This global pandemic is proving that we were not meant to care for infants and raise children in isolation. It’s bad for everyone. But we are in this. Children are acting out in new and worsening ways than they did before quarantining, requiring even more patience from parents. Parents are pushed to the limit and have less patience than usual. At our house, at least, whining, screaming, and frustration increased significantly. So how do we care for ourselves in order to care for our children?
We were meant to be in community, supporting and encouraging each other. Living in community is part of our design as image bearers of God, who is constantly communing as the trinity. While we may not be able to help each other with child care or other physical needs, we can still support each other by listening and talking regularly. Galatians 6:2 tells us, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” We need to laugh together and cry together, sharing our lives with each other, even if it’s through technology.
We can connect by scheduling video chats or phone calls with friends and family. This might feel awkward, but if you are parenting small children, you will probably need to schedule a conversation in order for it to happen. Remember that we can also pray for each other over the phone or a video call. Praying out loud this way may feel uncomfortable at first, but I’ve found it to be a blessing for myself and others. You might try scheduling these conversations for nap time or after the kids go to bed. Either way, planning in advance makes it more likely to happen.
If you are married, caring for your marriage is always important but it might look different during this time. If you have a family member or close friend who is willing to take care of your children, you could do a date night by getting take out and eating in a park. A few weeks ago, my husband and I did curbside pickup from a restaurant and had some date time eating dinner while sitting on patio furniture in our driveway. We didn’t want to be far away, in case our infant needed us, but we also didn’t want to be near a window of our house, where our preschooler would see us. So sitting in the driveway worked. Other times, we need to make time together a priority as soon as our little ones are asleep. However you do it, find a way to continue connecting, communicating, and spending quality time with your spouse regularly.
Self-talk is an important aspect of our emotional lives. It’s important to show ourselves empathy, compassion, and grace. We often criticize ourselves harder than we would anyone else. Talk to yourself with the loving kindness you would extend to a good friend in the same struggle. We are all imperfect human beings and we will have bad days. This is an extremely tough time, and we will need to forgive ourselves, apologize to our children, and start again.
We also can model apologizing well, admitting our failures and naming our struggles as we tell our children that we messed up and ask them to forgive us. Remember that we start fresh each day and remember that God always gives us grace.
One way we can care for ourselves emotionally is by seeing a therapist through telehealth appointments. Personally, I’ve seen my therapist by video call a few times over the past months. God regularly uses her to help me process what’s happening in my life and in world events. I believe everyone could benefit from talking with a Christian therapist, counselor, or psychologist during this difficult time, especially when dealing with trauma and loss.
It may be valuable to keep up with the news during this historic time, yet information overload drains us. There are as many perspectives as experts, and very little that our worrying will do to change global forces. We simply don’t know what will be happening with this virus in a few months. We can increase our well-being by limiting how much time we spend reading or watching the news. Try setting time limits for news apps on your phone, or choose a certain time of day to check the news and a certain time to be done. You might need to include social media in this time, if you frequently read news and opinions posted there. Also make sure whatever you are reading is written by leading medical experts and not simply speculation. Speculation feeds on our fear, which isn’t helpful for anyone. Hopefully, these boundaries can give you the mental space you need to process the news you consume.
Under normal circumstances, exercise and time outdoors are important and healthy. In this extreme situation, they’ve become even more valuable. If it’s possible for you to find 20 minutes to exercise a few times a week, it helps. Consider a walk, a run, a bike ride, or an online fitness class. I don’t always get there. In fact, I often fall short on this one. But I know I feel better and sleep better if I can get in some exercise.
I also know simply getting outside makes a big difference for me too. Even if I just spread a blanket on the front lawn and sit with the baby while our preschooler looks for bugs in the dirt, it’s so good to get fresh air. If you don’t have a yard, you could look for a nature preserve or park nearby where you could maintain social distance and still get some outdoor time. For me, when I’m outside with my little ones, it’s easier to sink into the moment and truly be present with them. These moments of peace and joy nourish me.
With the increased parenting demands, it’s even harder than usual for me to spend time with God. But it’s so important for my spiritual health. We can nourish ourselves spiritually when we worship with our faith community virtually, even if we can’t see the other worshipers. I’ve also enjoyed calling members of my congregation after the service for social conversation, the way we would have typically talked over coffee after worship.
Individual time with God is also crucial. I know that when I miss this time, every area of my life suffers. We are meant to live in relationships with God. Jesus tells us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As we invest time in our relationships with God, we become healthier people and continue to grow. Rooted in God, we fulfill our purpose in life just as a vine fulfills its purpose by producing fruit.
Technology helps me stay rooted in God, sometimes it means listening to scripture or a meditation from my phone just before falling asleep at night. Pray as You Go and Bible in One Year are both free apps that spiritually nourish me. Pray as You Go provides a time of guided prayer and meditation on scripture, generally 10-12 minutes. Bible in One Year brings you through the Bible with readings from the Psalms, Old Testament, and New Testament each day, along with commentary on each. These apps are wonderful options for busy parents.
The Today, a sister ministry of Family Fire, offers short daily devotionals. You can read from the website, the app, or just ask Alexa to read it to you while you wash dishes or change diapers. Groundwork is another sister ministry that offers 30-minute podcast discussions about scripture. Another great option is to connect with God along with your children by tuning into content that engages them. A third sister ministry, Kids Corner, offers videos of kids engaging in their faith, audio bible stories, radio dramas, and crafts to engage your children in faith. Find practices that work well for your family.
As much as I believe in the value of all of these things, I must admit I can’t always follow my own advice. Life is chaotic, especially under the current circumstances. We are all doing our best as parents. That’s all we can do. I hope some of these ideas are helpful for you. And I pray that you know God‘s great love for you as you parent, whatever your specific struggles may be.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster