I’ve always been one to feel a lot of feelings but add in the world’s current situation and well, I’m about to burst.
My body and brain are being pushed to the limits with worries, thoughts, anxieties, and much more, ranging from one extreme to another. One moment I’m enjoying an afternoon of toddler silliness, thankful for the time to soak up both the tickles and tantrums; the next, I’m on the verge of an emotional meltdown as I let my mind wonder when we’ll be able to see our family across the country again.
The result of this rollercoaster of emotions is physical and mental. I haven’t left the house in weeks—no errands, no playdates, no Starbucks runs—yet I’m more exhausted than ever. This experience is draining me in every sense, and we all know that when mom is struggling, the whole family feels it.
As it became clear that this social distancing will be going on longer than just a few more weeks, I quickly realized that I needed to take some internal action. I may not be able to control what is happening from coast to coast, country to country, but I can control my reactions, my mental health, my life within these four walls of our home. I needed to let myself feel it all but still find some sense of calm and peace during this uncertain, scary time.
Where did I begin? By giving myself the same loving and comforting approach that I give my two toddlers when they’re upset and feel out of control as well: all feelings are allowed, all feelings are OK. And I went from there.
Know there is beauty in all emotions
It didn’t take long for the contrasting emotions to arrive. All my feelings had been pretty negatively-tuned from the start (fear, sadness, and the such). But then a few little glimmers of enjoyment arrived after our family of four found new little routines, with Daddy working from home and no outings to school anymore. We are now able to eat dinner as a family every night, which we rarely did before, as my husband usually worked late. It’s been a pleasant surprise, this little perk, and as I opened my eyes to them, more began to pop up.
I may not be able to control what is happening from coast to coast, country to country, but I can control my reactions, my mental health, my life within these four walls of our home.
But how could I feel OK, and even feel joy and humor, when others were suffering? Wasn’t that cruel? Wasn’t that selfish? My heart aches deeply for those on the frontlines—our medical workers trying to manage this virus, for those who don’t have the luxury of staying home and baking cookies with their kiddos all day. And yet I found myself joking the other day that I’ll be coming out of the COVID experience 20 pounds heavier thanks to those endless baking adventures.
Do my emotions and thoughts need to be strictly one way or another? Can’t they be both? Can’t I feel all feelings, even if they seem contrasting? Can’t I give myself credit that I’m more complex than just one way or another?
I vote yes.
Same goes for when I feel embarrassed or guilty for complaining about something that may seem minimal compared to what others are dealing with (AKA how can I complain about being worn out from my toddler when nurses and doctors are risking their lives).
Brene Brown recently said in her podcast Unlocking Us that ignoring our own feelings and personal struggles doesn’t, in turn, give more love to those who “really need it.” It just starves us from feeling heard and loved and actually prevents us from being a more loving, empathetic person to those around us.
So by giving ourselves permission to mourn our own individual losses, however “small” they may be in comparison to those who “have it worse,” makes us a stronger, more loving mama, friend, wife … and isn’t that what we all really strive for, and what we need at this time?
With that in mind, I’m letting myself feel it all. I’m not naive. I know that my complaints are small when you consider deaths, unemployment, and more, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sad, I’m not disappointed, I’m not scared out of my mind. As I experience life, especially messy, murky waters like these right now, I’m finding beauty in both, in allowing all feelings, allowing laughter and tears, all at the same time.
It’s OK to not know what to do or feel
I’d be willing to bet this is your first experience with a pandemic as well, right? So why are we expecting ourselves to know the “right way” to handle it all? There is an Instagram quote going around that caught on quickly because it speaks to something every one of us parents are aching to hear. Quoting psychologist Emily W. King, PhD, in regards to working, parenting, and teaching while dealing with COVID-19, this quote states “It’s not hard because you are doing it wrong. It’s hard because it’s too much.”
As I experience life, especially messy, murky waters like these right now, I’m finding beauty in allowing all feelings, allowing laughter and tears, all at the same time.
