Even in the best of times, caring for children is a balancing act that is never mastered. The ground shifts constantly, and we adapt accordingly, doing our very best to provide care, love, support and encouragement within the daily rhythms of our lives. Our children are acutely aware of change or disruption, and they look to us for stability and leadership. In fact, they insist upon it. If we falter, they’ll reflect it in their behaviors. That’s a lot of pressure! In this episode, Janet offers five suggestions parents can use to help maintain their balance with confidence and grace.
Transcript of “5 Ways Parents Can Make Their Lives Easier Right Now”
Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled.
As we all know, social media is not just about putting content out, it is about listening, sharing, and exchanging ideas. I’ve been focusing lately on listening, and I was struck by a comment on something I had posted the other day. This parent said, “I have to hide these posts and keep myself from reading them because they make me feel like a bad parent. They make me feel overwhelmed.” And that hurt me because I realized that we can feel like every bit of advice put out there is something that we have to live up to, that we’re being judged somehow.
Well, a lot of us do judge ourselves pretty harshly. But the only thing I am offering, my only purpose here is to make your life easier. Nothing that I put out or share is about telling you how to be a good parent or a not-good parent. It’s about how to make this job easier, help you enjoy it more, and feel good about yourselves. So, I know that a lot of us are very hard on ourselves, but please know that nothing I’m putting out is meant to be judgmental. It’s really only meant to be helpful.
And on that note, I wanted to share some quick ideas today that can make your lives easier. So here are five ideas I have for you, for making your life easier right now. The first idea I want to share is to:
1) Remember that we are in a passage, this is an unusual time. The reason it’s important for us to keep remembering that, in the context of being parents, is that we have to adjust our expectations and know that it is going to look different. And there are emotions that go with this period that our children are going to have and that we’re going to have: boredom, sadness, fear, anxiety, loneliness maybe. So, if you have children and life is going along smoothly now, I want to get you on the podcast to share about that because I don’t know how that’s possible. That is not what I would expect.
I would expect if I have more than one child, somebody is going to be crying, somebody’s going to be whining, it’s going to be rough. We may not get the work done that we would normally get. We may not have a tidy house. It’s just not going to happen.
Part of being in a passage is letting go of what we don’t control, as much as possible. And that’s true for me sitting here trying to give advice. There are a lot of things about your life that I can’t advise on and I can’t help with. I can’t help you get all your work done that you want to get done while your children are home and you don’t have any help. Some people are single parents and they don’t have a partner to help cover things. I know that the challenges are immense. So I’m trying to focus on what I can do, what I’m able to offer you, possibly, hopefully, putting one foot in front of the other at a time like this. Staying in the now, trying not to project ahead, just getting through today.
And the good thing is that children are wonderful at helping us do that, young children, especially, because they are very much in the moment. And if we practice observing them and being with them in a way where they’re the busy ones and we aren’t getting involved too much, we’re just really enjoying what they’re doing, then we see the slower pace that they have, how they can stop and examine something mundane, to us, for a long period of time.
So, what else? Number two, I would say:
2) Let go of responsibilities that don’t belong to us.
a. That includes being our child’s teacher. Yes, we are always our child’s teacher with everything that we do through our relationship with our child. But being their school teacher… I know this may be controversial because maybe your children’s teachers are saying that you have to make this happen, but I would take a look at that, and not put yourself into that role where it’s up to you to make sure your child gets assignments done. Particularly if your child is in kindergarten or preschool, even first or second grade.
A parent that I work with was telling me how her daughter, who is in kindergarten, wanted to get on the Zoom call, wanted to be a part of that, but then when there was work to do, she didn’t want to do that part. And this mother was feeling like she had to coax her. And that is just energy that we cannot spend right now, in my opinion.
Also, this is a good setup: that schoolwork is between our child and their actual teachers. That’s an approach I’ve had with all three of my children. I didn’t make it my job to get them to do homework. I didn’t make it my job to get them to do better in their classes. I trusted that they would ask me for help if they needed it, but that they could do this age-appropriate work with their teacher. And that’s a message that empowers children, and makes them feel more confident. And if they can’t rise to that challenge, then maybe the work is not age-appropriate or maybe it’s not appropriate the way it’s being taught to your child.
The teachers that I’ve been hearing from are saying they don’t expect that children will be able to keep up with their work and they’re planning on doing a lot of review when school starts again. So, all of that to say, I recommend leaving schoolwork between your child and their teachers, taking that off our list of responsibilities, especially now.
b. Another responsibility that I recommend letting go of is being the entertainer and playmate for our child. I have a lot of posts and podcasts about this. If we insert ourselves into that role, then it makes it harder for our children to know the truth, which is that they can create and direct their own play. They don’t need us to set up play for them. They don’t need us to make it happen for them. They don’t need us to play with them. Especially at this time, I would not make that your role.
