The Beauty Amongst the Stress
I’ve returned to working in an office setting now that my children’s early childhood programs reopened last week with shortened hours due to covid. I felt blissful relief at having my children taken care of by someone other than me and was excited about the prospect of being able to work at my quiet, peaceful office, rather than home. The past two months have been really hard, emotionally, mentally, physically, and logistically. And to be honest, I’m not sure I handled it all that well.
During the stay at home orders, my husband and I both worked our jobs from our home “offices”. After breakfast, my husband would retreat to his make-shift office in the garage, which although mostly soundproof, is not a space immune to interruption from a 3-year-old looking for his daddy. I would go into the bedroom and make my bed, in an attempt to organize my workspace and appear somewhat professional on zoom calls. Since I work less hours than my husband, I would take it upon myself to watch the kids most of the time. This meant keeping my ears open and my attention split. My husband would step in if I had an important call that needed more focus. It. Was. Stressful. My children are very active 3 and 5-year-old boys that spent the quarantine fighting and eating all while getting way too much screen time, so my ears would pick up noises of merriment and havoc with enough frequency to make it difficult to concentrate on my work.
Guilt and frustration became constant companions. I did what I could, but I couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t enough. I didn’t read any books or organize any closets and it took me at least twice as long to accomplish work tasks as it normally would. Without my constant supervision, my youngest had so many potty-training accidents we had to remove the rug from our living room. Even a week after my quarantine has ended, the house is still in desperate need of a deep clean, the garden needs weeding, and a pile of kindergarten prep workbooks lay untouched on the bookshelf. If the covid quarantine was a test from the universe, surely I had failed.
Here’s the thing, though. It’s not a test. And even if it was, I haven’t been grading myself fairly. From a resilience perspective, each day, no matter how stressed out I was, I was building the resilience of my children and fostering the work of childhood. Every morning the kids and I stayed in our pajamas and cuddled on the couch for a while before I went back into my room to work. The boys and I frequently took walks to get their wiggles out- we visited the tadpole pond by our house and had an impromptu science lesson about amphibians. We went on bike rides and explored our neighborhood. We found out that several of our neighbors had signs in their windows like “stay safe!” and “we love you!”- others had teddy bears in their windows that I would point out excitedly. We drew on the sidewalk with chalk and played hide and seek. We made dinner and ate it together every night. We danced in the kitchen. There was beauty amidst the stress, and I felt as if I actually grew closer to my kids.
It turns out, it wasn’t just a feeling- The increased closeness I felt to my children and spouse despite (or because of) the stress is based on real science. Research* by Dr. Robert Sege and colleagues has shown that stress and crisis open an opportunity to build resilience by strengthening relationships and building trust. One way is by talking to your kids about their feelings. When kids feel like they can share their feelings and burdens with their parents without judgement, it acts as a protective influence against the negative mental and physical outcomes from trauma. Another way is through positive experiences. All the bike rides, cookie baking, and doing chores together made my children feel safe and engaged even in uncertain times.
We aren’t out of the woods in terms of covid 19 yet and we all know that there is even more going on in our country that would warrant an entirely different blog entry. Everyone is experiencing some mixture of stress, grief, and guilt. Now more than ever, it’s important to use our resilience lens with ourselves and our children. I’m not looking forward to continued stress and I doubt anyone reading this is. But if we change our perspective to see this difficulty as an opportunity for building trust and togetherness and dreaming about the world we want to live in, then we are one step closer to better days.
ICTF’s Grant Manager, Taryn Yates, Master in Social Work, is a grants manager and planner for the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund/Prevent Child Abuse Idaho.
She had a regular parenting column in her hometown newspaper, The Idaho Fall’s Post Register from 2018-2019 and continues with her parenting insights on this website blog.