So. How are you feeling?
If you’re a parent or carer of teens, then there’s every possibility that you’re feeling pretty worn out right now. Talking to parents recently I’ve heard ‘exhausted’, ‘on my knees’ and ‘burnt out’, with many also feeling guilty for feeling tired, because ‘at least they have got through’ and ‘things are supposed to be getting easier’.
This is completely understandable.
Eighteen months of constant uncertainty (even if what we are uncertain about changes- which is part of the problem) is exhausting. Uncertainty makes our brains feel anxious. It affects our amygdala (the 'fear centre' of the brain) making us feel on edge and apprehensive. So the constant uncertainty, and the ever-changing nature of what we are uncertain about, creates a never-ending cycle of background anxiety. This is not your fault!
Bearing in mind that some things are not in our control, what can we therefore try to feel a little calmer, less exhausted and more on top of things?
These are some suggestions, and they won’t apply to everyone, but they might lead you to think of some other ideas to try… I hope they help!
1. Redefine the boundaries in your working day
For those of us who have been working from home (WFH) the distinction between work hours and home time have become increasingly blurred. We answer emails at all hours, we work on weekends, and the lack of commute or work environment has made it harder to differentiate between work and home life.
Having a boundary between the two can be very helpful for wellbeing, and for reducing the guilt if you aren’t working all the time. Do what you can to reinstate the definition between work and home. Try this.
· Ensure your email signature clearly states when you will and won’t be reading/ replying and make it clear where people can get an urgent reply if they need one.
· Don’t take calls that aren’t urgent.
· Put your phone in another room when having family time e.g. film night, or weekend activities.
· Switch off notifications for email so that you only check them when you have the time set aside to do so.
· Be a work/life balance role model for younger / junior staff (this will help to make you feel less guilty about not working all the time).
2. Keep the good stuff going
The last 18 months have been awful for many, but if you have had good things happen too, then try to maintain the positive aspects.
Enjoy your lockdown puppy, keep cycling with the family, keep making banana bread, and ask your teens which aspects they want to keep too.
Take a moment to reflect on what made you feel good when times were difficult and try to ‘preserve the positive’.
If just slowing down and having nothing in the diary was lovely (though not for months let’s be honest!) then perhaps consider blocking out a day a week (or fortnight) to do nothing- and don’t let anybody book you up!
And if the good bit was working from home, then look to keep doing that and work flexibly, to sustain a balance both of work/life and your mental health and wellbeing.
3. Address worries about school and risk of COVID
Many parents have spoken to me about their understandable concerns around children returning to school unvaccinated, and at risk of COVID. There has been a lack of clarity about how risk will be reduced, and how children will be protected.
Children need social contact and school, but balance with outdoor activities (not cinema for example) to reduce risk out of school.
As we await a national campaign to vaccinate all children over 12, there are a few things parents and carers can do to address this worry in the meantime.
· Check what your school is planning re: lateral flow testing, mask wearing, and ventilation. (LFT are only useful if the person is well, if they have symptoms, they need a PCR test)
· Encourage all older siblings, family members and contacts to be vaccinated.
· Talk to other parents about what other schools are doing, to share good practice and ensure your school does the same.
· Encourage your child to wear a mask wherever possible to reduce their risk of spreading and catching the infection. The fit of the mask is important. Consider a children’s mask for young people.
· Reduce risk from transport to school where possible; walk, cycle, wear masks on public transport.
· Continue with ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’.
4. Plan ahead to have some fun
One of the most difficult things with last year’s constant uncertainty was not being able to plan holidays, weekend activities and fun, whether that would be a picnic or a holiday abroad. Having little to look forward to made getting through the days harder for many. Whilst none of us can be certain about future lockdowns, we are now adept at postponing and rearranging fun, so perhaps take a few small risks and book some fun (although booking anything overseas may be a bigger risk). It’s just so important to have something to look forward to especially through the autumn and winter. So reach out to friends you haven’t seen for ages, plan some outdoor activities and get something in the diary. Which brings me onto my next point…
5. Don’t burnout from trying to make up for lost time (yours or your teens’)
Watching your children miss out on so many life experiences, school, and socialising is incredibly hard, and it is tempting to try to catch up on lost rites of passage and time with friends by maxing out every hour of every day. ‘Post pandemic’ life and the expectations of our teens may push us to race about constantly, ensuring they have the best time they can now, after a horrendous eighteen months.
For your own wellbeing, try to resist doing too much, or build in recovery time for yourself once you have ferried them around and overseen the endless parties and social engagements.
Perhaps look to share lifts, or plan to reduce stress on yourself by talking through with your teens how they can be independent where possible, have sleepovers, and allow for rest for themselves too (they need 8-9 hours sleep a night).
They are part of a generation who are recognised by schools and universities not to have had the usual ‘test run’ of activities (festivals, trips to Zante, or parties) to ‘practice’ at being young adults and independent before leaving home or moving up a year.
The professionals working with young people are preparing to guide them through the consequences (e.g. getting drunk with relative strangers at uni instead of people they know well at home) and lack of life experience this autumn- they are very aware of this potential issue.
As parents we can help too, as our teens navigate the bumps in the road, by reassuring them that they don’t have to ‘do it all’ immediately… they can go easy on themselves, and they have plenty of time for fun (and mistakes- which will probably be less significant if they pace themselves).
As we adapt to returning to the office, to blended approaches of working, to a more normal social life, and for the return to school or university it is so important that we look after ourselves, and ensure we still have time to sometimes just watch Netflix and eat banana bread.
If we don’t look after ourselves, we won’t be able to look after the ones we love so much. You need rest because you’re worth it!