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The CGI Women's Network discusses just what it means to be a parent in the pandemic – and how busy parents and guardians can adapt to this new normal. Featuring the wisdom of Jo Carey, Tracy Porch-Bradley and Jo Bamford.

Becoming or being a parent is already an enormous challenge, and has only got tougher with the advent of COVID-19. Anxiety about infection numbers, dealing with the lockdowns and balancing parenting and working from home all combine to create unique stressors that strain wellbeing and mental health.

Even as the UK moves out of lockdown, keeping these principles in mind will help you deal with any sudden changes that may still arise in this ever shifting situation.

Here are a few tips for dealing with the new normal:

Normalise what you're feeling

Everyone experiences the change journey differently – some people move to accepting new changes fast, while others sink into anxiety. One of the most important steps to coming to terms with change is recognising that your feelings are normal, and felt by everyone everywhere. In particular, common feelings as parents over the pandemic include feeling overwhelmed and guilty – for feeling like we aren’t doing enough as either employees or parents.

So how can we deal with these emotions?

First, recognise these feelings are normal – it means you have a conscience! But too much of either emotion can impact our behaviour. Tips for dealing with these feelings include:

Noticing and acknowledging negative emotions:

  • Give a name to the emotion you're feeling.
  • Call out, and talk to it. Ask yourself why you are feeling this way, and dissect what events led to the emotion.

Checking in regularly

  • Be your own therapist – ask yourself if your guilty feelings are an appropriate response to the situation.
  • If you find yourself despairing, ask if what you’re saying to yourself is, “true, helpful or kind?”

Reframe

  • Even if you think these emotions are justified, use kinder language when evaluating your own emotions. Consider whether you would judge a friend in the same way you judge yourself.
  • Practice self compassion. Everybody is going through a tough time – give yourself a break!

In addition, good mental health is often reliant on physical health as well. Take care of your body and consider whether discrepancies in diet, sleep, or exercise have affected your mood.

It's also important to have some "me time". You have limited attention resources throughout the day, so choose how you spend your time carefully, and be judicious with who you spend time with.

Looking ahead

The best thing about change is that even the worst of situations will shift eventually.

As we move out of lockdown the most important thing parents can do is shift away from emotionally driven feelings to more logical action planning. Remind your children of COVID safety rules and set future goals, commitments and boundaries. Also take time to look back and celebrate everything you've learned and recognise your resilience as well as the life skills you've developed on the way.

You may have built new good habits during the lockdown, like regularly checking in on friends and colleagues, or making an effort to spend time with your family. Continue with these changes, and come up with a plan to fit them into your "normal" schedule as well.

Finally, many parents may have shifted into "teacher mode" during the pandemic and now have to shift back. Being conscious of this change is the first step to succeeding in it. It might be tough at first to stop thinking of everything you do with your kids as a learning opportunity, but you can get there by doing small things, like asking your kids "How's your day?" rather than "what have you learned?". As restrictions ease, make a conscious effort, especially if you didn't do it before the pandemic, to encourage social connection with your kids – plan fun events, parties, and help them meet up with their own friends as well.

This is advice from our Women’s Network based on their personal experiences and should not be taken as medical advice. If you’re struggling with your mental health please seek advice from a mental health professional.