Under any circumstances, parenting is a stressful occupation. Under present circumstances, the issue is terribly compounded.
Just a few short months ago, Jewish parents all across the Baltimore area had no reason to think twice about their ability to drop their kids off at school and spend the remainder of their day focused on other things, such as their work or maintaining their homes. Now, so many are required to remain in parenting mode 24/7 indefinitely, all without compromising their other responsibilities.
“Parents are very stressed,” said Stacey Meadows, Jewish Community Services’ therapy manager. “They say it takes six to 12 months to learn a new job, and these parents suddenly have the new job of taking care of their kids full time, and some while working full time, and it takes time to find a new sense of normalcy.”
According to Meadows, it is common for individuals under stress to exhibit their emotions in negative ways. “When we become stressed, it’s common to act out or to withdraw,” she said, leading people to “act frustrated towards those around us.”
This stress is exacerbated when office work or homework deadlines are factored in, not to mention the worry regarding COVID-19 itself, whether for ourselves or for family and friends.
Then there are those for whom the worst may have already happened. “For most of us, we’re not just experiencing stress, but also grief,” Meadows said, “even if that grieving is the lifestyle or job that we had, or people who have died because of complications to coronavirus.”
Jeffrey Wolfish, who works as a JCS therapist, agreed that increased stress can cause individuals to act out in negative ways and warned against what he called “the stress contagion.”
“If a parent or anyone around a child is under stress, such as from finances or when they can go back to a regular schedule, the child is exposed to that and can learn from that,” Wolfish said. “And the child will feel that something is wrong as well.”
Under different circumstances, taking a vacation or scheduling a session at a spa might have served as a way to unwind. For obvious reasons, those are no longer options, Meadows said, so she suggested less elaborate alternatives for the meantime.
“Now, self-care involves more simple moments, like taking a shower every day,” Meadows said, “or taking a little bit of a longer shower to have personal space in a quiet environment where you’re not required to be a parent or teacher. You might try to have a dance party with your kids to work out stress.”
If necessary, Meadows also suggested being more willing to let children indulge in using the computer or television, a notion some parents had expressed mixed feelings about.
“One repeated fear I hear from parents has to do with the increased screen time, and I hear a lot of guilt from parents,” Meadows said. “And I tell parents it’s OK to do this if that’s what you need, because we are talking about survival here rather than best practices. So it’s OK to give your kids an extra 10 minutes of screen time or with a book if you need that to get yourself together.”
Wolfish emphasized that there is a silver lining to families being under lockdown together.
“In general, I think there is a tremendous opportunity for parents to connect with their children,” he said. “Dinner times can be done as a family, which is not always possible with busy work schedules. It’s an incredible opportunity for family members to connect and reconnect and learn from one another.”
Meadows stressed that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and that staying mentally and emotionally fit may require some deeper changes to how we manage stress. “The scary part of this illness is that we can easily get sucked into crisis mode of fight, flight, or freeze,” she said. “And that’s not a healthy state for us to live in for six or 12 weeks or however long this lasts.
“So, we need to find new coping skills, like finding patience,” Meadows continued. “What we can do is find more compassion for those around us, and for ourselves.”