It doesn’t matter what sort of details differentiate you from the mom next door, we’re all trying to do more than is humanly possible right now: working (in any sense), parenting, teaching (on any level), and still remain standing as we learn the latest news of the world every day.
My toddler boys are too young to have any structured education, but that doesn’t mean we’re not dealing with unprecedented home time. I’m at a bit of a loss for what to do day in, day out when parks, playgrounds, playdates, and Target is off-limits. I don’t know how to carry on when we are dealing with stressors we’ve never had to deal with before—when the future is literally unclear.
I’ve accepted that we simply don’t need to know all the answers right now, which as a society we struggle with. We want solutions to everything and anything—and the most productive and speedy solutions out there. Unfortunately, that’s not how this pandemic—or life—goes. We are being forced to lean into this uncomfortable new territory of the unknown and that itself is taking time to get used to.
I appreciate all the project ideas and structured suggestions that can be found thanks to the amazing Internet, but what I don’t appreciate is the sense that you have to deal with this situation in some “right way,” that you have to provide an educational, enriching experience all day, every day, for your kiddos. It’s not news that mothers face unbearably high expectations on any given day, but I now need to rock motherhood 24/7 during a pandemic too?
I say no. Let’s lower the expectations and embrace the unknowns, today, tomorrow, and even when this experience is over. It can be scary, but it can also be liberating. It can be both. You get to decide.
Focus on the family in front of you
I find some comfort knowing that we are all in this together, that we’re all fighting the same battle, no matter where you live for the most part. But when friends and family react to the situation in different ways than we do, it’s proving to add another layer of stress to an already sticky situation.
Talking to loved ones who weren’t necessarily on the same page as we were, seeing people out and about, ignoring warnings and stay-at-home orders, was quickly causing my blood pressure to rise, my heart to race, words to fly out of my mouth. I struggled to understand why they weren’t taking the crisis as seriously as we were, wondering if it was arrogance, ignorance, or denial.
But that sort of stress wasn’t getting me anywhere. In fact, it was making me feel worse than ever. So I said, no more.
I’m learning that I can only truly care for and control the four of us in my house. I can share information and suggestions to friends and family, but then I have to let go and move on. We’re all adults and can make our own decision, and I need to accept that and focus on the people I can help keep safe, right here in front of me. I can’t control the people at the grocery store, nor do I know their personal situation or story, so I decided it was not worth my mental anguish anymore. I need all the energy I can muster for my own family and for everything else going on in our lives right now instead.
So, I’m staying in my own lane.
Find hope in the little joys
When in doubt, grab a hold of gratitude. I’ve heard it time and time again, and sure enough, it’s proving to light a new path for me right now. By switching my perspective to one of plenty, to one that finds beautiful bits of gratitude all day long, I’m finding a new pattern in my day, a new spring to my step. I’m finding myself feeling even better than simply “just OK” sometimes.
I’m of course grateful for all the core things in my life: my family, our health and safety, our ability to stay home. But as we continue to get quite comfortable in the confines of our home for weeks now, it’s the little joys that make the days easier. Find them and devour them up; it’s not the time for moderation. My morning coffee, a Spotify playlist that makes me smile with every song, candles that I bought on week two of quarantine and that continue to bring me joy as I light one after breakfast every day.
When the sun is out and we’re able to run around and search for snails, I soak it up. As the flowers on the tree in our backyard bloom, I show my boys and we inhale deeply. My 3- year-old recently learned the phrase and concept of “I’m so excited!” and as he tells me exactly what he’s excited for these days (cookies, worms, and yellow flowers down our street), I join right in.
Do I feel totally fabulous and 100 percent at ease right now? No. My methods for finding peace are not magic potions or cure-alls. I still have good and bad days. But the bad days are currently less intense and less frequent; I’m learning how to recenter myself when they arrive. And when all else fails, I remember the magic of laughter and seek it out. We’re all going a bit crazy at home, and a solid Zoom happy hour with besties can cure a whole boatload of worries better than you ever knew.
Cheers mama, we got this.