Does anyone else feel like you’re going to throat punch the next person who says how bored they are? If I hear one more person say, “if you’re looking for something to do…” I might just call the police on myself. I know we are all in different places right now, but the mere thought of being bored with nothing to do makes me want to scream, cry, and laugh, all at the same time.
I don’t know about you, but I have never been so busy, done so much, and gotten so little accomplished as I have since the self-isolation began mid-March. Between the constant disinfecting, preparing and cleaning for three meals and seventeen snacks a day, entertaining preschoolers, transitioning to on-line platforms, making sure my kids have enough outdoor time, educational time, free time, nap time, and craft time but not too much screen time, researching the appropriate cocktail of vitamins for each age group and then carefully monitoring and administering, researching and collecting materials for making my own face masks, learning how to properly disinfect broccoli, and trying to take advantage of all of this incredible family time by taking walks, playing games, and “make memories” all while trying to work, make progress on my book, and redesign my speaking business for this new world we’re living in, I can hardly remember to breathe. It’s exhausting, and I know I’m not alone.
I get it. There are some moms out there who have this thing DOWN and are looking for new and creative ways to entertain their kids. There are resources for every type of mom out there, and I so appreciate that; I do. Even though I know we are all in different places, and I know not to compare myself, I still feel a little down when I don’t have the mental energy to tape off an incredible design on my windows, find then mix up some paint, and patiently teach my toddler how to create a beautiful stained glass masterpiece. I know I shouldn’t feel bad about that, but I still somehow scroll through the pictures and think, “She did that with her kids? Oh man. If she has the energy to do that, I should too.” With each picture, I wonder why my kids are on their fifth hour of Ice Age, and I still don’t have the energy to play a round of dinosaurs and zombies.
I would love to give you some advice to combat these feelings, advice that has worked to transform my thoughts, but I don’t have any of that. I only have the things I repeat to myself day after day, picture after picture to get me through this one moment of comparison, this one moment of sadness. There isn’t a magical phrase that will forever rid you of damaging comparison, doubt, or insecurity, but I do hope these ideas will serve to lift your spirits long enough to get to the picture of my kid painting his brother’s tidily bits and running through the front yard naked because I went to get my phone in an attempt to capture the one Pinterest-worthy moment we were having this week. If I can get you to that picture, I will have done my job.
First of all, set aside your expectations….all of them. Unfortunately, this season is not going as any of us expected. We had plans, dreams, goals, and lives that are completely turned upside down. The phrase, “It’s not supposed to be this way” immediately comes to mind. According to our plans, it’s not supposed to be this way. The reality is, it is this way. Instead of focusing on the things we are missing, the lives we aren’t living, and the memories we aren’t making, I encourage you to view this time differently. Set aside the expectations you had for what it would be like, and try experiencing it for what it is. When this time is over and we go back to living our ‘normal’ lives, (hopefully) we will never experience this season again. We will never have days and weeks of being home with our spouse and kids with few commitments outside of the home. As difficult as it is, this is an incredible and precious time. I am already missing it when it is over just thinking about how I will regret wasting it by having too many expectations for what it should have been like or what I should have done. By letting go of expectations, we can fully experience life for what it is, not for what it isn’t.
Next, set reasonable expectations for this season. Maybe your kids won’t spend the recommended 4-6 hours outside today. Maybe they won’t step foot outside today. What can you reasonably get them to do? How much work can you reasonably expect to get done? Working a solid eight hours if you have young children at home probably isn’t going to happen. What must you get done, and how can you make that happen? If you aren’t a crafty person with beads and construction paper neatly sorted in your closet, it probably isn’t reasonable to expect to do a craft every day that requires a lot of pieces and knowledge. Maybe aim for one cool craft a week (e.g., making slime, creating window art) and a couple of simple crafts tossed in (e.g., coloring, gluing cereal to construction paper in the shape of a dinosaur). What would you need to do in order to feel good about yourself? Make note of that and check it off as you do it. Otherwise, you may get to the end of the week and just notice all of the things you didn’t do instead of the things you did do.
