Sharing the love: Spreading yourself around your bubble

Toyota Believe logoOver three weeks in and we’re getting more accustomed to lockdown life. One thing that is persistently challenging for parents, however, is the need to split our time between everyone in our bubble, while still meeting the incessant demands of the day. And it’s a need that comes with a side order of guilt, if we’re not careful. A recent Facebook Live event tackled this topic and the golden nuggets of truth that were shared by child and family psychologist Dr Linde-Marie Amersfoort, OHbaby! editor Marianne Falconer, and host extraordinaire Petra Bagust were just too good not to reproduce into an article. So here you go! If you’d like to watch the full interview, it is available for ‘catch-up viewing’ (along with all our other ‘Lockdown Life’ live events) over on our Facebook page.

Put down the cape

Can we split our attention across everyone in our bubble? Short answer – yes, we probably can, BUT, we can’t do it perfectly. Dr Linde-Marie is adamant that we would all do well to release our superhero aspirations and deal to the guilt that persistently reminds us of how we could be doing better. No one is doing it perfectly, but no one needs to be doing it perfectly. It helps to keep this perspective in mind as we lower our expectations and increase empathy and grace. Both Linde-Marie and Marianne had some helpful insights into what this might look like practically as we navigate the pressures and demands of bubble life.

No two bubbles are the same

Firstly, all bubbles are different so we need to squash the innate desire to compare ourselves to others. Yes, social media is full of ‘inspiring’ portrayals of the ways other people are making the most of this extended family time, but keep in mind the fact that a social media post is a snapshot of a mere moment. Granted it might be an aspirational and celebratory moment, but it’s not a yardstick for you to measure your own life against.

Bite-sized bonuses

As parents, we can still be intentional about how we spend the day. Many of us are required to focus on work tasks for chunks of time, there is home learning to be addressed and there is general housework that continually requires our energy. Regardless, Linde-Marie reminds us of the benefit of making the most of small moments for connection. Spending large chunks of quality time with our family members sounds lovely, but it may not be achievable right now. And that’s okay. “Keep it short and simple – grab moments for a one-minute check-in,” encourages Linde-Marie. Kids love quality time with their parents and yes, spending an hour one-on-one would be wonderful, but just one minute of a parent’s focused attention still does a child a world of good. One minute! Guys, we can do this!

Regardless of the age of your kids, bite-sized, regular check-ins are better than leaving kids to their own all day and expecting a beautiful family time in the evening when you all come back together. Kids need their bucket to be filled throughout the day with little top-ups of love and attention. To illustrate, Linde-Marie reminds us of a puppy’s excitement upon seeing their owner return home at the end of a day – hyper exuberance! Kids can be like that… “If you haven’t really seen your kids all day, sensory stimulation overload can be a very real response at dinner time. That’s exhausting for a parent and that lovely family dinner you planned is now cut to 10 minutes”.

Many parents have expressed concern that their teenagers are spending a lot of time connecting with their friends online, but not necessarily with their family. “They may not seem to be wanting connection with parents, but that TikTok or meme they come and show you – it’s their way of checking in with you,” observes Linde-Marie. Teenagers indeed want space, but they also want connection – they’ll just show it differently than a 7- or 8-year-old.

Stand down guilt

Here’s a familiar scenario: we’re working but feel like we ‘should’ be with our kids, we’re with our kids but feel like we ‘should’ be working. ‘Mother Guilt’, as most of us know, is not unique to lockdown life. It may be intensified now, however, as we’re all at home with – supposedly – more time, so we feel the pressure to be doing family life ‘better’. And then, at the end of the day, our brains go into overtime and remind us of all the things we should have done that day but failed to have time for: calling our parents, returning a friend’s message, reading that inspiring book we’re pretty sure will change our life…

“We can tell ourselves a different story. Our brains love patterns. If we’ve fallen into a pattern of pressure and beating ourselves up, our brain is not going to stop doing that just because we’re in lockdown. We actually have to make an effort to break that pattern ourselves, and we can only break that when we are empathetic with ourselves. Tell your brain: thanks for the reminder, but I also did this and this and this today,” Linde-Marie encourages us. Our remarkable brains will recognise a new thought pattern and can be retrained to deflect the guilt and replace it with affirmation for a job (or 10!) well done.

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Take good care

The Prime Minister’s call to be kind is ringing in our ears, but we need to make sure we direct a generous amount of that kindness towards ourselves. In order to fill the cups of those within your bubble, you first need to ensure you have something in your own cup. Again, while an hour to yourself would be amazing, bite-sized me-time moments go a long way. “Steal some moments for yourself to have a breather,” says Linde-Marie. “Show yourself some empathy – this is a difficult time. If you ‘top yourself up’, you can have space to show empathy to your family too.” Pause, hold, engage is a simple strategy with powerful benefits.

Marianne stresses the vital importance of a daily routine that meets parents’ basic needs. “Every morning I go for a walk (by myself). My husband makes sure he gets a run in each day and that means Mum and Dad are happy. And if we’re happy, it sets the tone for our home. We find that’s the simple recipe for our home to be in good shape.”

Working alongside your little colleagues

When there’s work to be done, should we attempt to do it alongside our kids? “It depends on your working style and your own stress levels – listen to yourself. If it creates anxiety to work with your kids then look for a different approach,” suggests Marianne, who finds that some work can be done alongside a child who’s working on their own project, while other work requires more focus.

Whatever it is you’re trying to get done (or just to have five minutes to yourself), Linde-Marie sings the praises of the humble egg timer (or microwave or iPhone timer – anything where kids can see the time counting down). “Kids love to know when things start and when things finish. Use a timer to give yourself some space, explaining ‘Mum will be back in five minutes… you can watch TV or play and then come and get me when the timer rings’.”

Bubble life is dynamic – multiple things are things happening, most of the time. Marianne inspired us with her simple reframe: if she’s trying to get some work done and her kids interrupt her flow, she welcomes her ‘little work mates’ into her space. “If I’m at the office, I get a lot of interruptions from my colleagues, too. Usually, if I respond to my kids – give them a cuddle if they want a cuddle – then after a minute, they’re off!”

Oh the power of one simple – and achievable – minute!

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