A research study of 700+ parents published in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science last October found that parents who were inflexible in their thoughts during the pandemic were more likely to experience depressive symptoms. Their children were also more likely to have symptoms of stress such as anxiety, mood problems, or aggressive behavior.
9/22/2021, 4:49 p.m. ET
Recognize hard truths.
Experts encourage parents to advocate universal masking and physical distancing as the data supports these layers of protection, but this well-intentioned call to action weighs even more on the already downcast parents. Parents can internalize systemic errors, which leads to a stressful dialogue of “what if” and “if only”: “What if my child gets sick or schools are closed? If only we had a vaccine for children under 12. “
When my patients allow themselves to acknowledge depressing facts like, “Things may never return to full normal” or “I don’t have much control right now” or “The vaccine will get here when it’s here”. The tension in the room subsides. Letting go of the brooding and surrendering to the truth can bring relief.
The best time to give yourself permission to acknowledge these scary but real truths is when you are obsessed with how school could go wrong again.
Find meaning in trauma.
For many parents, the pandemic means that there is no time to feel, just to do. (This was also true before the Covid-19 crisis.) But I encourage my patients and all parents to acknowledge their great feelings, despair , Anger, loneliness and, with the arrival of Delta, a renewed sense of confusion. Many wonder, “Should we be on our way to healing or do we need to buckle up for another traumatic ride?”
What if the answer is both, and instead of turning to hopelessness, you ask different and more productive questions? For example: What did you learn about yourself as a parent over the past year? Were there any unexpected positive memories that caught your eye? What are you most proud of in yourself and your children? When we are curious about our own suffering, we can gain insight.
These questions have led many of my patients to make sense of trauma. One patient was so excited about the creativity and joy she experienced in her son when he wasn’t doing so many structured activities that she didn’t enroll him in the sport again that spring. Not having given up has given her the confidence to make bigger decisions about her son’s development, a stark contrast to her own upbringing. Another patient faced her in-laws amid differing views about vaccine safety and grew in her ability to stand up for herself and her family.