Parenting, even in the best times, is a challenge.
Today’s already sleep deprived parents have been thrown in for another loop, into a climate of uncertainty and uncharted territory.
You may notice that you or your partner are feeling more fearful, irritable or anxious. You may have a harder time parenting together while you are both home caring for your children, managing household responsibilities while you try to work from home, or generally keeping family life “normal” during this time.
You may be experiencing tension and conflict with your partner, particularly if your way of coping is at odds. One of you may be feeling that you want to slow down, hibernate and pull away from normal life. The other has the urge to pretend that nothing is going on and is experiencing the need to keep busy.
Remember that both you and your partner are trying to make yourself feel balanced and secure and both types of approaches are understandable.
The added responsibility of leading little ones through this time, can result in emotions running high. The best thing we can do for our kids though, is to model calm during these turbulent times. Your children will not remember what you told them, or how you entertained them during this time – they will remember how they felt. In order to be a calm presence for them, you and your partner must first be calm yourselves. In order to remain a calm united front. How to accomplish that? read on.
Here are some tips for working through disagreements with your partner, so you can bring your partner A-game and parent as an A-team:
- Self Awareness. How are you feeling right now? Be honest and true with yourself. Are you judging yourself for how you feel? Don’t – It’s okay to feel whatever it is that you feel. It is likely that the feelings right now are a roller-coaster of ever changing emotions from hope and confidence to doom and gloom and everything in between. There is no right or wrong way to feel or react right now. You are not overreacting. How would you respond to a friend who was feeling this way? Treat yourself as you would your best friend or loved one who is thinking or feeling these emotions or thoughts.
- Partner Awareness. Know that it is likely that both of you are experiencing heightened emotions and that’s okay. The first step is to acknowledge this – you and or your partner may need a bit more support right now simply to decompress and regroup. Reflecting on previous times of uncertainty or unpredictability in your lives – what has helped you as a couple? Is it having a plan and structure in place? More time to think? Less social media contact? What is within your control right now? What’s outside your control? The answers will differ from partner to partner but you can work together to try and have as many needs met as possible. Focus on those things that are within your control.
- Specific Communication. If there is something that you need or would like from your partner, something that would support the process of calming down – let them know. It is likely that they want to help, but simply do not know how. Do you need 15 min to yourself for a meditation? 20 min to do a quick workout or a walk? Be specific. If you can’t think clearly – this is the time to take a break and do something that calms you (shower, bath, walk, deep breathing, meditation etc.).
- Calm partner takes the lead. The partner who feels more calm at any given moment (and this may be different at each moment) is bound to lead the change. If you sense you are that partner – consider yourself responsible for calming the other partner! Think connection first – eye contact, offer a hug, offer to give them space by taking your little one(s) off their hands, ask them how you can help them right now? what do they need right now? How are they feeling?
- Calming in company. If you have a toddler or young child, you may be familiar with the technique of helping them get through tough emotions by first acknowledging and naming the emotion, showing understanding and empathy, taking a pause to calm down and only then moving on to discussing a solution. Surprisingly the same applies to adults. For example, when dealing with an irritated or even angry spouse consider saying “You seem upset/anxious/angry/irritated. Would you like me to grab you a glass of water or do you need me to take over with the kids so you can take a break?” Focus on sharing your calm rather than entering the other person’s chaos. Put solutions aside, they can be talked about later when you are both calm and can think of them rationally and clearly. The brain cannot physically think rationally when emotions are passing through, so trying to reason with a child or adult at this time is futile and understandably frustrating.
- Agree to disagree. In the end you won’t always agree and you don’t have to. Choose the thing that’s most important to you and allow your partner to choose theirs. Honor and support each other in your choices even if you disagree, remember you are still on the same team, working towards the same goal (leading your little ones through uncertain times, calmly). Here is an example from work – if your supervisor asked you to work on a project that you disagree with, you likely wouldn’t quit your job (because ultimately you both care about the success of the organization). Instead, you would try and be helpful while working on this project and try to understand why they feel this project is important. Do the same for your partner. If you have very strong views – express them and ask to take the lead on the decision that’s important to you. If your partner feels more strongly – follow their lead. Remember you are on the same team and it’s okay to support your partner, even if you don’t necessarily agree with the how your goal should be accomplished. Ultimately you both want what’s best for your little ones and what’s best for them is the solution that would keep you united, calm and confident.
For additional information on how to cope with anxiety and stress please refer to this excellent resource from the CDC, Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19.
Did you find this article helpful? Comment below and share what is the top point of contention with your partner right now.