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By Holly Branam, LCSW – May 26, 2020 –

We are living in a unique time in history. Schools have been closed, events are cancelled and businesses are just now beginning to reopen their doors. We have experienced the loss of so many familiar things. Routines have changed and aspects of our lives are delayed indefinitely.

Although we are going through this pandemic together, our individual experiences are vastly different. Some of us are working outside the home, some are working inside the home and some have lost their jobs.

We may be overwhelmed juggling work and educating/entertaining our children or isolated, living alone, and desperate for human contact. There are some individuals who have directly experienced the loss of a loved one or reside in areas where the virus has spread quickly, while others are living in areas that have barely been affected.

As we begin the process of returning to a new normal, each person is going to have an opinion on the right way to move forward. There will be varying levels of comfort based on our individual experiences and location. My sister lives in a large city that has been greatly affected and plans to shelter in place for months, possibly. However, I live in a small town with less than a handful of cases and feel more comfortable venturing out.

As we begin to make plans for the future, my sister and I have started talking about what we are individually comfortable doing and have agreed to respect each other’s opinions no matter how different they may be. We love each other and value our relationship. That connection and support is more important than our individual opinions.

As humans, we were created to be in community with each other, and supportive relationships help us cope. Social media and a variety of other online options have made connecting possible during this difficult situation, and I feel blessed that we live in a time where this is possible.

Unfortunately, as I scroll through social media I am saddened and discouraged by the unkind posts I see. We need each other, and unkind words only work to separate us.  Our energy is wasted on panic, blame, regret or anger. So instead, let’s focus our energy on kindness, caring, giving, and sharing.

These feelings of uncertainty won’t last forever, but the words we speak to others can have a lasting impact. As we move forward there is so much to be done. People are in need and we can put our compassion into action. We can spread kindness, listen to others, offer support, provide comfort and encourage one another.

We need to come out on the other side of this mentally healthy as well as physically healthy. We can’t control the choices others make, and trying to do so only creates frustration and distance.  So let’s let go of what we can’t control and give each other a little more grace.

I was playing a game with my daughter the other day. She wasn’t sure if the number she was looking at was a 6 or a 9, and I realized that perspective is everything. Frequently we see things differently depending on how we are oriented to the world around us. Beyond our current situation, we have a lifetime of experiences and beliefs that have shaped us.

We will all have different ways to process and handle stress and change. Let’s begin to be aware of how our words and actions affect others and try to understand their perspective. We can find peace by reminding ourselves that people are imperfect and are doing the best they can with what they know.

Someday we may look back on this time and have all the answers, but right now we are just trying to make our way through. We are in uncharted waters, so let’s be kind. Together we can make a difference.

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW – April 21, 2020 –

COVID-19 has led us into uncharted territory. Never before have schools across the country closed because of a pandemic. 

As adults we may be worried about the future. How long will schools and businesses remain closed? We may also be worried about how closures will affect our monthly bills, paychecks, and childcare. 

Children are worried too, but they worry about different things. Children are concerned about missing school, completing virtual assignments, and missed play time with friends. My 5-year old has been asking when she can go back to school to be with friends.

As adults, we don’t know the answers to a lot of these questions, but there are some things we can do to help manage our children’s fears. Below are some tips for parents and caregivers.

  • First, manage your own anxiety about the situation.  As parents we are naturally anxious about this situation. This is a good opportunity to help our child co-regulate.  If we can manage our own emotions, then our children will see positive coping skills in action.
  • Let your child know it’s okay to talk through their emotions.   Allow them to ask questions, but don’t feel like you must have an answer to all of their questions.  Listening is powerful. Sometimes all we can do is say, “I can understand why you feel that way.” Children need to feel heard and validated.
  • Limit your child’s exposure to news. This is also helpful for adults.  In the 24-hour news cycle it can be tempting to watch the news all day. It is important to stay informed but not oversaturated. Watching too much news can instill fear and anxiety in children. 
  • Keep a schedule. Many parents are being forced to either work from home or find emergency daycare placement with family or friends during this time. Kids thrive on a schedule, and their usual routine has been disrupted. Kids of all ages – and even adults – do not do as well when they are off of their normal schedule. So create a new schedule, and try to organize your child’s day during typical school hours. You can find free examples of schedules online. 
  • Make sure you limit digital time.  Although students have virtual learning built into their day, make sure you weave in play time and non-digital time throughout the day.  Excessive use of electronics can increase anxiety, so make sure your child takes breaks from electronics during the day. 
  • Encourage outdoor play. Kids are used to outdoor recess. Even if the weather forecast is not ideal, encourage kids to go outdoors in between the rain showers. They need to be able to run around and play to release energy and stress.
  • Teach your kids coping skills. Exercise, belly breathing, and talking about their feelings are going to be really important during this time.  Also encourage your children (especially teenagers) to reach out to their friends by phone and text.  For teenagers, relationships with peers are very important. 
  • Lastly, use this time to reconnect as a family. Normally our busy schedules leave us little quality time with family. Use this time to play board games, have family meals, and connect.

By Laura Keys, LCSW – April 15, 2020 –

I have been a parent for more than a couple of decades. I’ve scolded, hugged, corrected, and loved two wonderful boys.

When they were very young their father died from cancer, which left me to sail the ship on my own. In all those years of being a single mom I learned a few lessons that I would like to impart to parents trying to raise their children in the midst of the current pandemic.

If being cooped up in a house or apartment while managing a child’s education, living with the anxiety of a health scare, conducting Zoom meetings while working from home or heading to work under uncertain conditions so you have a paycheck to cover the grocery bill all seems a bit overwhelming…that’s because it is.

I’ve listened to, cried with, and given advice to a lot of very stressed-out parents in the past few weeks. If you are one of them, you are not alone. Despite what your Facebook or Instagram feed may tell you, everyone is struggling.

Positive self-talk and advice from elders got me through parenting two very wonderful, yet imperfect humans in the midst of what some would call hardship. I hope these words of wisdom help you the way they’ve helped me.

  1. TV moms June Cleaver, Carol Brady and Clair Huxtable are fictional parents. So is Peggy Bundy. Scrolling through others’ filtered social media posts can make you feel inadequate as a parent. Remember, the “social media highlight reel” is not exactly a fair representation of a person’s life. Some days you may be Carol Brady and others you’re Peggy Bundy. No one is perfect, so why should you expect to be?
  2. EVERY parent has lost patience with their child. These days I think we are all more aware of how trauma can affect a child. It speaks to the evolving knowledge we have about the developing brain and what we’ve learned about raising our children. I also think, however, that it puts a lot of pressure on parents to do everything perfectly. We can’t raise our children in a bubble. We can’t always be fair or democratic. That certainly doesn’t raise a prepared human. If you mute yourself and snap at your child because they have been whining for 30 minutes while you are trying to finish a phone conference, you have not damaged your child. Beating yourself up over small parenting “fails” only brings your self-worth down; it doesn’t lift your child up. Give yourself a break.
  3. If you don’t get everything done it’s not the end of the world. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that will happen if I don’t get this done?” If the answer is, “It just won’t get done,” then give yourself permission to let it go. The expectations we put on ourselves are often much higher than the expectations of others. Be honest with yourself about what you are capable of and stick to that. Parents are told they can have it all. While I certainly think we can have careers and families and do both well, it’s okay to acknowledge that we need help sometimes – especially when you’re trying to “have it all” under one roof during a pandemic. 
  4. Lastly, give yourself and your child a little grace. Now is not the time to expect more from them – or from yourself. It’s ok to just get through the day sometimes. If you put your kids in front of a movie so you can get some work done, it’s okay. Watching Disney every day is not going to stop them from getting into a good college.

We mustn’t judge our parenting abilities by what we do to get by during a pandemic. As long as you can laugh with your kids and make them feel loved, the rest will be forgiven, I promise. Take it from a mom who made plenty of mistakes with her children. They are resilient and capable, and as long as they feel loved at the end of the day they will turn out just fine.