Work & Family During COVID-19
I've been putting off writing this for about two weeks now. As one of my favorite clinical consultants used to tell us in team meetings, the good news and the bad news are the same. In this case, it's that we're all making this up as we go.
One of the good parts of this is that we all have the chance to do things radically differently than we did just twelve weeks ago!
The bad news is that we didn't cover providing emotional support during a global pandemic in grad school, or how to coach people through the exact same conflict you had with your own kid five minutes before jumping into a telehealth session.
And that's why I put this off for so long. I wanted to make sure I felt sure about what I was telling people, knowing how stressed and at a loss parents can feel right now.
Back to the Basics
What I feel sure about right now is the need to come back to basics. I have two elementary-aged kids, and I have felt best about my choices as a parent when I have focused on supporting their emotional development. Specifically, I have gone back over and over to how the Harvard Center on the Developing Child organizes emotional development. They suggest that we can organize infants', kids', and teens' emotional development into these six main abilities:
the ability to identify and understand their own feelings
the ability to read and understand others' feelings
the ability to manage and express strong feelings
the ability to regulate (or manage) their behavior
the ability to experience empathy
the ability to develop and sustain relationships
Thinking about what my kids are trying to learn emotionally right now has helped me figure out what I want to focus on right now in my parenting. Some of the change has been internal. I was really struggling with my kids being slower to separate at bedtime when I was wiped out and just trying to get to my own downtime.
Deciding to use bedtime as a last chance to check in about feelings and end the day on a connected note has made that slow separation a lot more tolerable. It feels like important time and something I'm in control of instead of the final barrier to my relaxation time.
Name It and Tame It
Some of the change has been more external. I'm a big believer in "name it and tame it," so I've focused on finding times to talk with each of my kids about how they're feeling, and for my partner and me to talk about how we're feeling in front of them. To be clear, some of my fuller descriptions of my feelings are saved for my partner and other adults. But we're talking about enough of our feelings that they are seeing us model handling frustration, disappointment, and sadness in ways that mostly work for us and for our family.
The other two things that I have kept coming back to are the ideas of "good enough" and repair. There is no perfect way to balance distance learning, working remotely for those lucky enough to be able to do so, and taking care of a home that is being used far harder and getting far dirtier than usual.
We each have to figure out what "good enough" is for our family and shoot for that.
Finally, repair. I tell parents and supervisees over and over that how we handle messing up with a kid can be more important than getting it right. I don't know about you, but I have had a lot of chances to repair with my kids lately. Many times, that's apologizing, and a lot of times it's also choosing to carve out a few minutes of activity together so that we're reconnecting emotionally and in action. There are no magic words or strategies that will work every time or make this permanently easier. It helps me to remember, though, that our kids don’t need magic from us. They just need to see us trying, and coming back to try again.
Written by Liz Franklin, MSW, LICSW
Senior Manager of Community-Based Mental Health Services
CLUES - Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio