Reflections of a full time working parent during a global pandemic
“You can’t pour from an empty cup” – Norm Kelly
Good on ya Norm! How true this statement is! As parents well know, being everything and keeping it together for the sake of your children and family is a full time job in itself. Free pour in full time paid work, add a sprinkle of stress, a dash of parental guilt and a twist of Covid-19 and what you have is an all-out cocktail recipe for exhaustion and burn out.
While I’m all about embracing a cocktail or two during down time, what do you do when the cocktail is gone and all that is left is an empty cup? The idea of first looking after yourself seems odd, and often, really not high on the priority list of things parents focus on doing each day.
Maintaining consistency at home, work and school
As parents, we want to do everything for our children. We want to be everything and more for them. We nurture and support them through the light and dark days, we’re there for them in every sense and form and there to teach them how to deal with their emotions and their interactions with the outside world. We want to provide a stable, consistent, safe environment for them to explore and grow.
But what happens when their world, like everyone else’s, is turned upside down? And the consistencies in our home, work, school and social life is threatened with the fears and stresses of a global pandemic?
As a Registered Music Therapist and an essential worker, I was very lucky to continue working as Covid-19 hit and the restrictions in Queensland began to tighten. Much of the work moved online, however I was still able to continue providing some home visits to many of my clients, with strict social distancing rules adhered to.
Our team at Music Beat was busy navigating through the process of transitioning to online therapy, music and early learning programs and lessons.
The stress of adapting and reinventing ourselves and our practices at work was huge and, with facilitating many sessions online from home, work and relevant stresses, feelings of overwhelm began to infiltrate into the home life.
On top of that, trying to home school a 7 year old during this time of constant change and unknown was also starting to wear us down. I found myself constantly feeling like I was treading water, barely able to keep my head above the watermark. How could I possibly be everything to everyone else on a daily basis, to support my family and clients without falling into a heap myself?
Finding work-life balance
As a music therapist, I have read a lot of research and literature about self-care and sustainability to avoid burn out and exhaustion in the workplace. There is also a lot of information out there about parents returning to work and the stresses of finding that work-life balance.
While as a professional, you can justify and rationalise self-care in order to continue to work in a sustainable way, when it comes to nurturing your physical and emotional wellbeing as a parent, we are often all too quick to shelve our own needs for the sake of the needs of our children and family.
“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brown
Remember the flight safety spiel prior to take off? (Yes, back when flying in an aeroplane was still normal). “Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.” It’s the rule that everyone should live their lives by, especially parents.
Managing guilt and expectations
As parents, we need to find ways to work through our innate feelings of guilt, manage our expectations of ourselves and how we cope with stresses, as well as keeping our own wellbeing in the forefront of our mind.
It’s ok to not always have it all sorted every minute of every day. It’s ok to have takeaway one night because you’re too tired after a huge day of work to cook. It’s ok to sometimes send your kid with money for tuckshop because you don’t always have time to make amazing perfectly balanced and nutritious lunches every morning.
And it’s ok to take time, even 30 minutes every day to do something just for yourself to recharge and fill your own cup. Having said that, there are some factors that can’t be changed but it’s about increasing our awareness of our own needs, in order to be able to fulfil our multiple roles, especially with the ever-changing landscape that is Covid-19.
Prioritising what’s important
During the Covid crisis, I was lucky enough to find a little time to really reflect on what my life looked like, what I prioritised, what was important to me and what brought me joy (no Marie Kondo – I did not find joy in tidying!).
With the help of my doctor, my kinesiologist, and my family, I am learning (and still learning) to not let guilt govern the way I approach justifying time and space for myself. I’m learning that by doing this, I’m showing myself love and giving myself what I need in order to be a better parent and find a healthier balance between my work and my home life.
I have started to take at least 30 mins every day to check in with myself and do something that is just for me. Some ways I have shown some self-love have been:
- Getting outside – being outside in the sunshine immediately makes me feel better. That vitamin D does wonders for my mood and body. Sometimes, it’ll be a simple as having my lunch break outside
- Having a bath (this one can be a little more tricky at times – often it’s after dinner and bedtime routine)
- Getting a massage – there is no room for feelings of guilt here!
- Dancing it out – have an impromptu dance party and I can dance it out to a favourite song. Get those happy hormones working
- Tapping into my mood and making a playlist on Spotify. Sometimes I want to sit in my current mood and will choose music to support these feelings. Sometimes I want to work towards feeling a different way so I create a playlist that helps me on my journey to feeling differently.
- Making space for quality time with my husband – organise a date night!
- Finding a hobby that’s just for you – I have become a bit of a crazy plant lady during Covid
- Exercising (I know this is said a lot) but even 5 mins of light stretching can increase awareness of where your body is at and keeps us healthy (my new thing since Covid is to work out with a friend. It’s a great way to socialise and bundle something that might not be so desirable with something way more fun)
- Getting a general check up at the doctor – I have been told vitamins, especially Zinc and Vitamin C can help support the immune system, especially in times of stress and sickness
- Reading a book – join a book club. I joined one that was able to move online during Covid
- Learning to really play with my kid – even though I work with kids every day, I find it really difficult to play with my daughter. I make sure to hug her every chance I get, and allocate at least 10 mins a day of intense one-on-one play with her to feel connected, and to make sure her cup is filled as well
- Engaging in certain rituals to set boundaries around keeping work and home life separate. Working from home can make it even harder to set boundaries and turn our brains off at the end of the day. At the end of the day I make sure I rearrange and repack my instruments in the car ready for the next day. I do the majority of my admin work in the office, which is separate from our living areas. When I have finished, I wipe the table down, tidy up the desk and pack all the things I need for the next day. Finally, I turn everything off and close and lock the door. In my mind, I have switched everything off, and have locked all my thoughts and work away in that room where it will stay until it’s time work again.
- Changing mindset – finally, something that may seem small in the grand scheme of things but I found super helpful was simply changing my mindset during Covid: Seeing restrictions as not social distancing but rather physical distancing. Sounds silly but this little change in thinking really helped when I felt isolated and low.
Self-care doesn’t mean you are on your own
Self-care just means putting your own emotional and physical wellbeing first. As parents we have to remember to do this for ourselves. We always do it for our kids and families, but not always for ourselves.
If you are feeling low or generally unwell, it’s ok to seek advice from a medical professional. It is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength! We are dealing with uncertain times and we are all adjusting to a new normal.
And remember we are doing our best in this new normal circumstances, and that’s ok. It’s ok to sometimes need some extra support to help us with this transition. It’s also ok to have a sneaky cocktail every now and then.
Just make sure your cup is full!
Miss Tara is Practice Manager for Music Beat Therapy Services, and is a Group Leader for our Kids Music Beat MELP program.