This year has been tough.
I was about to say more so for the little children, but paused and felt that it has been worse for parents. But then I contemplated that teens have been the worst hit. My opinion kept bouncing around, and I was unable to make up my mind. And then I realised that it doesn’t really matter as we are in it together. What matters is that we are trying to mitigate the damage the best that we can. What matters is how we choose to see this storm through. We need to help our children dig deep to make stronger foundations to withstand the wild winds.
While there has been news about the second and third waves of covid-19 across the globe, developing strategies to surf through these difficult times as parents has become crucial. In epidemiological language, living in pressured parenting circumstances is becoming chronic. In the course of the past few tumultuous months, i have seen three things happen with parents:
Resignation: Some parents have found comfort in accepting and giving in to the circumstances. Due to the raging anxieties within and battles outside of them, this has helped maintain peace. In the process, difficult conversations are getting postponed. Understandably so, the pressure of prolonged stressful chaos day after day, has led some to believe that resigning to the natural course of things, withdrawing or procrastinating is the best way forward. While there may be some short term advantages, the risks in the long run could be many.
With every subsequent news of things getting worse, this resignation is only getting stronger
Bipolarity: Some parents shift between two positions: that what is happening is unbearable and unfair, or that there are special joys and pleasures to be discovered even in this situation. Neither is wrong nor right. So, please don’t get thrown off with the word bipolarity. It isn’t always necessary to be on either end of that continuum, in fact many have achieved an enviable balance or have mastered a compensatory style to cope.
It is safe to say that this see-sawing bipolar category is the larger bucket. The problem with this is that children can be left confused, anxious and indecisive on coping skills. “Why is spending time with me on a few occasions such a blessing and at others such tension causing catastrophe?” “What am I doing wrong?” In the wake of every successive wave, we could run out of steam seeing the bright side.
Guilt: Some parents, I hear, are actively compensating for every opportunity missed by their children due to this pandemic. Whether it is missing school or playdates, having to study online or eat meals cooked at home, through the week, parents feel guilty about it all. The fact that our children are facing this historic crisis makes them want to compensate for their burdened childhood. Methods of compensating is what worries me. Needless to say, this only gets more bizarre and risky with every successful wave that ensues.
I recommend a fourth category and many parents I know are marching right into this space.
Finding a purpose: What helps tremendously is focusing on the present and your presence in the life of their children. We don’t have to find many purposes, one is enough.
Our presence, which is not withdrawn, fluctuating, independent of the outside storm, is important for the children. One need not be depressed, angry or irrationally guilty all the time. Being mindful will help children with clarity and conviction, a sense of security and stability. And this approach is easier on parents, as it helps them feel energetic and focused on goals with their families for every new wave.
However big or small, they have achieved, what I like to call, a purposeful focus for the present or the now, which is the only and most powerful moment we have. This approach keeps them productively busy with what has to be done instead of being focused on the past or the future. It gives clarity in schedule, and keeps problems from being piled up in mountains when the next whirlwind comes.
Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.