If 2020 felt like a free fall, 2021 brought us a rollercoaster of emotions.
For parents, the past year took us on a thrill ride of both worry and relief: Kids are back in school! But with mask contention. Covid’s calming down! Whoops, here comes Delta and the kids are now home for a two-week quarantine.
We had to make decisions about vaccines and returning to work and how to release our precious ones back into the world of cub scouts and dance and baseball and parties and indoor playdates.
And maybe you didn’t have a choice in all those matters. Maybe you lost a job or a loved one, maybe you’re hunkered down again for the winter. Maybe you’re simply exhausted–your mind, body and soul worn down and weary from doing all you can to hold everything together.
If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. But we don’t have to stay there.
We can’t say for sure when the outside world will return to normal. So we thought it might be best to focus on the inner world of mental health. Today, let’s talk through a few goals we might carry into the new year to bolster us as parents and people.
Bonus: these are worthwhile goals for non-pandemic times as well.
Mental Health Goal 1: Take care of yourself every day.
Raise your hand if you missed a few showers last year. Eww, okay, put your hand down. We’re kidding, of course.
Zoom meetings and toddler tantrums might mean the basics took a back seat.
So let’s take the basics back. Do something that makes you feel cared for every day. If you’re thoroughly clean (you’re awesome, we get it) maybe you’ll set aside time to workout, paint your nails, fix your hair or shave your face. The toddler will be okay.
Mental Health Goal 2: Create a safe space in your home.
Weeks ago, your first-grader set up a living room Legoland to play with during breaks from quarantine-virtual-school. And your four-year-old’s Magnatile creations regularly spill out from his room into the hallway and beyond.
You’re all for relaxing a bit during these times, but the kid stuff is starting to take over!
Okay, grab some figurative caution tape and declare a spot (or a whole room!) in your home completely off-limits. While you’re at it, give your kids a deadline for creativity, saying something like, “Every Saturday, we’ll do a clean sweep!”
Mental Health Goal 3: Establish a rest-time routine.
Everybody needs a little time away—and now more than ever. Choose a specific time of day and call it rest time for all ages.
Rest time looks like this: Each person in the family gets a room to themselves and an hour (or two) to engage in their interests without interruption. You might set out a few favorite toys and play a podcast or audiobook for younger kids. Older kids and teens might read, draw, listen to music or work on a project or hobby.
And on those weeks when your kids aren’t quarantined from school exposure–happy days!–go ahead and institute rest time on the weekends. You can thank us later.
Mental Health Goal 4: Accept that the negative emotions aren’t about you.
If we adults are struggling to keep a smile on our faces, we can only imagine how hard it must be for kids to cope. After all, they’ve encountered the same changes we have with less understanding and less skills to work through what they’re feeling.
So the next time your kid inexplicably falls apart, your middle schooler slams a door or your teen looks at you with eyes that can only mean, “YOU DO NOT GET IT,” repeat the following helpful phrase to yourself: “This is not about me.”
Then, when you’re calm and ready, you might approach your child—young or old—with arms outstretched and say, “Would you like a hug? Talk to me about what’s going on.”
It’s also a good idea to set some healthy boundaries. Let your kids know they are welcome to have big, uncomfortable feelings, but they’re not allowed to treat you unkindly. Listen, talk and move on.
Mental Health Goal 5: Replace magic with moments.
Here’s a message that’s hard for our parenting generation to hear: Your kids don’t need a magical childhood. They simply need moments of connection with you.
We can get there with Pinterest-parenting, sure. But we don’t have to. We can also get there by making the most of a few moments throughout the day.
Ask questions to get to know your kid better. Listen to good tunes together while cuddled up on the couch. Play a quick game, take a short walk or give a high five in passing.
Dig into what they’re into (we love requesting books from the library that scratch the latest itch).
You might even craft it up or bake it up or party it up—Instagram style. So long as you’re doing so with no obligation and lots of opportunity for connection.
Our hope is that you’ll find a few doable mental health goals you can latch onto for the coming year. After all, we’re better parents to our kids when we take care of ourselves.