I encourage you to live your own reality, not the reality of others. When we compare ourselves, we are thinking as if we are all living the same reality. We don’t have the same life circumstances, even right now. Some families have two working parents while others have none. Some families have a stay-at-home parent who can continue to carry the bulk of the family load while the other parent works. Some parents thrive on crafts while others love to cook. Some kids are hyper-active and high-touch while others are happy entertaining themselves. Some parents are struggling with chronic diseases or other illnesses that drain their energy. Some parents are teachers at heart and thrive on activities and work plans. You cannot compare yourself to them because you don’t know what their reality is. Instead of tearing yourself down, lift them up. Recognize their gifts, be impressed if you want, but keep the energy pointing outward. Once you turn that energy inward and start thinking that it somehow reflects negatively on you, that’s when it becomes toxic and unhealthy. Acknowledge their gifts and then acknowledge yours as well.
I alluded to it earlier, but when you are teetering on comparison, I encourage you to go back through all of the cool things you have done with your kids or for yourself. We took a walk after dinner three times this week. We blew bubbles twice. The boys played with sidewalk chalk for an entire seven minutes. No, we didn’t paint a mural in our driveway, but that’s not my gift or my interest. I’m doing the best I can with the time, energy, resources, kids, and circumstances I have. It’s okay to make a mental list and constantly remind yourself of the incredible mom you are. If you need a doctor’s note for that prescription, let me know. I am, after all, a doctor 😉
Similarly, when someone suggests an activity or a way to “combat the boredom” while your kids are hitting each other with sticks and hiding under your shirt exposing your nursing bra for the world to see, try not to take the advice for more than face value. They are likely just offering some unsolicited advice based on their reality or that of someone they know and not even aware that your situation may be different. I was pushing my boys in the stroller while one was yelling about wanting to go to the playground and the other wanted to eat Chinese food when a neighbor I didn’t even know thought it was a good time to start a conversation. As I was pushing away, he said, “If you’re looking for something to do, teach them the things you enjoyed doing when you were a kid.” He meant well, but I felt the fire inside me start to burn and I snapped, “I don’t need anything else to do.” Fortunately, I managed to turn it into a joke with a smile and a laugh before the fire came pouring out of my mouth. It was a sweet idea and did give me something to think about, but at that moment, it was almost more than I could take. I could have followed that rabbit all the way down the hole, complaining about how he thought I didn’t have enough to do. The reality was, he didn’t even know me from Eve. He had no idea what my situation was, obviously as he didn’t notice the two screaming kids who were standing up in their seats and hanging on the sun guard at that point. He had either heard it from someone else or thought it up on his own and was offering a suggestion. Once I calmed down, I realized he was just trying to be helpful, and I could actually appreciate the offer for what it was.
Finally, and this is a bit of a tangent, stop degrading the pain of others by saying, “at least you don’t have coronavirus,” or “at least your kids are home with you,” or “at least you still have a paycheck,” or whatever we say to tear them down, make them feel bad, shake them out of it, one-up them, or whatever. I can’t even presume why people say these things because I just can’t comprehend it. Just because there is a situation that is worse than what the person is going through right now does not mean they don’t have a right to be sad. We are all mourning the loss of something right now. Birthday parties, grandparents seeing new grandbabies, senior years, proms, graduations, Easter, anniversaries, jobs, internships, time with family, funerals, weddings, vacations. It is sad. It is hard. We are all grieving. Let’s stop making each other feel bad about being sad. We all have a right to our feelings. Let’s lift each other up not tear them down even more. If you are looking for someone to mourn with you, then post it on your wall and let the sympathy come pouring in, but don’t divert it from someone else.
Friends, this is not the time to feel bad about what you are doing or not doing. The fact that you are surviving it is an accomplishment. We are all scared, exhausted, and taking it one day at a time. No techniques to survive it are off limits. Pat yourself on the back, throw yourself a party, soak for too long in the tub, stay up all night reading. Whatever it takes, do what you need to do, but please don’t compare yourself to others. We are all doing this the best way we know how and I know, you are doing an incredible job. Just keep doing it, and let’s get through this together!