Lessons from a pandemic: LSS parenting circle participants share how they cope in the age of COVID

There’s no “right way” to do COVID, but there are dozens of ways to lessen our anxiety around it.

That seemed to be the main takeaway from our Aug. 4 support and talking circle, “Parenting in a Pandemic,” held for the public, at no cost, through the LSSND/Project Renew initiative.

Jennifer Boeckel, Sarah Wicks and Katie Krueger, all licensed master social workers with LSSND, met with parents via Zoom to talk about caregiver concerns, and many other fears as well. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what will happen if they send their kids to school, and what will happen if they don’t. Fear of visiting elderly loved ones due to fears of spreading the infection, measured against fears that this means they might never see those loved ones again. 

Fortunately, the discussion wound up revealing just as many uplifting revelations and helpful tips as it did talk of fears, which helped the evening end on a hopeful note.

Moderator Terri Burns helped get the conversation started by sharing a common parenting predicament: How she’s trying to balance parenting young children with being a good employee, especially when she’s working from home.

“I feel like I’m being a bad mom and a bad employee. I’m trying my hardest and yet I’m not succeeding at either,” Burns said.

But Burns also recognized that these are just feelings, which don’t reflect reality: “What is bringing me comfort is knowing that my kids don’t seem to see these feelings. They are happy and wonderful. They’ll climb into my lap in the middle of a meeting for a hug.” During the evening, other participants also shared their top concerns: 

  • Lack of social connection, especially for those who are “people people.” “I get little to no social interaction. I haven’t seen my team members in ages.”

  • Fear that working from home is impacting their work efficacy. “My job is pressuring me to come back. I was so broadsided when they contacted me and said, ‘We need you in the office ASAP.’ It threw me. I thought I was meeting expectations.”

  • Health concerns because someone in their family is high-risk, coupled with fears of being judged when they take steps to protect themselves.  “My oldest daughter has a congenital heart defect. I have this fear of sending a medically vulnerable child out of the house, yet she is so gregarious and social. She asks every day if she will see her friends again.” 

  • Concern for those who are vulnerable, but don’t seem worried about getting sick. “When I see parents being willy-nilly with it, I worry they don’t see the long-term effects,” said a participant with an autoimmune disease. “I just don’t want anyone else to have an autoimmune disease, missing out on their 20s and a normal life because they are seeing doctors. I don’t know how to advocate for this without being pushy.”

  • Fear for loved ones who are in the medical field and unable to be around them. 

  • Fear of the unknown when they are used to structure, planning and control.  “I feel like we are being forced to change (and to go out in public again), but  I don’t know what I need to know to wisely choose. What are the implications of doing too much too soon? We just don’t know enough.”

  • Frustration over the polarization caused by the virus. “I think the hardest part for me, is all of the anger and disrespect and all of the divisiveness all over,” said Katie Krueger, LMSW, and Abound therapist. “It tears me up. It hurts my heart. To disagree is one thing, but to feel so angry and so strongly about it that you stop caring about the other people, that’s been tough for me.”

So what is the answer? Is there a way to refocus, stay positive and do the next right thing when we feel surrounded by chaos and fear? As the circle’s participants shared, that answer is a most definite yes. After speaking honestly and candidly about their vulnerabilities, the group shared coping mechanisms that also reflected their strength and resilience. 

An opportunity to spend time with family, even if it’s far from perfect.

  • I’m getting an opportunity many don’t have, to be able to take care of my kids full-time for next 10-12 months. I know how many other moms out there would want that. I just know how blessed I am.”

  • It made me rethink my role as a mom. “It doesn’t have to be working mom or mom at home. It can be whatever. It can be sort of fluid, which wasn’t available before the pandemic. Life happened in these sorts of compartments.”

  • “I feel like my marriage has gotten stronger. “The first month was really hard … a lot of arguing. I think we’ve realized our communication needed to get better, so now we’re trying to meet each other needs in a better and different way. I think he finally understood/heard the words of how much my anxiety heightened during all this. He’s been able to guide me through the anxiety parts.”

  • “I love the silly moments I do have with the kids, like seeing them belly laugh over something. It's been challenging at times, but I've found we've had more fun moments than bad moments."

Ending phone addiction

  • Therapist Sarah Wicks discovered one small modification – charging her phone in her bathroom instead of by her bed – made a huge difference. She said the change has helped her sleep better and keep her brain from working overtime.

Rediscovering faith

  • “I start every day with a devotional and quiet time to be grateful and thankful and just listen. I keep a gratitude journal, even if somedays I’m just grateful to be able to get out of bed.”

Getting back to basics

  • Almost all participants talked about a return to the domestic arts, and the unexpected rewards that came from chores such as gardening (one participant reports that weed-pulling is therapeutic) or baking their own bread.

  • Writing letters. One participant started handwriting letters to friends and family member, mainly as therapy for the arthritis in her hands. She used the opportunity to connect and tell loved ones what they meant to her. “It was more healing than I ever expected, and to get letters back was a very cool thing,” she said.

Making people realize they need to ask for help.

  • “Our anxieties were bigger than the coping skills we had in our toolbox. For first time, (my husband) asked me to make an appointment with a doctor. And it made him a completely different person. Shortly after, I did the same thing. It wasn’t giving up. We aren’t in this alone; it was remembering there are supports to help us get through these hard times.”

Getting fit, mentally and physically

  • Working out.  “This is probably the healthiest I’ve been since 2014. Taking the 20 minutes every day for myself – I haven’t given myself that time for years.”

  • Mastering mindfulness. One woman said she practices grounding in the most literal sense – lying on the ground and sensing how each part of her body feels as it connects with the earth. Others talked of practicing mindfulness, whether that meant sitting on the patio and focusing on all that is going right in one’s life or being present in the moment by feeling the warmth of the sun on one’s face and the breeze ruffling through one’s hair.

Learning to let go

  • “One of my friends said, ‘What is normal? Normal is a setting on a washing machine. What’s normal for one may not be for you. Just figure out what your normal might be.”

  • “I’m a type A person and I couldn’t be anymore. So I’m proud of my flexibility and my ability to work in a guest bedroom while PBS KIDS plays in the background and things are stacked on the floor.” 

  • “If I watch Netflix instead of cleaning up when the kids are in bed, I don’t care. Maybe that’s what I need to do at that moment instead.”

  • “I’m letting go of things like controlling how our towels get folded. I like my house in order, my work in order, my family in order. The reality is that none of it was really in order anyway, so it was just getting myself to accept it.

Finally, remembering that this won't last forever

Even if it’s not as soon as we’d like, we do need to remember there will be an end to the pandemic. It’s the ideal time to turn to the old adage, “This too shall pass.”

Didn’t make our first session? Our second session is booked, but we do have openings for a third session on Zoom from 2-4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20. Register at: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYsdO-oqD4tEt0sadETtmFEdYmkotYcEKJl

Project Renew is a partnership between the state’s Behavioral Health Division and LSSND to provide free, anonymous crisis counseling and resources to anyone affected by COVID-19. Make an appointment by calling (701)223-1510 8-5 weekdays. 

By Tammy Swift

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