your eyes and listen to your breath as it goes in and out. This helps you control your breathing and encourages you to breathe deeper. In turn, this calms your physiological response to stress and leaves you in a better, more considered position to deal with any problems.
Step 4: Coming back
Open your eyes and tell yourself “It’s okay. Whatever it is, I am okay.” Hopefully, that knot of tension will be untying and you’ll be ready to tackle any issues in a calm and positive frame of mind.
But if you don’t crack it straight away, don’t worry. Taking a mindful pause from anger-inducing situations isn’t a ‘default’ position for most of us. Our emotional brains are quicker off the mark than our rational brains. It takes patience and practice for us to prioritise a mindful response over an emotional one. Just keep at it and you’ll get there.
Last but not least, stay amazing
For many people, lockdown has taken the everyday stresses and anxieties parenting brings and condensed them into the four inescapable walls of home, like a pressure cooker with no release valve. But by following the tips above - and by understanding that any frustrations you’re feeling are completely normal and understandable - you can relieve that pressure on yourself and your children.
Remember, you’re a parent, which means you’re special. You look after small people. You keep them safe and warm and fed and busy and entertained. You help them learn. You calm their tantrums and make them smile. And you do it every single day in-between cooking, working, cleaning, tidying, ironing, shopping and, more than likely, shedding a tear or two.
Which means you’re pretty damn amazing. So trust us when we say, you’ve got this.