Dear Parents and Caregivers,
Just today, even after being on lockdown for close to two months I said to my family all of whom were working away on their Zoom calls and virtual school in the same room as I, “this is so strange”. You think I would have accepted it by now. For the most part I have, but still the fact that we wear masks and gloves into the grocery store, maintain distance from those we encounter, and actually try not to even encounter others is never something I would have imagined. Nor would I have imagined a global closure, massive loss of life and social and economic devastation. While I wouldn’t have imagined the necessity, I would have imagined the way neighbors, communities, scientists and global leaders have come together to do the best they can to support the vulnerable, the sick, the dying, and those who are taking care of them.
It all can feel very surreal. We are living in a new world, and as such we are being forced to look at who we are in a different way. And this can be unnerving.
As Julio Vincent Gambuto writes in his essay “The Gaslighting of America Has Begun,” “And now, here we are, alone in our houses, surrounded by loss, many in great despair, being asked to look inward. There is no brand, no leader, no voice that can help us now. We have to help ourselves. This is the moment in the movie that the truth comes out — the truth of who we are and who we most want to be. Armed with that truth, [we] head into the next act with a better understanding of [ourselves] and a revived purpose in the world.”
This idea is what this week’s column in Jackson Hole News & Guide is about (scroll down to see the uncut version) — as it applies to being a parent. My message to parents is always, who do you want to be? As we are forced inside our homes, can we focus more on the internal, and use that as a guidepost as we approach any interaction we have with our children and teens?
Armed with the truth of who we want to be and who we hope our kids become — kind, compassionate, generous, responsible, aware (insert your words here) — we can use this as an anchor to remind us that we have the power to respond to our children in ways that help us uphold those truths.
Be well, take good care of yourselves, go hug your kids, and continue to ask, “who do I want to be as a parent?”
With love and faith in you,
Many of the ideas for this column were generated from conversations with Vicki Hoefle — thank you Vicki!
Lockdown asks us to focus on the internal
(The longer, uncut version. You can find the edited version at Jackson Hole News & Guide)
Be. Do. Have. This is something parent educator Vicki Hoefle said recently.
Who do you want to be? What do you need to do in order to be that person? After the being and the doing, you will end up with a result - something you have. It is not the other way. It is always who do you need to be and what do you need to do in order to get what you want to have.
Whether we are working from home, still working outside the home, or have tragically lost our jobs, many people have been experiencing a bit of an identity crisis during the quarantining-home with the kids 24/7- social distancing part of the COVID-19 pandemic. Who are we now that our world has been turned upside down?
Our identity, who we are, is often formed through internalizing the values of one’s parents or culture. It develops indirectly from how the world around us — parents, peers, employers, society in general — responds to us. It is a complicated topic and by no means am I an expert. While I only focus on one aspect of identity here, it is important to recognize that there are also cultural, racial and gender identities. While these have significant impact, especially for those that are marginalized, a larger discussion on identity is outside the scope of this column.
For some of us our identities are crumbling because they were built on a certain sense of security, predictability and dependability that have given us a feeling of safety. Right now the world doesn't feel super safe and the future is uncertain, and the fear this brings up can change our identity, for example, from that of a competent person in the work world to what New York Times columnist Emily Flake describes as a “panicked bird”. Adding to that, our identities are formed in relation to others, which we now have very little of, leaving us at a loss for who we are.
The identities for many are also changing because they have lost jobs and loved ones. Who am I if I am not the one who provides for my family? Who am I if not the one who provides for my family? Who am I if not a spouse, daughter, dear friend? Who am I or if I cannot save the lives of so many around me?
As adults we may define ourselves in several ways: parent, friend, athlete, or by our jobs. Often our self worth is tied into how well we do the roles with which we identify. Our society places a great deal of value on being productive. We go to work, we do a good job, and we get rewarded in the form of a paycheck and sometimes acknowledgement. This becomes part of our identity.
Valuing productivity and achievement has been programmed into us by a consumerist society. The thought that “I’m not anything if I'm not productive” is prevalent. Our value, sense of self worth, and often our identity comes from this. We both brag and lament about being busy.
We know how to get through a work day. It’s often rational, logical and orderly. We know what we have to do to get the job done. We either are given instructions or we give them, and for the most part everyone does what they are told.
Yet often we don't know how to translate our identity as a worker into that of being a parent.
