Parenting in a Pandemic — Spoiler Alert: It’s F’ing Hard
Parenting in general, even on the best of days, can be tough. Add in a global pandemic and it can feel impossibly difficult, not to mention increasingly more stressful (as if parents were in short supply of stress as it was). One of the ways I’ve seen this materialize in my work is through the presentation of increased anxiety surrounding what feels like the unachievable task of finding some sort of balance between the desire to keep our families safe vs. the effects of doing so on our quality of life.
Notably, many new moms I work with have been struggling with navigating the need for social support postpartum while trying to keep their babies safe and healthy. Given that research has shown us that social support is a major buffer of postpartum depression, finding a balance between safety and connection is a common theme of discussion, and we try to inch closer to that goal of balance by defining our “safety budget.”
What’s your safety budget?
Everything in life has risks. Let’s look at driving. Driving can be dangerous, but most of us do it. We put our children in car seats, we follow the rules of the road, and we do our best to limit distractions because the benefits of driving outweigh the risks. When it comes to thinking about our safety budget during a pandemic, the question is: What benefits outweigh the risks for you and your family? Is the risk of being isolated lesser or greater than the risk of a masked visit outside with a friend? The important thing to note is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, as everyone has a different safety budget. When it comes to deciphering real vs. perceived threat and determining a risk allowance, many clients have found it helpful to focus on the data (e.g., local case rates) combined with guidance from their pediatrician and the CDC to aid in decision-making.
What happens when you and the people that make up your “village” have different safety budgets?
The pandemic has led to a lot of new parents feeling cheated of their village. What happens when you as a new parent want (and need!) social support, but your family or friends push back against your boundaries? What if they flat-out refuse to respect them? You can’t control what other people do, but you can decide what’s important to you. Chances are, you’ve set these boundaries to keep your family safe, protect your mental health, and minimize stress. Remember that. While the hurt and anger you might feel in this instance are valid, I would encourage you to use the energy you might otherwise dedicate to ruminating about the actions (or inactions) of others and put that towards something you can control — like engaging in a self-care activity. Do a mindful meditation; go for a walk; watch your favorite TV show. Keep in mind that your safety budget and your boundaries may change as the data available to you changes, and that’s perfectly okay. In the meantime, find support where you can. If your safety budget isn’t allowing for in-home visitors at the current moment, does it allow for a relative or friend to drive-up for a brief chat (and peek at baby) outside? Maybe it includes having friends/family drop off groceries (or Grubhub gift cards!) so you can do something else (hint, hint: self-care!). Connecting with other new moms virtually can also be helpful.
When all else fails…
If you’ve calculated your safety budget and set boundaries and you’re still struggling to manage anxiety related to the pandemic or you’re interested in learning more tips to survive parenting during a pandemic, I'd love to talk more about how I can help you. Until next time, be well friends!
Amanda McClellan is a licensed clinical social worker providing therapy for moms in Michigan. Amanda specializes in maternal mental health works with a wide range of issues including perinatal mood disorders like postpartum depression; perinatal anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and OCD; and perinatal post-traumatic stress disorder. Amanda also helps both new moms and more experienced pros make time and space for emotional healing, developing healthy boundaries, increasing self-care, and mastering coping strategies for mom guilt, burn out, and fatigue.
If you’re looking for a therapist in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, you can contact Amanda here to learn more about her current openings and scheduling a consultation.