Health & Well-being

Sharing the love around your bubble

Parenting Place Sharing Yourself Around Bubble

One thing that is persistently challenging for parents in lockdowns and isolation 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.

Is it even possible our attention across everyone in our bubble? Short answer – yes, we probably can, BUT we can’t do it perfectly. We would all do well to release the superhero aspirations, and deal to the guilt that persistently surfaces to try and remind 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. Here are a few ideas on what that might look like.

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 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 life against.

Bite-sized bonuses

As parents, we can be intentional about how we spend the day. Many of us are required to focus on work tasks for chunks of the day, there is home learning to be addressed and there is general housework that continually requires our attention. Regardless, there are huge benefits in making the most of small moments for connection. Large chunks of quality time with our family members sounds lovely but may not be achievable right now. And that’s okay. Keep it short and simple and grab moments for a one-minute check-in. 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!

Keep it short and simple – grab moments for a one-minute check-in

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.

If you’ve ever had a puppy, think about their excitement upon seeing you return home at the end of a day – hyper exuberance! Kids can be like that… If you haven’t seen your kids all day, sensory stimulation overload can be a very real response at dinner time, because the kids who have missed out on attention all day now want everything, and all at once. 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 is actually their way of checking in with you. 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 away but feel like we ‘should’ be with our kids. When we’re with our kids, we 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: call our aging parents, return 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.’ Our remarkable brains will recognise a new pattern of thinking and can be retrained to deflect the guilt and replace it with affirmation for a job (or 10!) well done.

Take good care

The Prime Minister’s call to be kind is once again ringing in our ears, but we need to make sure we direct a generous amount of that kindness towards ourselves. Remember that it is hard to think clearly in pressure times like this, hence the importance of taking care of yourself. 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 and check-ins go a long way in the necessary parental cup-filling.

Steal some moments for yourself, to have a breather. 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.

Working alongside your ‘little colleagues’

When there’s work to be done, should we attempt to do it alongside our kids, thus multi-tasking when it comes to attention? This will depends on your working style and your own stress levels – so take a moment to listen to yourself. If working alongside your kids causes you more anxiety, try a different approach. Perhaps there are some tasks you can do at your laptop while sitting beside your crafting youngster, but there may be other tasks that require more of your focus and for those, you might need to carve out half an hour behind a closed door.

Whatever it is you’re trying to get done – or just to have five minutes to yourself – I’m a huge fan of the humble egg timer (or microwave or phone 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, and explain to your kids “Mum will be back in five minutes… you can watch TV or play and then come and get me when the timer rings.”

Use a timer to give yourself some space, and explain to your kids “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. When you’re feeling like your chasing your tail amidst a flood of interruptions, a simple reframe might help. Remember that in our normal workplaces, interruptions from colleagues are common place and totally acceptable. So, if your ‘mini colleagues’ come up to you with an interruption, consider it more of an invitation to connect. Like a water-cooler or photocopier break! Stop what you’re doing, give them a hug or a high-five, ask them ‘what’s up?’ and fill their little cup. They’ll probably wander off again, and you can finish what you’re doing.

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

Parents, life is too short to spend it feeling guilty due to a perceived ‘falling short’, when, in fact, you’re doing absolutely amazing within a really challenging context.

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