I speculate we have both internal and external identities. The external is what we do, what is visible to others, or a role we play: father, dancer, engineer. The internal is who we are: kind, responsible, generous. It often seems that the do (the external) comes before the be (the internal). In other words, we often focus primarily on our external identities. And this may be because those identities are what our culture and society prime us to prioritize through monetary reward, notoriety or media and marketing schemes that manipulate us into feeling that we have to look, act, behave and feel a certain way.
And sometimes we see this in how we raise our kids. Often parents focus on the external: what sports or musical instruments will our kids play, what grades will they get, will they go to college, and if so where, or what jobs will they have? The pressure we feel for our kids to achieve originates from, is often driven by, and exemplifies the external.
So how does this apply to parenting during the lockdown necessitated by COVID -19?
During this time of social isolation, being at home with our kids 24/7, changing how we typically show up for work (if we still have a job), managing our feelings of uncertainty, losing loved ones and caring for the sick has pushed us beyond our comfort zones and challenged the ways we think about ourselves. It has exposed our vulnerabilities and forced us to learn new skills. As Emily Flake writes in her article “Big Pandemic Feelings”, “this quarantine feels like a time of reckoning, forcing us to look at ourselves as we really are.”
Exactly. It’s time we focus on the internal.
Now that many find themselves newly at home full time with their children due to unemployment or working from home, some families are having a hard time functioning well. Parents are overwhelmed, anxious, and have no idea how to manage this new world where we suddenly are faced with finding a new identity. The order and predictability of our work worlds where people know what to do and do what they are told doesn’t translate into being a parent with unpredictable children and teens who have a will of their own and an intense and innate -- and completely normal — drive to be their own independent people. (Remember they are in the stage where they are forming their own identities themselves).
To some extent we are trying to fit the same productivity equation that works in our jobs into raising our children. Yet our kids don’t comply. They don’t know the rules, and even if they did there’s a good chance they won’t willingly follow them. Suddenly we find ourselves in a new world with new rules where no one has given us the instruction manual.
Our prowess at work does not translate to prowess in the messy world of raising children. The confidence we find in doing our neat and tidy jobs is not something we feel at home with a tantruming toddler, defiant middle-aged child, or a teen engaging in risky behaviors. We become undone. Our identities which have been so tied up in the external are suddenly coming crashing down now that we are being forced to focus more on the internal.
So while our external identities are crumbling for a myriad of reasons, I invite us all to consider spending more time focusing on the internal. Who do I want to be?
Our priorities may be shifting. What is the most important?
All we can do is let go. Allow ourselves to temporarily crumble and quickly reconstruct ourselves into something new. Our identity doesn't have to come from the kudos of the outside world. It can come from the internal.
As I always say, it all goes back to our values. What is most important to us in this life? Who do we want to be? How do we want our kids to describe us when they are 30 years old? And who do we hope our kids become? Note — not the what, the who — the character.
If we can start from knowing who we want to be as parents and have a good idea of who we hope our kids become as adults, most often we can see our way through to the other side of every interaction with them. If we can step back and find neutral before running in hot to a challenging situation and remember that the relationship with our children is most important (and teaching skills is a close second), then perhaps we can scale back our reactivity and preempt an eminent power struggle. If we approach our children with calm we are more often than not going to get better results. And if we don't get the results we hope for, we have to check that our expectations are realistic, work with our children toward a compromise, or realize that our children need time and practice in learning a new skill.
Some are saying this time is only about survival. Yet how long can we withstand that mentality and what will be the aftermath? For much of the nation, and perhaps soon for all, schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year — that’s until mid June for some. Living on a survival mentality for that long is not sustainable.
If this seems confusing or hard, that’s OK. I know that living at home with children and trying to work with no outside support — made even more difficult in situations of poverty, single-parenting, and other struggles — is an extremely challenging situation. In no way am I trying to minimize that. Just as our kids need support in learning new skills, sometimes so do we. I know I do.
During this pandemic we are realizing all sorts of capabilities we didn't know we had. We are capable of holding the space while we and our children move through disappointment, hardship, boredom, isolation, confusion and overwhelm. We are capable of resilience, flexibility and compassion. We are capable of sacrifice in order to protect the health of the greater community. We are capable.
And here’s the thing. Believing in one's abilities makes most things easier, including parenting during a pandemic. I believe that you have the strength and the courage to be the parents you wanted to be when you held your newborn in your arms and looked into her eyes. Our identities may be changing in ways that are unnerving to us right now. But who we want to be as parents can remain constant.
Be. Do. Have. Believe in who you can be.
Many of the ideas for this column were generated from conversations with Vicki Hoefle — thank you Vicki!
Dear Parents and Caregivers,
Apologies for the frequent emails, but I felt like I needed to address the title of my latest column.
