In 2020, so many employees were abruptly required to work from home. Suddenly and unexpectedly, millions of individuals worldwide faced the challenges of juggling work with childcare, personal relationships, homeschooling, household chores, and family demands in general. Unless their dwellings already benefited from a dedicated home office, most workers were forced to improvise on the fly. Bedrooms, kitchens, and family rooms became shared workspaces; dining tables became desks, couches became chairs.
Many employees found themselves putting in extra time, working around the clock while trying to focus despite ambient distractions, such as interrupting children, pets, and television. The most significant challenges associated with working from home come from the blurred lines between work and personal life and embracing mindful parenting can seem like impossible.
Parenting in the middle of a pandemic that has ushered in an era of working from home and homeschooling can be challenging. Anecdotes ranging from endearing to embarrassing are blowing up in social media from moms and dads just trying to navigate the new normal. Parents are getting hard, and at times comical and embarrassing, lessons in virtual reality. Kids may throw tantrums in the middle of important meetings and calls, or you may have to support homeschooling activities in the middle of the day. It can get extremely exhausting. But there is hope. We want to share some practical mindfulness techniques that parents can employ worldwide to strengthen family relationships in these trying times.
MINDFUL PARENTING TIP 1: EMBRACE IMPERFECTION
As parents, we are often tempted to embed perfection into every facet of our relationships with our kids. We want them to have the best educations, the best meals, the best manners, and perfect lives. It all comes from the best intentions, but we must learn to cut ourselves (and our children) some slack. To foster truly mindful parenting, we should not be aiming to project an image of perfection onto our kids. Instead, we should show them that it’s okay to have flaws; no one is perfect. The pandemic is not an ideal situation. Hence, there is no need to pretend it is.
In our relationships with our children during this pandemic, and in general, we should not try to pursue perfection but rather an authenticity. We should pursue meaningful bonding experiences that enable us to connect with our kids in ways that we’ve never had the time for before. So perhaps instead of trying to get the kids to study for at least eight hours every single day at a minimum, we should be compassionate and kind, and maybe just get together as a family and watch old Home Alone movies once in a while.
Embracing the imperfection of the situation can entail creating a positive space for stronger family relationships to emerge. Do not pretend that the pandemic is not ravaging through the world in a bid not to scare your children. The kids have iPads and mobile phones now, and they’re probably more up to date on the latest news than us adults! Instead, let them understand the realities of the situation at hand. When the children understand precisely why working from home and homeschooling is necessary, they are likely to be more cooperative. However, be careful not to scare them. In simple, easy-to-understand language, let the children understand why it is now critical for them to use their masks outdoors, why social distancing is necessary, and why outings need to be minimized.
MINDFUL PARENTING TIP 2: BE GENUINELY CURIOUS
As parents, we tend to assume many things because we think we know everything about our kids — quick truth: you probably don’t know that much. In today’s world of Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, most children communicate their concerns with friends or even strangers online. Children face unique individual struggles and challenges. In the coronavirus pandemic’s current era, they need more support from their parents than ever since they are cut off from their buddies in school. Mindful parenting requires that we listen to our kids with an open mind without ramming our suggested solutions down their throats.
As parents, we often get caught up in the web of thinking that our kids are extensions of us. Sorry to burst your bubble, but they are not. They are independent individuals, and we should raise them as such. We must focus on getting them to open up more to us about their concerns to understand how changes such as working from home and homeschooling are affecting them. From there, we can work with them to figure out actionable solutions.
Being genuinely curious about our kids also stretches out to their interests, no matter how weird. Mindful parenting in a pandemic involves getting to realize all our kids’ interests and helping them to figure out ways to develop these interests. Bonding with a child with a passion for art and painting during the pandemic may involve sitting with the child and painting things that strike his /her interest, even if it’s just once a week. So, as mindful parents, we should use this opportunity to get to know our children better and strengthen our relationships with them.
MINDFUL PARENTING TIP 3: HAVE THE UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS
We all know that the most critical conversations that can be held between a parent and a child are the most uncomfortable ones. And I’m not just talking about ‘the talk’ about the birds and the bees, even though we all know how hard talks about sex with kids can be. Now that we are in a pandemic and the kids are around all day, you may have to tell your 7-year-old where babies come from finally. I’m sure you’re looking forward to that.
As a parent, you cannot just choose to ignore the awkward topics and pretend that your children do not have specific questions and concerns. The pandemic presents an opportunity for you to get to know their burning questions and have those difficult conversations. With younger children, the problematic discussions may entail why they cannot go to school and see their friends or why they cannot visit the museums, see their grandparents or go to the zoo in the meantime. Many parents did not go through childhood sorting out knotty issues with their parents; most of us just handled those issues on our own and pretended everything was alright when many things were going wrong.
Now, more than ever, our children need to trust us enough to discuss topics they consider embarrassing or awkward. Mindful parenting requires us to be their primary support system and guide them through the lifestyle changes we are experiencing. The importance of setting boundaries within the family during the pandemic cannot be underestimated. We are working from home, and the children are homeschooling.
There are bound to be unwelcome intrusions and uncomfortable circumstances every once in a while. However, as mindful parents, we can learn to minimize the impact of these unprecedented circumstances. We can start by getting the family together and discussing why boundaries need to exist within the home, especially at certain times during the day. We can then make up by planning family activities like board games, dancing, music, or a family barbecue.
MINDFUL PARENTING TIP 4: BREATH DEEPLY
Every parent has experienced those completely overwhelming moments when things get out of control. Before totally losing it try the following exercise:
- Sit down and close your eyes.
- Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart.
- Take a slow, long deep breath in.
- Fill the lower belly first, and then gradually fill up to the top of the throat.
- And then slowly let the breath out in reverse.
- Repeat as many times as possible.
How are you feeling? Better?
This technique works miraculously. Why? We have two parts to our nervous system: a “fight, freeze, flight” sympathetic nervous system and the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system. In our belly are the nerves for that “rest and digest” system, and when you take a deep breath, you touch into those nerves. After taking three deep breaths, you really begin to soothe your whole nervous system.
Tackle this little mindful parenting tool into your toolkit. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use it (yeah, right!). But it will be there for you when things begin to break down and you need immediate repair.
MINDFUL PARENTING TIP 5: BE PRESENT
At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much in our lives, learning and practicing mindful parenting can offer families opportunities to be more present. Our children, especially the younger ones, live in the present moment. They are oblivious to the past and unconcerned about the future. They see the world with fresh eyes and with wonder. When we let them, children can teach us how valuable the present moment is, time with no objectives, time free from the need for productivity and achievement.
By embracing mindfulness, you learn to shift your attention to the present moment without judgment. When the present moment inevitably strays, you gently redirect your attention back to it. Mindfulness research has demonstrated a myriad of positive impacts on our health, including improved immune system functioning, increased concentration and attention, and increased relationship satisfaction. Moreover, research has also demonstrated that mindfulness supports increased cognitive flexibility and decreases emotional reactivity. As a parent, being able to think on your feet and outside the box, remain calm under pressure will allow you to be a much present parent.
MINDFUL PARENTING TIP 6: PRACTICE GRATITUDE
Life is not necessarily all about the cards we are dealt. The essential thing in life is how we view the cards life deals us with and how we utilize our current circumstances. The world is going through a global pandemic that puts governments, industries, and institutions in disarray. As responsible parents, we need to determine how the pandemic impacts our families and the family unit’s bond. Though simple and seemingly ordinary, gratitude can be a handy tool to help keep the family together during these trying times.
According to a 2011 study by the Harvard Medical School, intentionally practicing gratitude can help us bring the bright side of even the darkest situations into focus. When we practice gratitude, we actively try to look for the bright side in the challenging circumstance, and more often than not, we would be pleasantly surprised to find out that we have a lot more to be thankful for than we think. After a long week of coordinating working from home and homeschooling the kids, getting out onto the patio or the garden, eating fruits, and discussing the things that the entire family is thankful for that week can be a great way to elicit a change in perspective. This can also help us to appreciate our families more and create longer-lasting bonds.
Being intentional about finding the good in the pandemic’s awful circumstances can also help bring our family together like never before. Trying times either break relationships or strengthen them. With mindful parenting, we choose to engender habits like intentional gratitude and appreciation within the family unit. Therefore, all through the working from home and homeschooling processes, we can make lemonades out of life’s lemons by using the pandemic as an opportunity to foster love, unity, and togetherness within the family as the world goes through these trying times.
MINDFUL PARENTING TIP 7: PRACTICE FORGIVENESS
The pandemic is forcing everybody to stay indoors, which means that there will be more conflicts and scuffles within the family than before. With the kids indoors all the time, there are bound to be constant and petty fights. So, instead of letting yourself scream: “Conrad! let your little brother play with the video game too!” or “Karen! Let your sister have some hot chocolate!” at the top of your voice all day long, trying to reprimand the kids, perhaps you can just try forgiveness and gentility! Of course, the pandemic allows the family to bond and create incredible memories. Still, when a group of people who are used to spending considerable amounts of time apart has to stick together 24/7, then light skirmishes may begin to ensue. Our children may invade our workspaces, interrupt our meetings, or make noise while we’re trying to work. As mindful parents, we need to understand that this is a trying time for our kids, just as it is for us. Their freedom to play and relate with their friends has been temporarily taken away, and they may act out.
Therefore, we need to make it a point of duty to be as forgiving and loving as possible. Of course, we should enforce discipline and order and scold where necessary. Still, we also need to be intentional about forgiving our children when they offend us as the world tries to make it through this global catastrophe.
Mindful parenting means that we also need to plan to be patient with our children in advance, even before they get to our nerves. Yes, that may sound a bit over the top, but it makes it easier to handle these conflicts and fights when they finally occur. Anticipate that the boys will scream over their video games during playtime. We need to know deep in our minds that someone would try to eat someone’s food, or take someone’s coloring book, or do a couple of the other petty things that kids do to themselves when they are being children.
We need to anticipate the unsavory events that might occur and come to terms with the possibilities. This anticipation can also help us to prepare a specific set of instructions and guidelines to help the entire family maintain peace during the pandemic. Forgiving our children and showing that we understand their plight would make them happy and make the trying circumstances easier for them to bear. It would also help foster an environment of love and open communication within the family in the long run.
YOU’RE DOING GREAT!
Mindful parenting is arduous work. Nobody has it all figured out; we all have to learn one day at a time to be better parents for our kids and to be there for them in every way possible when they need us. The pandemic complicates the parenting challenge with the need for homeschooling and working from home. While life as a working parent in the middle of a global health crisis may seem like just too much to bear, I assure you that you are doing exceptionally well. Just hold on a little bit longer, and choose patience, kindness, love, gratitude, and forgiveness. Instead of seeing this pandemic as a complete disaster, alter your perspective and see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create unforgettable memories with the most important people in your life — your family.