Day 41 of our shelter-at-home was a rough one. Honestly, every day at home with two babies under the age of two has its hard moments. That particular day felt hard overall, moment to moment. Even in the good moments, when the kids were behaving and being adorable, a part of me was still struggling. It wasn’t actually the kids that made the day hard.
It was me.
What I learned after my first baby and the subsequent post-partum depression, was that often the baby’s (or in this case, babies’) behavior is secondary to my own mood and outlook. If I wake up with a lot of patience, I can endure the typical meltdowns and diaper-change fights. I can discipline with measure and control. I can troubleshoot the crying baby until I figure out the problem. But if I wake up and feel already drained or tired or depressed, no amount of good behavior is going to make the day easier. It’s going to be a struggle from beginning to end.
On top of taking care of little ones during a quarantine, I’ve had a build-up of grief from my sister’s passing. I’m emotionally tired and worn out. I’m at a breaking point, honestly. But who wouldn’t be?
What makes things even worse is my inner critic who says really mean things to me when I’m struggling. Things like, I’m being ridiculous; It isn’t that bad, stop overreaacting; Why aren’t I stronger/more patient/more generous/better?; I’m not cut out for being a mom at all.
It’s easy to let these voices of ours tear us down and make us feel like failures. And sure, there are plenty of opportunities to be more patient parents — we can learn from our mistakes and try again tomorrow. But what we don’t need is for these voices to bring us low when we’re already in tough situations, or in this case, extraordinary circumstances. So if you are struggling at home with your kids during this shelter-at-home age, remember something:
This is not the norm; it’s an extreme situation. Right now, in particular, we can’t fault ourselves for bad days. We can’t blame ourselves when things go awry. The world is awry right now. We’re not normally stuck in the house with our partners and kids nonstop for 41+ days. Normally, we can get breaks when we need them. We take the kids to the library or visit our family or friends. We go to the park or playground. We hire a babysitter for a night! But those breaks aren’t available to many of us right now. It’s understandable that things get a little dark some days. It’s going to happen. Because we aren’t perfect, and this situation is definitely not perfect.
We can’t judge ourselves based on extreme situations, like a pandemic. If we need to give our kids more TV time, it’s okay. If we need to rely on our partners a little more one day while we check out a little bit, that’s okay (as long as we check back in once we’re rested). If we need to enforce a nap or quiet time, so that everyone gets a little break from each other, that’s probably a good idea!
My kids aren’t school-aged, so moms of school-aged kids need to remember these are special circumstances, too. You weren’t supposed to be your child’s teacher, so if it’s hard, that’s understandable.
There are so many challenges from this pandemic. Lean into mercy and grace and forgiveness, even for yourself. Remember that none of us, including our children (no matter how young), was prepared for this or made for this. We’re made for community. We’re made for school communities, and family communities, and the friend communities we take the time to build. We’re meant to share this burden. So if things go crazy in your family unit for a bit, that’s okay. Take a deep breath. Try again tomorrow. Take a nap when you can. Understand this is all exhausting. Even if you’re getting a lot of sleep, your emotions are extended, drained, and stretched beyond what they’re used to.
I’m writing these words for myself as much as anyone else right now. I need these reminders. And if you do too, take them to heart. Focus on this day and making it to lights out. And then try again tomorrow.