Dear Parents as the School Year Starts
Parents, I feel you. We are under a lot of pressure right now, especially in making decisions about our kids’ return to school, in-person or virtual or something in between. Even if the decision itself was an easy one to make because of your family’s specific needs, many of us are struggling with guilt, overwhelm, and just continual coming-to-terms with the decisions we have needed to make. Each day we might be confronted with new judgments, new information, new risks – all of which make us second-guess and grapple with our decisions over and over again.
Monica Mo, PhD writes for Mother.ly that this is a special kind of pandemic exhaustion – “decision fatigue.” First, it is important to recognize that this is only one of so many new pressures we are feeling as parents during this fall – the majority of us are also coping with over-work as the lines between work and home blur, lack of space or transition time between our different roles, lack of social support and interaction, and compassion fatigue as we are constantly helping our families deal with the hard situations that we are in.
Second, this decision fatigue is a real thing! Our stress responses are on high alert much of the time right now, and every small decision feels heavy. (This is why you’re seeing so many parents posting that they CANNOT decide what is for dinner tonight. It’s the straw that is breaking many of our camels’ backs.) When every decision feels hard and weighty, and there are many of them each day, we exhaust our mental and physical resources faster. And, as may be the case with your back-to-school decision, constant self-doubt about the decisions you’ve made also depletes your emotional reserves.
Here are some ways to take care of your own mental health as the school year starts and we parents deal with decision fatigue:
- Connect with other parents in similar situations to yours. It’s okay if they made different decisions about back-to-school than you did. The important part is sharing about what feels hard about it and the multiple stressors that play into our family health and well-being right now. Knowing that other parents are feeling the pressure allows us to exhale a little and recognize that we are not in this alone.
- Practice self-compassion. When that voice of self-doubt is loud, quiet it with a short self-compassion exercise. Imagine that a close friend or loved one is saying the same things to you that you are saying to yourself – “It’s just too hard – there’s no right answer – I can’t handle all this pressure…” Think about your thoughts as words that a friend is sharing with you. Reflect on what you would tell your friend – how you would show them care and compassion. Write down what you would say, and read it back to yourself. Allow yourself to hear and take in the compassionate words that you would give to your friend. Keep this “good friend” message close and re-read it when you need to.
- Give yourself breaks – often. Recognizing that you’re fatigued by the pandemic and by all of the decisions that are weighing on you; treat yourself a little more delicately than you think you should. This means giving yourself regular breaks in between tasks, and when you are transitioning from work to parent to partner, etc. Take a few moments to breathe, stretch, rest your eyes – whatever feels good to you and allows you a moment of rest. This also means giving yourself a break from social media or news outlets that increase your feelings of anxiety or fatigue. And it also means giving yourself a break by relaxing your expectations about how well you should be handling everything. It’s a pandemic. No one prepared us for this. There are no “shoulds” right now. We’re doing great.
- Reach out for help. This is a great time to find a counselor/therapist or return to therapy if it’s been a while. Telehealth makes it easy to see a therapist right from home. Having someone to say your thoughts and worries out loud with eases the burden you’ve been trying to carry. The emotional weight of the decisions you’ve had to make is sometimes buried deep, and a therapist can help you find it, talk it through, and help you to see how awesome you are doing.
Parents, everything feels hard right now. You are tired because you are doing your best for your family. Give yourself the acknowledgement and the rest that you truly and desperately deserve.
Written by: Jessie Everts, PhD LMF