The role that I recommend is a quiet, responsive observer, who in the time that I have to play with you, I am 100% with you, and that could be for five minutes, 20 minutes. What matters is that I’m yours. But I’m not going to get up and perform for you. I’m going to keep asserting and demonstrating to you, through my attention, that you don’t have to draw me in and I’m not going to be drawn in. “Yeah, I know sometimes I’ve played that in the past, where I let you tell me to do this or that and I do it, or we do it together, but for now I’m just going to be with you.” Releasing your child from having to perform and draw you in, and your child can just be hanging out with you. But you are fully present for that brief period of time.
That’s a role that does not drain us. It’s a lot more fun when your child gets used to it because you get to enjoy discovering your child.
c. And another one: conflict referee with siblings, I would not micromanage that. I’d be involved as minimally as possible and with a neutral perspective. Not coming in to tell somebody you’re wrong, you’re right, you’re a victim, you’re a bully. Just doing the most minimal thing.
One parent said, “What if they’re screaming in each other’s faces?” So, I believe screaming is a healthy release. Yeah, we don’t want it to go on and on, and on, or upset the neighbors or those kinds of things. But on its own, it really is fine to scream at each other when you’re young kids. It’s a very expressive way of sharing and actually releasing some of your stress when you’re young.
So, if my children were doing that, I would maybe come in at some point. “I’m going to back you both up a bit because that’s a little close.” And then if it went on and on, and it seemed to be escalating and they were stuck, then I might say, “All right guys, I think we need a breather. Let’s give each other some space.”
All of these things I would do with neutrality, even if it’s always this other one instigating it, I think. Often the one we think is instigating it actually is just the one left holding the bag and the other one instigated it. But no matter what my theories are about their play, I’m not going to put it out there that there’s blame involved, because what that does is increases the rivalry, increases the conflict between them. It makes it harder for them, especially the blamed one, to have comfortable play with their sibling, to be generous, to share, to do all the things we want them to do.
So, all of these roles, including this referee role, once we step into them, we make it harder for our children. It defeats what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re not bad parents, we’re not anything, except we make more work for ourselves.
If I’m the one that gets you to do your schoolwork, now you think you need me to push you to do your schoolwork. If I’m your entertainer, now you think you need me to be the one with the ideas showing you how to play. If I intervene too much with sibling conflicts, then you feel like you can’t handle conflict with each other, that I’m taking sides, which means that there are more conflicts and now I have to come and intervene more. So, this is not even for our children as much as it is for us, right now, especially.
d. Another role that comes under that heading of a responsibility that doesn’t belong to us, is the changer or fixer of feelings.
And believe me, I want to be a changer and fixer of feelings. That’s been my whole life, especially with my children, and I will always feel that way, I’m sure. But I’ve learned that it’s the last thing children need. And it can be a very fruitless pursuit, because if my child needs to express stress or some emotion, the more I try to put a lid on that, the more it’s going to crop up again and again, the longer it’s going to take for them to process out that feeling. And then there might be a point where they start to repress the feeling, and we don’t want that. When children express feelings, which they often do through behavior that we don’t like, help them with the behavior, but know that those feelings are gold and we want them to express them as much as possible. So, if my child is expressing something through hitting, I’m going to block the hitting, and I’m going to say, “I won’t let you hit. You didn’t like that this happened or that happened…” Or whatever my child is hitting about.
If I don’t know, then I might just say, “Something’s going on with you. You feel like hitting. I can’t let you.” Meanwhile, I’m there containing it as best I can. Now, if you have a bunch of children, you’re not always going to be there to contain it. That’s okay. When you do come in, come in neutrally and just do your best. This overall attitude of welcoming our children’s feelings and not being judgmental about their behavior, not scolding them for their behavior, that creates an atmosphere where there’s less of this. It’s really amazing how that works.
So, what do we want? Less work for us. That means biting the bullet when our child is feeling something that all our triggers might be telling us, this is so inappropriate, or this is wrong or this is bad. Try to trust the feelings and let the feelings be.
And that is the next point I wanted to make:
3) Letting feelings be. An all feelings allowed environment. The only way we can do that as parents without going crazy is to start to do that 180 to seeing the feelings as positive, not seeing them as a sign that I’m a bad parent, I’m doing everything wrong, that they’re going to be taking it out in the classroom with their teachers, when they go back to school. None of that is true. Our children are sharing it where they’re supposed to share it, where they’re safe, with the people that love them unconditionally. So, turn that around, it’s positive. And I have lot of supportive posts and podcasts about that.