Due to a miscommunication between my truly amazing and much appreciated editor, the title of the printed version of my column reads "How to parent in the time of coronavirus" rather than "Parenting in the time of coronavirus" (the online version reads the latter).
It may be semantics, but I never want to tell people how to parent, nor do I think it's my job. There are too many variables, individual circumstances, family structures, and family values. There are also a variety of ways to approach raising children. You know your family best. You know what works for your kids. It is not my job to tell you what to do.
I see my job as that of being a guide. I provide research and evidence based information. I offer tips and suggestions based on that information. I listen to what is going on in individual homes and respond to those individual family dynamics. When writing for a broad audience it is impossible to respond to all individual dynamics, values and beliefs, and while I attempt to be as inclusive as possible, by nature of a short column I have to generalize.
I apologize if the title offended anyone, and I welcome discourse if you feel compelled.
I also want to acknowledge that social distancing and keeping especially older teens home is difficult. I will write about that in upcoming posts. My columns are currently on a 6-week schedule for Jackson Hole News & Guide. If you would like to receive my blogs that go out between columns, you can subscribe to my mailing list or find them on Facebook or my website.
Take care, go hug your kids, and be well,
Parenting in the time of coronavirus - Jackson Hole News & Guide
Dear Parents and Caregivers,
Most of us are in the midst of week two of school closures. Whether your kids are on "spring break" this week (whatever that means since everyone is home anyway!) or are in school, the reality of social distancing and isolation is setting in. How is your family faring? What is really going on inside your home?
Collectively we run the gamut: a sigh of relief at a slower pace to pulling our hair out with trying to manage kids at home with seemingly little to do -- not to mention the fear, anxiety and distress this is causing to many for a variety of reasons -- loss of jobs, income, security, and even loved ones.
I invite you to reach out. Send me an email or message me on Facebook. Share with me your successes and your challenges. Tell me what you need and what would help. I realize written tips may fall on deaf ears if the chaos, meltdowns, and frustrations are constant and unbearable. Hearing the stories from the trenches allows me to be more equipped to know how to help families -- and allows me to share stories of what is working too.
Know that above all else, strong relationships matter. Having a strong relationship with a caring adult is a protective factor for children feeling stress, experiencing trauma, or even weathering the instability of today's times.
If you are finding this time at home with your children and teens extremely challenging, I am offering virtual coaching sessions at rates that work with families' individual budgets during this time. Don't hesitate to reach out. Now is the time to seek help if you are struggling with challenged family dynamics.
Until then, check out my latest column "Parenting in the time of coronavirus" in Jackson Hole News & Guide giving you ideas of how to survive, and at times even thrive, while our kids are learning from home.
You can find other resources below as well including a podcast recorded with Nate McClennen on "Learning at Home" and two Facebook videos (links below) shot with Vicki Hoefle on Parenting in the time of the coronavirus.
Check out these new resources:
Go hug your kids, take good care of each other and be well,
School closures, social distancing, and the threat of a global pandemic weigh heavily on families. Collectively we may be out of work, scrambling for childcare, losing income, worried about loved ones, learning how to work from home (with needy kids), becoming school teachers, and trying to stay sane. It's a lot!
I am a firm believer in what the scientists and policy makers say about social distancing and "flattening the curve". That includes preventing kids from gathering with each other.
How are families to survive? In this blog I share a few resources with you. Next week I'll send out my upcoming column in Jackson Hole News & Guide giving you ideas of how to survive, and at times even thrive, while our kids are learning from home.
If you are finding this time at home with your children and teens extremely challenging, I am offering virtual coaching sessions at rates that work with your budget. Don't hesitate to reach out. Now is not the time to be struggling with challenged family dynamics. I can help!
In the meantime check out two new resources:
As a partially reformed perfectionist it can be easy for me to see tasks done by myself or others that aren’t quite up to snuff. Whose snuff is a question that begs an answer – mine or that of the imaginary person looking over my shoulder and judging me? I grew up thinking I had to be perfect in order to be liked. If I’m not careful that thought can still haunt me. This is problematic not only in how it shows up in my life but also in how I sometimes see others, namely my kids.
There are times when I can be just as hard on my children as I am on myself. Do I honestly think my kids will not be liked if they are not perfect? Because I answer no to this, I have to answer the same for myself. So I’ve let go and allowed mistakes and mess to creep in.
Exploring the idea so well discussed by Brené Brown that we are all doing the best we can in any given situation has allowed me to soften and brings in more compassion for myself and my children. Read this week’s column in Jackson Hole News&Guide to ponder whether you can take the stance that your kids are doing the best they can with what they have in any given situation – and that actually we all are!
