I Have Two Happy Kids in a Pandemic. I Wish the Same Could Be Said for Me.
A dad who is giving it all for his kids worries he's actually giving too much.
My kids are doing just fine. I’ve set up a situation where these two elementary-age kids are stimulated all day, aren’t getting too much screen time, are getting tons of attention from us, and are making so many awesome art projects that we are about to run out of wall space. They’re really enjoying this time. It’s crazy, but there it is.
The problem is that I’m feeling anxious — about keeping this up, about doing enough, about getting sick, about my parents getting sick, about them seeing too much of the outside world. They’re happy, but I’m started to feel, frankly, sad. About our future. About what happens when the outside world trickles into them. It’s bound to happen… but I’m going to fight fight fight it until it does.
Sad State in St. Louis
Have you ever listened to a flight attendant’s pre-flight safety announcement? There’s this part where they explain how to use the oxygen masks and they give an instruction that sounds pretty callous: “Put your own mask on before assisting your child.”
It makes sense when you think about it. In the sudden loss of cabin pressure, there’s a good chance the lack of oxygen is going to cause people to pass out. It’s preferable to have conscious and functioning adults who can help smaller people than having a plane full of passed-out adults and frightened, weak and fully conscious children.
Look, we’ve had a catastrophic event in our country and there are a lot of parents who are focusing on their children’s care while on the verge of rendering themselves completely useless. You need to put on your oxygen mask, my man. Because if you go down, a crucial part of your family’s support will be lost. And that’s not helpful.
You can know all of this, on an intellectual and theoretical level, but that doesn’t make it easier to take some time to care for yourself. And that’s what you need, by the way — time for yourself. But there’s definitely a balance that you have to find: Your family needs you, yes. However, you can’t give so much that you break down. Likewise, you can’t take so much for yourself that your family limps along without your crucial support. It’s terrible either way really.
I get it. I have a tendency to do this myself. I will keep working — on chores, family and work obligations and community involvement — until I’m exhausted. The problem is, when I get to that place, I’m not pleasant to be around. I become quick to say a caustic word. I yell before I can catch myself. I glower and escape into my phone and generally become unhelpful.
Things are better when I take some time for myself. Importantly, it doesn’t need to be much. A quiet contemplative cup (or three) of coffee in the morning before everybody gets started helps. A walk through the neighborhood helps too. In the summer, I’ll go for a swim or take a hike. If I’m really on it, I’ll make myself a good healthy lunch, or I’ll call an old friend to reconnect, or even meditate.
You, of course, have your own thing that you find centering and healing. Maybe you build models or tie flys. Maybe a good cardio workout puts you in a better mood. Whatever your thing is, you need to find time for it.
Does it feel selfish? It might, but you need to reframe the activity. Taking care of yourself means you can take care of your family. So, finding the time to do what you need to do for yourself becomes essential to the health and safety of your partner and your kids.
And you can’t tell me there is no time. You can find the time. Place this need, which has become acute in your circumstance, above something more trivial. If you had a broken hand, you wouldn’t walk around saying there wasn’t time to deal with it. You’d get it fixed. This stress, anxiety, and depression that you’re feeling is as much a concern as if you broke your hand. Especially now. You need your wits about you. We all do.
And if you need help, please bring that need to your partner. You are there to support each other. They might need some time for self-care too. It’s important to help each other make some space for that care.
The fact is that now, more than any other time, we need to find ways to lift ourselves up. Our kids need us to keep our shit together. That’s how we save ourselves. So make taking care of yourself as important as taking care of everyone else, because in reality, they are the same thing.