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The Key to Being Successful at Parenting During Social Distancing Starts with Grace

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Parenting is hard. Parenting for days on end without a break is harder. And parenting while social distancing, when you can’t leave your home, or have playdates, and are expected to supervise school at home while working from home — well, that is downright panic-inducing. With the pressures of social media posts showing you how you “should” parent, it is no wonder moms and dads are overwhelmed and anxious and scrambling to get their footing.

For the month of April, I have been talking about the theme of “grace” on the Mighty Littles Instagram account. After some hiccups in our family this year, I find myself struggling to give myself grace. Some days are hard. Some hours are hard. Some minutes are hard. And equally, some minutes, hours and days are fantastic. Let’s use grace as we face the mixes of difficult and fantastic times.

Grace (noun):

1. The exercise of love, kindness or goodwill

2. Beauty - physical, intellectual or moral.

“Give yourself grace” is a catchphrase that has gained popularity over the last five years. It is being written about in mental health and mothering communities. It can be an excellent reminder to ourselves when we are trying to uphold unrealistic standards and expectations of motherhood. At its core, grace is about acceptance, forgiveness, and love. Grace looks different for everyone.

Grace can look like acknowledging you did everything right and still had a premature infant.

Grace can be ignoring the voice in your head telling you “you’re not good enough” and focusing on the task at hand.

Grace can look like showing kindness to the person that slammed a door in your face two minutes ago.

Grace can be as simple as allowing yourself to binge on Netflix when you need an escape from reality for a few hours.

Grace is about acceptance, forgiveness, and love. I offer you 15 ways to practice showing yourself grace during periods of social isolation. This undeniably applies to the current COVID-19 pandemic, but it also applies to parents who are supporting their baby in the NICU and new parents who are at home for the first few weeks after the birth of a newborn.

15 Ways to Show Yourself Grace During Times of Social Distancing

  1. Smile at Yourself. Have you ever noticed that smiles, like yawns & sneezes, are contagious? There is research into how we mimic facial expressions and tend to smile more when people are smiling at us. Smiles that engage your mouth and eye muscles have the most positive impact on your outlook. These smiles, called Duchenne smiles, can help ease tension, relieve anxiety, and actually make you feel better. Even if you aren’t feeling it, give yourself a fake smile. Fake smiles can improve mood by tapping into the positive memories associated with moving those particular facial muscles. And for you new Mamas, smile at your baby at that 2 am feeding - you will both feel just a little better and more connected!

  2. Believe Your Best is Good Enough. I tell my kids all the time, as long as you are trying your best, I will never be upset with the outcome. And Daniel Tiger says it best, “Do your best, your best is the best for you”.

  3. Perfectionism is a Myth. In order to give yourself grace or be kind to yourself, you need to internalize the notion that perfectionism is a myth. Realize and accept that you will make mistakes.

  4. Show Yourself Kindness. When you mess up, which we all do, stop being so hard on yourself. Show yourself kindness. You didn’t start your day off with the intention to mess up — it just happens.

  5. Then Forgive Yourself. We all make mistakes. It isn’t enough to be kind to yourself at the time you make a mistake. You have to forgive yourself as well. Otherwise, you will beat yourself up for that mistake for days or months or years to come. One caveat here - you have to be trying to do your best in order for these steps to work. You can’t be giving marginal effort and forgive yourself over and over, it doesn’t work.

  6. Steer Clear of Negative Thinking. Turn off the voice in your head telling yourself you aren’t good enough. This is why steps 3-5 are crucial. When you believe other people are perfect, you compare yourself to an unreal ideal. Be kind to yourself, forgive yourself, and move on. Whatever we practice is what we naturally become. “You are always practicing something. The question is: What are you practicing?” - Martial Arts Sensei

  7. Talk to Yourself Like You Would Talk to Your Best Friend. For me, this is the single most useful piece of advice I have ever been given. If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, then don’t say it to yourself. You are worth more than that.

  8. Comparison is the Thief of Joy. Stop comparing yourself to those around you and to idealized memories of your past. Be proud of what your accomplish. Stay in the present moment. Have you ever been proud of an accomplishment to have it squashed just by looking around at someone else? Stop comparing yourself to social media or internet ideals.

  9. Ask For Help. I will be honest, I am terrible at this skill. Most of the time, I don’t even know what I need help with. I just put my head down and tackle the next step. Thinking about asking people for help means I have to stop what I am doing and figure out what I need that someone else can do. I am putting “ask for help” on the list - and I really hope the Mighty Little readers will give me some grace here, because I have no suggestions for how to make it work.

  10. Accept Help. Just because I lack the skills to ask for help doesn’t mean I can’t accept help! When someone offers to make you a meal (when you are quarantine) or hold your baby so you can take a shower - just say yes. Accepting help doesn’t mean you aren’t doing a good job.

  11. Learn to Process “Helpful Advice”. Everyone knows the best way to do everything. And that is true. Their best way worked best for them. But it might not work best for you. Just remember, the advice nearly always offered with the best of intentions, and they don’t mean to offend you. But you know your family, your body, your baby better than anyone. So, when people offer advice, just nod and say thank you. Put it in the file of “I’ll have to remember that” and keep going.

  12. Do Little Things for Yourself. Whether you are stuck in the house for three weeks with three screaming kids or home with newborn babies that were in the NICU, find a little time to do something for yourself. It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t even need to leave the house. Give yourself the gift of a long shower or a perfect cup of coffee or tea. Call a friend after everyone is asleep and have a good laugh. These small gifts to yourself can do wonders for your mental health and ability to cope with the long days.

  13. Be Active. There is something about being active that always makes the day better. Even if it is just a 10-minute walk up to the mailbox and back, moving our bodies can improve our mindset.

  14. Rest. This can be difficult. Toddlers and elementary school kids have endless questions and needs. They make endless messes and are constantly poking at each other. Newborns are less needy in some ways (they don’t color on your wall when you aren’t looking!) but needier in other ways (feeding every three hours!). So rest when you can. Take a nap in the afternoon with your toddlers, sleep when your newborn sleeps. We all cope better and are kinder to ourselves and our children when we are well-rested.

  15. Find Gratitude in Every Day. At dinnertime, we sing a song before dinner - kind of a blessing and exercise in gratitude wrapped into one. After we are done singing, we go around the table and everyone has to say something they are grateful for. On one particularly challenging day, I remember saying “I get to go to bed in 1 hour”. It wasn’t high minded or exhilerating, but it was still something I was grateful for that day. If you are having trouble finding a good moment in your day, scroll through your camea roll on your phone and find a picture that makes you smile!

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