We are over fifty days into quarantine. We are tired and drained. In the beginning of this quarantine, I really had no idea what was in store for me. I was scared, I was uncertain, I was floating. Yet as mothers to small children we have had to fight and lead our families through. That’s the thing about mothers-we are leaders because we have to be-and we are good at it.
When flying, flight attendants always instruct passengers to place the oxygen mask on oneself before placing one on the child next to them. Everyone loves telling moms this one-and I used to roll my eyes when it was said to me. But it’s true! If you are not getting oxygen to your brain, what good are you to your child in an emergency situation? If you are going into battle and you are leading troops-what good are you to those troops if you made sure everyone else was suited up except you? What good is their armor to them if their leader isn’t wearing any? That’s scary-for everyone. We are leading our tiny troops through a battle of uncertain and scary times. We have to maintain hope, bravery and strength-for our children. How do we do that? We take care of us-ourselves! We have to put our masks on first. We must suit up first. Mama, you have to take care of you.
This got me thinking, why do so many moms believe we can get away with not taking care of ourselves? Why do we feel guilty all the time about everything? Is now, during a pandemic, when we are forced to be inside 24/7 with tiny humans a good time to feel extra guilty? Is now the time to look at and assume other people’s highlight reels on social media are accurate representations of their entire quarantine thus far? And then compare that highlight reel to our worst moments? It sounds totally ridiculous but many of us moms struggle with this. Thinking this way lacks sustainability and works for no one. Let’s think differently. Here are a few ways to start:
Give yourself permission to believe you are doing a good job.
You are. Give yourself a pat on the back. Identify what this pat on your back looks like, in a concrete way. Is it an extra cup of coffee? A bathroom break without an audience? Okay, I am pushing it on that one…but if you can only find time for a deep breath in the shower, be intentional about it. Even if it’s actually saying out loud, “I am doing a damn good job! I am surviving this and I will continue in this fight because I am strong.” Remember: words affect us. Even if you are having a particularly difficult day and find yourself struggling to believe the words you say, they will have an impact, so make them helpful ones.
Set reasonable expectations.
I’m not talking about for your toddler-I’m talking about for you! We are in survival mode! Expectations for ourselves need to be kind and most importantly, realistic! Just like the ones we have for our children. Don’t set yourself up to fail. That’s not fair.
See the light and ignore the shadows.
“They” say it takes five good thoughts to kill one bad one. Surely this can translate to parenting. I could have a whole day filled with beautiful parent/child moments but one moment of lost patience, yelling, or arguing with my husband in front of the kids-it casts a larger shadow over all the good. We can’t afford that-not ever, but especially now. The shadows are there, but not without the light. Notice the light-you worked hard for it.
When someone in our life is struggling we are understanding and kind to them. Hello! This is hard! We are all struggling! Why do we have such difficulty bestowing these same niceties toward ourselves! Be understanding and kind toward yourself! This doesn’t have to be fancy. Be patient with yourself when you are having a tough day. Take a moment to recognize your work. Take a walk, or if it’s too challenging to get away, stand outside and look up at the sky. Breathe for a moment. If you’re feeling extra saucy, find a friend to exchange your kind thought of the day about yourself. This can also hold you both accountable. Self talk is pretty darn powerful-now is the time to pay more attention to the conversations we have with ourselves-try to make them nicer.
Give yourself permission to feel what you need to and most importantly, accept those feelings.
As mothers we often have to suppress our own emotions until we find space away from our children. Right now, space away is pretty non existent and believe me, I have totally slipped-as a result my daughter’s vocabulary has grown in ways I am not proud of. But remember! It is okay for our children to see us express emotion. We have a beautiful opportunity to model healthy emotional regulation and this can also help them develop empathy. Being mindful of development, model healthy ways to “find peace” within when you’re struggling. Taking a deep breath, picking up a book, getting a glass of water, doing jumping jacks, writing, taking a break in our own room, calling a friend or family member, etc., are all ways to bring us back down. Regulating your own emotions in the moment helps you and your child. Sometimes it takes us a while to figure out what works for us just like our kiddos. Some kids need time-ins, some need quiet time alone, some redirection, some need to be held, some need to be physical and jump or run, etc. Find what works for you!
Most importantly, if nothing else, I encourage you to take at least one moment a day to recognize your hard work-to see yourself as the strong beautiful powerful leader you are, the way your children see you. Even if it’s for a brief second while you take your first sip of coffee-I know, it’s probably not hot. But close your eyes anyway and feel your feet on the ground. You’re not actually floating, Mama-you are doing this——and you’re killing it.
Kelsey Madden has a Master’s degree in Clinical Counseling with an emphasis in couples and family therapy. When she is not in quarantine, she is a child development teacher at Marblehead Parenting. Kelsey lives in Swampscott, Massachusetts with her husband, daughter and son.