It’s fair to say these are tough times, with social distancing measures in place due to COVID-19. And with ELC, swimming lessons and play dates cancelled for the foreseeable future, it’s a particularly rough patch in the world of parenting. On top of trying to prevent facial hair overgrowth (and this is a more time consuming task than one might appreciate), prepare meals the whole family can eat for 2 days (because cooking daily is my worst nightmare), fit in exercise and do some work (yes, it doesn’t actually stop, despite the world coming to a halt) there is the constant job, and it’s very constant right now, of parenting…
Yes, I know there are some who are thinking, “well you chose to have kids, so it shouldn’t be a big deal having them home 24/7” and whilst I hear you loud and clear – when you have play dates and activities booked in and the ability to let them loose on playgrounds multiple times a day so you can have 5 minutes without “mummy, mummy, mummy” it’s a touch easier than what it is right now.
I’m not complaining – I’m simply going to share the honest realities of this patch, because I think many of us are here in the “try another puzzle”/ “maybe there are pirates in the bushes, go and have a look” trenches and we need a virtual “I’m with you” high five – so here it is.
Firstly, there’s the issue of trying to self-care in this patch to preserve your own mental sanity. Jokes aside, as a GP I can’t stress how important nurturing your own mental health is; measures like exercise and meditation can help. Fitting in these things, however, can be tricky, impossible in fact. Between a 3 month old and 4 year old I’m learning the art of juggling on a whole new level – I felt I was already a skilled juggler when it came to parenthood but now I can do it whilst waxing my own lip (and eyebrows if I feel really game/in need of a thrill) and doing an online Pilates class. I’ve learned to exercise with my children – a balance bike and carrier gets me about 20 minutes of brisk walking. I also manage an online Pilates class by co-ordinating my 3-month old’s nap with my daughter’s enforced “brain quiet time” which involves her doing something on her own (this is harder than you would think to make happen). Sometimes I end up with a kid on the activity mat next to me doing his own version of Pilates AKA tummy time and a 4-year-old doing crunches – it is chaotic, but I manage to get exercise in for all the physical and mental health benefits. If I’m being honest, I’m exercising for my mental health right now – knowing that just an hour a week of exercise can prevent depression and that regular exercise helps manage stress and anxiety – I am doing planks and walks to medicate my brain predominantly.
I’m always trying to limit screen time for my 4-year-old – mainly because I’m acutely aware, as a GP, of the downsides. More screen time usually translates to more sedentary time which contributes to obesity related disease – the aim is for no more than an hour per day if you want to be pedantic about guidelines. It’s recommended kids under 5 aim for at least 3 hours of physical activity spread throughout the day (for preventative health reasons) and I’ve become a ninja of sorts during this period – screens are used to involve movement; I’ve found online kids’ yoga, ballet and dancing classes and I buy myself 20 minutes of sanity (or time to sit on the toilet in peace). Whilst I do love the occasional Bluey (for myself, and seriously) I try to keep it limited and opt for musical bobs and freeze, treasure hunts or bike rides instead; things that keep my 4-year-old moving. FYI it’s amazing how much time you can buy by scribbling a list of items on a list and telling your child to find them on a walk – 1 hour will float by, and you’re welcome.
What’s perhaps most stressful right now is dealing with the constant questions from older kids – we’re getting a lot of “when will coronavirus go away?” “will we see my cousins for Christmas?” at our house and what I’ve found is I need to deal with my own anxiety first, before I even attempt answering my daughter’s questions. For little people, missing friends, routine, activities are complex– and just like us, not knowing when it will end can be anxiety provoking.
These are strange, uncertain times. We’re all navigating this complex patch differently, doing what we can to survive and keep our kids (and ourselves) afloat. There’s no right way to survive this patch as a parent – but if your kids are smiling and you’re able to smile with them, then you’re nailing it. If you’re having moments of ‘WTF is going on, how will I survive this” alone in your bedroom, or so exhausted you wonder if you could possibly make it to tonight’s episode of Master Chef – you are not alone (in either the exhausted moments or the love of frivolous TV show that includes a judge who wears consistently awesome outfits – FYI I am walking about Melissa, not Jock). Hang in there, we’ve got this whole parenting in a pandemic thing – one day (and stray eyebrow hair) at a time.
To read more from Dr Preeya Alexander, go to www.thewholesomedoctor.com.au