As the ongoing Covid-19 crisis stretches our isolation from weeks into possible months, everyone’s emotions are in a constant state of flux. There’s the obvious “cabin fever” that results from endless days stranded indoors with the same people, but there’s also the stress that comes from having routines upended, schedules altered, and lives put on hold. It’s completely normal for parents to experience a whole range of feelings.
“Emotions in the best of times can be tricky and hard to understand, identify, and process. Throw in a world-wide pandemic and we’re really struggling,” says Robert Gottlieb, MA, LCPC, behavioral health at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. “Having to live with constant change and instability while in very close proximity to one another for extended periods of time can bring out some emotions with which we are not familiar or comfortable.”
For parents, the stress of a Covid-19 quarantine can be particularly intense, because not only are they having to deal with their own emotions, but also keep everything balanced for their kids. There is a desire in parents to stay strong and resilient for their kids. This is a good instinct, but it can lead to guilt and shame when emotions do surface. Gottlieb says that it’s important for parents to realize that having emotions, especially during a time like this, is not wrong.
“Emotions are simply a response to either internal or external stimuli,” he says. “It’s what we do with our emotions or how we react to them that’s most important.”
Here, per Gottlieb, are a few emotions that parents should feel justified in feeling during coronavirus quarantine — and how to cope with them in a healthy way.
With the constant influx of news and updates, the changing dates and the challenges of remote working and learning, feeling confused is unavoidable. The coronavirus is an unprecedented situation and no one has any answers or a roadmap to see it through. “The best way to manage confusion is to stay informed (within reason) and share these feelings,” says Gottlieb. “You don’t have to have all the answers on your own.”
Even though parents are home and spending more time with kids than ever, that doesn’t mean that they have no responsibilities or other interests. Prior to quarantine, parents could compartmentalize their lives and find a balance between work life and home. Now that everything has been thrown together, finding that balance is even more of a challenge, and it’s okay to feel a little guilty when you have to let some things slide. “Give yourself some grace as you balance this new mixture of responsibilities,” says Gottlieb. “Processing feelings of guilt can often help alleviate them just as an empathetic response from someone else can be very healing and just what we need.”
Parents are under the same roof with the same people for months on end, dealing with laundry, cooking, cleaning, meltdowns, and career responsibilities. They’re vulnerable, insecure, and anxious. It’s unreasonable to assume that parents are not going to get angry sometimes. “The important thing with anger is to not judge yourself for feeling how you feel,” says Gottlieb, “but to have a healthy outlet for this emotion, and to be sure you address the underlying more vulnerable emotion.” It’s also important to calmly explain to kids your reaction and why you reacted the way you did, so they learn how to discuss emotions in a healthy way.
Even if a parent or a loved one of theirs hasn’t been affected by Covid-19, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that there is a lot of sadness in the world. And some of that sadness is going to affect them as they process it through the filter of what is happening in your own life. Gottlieb suggests parents share those feelings with a loved one or someone they feel safe with. He also proposes that parents find a creative outlet for their feelings. “Sometimes we feel like we shouldn’t have fun or do fun things when we’re sad or because the world is hurting right now,” he says, “but nothing can be further from the truth.” If you’re suffering from serious depression, please seek out help for yourself and your family.
As much as we might try and pretend that things are normal, the fact is that they’re not. There are a lot of unknown elements out there right now, and that sense of the unknown can inspire fear. It’s normal to be afraid right now, says Gottlieb, as long as we don’t let that fear dictate our actions. “Let yourself live your life in as normal a manner as you typically can while still maintaining within the bounds of appropriate recommendations from our governing bodies,” he says. “Don’t make decisions out of your emotions, make decisions that will facilitate the emotions you want to feel.”
This situation can take its toll on even the strongest of people, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that a person would lash out during 40-plus days of quarantine. Parents shouldn’t beat themselves up for not always being at their best. In fact, Gottlieb says that having remorse over one’s actions can be healthy, as it demonstrates a sense of self-awareness. However, he does not recommend dwelling on that shame. “Shaming people into doing better is never an effective tool in the long run,” he says. “What we need is grace and empathy for ourselves in knowing we made a mistake but are doing the best we can and to use this as a tool to react differently next time.”
Usually the term “burnout” tends to be associated with being overworked, but in a situation like the one the world is currently dealing with, burnout is a very real concern. It’s important for parents to time for themselves in order to ensure that they’re operating at their best for loved ones. “Self-care is imperative during this difficult time,” says Gottlieb. “Many people believe that they need to satisfy the needs of everyone else before they tend to themselves. This neglect of self in the long run causes us to be a detriment to those for whom we are attempting to care when we ourselves crash. Take time for yourself every day to make sure you’re meeting your own needs so you can pour out to others from the excess.”
Even when quarantined with your family, parents are still isolated from other family and friends. Zoom chats and FaceTime sessions may help, but there is still distance that we have to deal with. “It’s normal to feel this way even when you’re home surrounded by your loved ones,” says Gottlieb. “The antidote to loneliness is connection and intentional interaction with people; not just binge-watching TV together and calling it a night.”
It’s a pretty safe bet that everyone in the world has felt helpless at one time or another during this crisis. The simple fact is, most of our lives are out of our control right now. Gottlieb says that it’s important to try and take control of the things that you can and accept the things that are beyond your ability to control. “Make a list of the stressors in your life from most pressing to least pressing, and then draw a line through the ones you can’t control,” says Gottlieb. “After that, start with the easy ones and you’ll see how the momentum builds!”