Disclaimer: Like many of you, my children teach me every day. As I was finalizing this post, I felt compelled to write this:
As parents, it is sometimes easy to put our children first. While we need to cultivate a safe place for them, it is also essential that we pay attention to our own needs.
As you read this, think about and visualize your own “safe place.” A place where you can go and just be you, without any “editing.” Once you’ve identified it, make sure to get to that place as much as you need right now.
I found myself smiling and silently laughing to myself. Of course! In the midst of all the craziness lately, I’ve been able to quickly identify the days I haven’t felt like an “award winning” mother. This sentiment echoes in sessions with my clients. No parent feels like they are mastering pandemic life!
In therapy, parents often complain their children act out only at home. They wonder why their children behave completely different when they are around other people. This is a common theme I see throughout my practice. Parents often question themselves, assume they are the cause of the behavior, and use their child’s behavior as a litmus test of their parental abilities.
When this comes up, I pause and say something along the lines of: Home is the place where most of us feel safe to let out all the emotion built up throughout the day. They know that you will love them no matter what they do. Often, they will look back at me perplexed. Then, their thoughts click. They get it.
After this conversation with my daughter, I found myself asking the question—Why are we, as mothers, so hard on ourselves? We quickly build lists of what our children “need.” Often, we miss the mark completely. We forget the simple gifts, the ones that will sustain our children over time.
Creating a safe place is the most important gift we can give our children, especially in the middle of a pandemic.
A safe place does not mean a stress-free environment. In fact, the safer your children feel, the more emotion you might see them experience. While being in the middle of a pandemic is not easy, it can be a good time to have conversations with your children and help them build critical emotional intelligence skills such as self-awareness and reflection. Being able to check in and help them identify what they are feeling will guide them through their life journey.
Let’s be honest. Focusing on listening and building these skills is difficult to do in the normal hustle and bustle of life. Often, children will tell you they need to talk when you are running out the door, exhausted at the end of the day, or as you are making dinner. While the COVID-19 Crisis has been stressful, it has also created a forced slow-down, which fosters space to listen and have conversations that might have been difficult to fit in before.
How do you build these skills during a pandemic? Make it easy. It doesn’t need to be complicated, nor is it meant to be another stressful task to add to your “to do” list. Check in, ask your children how they are doing, and remind them that you are there for them. Give them space to feel. Ask them to name 2 emotions they are feeling that day.
If they don’t respond, that is okay—they hear the message even if they act like you are crazy and annoying (Note: I’ve started to interpret this behavior as a sign that I’m probably doing something right). Stay steady and on course. You are planting the seeds and building a foundation. If it’s not today, there will be a day when they come to you. It will happen.
By creating a safe space, meeting them where they are, and encouraging conversation, you are giving them a gift that you can’t put a price tag on—the ability to feel, to communicate, and to experience safety in an uncertain world.
Until next time…