How parenting in a pandemic is an unexpected opportunity

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Being a parent in the middle of a pandemic is not easy. Sheltering in place with canceled daycare, school, and college, while also being a doctor or other healthcare worker, working in high-risk, high-intensity situations, presents many challenges.  It also presents many opportunities.

It is possible to choose thoughts about being a physician and a parent during the COVID-19 situation that can help it feel more like an opportunity and less like a struggle.

“People will forget what you said.  People will forget what you did.  But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
—Maya Angelou

This quote especially applies to children and especially applies during a pandemic.  We know from studies of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that our children’s experiences of this time will have a tremendous future impact on them.  Mindful parenting is an opportunity to positively influence the ultimate impact.

We have an opportunity as parents to focus our parenting energies on cultivating, compassion, connection, and love.   Love and connection protect against PTSD, anxiety, and depression—for our children and for us. Choosing to focus our attention on thoughts and activities that inspire these feelings, rather than worrying about things outside of our control, is a form of preventive care that will serve our children and us well in the years to come.

We have an opportunity as parents to choose thoughts that will help us and our children feel safe and in control.  Worry is a defensive approach to chaos and uncertainty.  Mindset and thought management are offensive strategies.  Intentionally choosing thoughts such as “This is what we have today;” and “We will do whatever we can to figure it out,” lessens stress and resistance, and leads to more peace.

We have an opportunity to model vulnerability and show our kids and teens how we work through anxiety, fear, and overwhelm.  We can share our processes and our efforts with them, so they learn these skills by watching us and listening to us.  We can demonstrate that we can allow and accept uncomfortable feelings that are “of course” present right now.  Then we can choose to show up as the brave, superhero doctors that we are, with these feelings along for the ride, but not in the proverbial “driver’s seat.” This strategy allows both us and our children to be much more nimble when faced with challenges.

We have an opportunity as parents to model self-compassion and how to not be hard on ourselves for our perceived or real imperfections.  Our children will learn by watching us be forgiving and accepting of our humanity.

We have an opportunity as parents to put fun and laughter near the top of our priority list, even, and especially, during a pandemic.   Fun, laughter, and humor are important life skills for long-term emotional health for our children and for us.  Laughter is good for the immune system and releases oxytocin.   Kids need not only see their parents work hard but also have fun and laugh.  It is important for our children to see that it is possible to have a balanced life.

We have an opportunity to teach our children the power and beauty of mindfulness.  Mindfulness and meditation are some of the most impactful life practices that we, as parents and doctors, can model.   Meditation and mindfulness improve our immune system and our equanimity and help to prevent depression and anxiety, amongst other things.  Choosing to approach life mindfully, in the midst of coronavirus chaos, models for our children valuable tools to support one’s emotional and physical health.

We have an opportunity to teach our children the power of the breath.  Breathing is a tool to improve both our physical and emotional health.  Deep breaths nourish our body, especially our nervous system.  Breathing deeply and often, and teaching our children to do the same, is a gift that will keep on giving– to all of us.

We have an opportunity as parents to practice and model how to pause and be present and to teach our children to do the same.  This pandemic will undoubtedly lead to many tough parenting (and doctoring) moments.  Frustration, fatigue, overwhelm, and anger will appear. When we model how to respond rather than react and how to be “curious rather than furious,” our children and the world will benefit.

Enjoy the “opportunities” presented by this crazy moment in time.

Jessie Mahoney is a pediatrician and can be reached at Pause & Presence Coaching.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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