Here in the New Jersey area, at the epicenter of the global COVID-19 pandemic, life as we know it has forever changed. The things we once took for granted, like stopping at our favorite coffee shop on the way to work, taking our kids to swim practice, or having extended family over for a weekend barbecue, have become too risky. Instead, the pressing objective of every single thing we do (or, more accurately, don’t do) is to flatten the curve. Finding our new normal isn’t easy. As parents, we’re navigating a wide range of emotions: anxiety, anger, confusion, fear and more. At the same time, we strive to balance the demands of work or the stress of unemployment, homeschooling our children (a job none of us signed up for), and a few minutes of self-care—remember that?
Our job is to guide our children during this unprecedented time, even if we’d rather hide under the covers until it’s all over. Social distancing, aka being stuck at home with no end in sight, may feel impossible, but it’s also an unprecedented opportunity for us to slow down and connect with our families. Now more than ever, in this period of immense uncertainty, we’re yearning for truth, honesty and transparency. By being authentic and open during this surreal time, we can show our children the way through. Three authenticity experts weigh in:
Check in With Yourself
Most of us are so focused on making sure everyone else is okay, we’ve lost touch with our own needs and desires. To embrace authenticity we must reconnect with ourselves by identifying who we are and what we need at the core.
“If you’re in the midst of your motherhood journey, you may have lost some parts of you,” Anna Seewald, parent educator, author, speaker and host of the Authentic Parenting podcast says. “Ask yourself: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What do I like?’ Think back on who you were when you were ten years old, excavate those parts of the old you and ask, ‘Who am I today?’ We always have a choice, but we have to listen to our heart and have faith in it. Stand up for your needs, desires and boundaries.”
Pinpoint what you want independent of what others may think. “Trust your inner authority to make decisions; it takes a lot of self-compassion,” says Helene Brenner, PhD., author of I Know I’m In There Somewhere: A Women’s Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice and Living a Life of Authenticity. “Being authentic involves becoming aware of what you feel and trusting what you know but at the same time, not being closed off to other people’s opinions. When we love our kids and other people in our lives, we feel their wants so intensely. Get in touch with what your senses tell you. Wanting is a physical feeling that pushes and motivates us. It’s a powerful motivator that’s unique to each person. What would you do if you weren’t worried about what anybody thought? What would you do for you?”
Self-care is essential during a crisis because you can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself. If you always compromise to satisfy the desires of others, give yourself permission to make decisions based on what makes you happy.
Embrace the Gift of Self-Love
It’s okay to not have all the answers, and we owe ourselves the same kindness we extend to others.
Mike Robbins, author of Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken, says, “Talk to yourself as if you’re talking to someone you love. Self-love and self-acceptance are intricately connected. My wife, Michelle, and I know that our two daughters, ages 11 and 14, are going to pay more attention to what we do and how we show up than what we say. They watch how we treat each other but also how we treat ourselves.”
By being open and honest about our fears about the coronavirus pandemic, we invite our kids to be open with theirs. “Share the real experience of what’s going on with you. We have to be willing to tell the truth, not hold back or sugar-coat,” Robbins says. “In the midst of all this, our girls are doing okay. They’re adjusting to online school, but missing their friends, activities and more. We’re trying to give them space and let them express themselves. We’re talking to them about what’s happening and allowing them to watch a little bit of news, although not too much. We’re also sharing with them how we are feeling—sad, scared, angry, confused…and also hopeful, grateful and peaceful. It isn’t all that easy but there are aspects of it that are sweet, even though it is really hard.”
Allow Your Kids to Be Who They Are
During the novel coronavirus and beyond, we want our children to know it’s okay to be themselves. That means guiding our kids toward their own unique trajectory of personal growth without any agendas of our own. “Treat your child as a separate human being. Honor their feelings and accept who they are without wanting to change them. Our children are not here to live our dreams. We need to relinquish the ideal of who we want our children to be and accept who they really are, by welcoming their voice and opinion without judging, criticizing or denying,” Seewald says.
Listening, free of judgement, validates our children’s inner reality which is an important step in encouraging our kids to be authentic. “Let’s raise children who won’t have to recover from their childhoods. Acceptance is the biggest gift we can give, not only to our children, but to another human being. Let’s allow them to be who they are,” Seewald says.
Be Present With Your Kids
Equally important is resisting the desire to fix things for our kids when life gets hard. Instead, allow your child to confide in you about the situation, take their feelings seriously and ask why they are feeling that way. Doing this elevates the trust and intimacy between you and your child.
When you’re listening, always be present. “When somebody’s really present with us, we come alive more, we’re not just on automatic, we’re being real. There’s an aliveness that’s exciting because you have the opportunity to be who you are in the moment. When you see your kids get really juiced and alive with that spark, it’s nurturing,” Brenner says.
This period of social isolation presents a unique chance for us to spend precious time connecting with our families. Often, it’s the simple things that bring us the most joy. Robbins says, “We’re spending time playing in the backyard, playing cards, watching movies, riding bikes and going on family walks…when we all feel up to it and we’re not getting on each other’s nerves.”
Our job in the midst of this pandemic is to embrace togetherness, support one another and validate our children’s feelings whatever they may be. We’re in this together.
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