I feel lost: parenting without direction

My husband jokes with me that I can’t follow Google maps. While he may occasionally be correct, sometimes the map and the directions appear contradictory. The written directions are more of a “suggestion” and then the map shows you a different turn. Driving to a new place with me as the navigator and my husband behind the wheel does not always bring out our finest moments.

Those same feelings of being confused, lost, and stressed are happening now with an alarming amount of frequency. We don’t know where we are going, the map is confusing or even lacking a signal all together, and we are all strapped into our car seats (or stuck in our house in this case). I have been raising my voice more, thinking that the louder I yell at the kids to stop, the higher the likelihood they will listen (Ha! When will I learn?) The lack of productivity makes me feel like a dud and the kids are feeling the impact just as much as I am. “When can we go to the playground? When are we going back to school? When can we have a playdate?” The worst part? I don’t have the answers.

Except for the school one. In Virginia, our governor just announced school is closed for the remainder of the school year. As a teacher and as a parent, I am heartbroken. I am not saying it wasn’t the right decision but I am devastated on so many levels. Especially for the kids who are wondering where their next meal is coming from — as breakfast and lunch consistently came from school.

I feel like I am parenting without a map, without directions. I don’t know where I am headed and I certainly don’t know how to get there. Last week, the date of April 14 kept me grounded. This was when schools were going to open back up and in my head, we would return to “normal.” “OK Jenny, this is temporary. You can do this for another 4ish weeks. Let’s make a calendar and plan out something fun for each of those days.”

Now? I’m not feeling that same zesty spirit. Not having an “end date” is really hard for me – I work well with deadlines. For those of you who have experienced grief, this is feeling eerily similar. I thought I might be the only one thinking this until someone passed along an article today from the Harvard Business Review that mirrored this feeling.

“That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief,” is the title of the article and I highly recommend reading it. It has helped ease my worried mind with practical ideas to help cope with this uncertain, complex, and challenging time in which we are living.

Some of my favorite tips are:

  • Saying aloud, “this is a temporary state.” No, it doesn’t feel like it but, yes, we know deep down this is temporary
  • Letting go of what is out of your control. We can’t control what other people are doing. We can only make the best decisions for ourselves and our kids
  • Staying in the present. Anticipatory grief “is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst.” ummmmm yes! Combat this by staying in the present. One strategy is simply naming 5 things in the room. This draws your attention to what is happening right here, right now.

What Is Working

It’s easy to see everything as dark and gloomy, especially when the weather outside is a metaphor for what is going on. However, I am *trying* to find the positives and identifying what is working. I know a LOT isn’t working, but the following is:

  • Having the kids help with chores around the house. Particularly, laundry. Yes, these chores take longer but it’s not like we have anywhere to be! The kids are getting pretty good at sorting clothes into light and dark, taking turns turning on the washing machine, and moving the clothes from the washer to the dryer.
  • Getting outside. If it isn’t raining, we will get outside every day. It’s an instant mood lifter for everyone. Nature has a peaceful way of calming the soul.
  • Having predictable screen times. I’ve heard from so many about “screen time” and yes, it is increasing in just about every house. The hardest part? Stopping it. Both of my kids watch screens after breakfast and after dinner every day. This gives me time to prepare for the day and clean up the kitchen after dinner – both of which are things I need to feel more peaceful. Keener also has screen time after quiet time (after he plays independently, before Grace wakes up from her nap). It’s predictable and consistent and no matter how angry I get with them, I haven’t threatened to take it away. Tempting? Yes. But it would punish myself far more than them.
  • Changing locations around the house. I know space can be limited but as much as possible, try changing up the location. We will play in the kids rooms, in the kitchen, in the basement, in the hallway, you name it. When there isn’t much else changing, having a new location for a new activity feels even a tiny bit exciting. Puzzles under the kitchen table? Why not!
  • Getting some kind of exercise for myself. This might be a quick walk or a virtual 15 minute barre video. I haven’t been doing this every day but the days I do, I feel my mood is lifted.
  • Using Face Time, Zoom or going old school and talking to friends on the phone instead of just texting. It’s actually amazing that some local friends I haven’t ‘talked’ to on the phone in probably years!

I wish I could end this with a guarantee on when “normal” would return. Instead, I will leave you with words I found comforting and empowering from the article mentioned above:

“Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through. One unfortunate byproduct of the self-help movement is we’re the first generation to have feelings about our feelings. We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us.”

8 comments

  1. I thought Today’s Post was a perfect segue and a wonderful complement to the HBR article. I particularly liked emphasizing behaviors such as enlisting the support of your children for chores such as laundry and trying to sort out all the confusion by orchestrating daily activities within the framework of social distancing. I thought the article was thoughtful, refreshing, meaningful and fascinating with respect to the gamut of human emotions associated with the pandemic. The all too human experience of loss and grief is universal and was poignantly expressed in how it is manifested in this situation. btw, my wife and I had a similar experience with the maps/navigator scenario on a number of occasions.

    • Thanks John. So many emotions — I’m so thankful there are so many wonderful articles that help capture the wide range of emotions we are all experiencing

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