Parental Self-Care: Finding Balance in the Pandemic

Father and son working from home

The pandemic and perfection don’t mix. Parents have to be easy on themselves.

Christina Moore, MA

"We’re asking a lot of parents these days,” says Caroline Shackett, PhD, NCSP, Hanover Psychiatry (part of the Department of Psychiatry at Dartmouth-Hitchcock), talking about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on families. On top of the usual amount of child care, household chores and work demands, parents have taken on full or part-time homeschooling and the responsibility of managing abundant family time all while keeping a lid on COVID-19-induced anxiety. It’s, well, a lot.

Parenting and work responsibilities are just one source of pandemic stress. Two-parent teams might have conflicting approaches to screen time, school success expectations, or ideas for family-time activity. Single parents may feel the absence of a teammate even more. All parents are worried about their own or children's chances of infection and uncertainty about how long pandemic restrictions will be in place.

“At the same time COVID-19 has significantly increased the burden of stress, it has decreased opportunities to de-stress,” says Christina Moore, MA, Hanover Psychiatry. “While outside exercise classes, date nights and social events are canceled, it’s still important for parents to take care of themselves.”

Essential to the well-being of stressed moms and dads, parental self-care is just as critical for their children. “Airlines instruct parents to put on their oxygen masks before helping others through an emergency,” says Shackett. “If the parent isn’t okay, they won’t be much help to their child. The same is true now. When parents are less stressed, they are more patient and able to help their child with their own anxiety.”

“Self-care is not an indulgence,” says Moore. “It is the practice of healthy behaviors like resting, sleeping, eating well, exercising and social connection that improve mood and lead to greater happiness, creativity and productivity.”

The trick to practicing self-care is finding time for it. “Each family is different, so parents have to find what works for them,” says Shackett. “Two parents can trade off work, childcare and self-care time. Single parents might joint quarantine pods to gain time for themselves.”

Actual self-care activity is also up to each person. “Date nights might mean the children are watching a movie while the parents are having dinner together,” says Shackett. “Going for a walk, having a healthy snack, playing virtual board games, taking a nap, or reconnecting with an old hobby or taking up a new one are all good forms of self-care.”

“The most important rules of self-care are to be realistic and practice forgiveness,” says Moore. “The pandemic and perfection don’t mix. Parents have to be easy on themselves.” Shackett adds that help is often needed and is available. “Friends, family, primary care providers and therapists are all good sounding boards and can offer ideas and support.”

Hanover Psychiatry is a psychiatry and psychology practice within the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Department of Psychiatry. Offering high levels of expertise across a broad range of treatment disciplines, Hanover Psychiatry clinicians serve children, teens and adults in private, convenient Hanover, NH, offices.