By: Dr. Sarah Toler, DNP

The coronavirus pandemic and quarantine quickly changed life as we know it. The thought of homeschooling during this quarantine sent many parents for a loop. Within hours of school closures, social media was flooded with advice on how to best manage work and school schedules. In the middle of panicking about the unraveling of daily life, many parents overcompensated with the sudden lack of structure by trying to keep everything as normal as possible for the sake of the kids. 

Overnight, parents were left with the expectation that they should keep up with work, homeschool their kids, and take care of things around the house with the same 24 hours of the day they had before coronavirus became a pandemic. Anyone who’s been trying to juggle all these tasks for the past six weeks can tell you that just because you want to work three jobs at once, doesn’t mean you can. Rather than attempting to squeeze as many activities into one day as possible, and stretching yourself to your limits, this is the time to adjust your expectations. 

How to reduce your expectations during the coronavirus pandemic 

If you’re struggling with the stress of accomplishing all of your work, parenting, and personal goals with limited resources right now, you probably lean toward perfectionism. Change of pace and change in schedules creates a lack of control that can push some perfectionists over the edge. It might feel like the best way to gain control is to push harder and push through, but these unprecedented times are not the time to be hard on ourselves about what we achieve. 

Some people are being more impacted by this pandemic than others. While some people are sick with COVID-19 (the illness caused by coronavirus), others may be dealing with the grief of losing loved ones to the illness. Even if you haven’t been directly impacted by COVID-19, living through this pandemic is a novel and stressful experience. It’s okay right now to acknowledge that no matter where you are on the spectrum of impact, this is a stressful situation. 

The reality is that this is not a time to continue high expectations for yourself or your kids. This pandemic is a time of survival mode for all of us. If you’ve made it through the day, managed to brush your teeth, feed your kids, and distribute a few hugs, you are doing a good job. 

Helping your kids deal with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is a population-wide trauma, and kids are feeling the effects just as much as adults, yet most kids don’t have the emotional capability to understand why their lives are so impacted by something they can’t see. Kids are missing their school friends and teachers and picking up on the stress felt by parents trying to work and maintain a stable life at home. Population-wide trauma is a rare event—some people experienced it during hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks on 9/11—and many parents are understandably ill equipped to handle the stress themselves while also helping walk their kids through the process of healing from a traumatic childhood

While it’s tempting to try to keep things as normal as possible and stick to a rigid schedule, things simply aren’t normal right now. A schedule may help some kids feel a sense of stability, but the most comforting thing a parent can do during this time is to continually remind a child that although things are different at the moment, they are safe. Providing a sense of safety means giving reminders that they are physically safe, as well as creating spaces of emotional safety, where they are free to share emotion, be creative, and simply play. 

Managing stress as a parent during the coronavirus pandemic

This isn’t just a challenging time for kids. Most parents are feeling overwhelmed right now, too. Many of the strategies that work for kids during population-based trauma work for parents also. Keep your normal schedule as much as possible, but allow yourself time to feel the discomfort that comes with living through a life-changing pandemic. Allow yourself some room for flexibility and forgiveness when you don’t meet your own expectations. 

During this trying time, sometimes laundry will be unwashed, dishes will be dirty, and you’ll fall behind with work. Understand that everyone who is trying to balance parenting, work, and home right now is also experiencing this. Prioritize conversation and physical touch with your family over household chores. Try to limit alcohol consumption. Find a creative and relaxing outlet whether it’s coloring with your kids, reading a book, or allowing time for a hot bath every day. Make time to move your body each day and get outdoors for a few minutes if you can. 

Stressful situations like this pandemic often find many people coping by abusing alcohol or recreational drugs like marijuana. Some people may become reliant on sleeping pills when stress evolves into chronic insomnia. If you find your stress evolves into mental health struggles, please reach out for help. Healthcare providers and virtual recovery programs are prepared to help with the mental health challenges many people are facing right now. 

Adjusting to life during quarantine 

While the coronavirus is a dark cloud that has cost lives and led to economic uncertainty for many, the silver lining of quarantine is that families have been brought together. Instead of rushing from school to soccer practice and tutoring, families suddenly have downtime. Quarantine will not last forever. Taking time to relish in family dinners, long walks together and movie nights can help relieve some of the stress everyone is feeling throughout this event. Focusing on your interactions between you and your family members can help turn this from a time of trauma into a time of connection.