Parenting During A Pandemic: Building Resilience Amidst Chaos

Resilience Amidst Chaos

Alright… this is where I’m supposed to impart some wisdom. To share valuable life lessons I’ve learned during this never, ever ending pandemic. To give you pointers on ways to talk to your kids about responsibility and resilience. Unfortunately, I got nothin’.

Luckily, I know someone chock full of wisdom and pointers. I recently sat in on a chat hosted by Responsibility.org, featuring parent coach, Washington Post columnist, author and hilarious human, Meghan Leahy. To give you an idea of why I enjoyed Meghan’s talk so much, I’ll be sharing my favorite quotes from the conversation throughout this post. First up, my absolute favorite:

“Everyone is a hot, hot mess.”

If you can’t relate to that even a little bit, you’re in a state of deep, blissful denial.

Lest you think I and my family have all our shit together, guess again. In between the cute IG pics and the occasional informative blog posts, our life is a series of bumps, mishaps and near catastrophes. Several times a week, I apologize for yelling at my kid. School is a source of constant stress; ADHD is a sonofabitch and not at ALL suited to distance learning. Screen time is through the roof. We almost never eat dinner together. We order takeout multiple times a week — often from more than one restaurant. My hermit-like husband works ’round the clock. My projects have slowed to a crawl, leaving me frustrated and hopeless at times. I’ve fed my insecurities by keeping Amazon in business, perfecting my margarita, and with much too much actual food.

Whenever anyone asks how I’m doing, I say “Hanging in there.” I hate that phrase, but it’s the truth. I’m like that poster kitten with their weak, little claws, clenching the branch to keep from plummeting into the unseen sea of molten lava below.

Resiliency in Chaos

All that to say, whatever you’re feeling, I feel you. I am, indeed, a hot, hot mess.

Now that we’ve established my lack of having it togetherness, let’s see what Meghan had to say about parenting in our current state of shock affairs.

“You are not alone.”

This is the more accurate (and meaningful) version of “We’re all in this together.” Meghan started off by sharing the top reasons parents are reaching out to her these days. Feel free to make a mental checklist of all that apply to you. (parenthetical comments are mine)

  • Outbursts due to everyone being frustrated with expectations (and the resulting disappointments of said expectations being unmet)
  • Lack of cooperation (I literally dragged my child out of bed last week)
  • Inability to simultaneously work and take care of young kids (or older kids who seem to have reverted to near helplessness)
  • Tech abuse (Also applies to adults)
  • Sibling arguments (and if you have an only child, they will find ways to argue — whether with you, online with friends, or just hollering at the world in general)
  • Cannot get them outside (As in, lack of motivation. As in, they’ve become one with the sofa. Also applies to adults.)

“If you don’t have rupture at home, you’re not with your family.”

Rupture was a word Meghan used a lot in her talk. Rupture is meltdowns, tantrums, yelling, outbursts — you know, the utter chaos of parenting during a pandemic.

Everyone’s life is turned around and inside out right now, but parents in particular are experiencing an even greater amount of rupture. Meghan assured us that what’s happening to us is typical. And that experiencing this tumult in our families means we are present with them.

Cultivating conversations about all this stuff is healthy and necessary, though often difficult. But it opens the door to the truth that everything isn’t perfect, and that we’re all struggling.

“We’re all building resilience right now.”

Meghan encouraged us to realize, too, that this whole mess is making us more resilient. In literal terms, resilience is the ability to withstand shock without permanent deformation or rupture. As parents, resilience strengthens our resolve as well as our ability to be flexible. It means that we can learn to recover from or adjust more easily to misfortune or pain. Like being quarantined in your house for almost a year, for example.

So, all this craziness isn’t just happening to me, and my family’s emotional and stressed out reactions to it are normal. Great. Awesome. What now?

“Curiosity is kind and makes room for mistakes.”

One of the best ways to build resilience is to stay curious. Being and staying curious means that you as a parent examine why you might have yelled or been impatient. It also helps you explore with your child why they might have lost control. Curiosity keeps you grounded in reality, and more importantly, it helps initiate growth.

When you’re curious and looking at why ruptures happen, you create space to examine exactly what occurred, and how you and your kids can behave differently instead of internalizing shame. We learn to recognize causes, and work to avoid repeat performances.

Curiosity says: “I see what happened and what I can do next time to respond better.”
Shame says: “I screwed up, I suck as a parent, I give up.”

Thoughtful, curious reflection and conversations also lead to more authentic apologies. From both kids AND parents.

Meghan listed some things to keep in mind when apologizing (again, parenthetical comments are mine):

  • Leave out the “but.” (I find myself apologizing to my son for yelling, then immediately explaining what he did to cause me to yell. That pretty much negates the apology.)
  • Try your best to mean it. (I try and take a few minutes for us to calm down before we can talk again rationally and with sincerity.)
  • Don’t wait for the other person to apologize first OR after you. (Apologies shouldn’t be conditional.)
  • Apologies are a great way to reboot the day. (And it’s cheaper/more effective than tequila!)

“We are raising people for down the road.”

Meghan reminded us that we are all building resilience in ourselves and our kids in the middle of this crazy/scary/tedious/frustrating time. Usually we’re too stressed or upset to realize when we’re becoming stronger, so this is a comforting reminder I could stand to hear daily.

All of the things we discussed — honesty, curiosity, allowing for mistakes, apologizing, having conversations — these all work towards stronger, more resilient parents and kids. Learning to understand and manage our stress amidst the chaos also helps us parents avoid turning to alcohol as our main source of relief. This is just one practical application that I know a lot of parents are struggling with — me included. Talking about these things and putting them into action helps to build a solid foundation of responsibility in my family. A foundation that will be even more crucial as my son approaches his teenage years.

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Responsibility.org is all about responsible alcohol choices. Please check out their site for valuable info for parents and non-parents alike. An important fact: parents are the leading influence on a child’s decision to drink (or not drink). When conversations about alcohol between parents and kids increase, underage drinking decreases.

As a brand ambassador for Responsibility.org, I am being compensated to write this post. However, all opinions are my own.

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