The first half of 2020 has brought a set of unique challenges, first, a global pandemic, and now in the United States, widespread demonstrations targeting deep societal change.
In the wellness world, learning how to flow with change is a key component of both self-care and societal responsibility. When you’re a parent, this includes sharing these teachings with your children, which is a tall order in the best of times; when you’re juggling new responsibilities like working at home, taking on teaching responsibilities, and standing in for friends during social distancing, it can be overwhelming.
As parents of a single child, we are switching between the hats of Parent, Teacher, and Friend daily. Along with looking out for our son’s safety and emotional well-being, we are also helping to home school him, organize activities and make time to play together. When you put that on top of working remotely and being a homeowner, it hasn’t always been easy to balance it all.
In many ways, my background has prepared me for this new normal we find ourselves in. Growing up in India, social unrest with unions generally lead to lockdowns; nobody could get in and out of our community–very similar to what we are experiencing in some areas with the current quarantine. We would be sequestered with other families for months at a time, and on some days the water and power were cut off, adding to our need to be resourceful.
While there wasn’t the specific type of racial tension we see fueling the protests for change in the present, there are class issues in India that added to the unrest when these strikes and resulting lockdowns would occur.
The events of the last few months have presented an opportunity for me to use my health and wellness experience and skill set not only to ensure that I’m engaging in the type of coordinated growth and self-care that I promote to others but also to help my 10-year-old son navigate a particularly unique time in our history. Here’s what I’ve learned so far…
I’ve learned to stretch my memory back. During the times of lockdown and social unrest in my childhood, I became accustomed to a simpler, slower-paced lifestyle. My son is going through more of a culture shock during lockdown since he’s used to high energy activities and a fast-paced way of life, so the challenge for me has been helping him not only adapt, but find ways to grow and thrive in this new environment.
Beyond simply recalling the circumstances, I’ve also tried to remember what it was like to be a child. How I felt. What it was like to be bored. This has helped me relate to my son on a different level. Connecting to my inner child has helped me let go and be silly with him when I need to be. I know he still misses his friends, but when I see him smile, I know in that moment at least he’s missing them a little less.
Plus, it’s fun to step into the playful parent role, let go of being structured and most importantly, let go of trying to be perfect. Science confirms the benefits of letting go for both you and your child.
I’ve adapted my approach to align with my strengths. You can’t do things the way you’ve always done them when your world is dramatically changed. This refers to day-to-day activities, like being the playmate instead of relying on planning playdates, but it is also applicable to your conversations about world events. Age-appropriateness is always a factor, of course, but if your children are old enough to understand the meaning behind demonstrations, they’re old enough to discuss them with you, on some level.
The culture I grew up in is not one that promotes getting in the spotlight. I may never be comfortable stepping up to a microphone at a demonstration, but I can attend them, organize from behind the scenes, and I can use my social media platforms to voice my support for change. My son has seen our actions, we’ve been open to discussing events with him, and he has been eager to attend demonstrations and learn.
In positive psychology, the concept of flow (in particular, that as described by the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) has several components, but one important factor is the balance between challenge and skill. Your personality and your personal strengths are always important, as is your openness to listen and adapt to necessary change. In our current environment, we are all being challenged to find that balance for flow, where we listen and adapt, and also find ways to use our inherent strengths and skill sets for building the greater good. Doing this while your children are watching is one of the best ways to model what we hope for them; that they become adults who are healthy, and also dedicated to promoting social health.
I’ve brought him into my world. During the day, I let my son watch what I’m doing and talk about the projects I’m working on. He sits next to me and listens to some of the clinical training I engage in with my work, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that he enjoys learning about the science involved! Children are often excluded from a large portion of our lives because we segment work and home, and much of their disinterest–or frustration when we tell them we’re busy–comes from a lack of understanding about our jobs. Bringing them alongside you as you work can have multiple benefits. (Within reason of course; we all need to focus on the important aspects of our jobs. However, an added benefit to this integration of your work into daily life may forestall some of the stress that many adults are feeling about “keeping up” during quarantine; blending the areas of our life to some extent can help all of us relax, possibly, and negate that feeling that something is always being neglected. You can do “double duty” by having time with your children as you work.)
For the first time, my son is really understanding what I do for my job and he’s developing an interest in the topic, which is exciting for me, as his mom.
I’ve seen him grow and mature significantly. He’s being more thoughtful and analytical on a daily basis. Seeing my husband and I live our daily lives has helped him visualize what his adult life will look like. It’s wonderful to see my son not only getting more insight into the real world, but also connecting with us in a different, deeper way.
Seeing how we discuss current events and the coming change in our world is important, too. Instead of being concerned because of secrecy (something adults often promote unintentionally by excluding children from conversations about heavy topics), we are providing the security children thrive with by demonstrating that we, ourselves, stay grounded through our wellness practices, while engaging with happenings outside our door.
Not all children are ready for the depth of a meditation practice, but elements like gratitude (finding three reasons for gratitude before bed, etc.) and stillness can be a part of any child’s day, no matter their age.
Maintaining flow means understanding that your action can fit your personality, and you can embrace change and unlearning while staying grounded in the self-care practices that keep you strong. Doing this for myself has meant that it’s easier to talk about it with my son, in addition to modeling it, and holding space for him to learn it on a 10-year old’s level.
Recent world events have tested each of us in ways we never expected, but we can come out stronger and more resilient on the other side, in part, I believe, because dramatic changes can force us to embrace flow principles and adapt. A common concern may be that unrest will disrupt children’s environment and have negative results. Children do benefit from stability, but research also indicates that the brain learns from having to engage new coping mechanisms when faced with uncertainty. No one should have their head in the sand about the critical nature of COVID-19, or the hard conversations about promoting anti-racism, but looking at the positive outcomes from the measures we have to take in the present can keep spirits strong and positive.
Embracing the chance to flow in new ways in your parenting during this pandemic could ultimately be a great learning experience, not just for you, but for your children as well.