Lockdown 4.0 and I don't think it's getting any easier. Covid fatigue is real at our place.
Although we've all been here before and should be old hats at lockdown life, it's still hard – especially as a working parent.
I am tired, drained, frustrated; every day feels like Groundhog Day and I'm only three days in. Many parents are feeling the same. Energy is super low and as much as we'd like to use this week as an excuse to kick back and relax, we have jobs and schooling to continue with. So, we push on. Baking pinwheel scones and creating delicious dinners? No, all I can muster up is eggs on toast and porridge - for dinner.
That first lockdown of 2020 feels like a lifetime ago. All that TikTok dancing, Zoom parties, after-work drinks via FaceTime and teddies in windows. Now the novelty has worn off, it seems. You know that feeling when you take your kids for a walk around the block but you truly feel like a sloth, forcing yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and wishing you could crawl into a ball on the grassy verge and go to sleep? That's me all day.
The truth is, life is unpredictable. Curveballs come so I'm determined to keep things in perspective and keep my emotions in check. My mantra this time around isn't "survive" – it's "thrive". I'm calling for a "thrivival" in our whare! Here are a few ideas to harness this optimism, while still keeping a grasp on reality.
Kids love structure
Routine is important. Kids love structure and in most cases kindy and schools have trained them well to operate within it. Creating a plan for the day helps everyone know what is happening and what the expectations are.
If you are working from home, some sort of schedule can also help ensure that you meet the needs of your kids while also managing your work obligations. My husband and I have planned our days so we can both get work done and also be present for the kids. Because he is in back-to-back Zoom meetings all day, he works 6am-3pm. I do school and home stuff with the kids during this time and work 3-9pm. Later, when the kids are asleep, he gets back into work. We have a few mini breaks all together to go for walks and get outside.
It's a long day and it's tiring, but it's helpful to remember that it's just a season – it won't be like this forever.
Have a blowout
Sometimes structure can feel suffocating and hard to constantly manage. Give yourself a break. If there is a day where you can let loose, go for it. There's rain in the forecast so I've been trying to get the kids on top of their schoolwork with extra outdoor time, knowing that later in the week I'll be giving them a full "PJ and TV" day or two, complete with popcorn. That's memory-making stuff.
I am trying to inject a little more fun into each day. I am loving our walks and bike rides, hearing the kids chat away about all sorts of topics and ideas. Yesterday my son engaged me in a 40-minute discussion designing our dream Tesla. He offered for me to be CEO of his car company, so that's reassuring job security in my older years.
We are reading books together, complete with funny voices, and playing board games over dinner to end the day on a high. The kids are baking - there are some sequencing, reading and fractions right there - doing chores and burning off energy with GoNoodle dance workouts. It's a "thrivival" after all!
I know this is tough, and it's easy to crawl into the pits of despair during times of uncertainty – especially if you didn't have a great experience last time. Try to focus on the positive aspects of being in lockdown, even if you can only count one.
Compared to other countries right now, we have relative freedom of movement and have enjoyed a pretty good summer connecting with our friends and family. We will get this under control and we will get back to relative normality again soon.
Keep putting your own mask on first
Let's be honest – even in the most upbeat "thrivival" households, lockdowns can take a toll on our wellbeing. It's important to recognise that as a parent or caregiver, we need to focus on our own mental health first so we can then care for others.
Keeping our emotions as regulated as possible will help set the tone in our whare. Calm creates calm. Panic breeds panic. Pause, Hold, Engage is a tool we recommend at Parenting Place to help families find calm when emotions are going wild.
Basically, Pause, Hold, Engage is a short phrase you can use to bring your own, or your child's, emotional temperature down. Pause and take 10 deep breaths. Oxygen is fuel for the brain. Hold and notice what you (or your child) are feeling right now. Name it and accept it. And then engage – explore why you or your child are feeling this way and how you can improve things with a solution focus.
If your mental health is in decline and you're struggling to keep your emotional regulation in check, reach out for help. Talk to someone you trust, book a phone consult with your GP, or call a helpline if you need to vent. There is no shame in feeling overwhelmed or anxious, it's powerful and brave to get the help you need.
Holly Jean Brooker is one of the team of presenters at Parenting Place. She is a mum, works in PR and freelance writing and has a background in high school education in Health and Social Sciences. Parenting Place is the charity with a heart for supporting New Zealand families on their parenting journey.