How parents can avoid exhausting their emotional energy too early and in the wrong places


Here are the first two parts of the series:

By Roxanna Elden

The first week in May is a big time for uplifting quotes about taking care of kids, encompassing as it does both Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation Week. With these celebrations comes a flurry of messages reminding both teachers and moms that we’re doing the “most important job in the world.” It’s usually meant as a compliment, but let’s be honest: That’s a lot of pressure. After all, if it’s true that “a hundred years from now, all that will matter is the difference you made in the life of a child,” then, well … you better not mess this up.

Unfortunately, knowing that we’re “doing it for the kids” isn’t the same as being well-equipped for the moment when one of those kids spills juice on their distance-learning worksheets for the second time! In one hour! Just the opposite, in fact.

One thing I learned the hard way as a teacher is that, like time and energy, our best moods are limited resources. Start the day with an emotional rubber band already stretched to its breaking point, and you’re likely to snap by three o’clock. Which leads to you beat yourself up because, even “for the kids,” you couldn’t rise to the challenge. Which doesn’t help with the rubber band problem.

As a parent unexpectedly home schooling my own children in the age of the coronavirus, my emotional resources are still limited. I’ve done plenty of yelling — even, ironically enough, as I worked on this very article! But I’ve also been able to draw on lessons I learned as a teacher to keep from spending my emotional budget too early and in the wrong places. With that experience in mind, here are a few lessons to help parents make it to the end of the “school day” with their sanity intact.

Beware of comparing your unedited footage to other people’s highlight reels.

As a new teacher, I frequently read books by award-winning educators who taught students to play violin during their lunch break. I frequently and dutifully repeated the mantra that “failure is not an option.” Unfortunately, it turned out that in my classroom, failure was, in fact, an option. And after a bad day, other people’s chicken-soup-style success stories can feel more like a sucker punch to the soul. There are times to learn from other people whose cups seem to runneth over with great ideas. But a moment when your own cup feels cracked, leaky, or half-empty might not be that time.

People don’t know when you “mute” them on social media.

They know if you unfollow or unfriend them (though, in many cases, they may not notice even that), but muting someone’s updates, even just for a defined period of time, is an entirely private decision. This is important, because social media has a way of amplifying the parts of people’s personalities that are most disruptive to our emotional radio frequencies. (It actually does this by design, because these are also the parts that attract and hold viewers’ attention.) And it’s not just humble-bragging and one-upping that could be jamming up your mental airwaves. Your feed also contains political rants that you don’t have time to get sucked into even if you basically agree, misinformation from people you thought were smarter than that, and upsetting updates that can make you feel too drained to take care of the needs in your own house. During a time like this, especially if you’re taking care of kids, you’re allowed to protect yourself from being emotionally blindsided.

You need to stay up to date with the news. But do you need to stay that up to date with the news?

Things are changing fast, but the hours spent convincing reluctant kids to practice multiplication tables are a good time to take a break from re-refreshing the multiple news apps you just checked. Put your phones down. We’re gonna be here for a while.

You are allowed be happy or excited sometimes.

Even during a global crisis, there can be individual moments of optimism, enjoyment, or satisfaction. When they come your way, take them. Don’t you get enough of the other stuff?

As the author of both a new-teacher guidebook and a teaching-related novel, I often get asked for the one piece I’d give to any teacher, and this is it. When you haven’t slept, you automatically become a worse version of yourself. You become forgetful. You become impatient. You have trouble thinking critically, and you take everything personally. Not exactly the qualities of an ideal teacher or parent. Taking care of kids is an important job. But taking care of ourselves is an important part of that job, and it’s a part that’s harder than ever in the middle of a crisis. If you set a bedtime for yourself and stick to it, you’ll be better at everything else the next day. Remember, you’re doing it for the kids.



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