4) Assert your personal boundaries, setting limits kindly, confidently, early. Don’t let something go on that you don’t like, stop it at the outset, prevent it if possible, prevent it in your environment by putting things away that you don’t want your children to play with. Not giving them materials that they can put all over the walls and make a mess with or do something inappropriate with.
A misconception that I see out there is that young children, one-and-a-half-year-olds, need to do art and painting, and they don’t need to do that yet. It’s okay, they will embrace that later. They don’t need to have access to materials that are messy and that they could do something inappropriate with. So don’t worry about that. They’re going to have plenty of time for that later.
And then with ourselves, if it’s going to drive me crazy to have my child with me in the bathroom after I’ve been hanging out while she played, and doing this or that with her… And I would just say, don’t let kids in the bathroom. They don’t need to be in the bathroom with you. But let’s say it’s something else that I just: Okay, I’ll let her do it, but I kind of don’t want that.
Listen to that voice and just say no. Just say no.
Another parent I heard from has been struggling mightily with her daughter’s behavior. It sounds like they’ve been caught in a cycle where the mother isn’t setting boundaries early enough or confidently enough, and then her daughter’s behavior continues and the mother gets upset with her and then feels guilty. And this parent, she’s been having this first thing in the morning walk, by herself, while her partner takes care of her daughter. This was her time. And her daughter one day asked her so nicely if she could join her on that walk, and of course the mother was tempted to say yes and she did. She took her on the walk, then felt even worse because she didn’t feel any better towards her daughter.
And when she told me this story, I said: No. Don’t do that. Don’t say yes. Protect your time. Protect your self-care, no matter how sweetly your child asks. And even if she’s the perfect angel on the walk, guard your time. Say no and let her be upset with you. You need this self-care.
Right now is not time to loosen those personal boundaries; it’s time to actually be more protective of them.
And the last point I want to make is:
5) Prioritize. So when you have a lot of elements that you’ve got to deal with, be the leader, trust your priorities, and let the chips fall where they may in terms of other people not agreeing. So, if you have two children, let’s say you have a baby and you have a toddler, or a preschooler, and you’ve been doing all the things that a baby needs, of course, but now the baby’s fussy right in the middle of when you were brushing your toddler’s hair, or helping them get dressed, or putting a bandaid on, helping them get their teeth brushed.
Let your baby know, “I hear you. I’m going to be with you in a moment. I’m just finishing up with your brother.” And then continue giving your full attention to that child. Obviously we’re not going to prolong this when the baby’s upset, but don’t rush it either. Caregiving is a time to prioritize because these are times that are naturally geared towards intimacy. Sometimes intimacy is required. I’m changing your diaper, I’m helping you in the bathroom, I’m putting you to bed and saying, good night. These are the times to prioritize as quality time with your child, especially when you don’t have a lot of time, you’re frazzled. Let these caregiving moments anchor you. It’s a few minutes here or there that you can be fully present. And then, again, if you have two children, then you’re going to have to prioritize who needs you more in that moment.
But I would not rush to try to please both of them. That ends up not pleasing either one and, especially, not pleasing ourselves, because we’re torn in all these different directions and in the end we’re probably not making anybody happy. It’s a valiant instinct that we have to try to keep all the plates spinning in the air. It doesn’t work. It will drain us needlessly and it will make it harder for us to get through the day.
So, again, that’s letting feelings be, one foot in front of the other. I’m prioritizing this, I’m going to do this first. Finish what you’re doing if you can, unless something’s an emergency, and be the leader. Don’t expect it to be smooth around you, but you can still stay centered. You can stay okay. There’s a lot more about all of these points in my other podcasts and my articles on my website, and in my books.
For those who’ve been listening here and reading my stuff, none of these are new ideas. But the parents that have been embracing some of them and using them are noticing: hey, whew, this is when I’m really grateful for some of this perspective. It was helping me before, but now I really see the beauty of it.
I hope some of this helps for you too. I know this is challenging.
Please check out some of the other podcasts on my website, janetlansbury.com. They’re all indexed by subject and category, so you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in, and both of my books are available in paperback at Amazon, Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame. You can get them in ebook at Amazon, Apple, Google Play, or barnesandnoble.com and in audio at audible.com. As a matter of fact, you can get a free audio copy of either book at Audible by following the LINK in the liner notes of this podcast.
Thanks so much for listening. We can do this.