It’s Halloween month, but it turns out the ‘scaries’ haven’t exactly been confined to October this year! Trick or treating aside, not only has the outside world been a bit scary of late, but so are the thoughts inside our heads. Let’s face it, nothing brings out your insecurities and self-doubt, quite like parenting! This is especially true during the Pandemic where we’ve been cooped up with our kids for months on end and continuously triggered by each other in spooky and often painful ways.
So what’s been happening between parents and their kids during the Pandemic?
On a normal day, the ones that emotionally activate us the most, are those we love. I did a TEDx talk on this subject where I talk about how our kids unconsciously trigger us, moms, all the time. This is because they remind us of our younger more susceptible selves and on any given day, our kids unconsciously remind us of all our oldest and most secret vulnerabilities. Now add an unpredictable virus in the mix and the plot thickens. This now makes for intense dynamics in the home which causes a lot of tension and conflict. This can be seen for example with the mom who trips over a box of discarded Lego and retaliates by punishing her child. Now was this action in service of a teachable moment about how it’s important to look after your things? Or… is she somewhere really angry with a grown-up from her own past… who never really looked after her, leaving her feeling discarded (like the Lego)? You see it’s so hard to feel vulnerable and be reminded by our own kids that in so many ways we also need to feel looked after and be told that everything is going to be ok. This is especially hard when the outside world is infected with a virus and you have to be the one doing all the looking after.
Why is it harder to manage our relationships now?
The Pandemic has made a very complicated situation even harder. It has crammed families into little Petrie dishes and forced them to simmer in each other’s insecurities, day in and day out. In everyday life, we are afforded the relief of being able to escape the difficult feelings that come up between us and our kids by going off to work, gym, on holiday or for a coffee. Likewise, our kiddies are also working through their own developmental issues too. For example, all sorts of ordinary (but difficult) feelings come up between siblings: Like if a big sister hates seeing mom dote on the new baby brother, she now has to watch it all day long, which can feel pretty overwhelming. Or if your child is working through typical separation anxiety from you, long-distance learning – far from her teacher – is likely to trigger that looming worry. Under normal circumstances, they would be able to escape to school, go to Granny or an extramural for some relief. Sure the problem will be waiting for them when they get home. But at least there was a break and a chance to forget for a while. These past months this wasn’t an option, leaving us all with a bottleneck of difficult feelings to deal with.
So what can we do about it?
Find a physical outlet
With Lockdown easing it’s important to find a socially-distanced ‘something’ that will recalibrate each member of the family. If you need to have your morning run, make sure you do that . If your child needs to jump it out on a trampoline, then find one. Indulge in some great fiction or find a binge-worthy series on Netflix. It’s perfectly ok to escape from time to time, as long as you understand why you’re doing it.
Notice what’s happening
Part of the issue is the intensity of the time spent together. The other factor is that like COVID, the problem is often invisible to the naked eye. If you can’t understand your reactions to your child there is a good chance there is an unnamed unconscious tension between the two of you that needs to be thought very carefully about. Use this as an opportunity to stand still, notice this dynamic and seek guidance.
Talk to someone
If there was one great thing to come out of Covid-19, it’s that never before has the importance of mental health been in more conversations. Which is a good start. The next step is finding a place to talk about your stressors and anxieties. I’m a huge fan of psychotherapy and recommend a network of reliable therapeutic practitioners on Therapyroute. Consider this for your child too. Play Therapy is an incredible space where your child can play out their fantasies and worries with an adult that isn’t you! If not therapy, then go for that socially-distanced coffee date with your bestie. Just don’t try to do it alone.
The bottom line
Parenting is hard and there are forces between us and our kids that are not always clear. Lockdown has exacerbated an already tricky dynamic. But rather than shying away from the challenge, let’s rather use this as a useful flag to notice something important and then take steps to come out of this hard time. Confining the ‘scaries’ to Halloween and emerging both stronger and more connected than we were before.