Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Staying resilient as a working parent with kids at home

Alexis Waldron, Human Performance Specialist, USDA Forest Service
When a friend made a request for others to share the most interesting thing they had seen since March 1st on Facebook—during the beginning days of COVID-19, as it became more real for the U.S.—I replied by describing the experience of driving to daycare with my three-month-old daughter (the day before my husband and I made the decision to pull her and her sister out). I was behind an old, blue Ford Explorer with a single driver in the front. On the dusty back windshield there was a white stick figure family, but instead of having a mom, dad and kids, it was a single lady surrounded by 22 cats. I missed getting a picture because I was busy counting all the cats on the windshield at the stoplight. In jest, a woman replied to the Facebook post— “Well, you know what those cats WON’T need—toilet paper. Twenty-two cats wins over 22 kids any day!” I laughed out loud when I read her response and also in irony to the empty toilet paper shelves in grocery stores and the fear of parents who have been potty training their toddlers and now are wondering and cringing with no toilet paper—do I dare put them back in diapers? What will that mean?

While funny, the truth is, as parents we are having to face new realities and are trying to figure out how to make the best of things for our kids while also showing up for work. In many of our new realities of working as much as we can from home and having our children home from schools shutting down, restricted daycares, mounting concern for our children’s safety or because we have simply made a moral commitment to help flatten the curve, having our kids at home while working can be anywhere from a bit challenging to overwhelming at times. Each of us is facing our own unique set of challenges based on the dynamics and makeup of our families. We are being forced to make important decisions regarding the safety and well-being of ourselves, our families, friends and co-workers. Ultimately, these new realities and challenges put strain on our ability to show up for ourselves, our families and work the way we would like to a lot of the time. So, what can we do in these times of new realities, challenges, fear, and uncertainty?

Perhaps the first thing is to recognize that all we can do at any given moment is our best. We are in a time that is evolving and shifting, and we are in unfamiliar territories. Like a tree in a windstorm, we will weather the storms more effectively if we can stay rooted in the ground by our values and still flex our branches and trunk with the changing external environment. The following are three ways that can promote resiliency in the storms that may come our way:
Acknowledge our thoughts and feelings. It is completely normal—and inevitable—to feel fear and anxiety when we sense danger, crisis and increased pressure and emotions when working from home with kids around. When we take a moment and acknowledge our thoughts and feelings, we are often more able to cope with what we are facing rather than being driven by our emotions, thoughts, frustrations and feelings.
Focus on what is in our control. It can be very easy to get lost in our worries of how difficult it is to get work assignments complete, what will happen with the virus, when will it happen, how will it affect loved ones, my family, the world, etc. But these thoughts are not helpful or useful, and the more we focus on them the more hopeless and anxious we feel. As such, changing our focus to what we can control is one of the most useful things we can do. One way to do this is when we notice we are catastrophizing or getting wrapped up in our worries, to focus on feeling our feet pressed into the floor, take a deep breath and ask: what can I do that is within my control? Then follow where it leads.
Do what matters. In the grand scheme of things, we can get pulled in many different directions and end up putting all or most of our energy in places and toward things that aren’t going to be the most effective or beneficial for us or those in our circles. In order to do what matters, we must take action that is guided by our values. For instance, if caring is a core value—what are some small ways of caring for oneself, one’s kids, spouse or a coworker on a daily basis? Our values are our roots and exercising them even in small ways helps keep us resilient in the face of the storms when they come.

We are all out there struggling and adapting one day at a time to the conditions we face; the only thing we can ask or expect of ourselves is that we do the best we can at any given moment. As a recap, acknowledging our thoughts and feelings, focusing on what’s in our control and doing what matters will help us keep perspective and move through storms more effectively. Finally, one last thought, please leave the cat litter alone in the pet aisle, the lady with 22 cats might need it.

For more information on resilience and mindfulness, check out the sites below:

Used with permission from Alexis Waldron is a Human Performance Specialist, USDA Forest Service and advisor to the NWCG Leadership Committee. Alexis expressed her thoughts in "Inside the Forest Service" (April 29, 2020).

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