What's the Duct Tape for?
When I talk about Vicki Hoefle's book "Duct Tape Parenting" to my friends, I often do so with a little giggle, explaining that the duct tape is for our (the parents’) mouths. This is funny in so many ways, especially when envisioning it in practice, but there is so much truth to this idea: when we parents keep quiet, a world of possibilities can open up to our children.
The idea is simple, yet often requires super-human strength to carry through. Is it really possible for us to not butt in, micromanage, judge, suggest, or otherwise interfere with our children as they move through the world from ages 1 to 21?
I don’t know about you, but the idea of leaving my children to their own devices in certain areas can give me the willies. What if they mess up, don’t get it right, or their actions have a poor reflection on me?
Yet think about it this way: What if they discover who they want to be without fear of my judgment? What if they learn through experiencing the outside world what works and doesn’t work for themselves and in relation to others? What if their creativity and ingenuity teaches them that they can solve problems on their own? What if they fall down and learn they have the courage to get back up again? What if they learn how to take care of their responsibilities so they feel capable when they leave our homes? What if…?
Duct tape is exactly what our kids need in a world where parents are bribing their children’s way into college and where anxiety and depression are on the rise for our teens. What our children need when they leave our homes is to know how to navigate all that life throws their way, and it is hard to learn this if we are micromanaging, telling our kids what to do and how to do it, warning them about all the pitfalls, and paving the way for them.
Of course the duct tape isn’t out 24-7. We are there to love, encourage, support, and teach our kids. We are there to connect with our children, have fun, and create a solid relationship. We are there to invite them in to begin navigating and exploring what life has to offer. And importantly we step in if things are morally or physically dangerous, because even though we use duct tape, we are there to maintain boundaries.
The balance between knowing where to step in and where to hold our tongues in everyday moments is what can be the challenge, but if you believe in the premise and can calm your fears and strong emotions, your gut will show you the way.
And a community helps! Dive in to our weekly facebook videos. Post comments. Ask questions. Explore ideas. Support one another. And tell us what you are looking for.
Vicki and I are thrilled to reinvigorate Duct Tape Parenting, and we are here for you.
Read more about Vicki Hoefle's work:
How Does Less is More Parenting Differ from Permissive Parenting?
Studies show the times when most people feel loved have nothing to do with receiving gifts. In fact, it's "micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child or receiving compassion [that] make people feel most loved." So while you enjoy exchanging gifts with loved ones this holiday season, also remember to express your love in other ways too.
Read this week's column in Jackson Hole News & Guide for ideas on how to express generosity and love in ways that are meaningful, and the brain science that backs this up.
Wishing you and your family a holiday season filled with magic, connection, love and laughter!
We buy gifts for our children out of the best of intentions. We enjoy giving to our children and watching their faces light up when they receive a gift. Yet it turns out that children value connection with their parents more than receiving physical gifts. Read this week's column in Jackson Hole News & Guide, the first of a two part series, exploring gift giving during the holiday season and how sometimes too much of a good thing can be, well, too much.
Jackson Hole News & Guide:
Consider this: If your child starts a fight with her sibling and you as the parent continuously run over and get into the mix, your child may be learning to connect with you by fighting with her sibling. One of the most important things to our children is their connection with us. Could our response of always trying to break up the fight, actually be part of the problem?
Helping our kids learn how to live with someone who moves through the world differently from them is part of what helps them live well with their siblings. Once we have taught them some skills in managing conflict, sometimes the best solution is to let them work their disputes out themselves.
Read this week's column in Jackson Hole News&Guide titled "Sibling rivalry teaches life long lessons" to dive into thoughts about sibling rivalry.
In a recent interview, Meghan Markle bravely admitted that she was having a hard time as a new mother. This can be true for many new mothers, and it's hard to admit. As I write about in my recent article, women's self-esteem often declines after the birth of a baby. While this may not be the reason for Markle's challenges, as women we can struggle for a host of reasons when our lives are turned upside down with the birth of a child. Read this week's article in the "Jackson Hole Woman" section of the Jackson Hole News & Guide to explore mothers and self-esteem. Then I ask you to think about two things. Consider where your sense of worth comes from and how you can foster that in all areas of your life -- and accept yourself for who you are no matter what. Then also consider asking others, as Markle so appreciated being asked, "are you OK?"
Rachel Wigglesworth has an M.Ed. in Parent and Family Education and is excited to explore the world of raising children with you!