Lindsay Powers, founder of the @NoShameParenting movement and a best-selling author, has a message for parents during the time of COVID-19: Letting go of the notion of perfection is one of the best things you can do for your mental well-being.
“Just like everyone else, we started off with the schedule hanging on our wall, I think to find some routine and sanity in our lives,” Powers, a working mom of two, admits. “But we’ve long ago given up on that schedule,” she tells Thrive. In fact, “maybe a silver lining of this pandemic is that parents won’t feel like we have to schedule every moment of our kids’ lives after this.”
While all parents are experiencing different levels of stress from this pandemic, we could all use a little extra permission to go easy on ourselves. In honor of May as Mental Health Month, Powers offers up some of the tools that help her when stress levels start to rise. One may be a great solution for you the next time you want to hide in your bathroom, stress clean, or run from the house screaming (#nojudgment).
Thrive Global: What have been your biggest stressors while parenting during the pandemic?
Lindsay Powers: The lack of time to do ALL the things. Last I checked, there are still only 24 hours in a day, and yet we’re expected to be full-time employees and homeschool teachers, and, depending on your life situation, partners/spouses — all in the backdrop of this global pandemic, which ratchets up the level of anxiety for everyone.
My husband and I both work full-time in high-pressure roles, I’m promoting my new book, and we’ve got 4-year-old and 6-year-old sons at home. So I guess you could say that right now we literally “have it all” — work, our kids at home, our family together. It’s untenable to do everything at 100% all the time. I hope after this pandemic we stop idealizing this idea that we should strive to “have it all,” and we get realistic. I argue we should instead be asking ourselves: “Do I have what I need?” I’m trying to take it one day at a time to prevent feeling too overwhelmed, and reminding myself that it’s OK for us to do the best we can.
TG: That is a great perspective. When you do feel that stress arising, what are you signs?
LP: I’ve been getting a lot of stress headaches over the course of this global pandemic. I’m sure that’s a mix of feeling overwhelmed and staring at screens way too much between my two jobs — and my Instagram habit. When I start to feel my temper ramping up, I remove myself from the situation. This tends to happen at the end of a long day, when my house is absolutely trashed courtesy of my kids, everyone is whining and starving, and I’ve just logged off work and have no opportunity to unwind. I snap at my kids to clean up, and then sometimes go upstairs and close the door to my bedroom for 10 minutes to take deep breaths.
TG: Taking time to just breathe is a great way to calm yourself down. Are there other things you do to ease that tension?
LP: One technique that really works for me is to do something physical to break an escalating emotional response. It sounds weird, but it really works for me. When I’m angry and frustrated and feeling like I’m going to explode in anger, I snap three times. It’s become almost automatic. And I literally “snap out of it.”
Another idea is to have a mantra, like, “Tomorrow’s another day.” When your rational brain steps in, it helps break up the emotional response.
TG: What would you say to parents who are worried about “losing it” in front of their kids?
It’s OK to show emotion with your kids. In an otherwise normal childhood, the occasional yelling will not damage your kids. Especially if you can talk to them once you’ve calmed down. For instance: “Mommy was really upset and got angry, and I’m sorry, I love you.” That shows kids the normal range of human emotions, how to apologize, reassures them of your love for them and that you can get angry and then calm down. It’s a healthy way of processing anger, which is a life skill many people need.
If you are crying or yelling 24/7, though, it could be a sign that it’s time to get help from a mental health professional (apps like Better Help and Talk Space offer sliding scale payments and virtual sessions, and some cities are offering free mental health services), or a person you trust.
TG: Has there been a specific time recently that you’ve really felt the effects of your current situation?
LP: Last night, at the end of a long day, my house was a disaster zone. My kids had taken every single pillow and cushion off two couches to make a trail around the house. They have this big cardboard playhouse, which they’d somehow dragged into the kitchen and surrounded with toys. They were complaining about how they were starving, yet I could hardly get to our kitchen. I had just logged off work, where I’d spent all day juggling conference calls, book promotion, editing coronavirus stories, and procuring snacks and breaking up fights. My husband was trying to finish up work. I lost it. I snapped at the kids that they needed to clean up RIGHT NOW. I jerked the giant cardboard house out of my kitchen (breaking a lamp in the process), and started stress vacuuming. Because I’m not a yeller and I don’t get angry super often, my kids actually listened and started putting away their toys.
As my house started to look less insane, I felt my mood improving. We spend so much time in our home right now that I need to end each day with it relatively clean. I’m not saying scrubbed and dust-free, because that is impossible, but I need the toys put away at the end of the day. So now I’ve decided I’m going to tell the kids to clean up at 5 p.m. each day, before I get ramped up with anger.
Another time when I felt myself losing it, I told my husband to watch the kids. I went upstairs and closed our bedroom door and took deep breaths for 10 or 20 minutes. I didn’t stare at my phone. I just looked out the window and breathed. I’ve learned that I feel most overwhelmed at the end of the “work day,” because we don’t have transition time anymore. I used to have a commute, where I could unwind or read. Now I have an incredibly stressful “work day” juggling the demands of my job and my young children, and then when I’m “done” with work, my kids need attention; they need dinner. It’s an onslaught of needs and emotions all the time, which is why it’s perfectly normal for us to feel overwhelmed!
TG: Are you doing things preemptively to counteract potential anxiety or depression?
LP: Before the pandemic, I used to log a lot of steps, which naturally helped keep anxiety in check. It was a one-mile walk to drop off my children at their schools, and then I’d hop on the subway and get off a stop early to get another nice walk. I’d go to Pilates once a week. Now, that’s all gone and that has been the hardest adjustment for me. I really miss those walks with my kids, by myself, and my time in Pilates — where there were no demands or distractions for 50 minutes.
To counteract anxiety now, I’m talking to friends via Zoom; I’m talking to my husband; I’m extending grace to myself and my husband when we’re not in talking moods; I’m taking breaks from screens; I’m not being hard on myself when I spend too much time scrolling screens; I’m stretching sometimes via a Pilates ring I bought on Amazon; I’m trying to read. I’m taking it day by day and trying to go easy on myself and others. These are not normal times, and it’s OK to feel off-centered. I try to acknowledge those feelings instead of push them away.
TG: What have you given yourself permission to STOP doing?
LP: I had to give myself permission to not be a full-time teacher. It’s not going to happen. First of all, I’m not trained as a teacher, and my home is not a school. I guarantee I’m not going to look back at this time in 10 years and say, “I really wish I’d spent more time doing math worksheets with my first grader during that global pandemic!” My husband and I take turns facilitating our 6-year-old’s Google Classroom lessons; my husband oversees one lesson a day, and I do one lesson a day — cherry-picking from the assignments the teacher sent over.
Between that, we encourage lots of free play between our two sons (by necessity — we don’t have bandwidth to watch them every single minute), and life skills. I love to cook; it’s the way I unwind, so I’ve been cooking a lot with my sons. It’s never fancy and rarely Instagram-worthy, but kids can learn a lot from cooking: reading, direction-following, math, science.
I’m not forcing myself to be somebody I’m not. I am not a crafty mom, so I’m not doing a bunch of crafts, but I give my kids access to paper, glue, markers, crayons, etc., and let them at it. There are benefits to boredom: Kids develop creativity, they get resourceful — two very important life skills. I know my kids are going to be fine. I’m giving them extra love and extra cuddles, and doing the very best I can — which I know is more than enough.