Mindful Parenting in a Time of Uncertainty and Pressure
It has never been exactly “easy” to be a good parent based on your own standards. But these days, it’s even harder.
That is not just because of the challenges due to COVID-19, although the pandemic has made life more challenging for parents, and just about everybody else, in various ways.
Information: A Source of Stress?
One of the challenges of modern parenting is information overload. “Parents have been subjected to a daily barrage of information, much of it stressful, as knowledge evolves” notes psychologist and former Chair of The Psychology Foundation of Canada’s Board, Dr. Ester Cole: “Over the course of the pandemic, the advice from health experts has changed and that has impacted personal and community behavioural expectations. For some, it increased and prolonged the stress and anxiety for parents looking for the best ways to keep their families and loved ones safe.”
Information overload has been with us for a while. Parents have always been given a lot of advice. No generation has ever had so many modes of communication and so much parenting and health advice, some of it conflicting, all available at the click of a mouse. Moreover, this information (and misinformation) comes with pressure to use it well, along with increased perceived judgment in the social media.
Above All Parents Need Support
During the global pandemic parents and all community members need support, not perceived judgment – which brings us to another major challenge for parents. Most of today’s mothers and fathers are raising children with less social support than in the past. The support networks that traditionally helped parents raise children, are now less available, because of social distancing and travel restrictions.
In spite of all this, however, many parents are doing a great job with their kids these days. But the aforementioned challenges suggest two important, and often under-emphasized, keys to being an effective 21st century parent.
One is fairly obvious: Reach out and communicate your needs. View this as a sign of strength, not one of weakness. Make sure you have as much support as you can get, from family, friends and other parents.
Feeling Good In Your Role
The other is not quite so obvious: The importance of finding ways to feel good about yourself and your parenting. These days, many factors can pull parents into negative thinking, says Dr. Cole: “Ambiguous information and lack of support can make us feel helpless and stressed. That can lead to diminished mood. Our behaviours, including our tolerance for frustration and disappointment, are a by-product of our mood.”
Though it may sound simplistic, one of the keys to good parenting is feeling good in your parenting role: Having fun with your kids, feeling confident and capable as a mother or father.
Grabbing the Good Moments
A lot of parenting is work and a process of learning together– the everyday tasks that aren’t exactly fun, along with the problems and frustrations that inevitably come up when raising children. However, that “work” is punctuated by good times, where you and your family have fun and laugh together, when you feel pride and wonder at your child, and when you experience those wonderful moments of closeness with your kids. As such, a lot of feeling good as a parent is about being ready to grab those moments, to experience them fully and store them in your parent memory bank to give you hope when things get tough.
Being mindful about the positive aspects of child rearing is one of the things we actually have some control over as parents. “Although many things are not under our control,” says Dr. Cole. “It’s important to stop and ask yourself, what do I have control over, and focus on those things. New priorities may open up for you when you consider new possibilities, even in the home. Looking at the bright side of situations, however small, helps us bounce back and count our daily blessings”.
We also have some control over what we feel thankful for, says Dr. Cole. There is considerable psychological research showing that gratitude—authentic gratitude—is helpful for us and those we interact with. Gratitude supports our well-being, and in particular our social well-being. And parenting is an inherently social activity,
In other words, it is also important to pause sometimes and ask, “What do I have gratitude for,” suggests Dr. Cole. If you do that, chances are you will find that your children and the good experiences you have with them are one of the big things you have to feel thankful for with renewed appreciation. When you feel thankful about something, it feels good and it tends to make you want to experience those moments more often.
But even some of the work of parenting has to power to make us feel good about ourselves. One of the key tasks of parenting is comforting children when they are sad, scared or angry. That can lead to little doses of the “helper’s high.” “Making other people feel good, or helping them feel better, makes us feel better too. It is part of rediscovering our personal strength, and appreciation of daily small events” says Dr. Cole. That’s a power we have as parents – to help our kids feel comforted, safe, and enjoying good times with us.
Supporting Each Other
What is more, by supporting our friends and family members who are parents, we can also help them feel better. And when you support other people, they usually support you right back. As noted earlier, there is no doubt that feeling positively connected is one of the most important predictors of effective parenting.
Get as much support as you can, support your partner and fellow parents, and make time to enjoy being with your kids. It’s not goofing off. Enjoying children is a key part of parenting that can sometimes get lost in the busyness of family live. Not only are those good times beneficial for you, they are obviously good for your kids. When your children are older, they may not remember all the great parenting strategies you used, but they will remember the good times you had together. And so will you. And the more you can enjoy your parenting, the more you’ll feel that you’re doing it well.
Strong Minds Strong Kids has various resources to support parents. Please visit www.strongmindsstrongkids.org to access these free resources.
Thank you to Workplace Strategies for Mental Health for their support of 24/7: A resource for working parents.