What the heck, 2016? Could you be any more challenging? Let’s start with the news from abroad. It has been consistently disturbing and bleak since January. The headlines in the States haven’t been much better with multiple mass shootings and other incidents of violence occurring from coast to coast. And the Presidential campaigns and election? Let’s just stop right there. It’s been a really tough year… and it isn’t even over yet.
As a result, I’ve observed a wide range of emotions in my counseling clients over the last few weeks: frustration, grief, anxiety and rage, to name a few. Many of my clients have entered my office in tears. A few have asked me, How in the world do you parent your two young boys through some of these days?
My answer? Parenting is actually a source of solace and sanity for me. It is the one constant in my life that I can always depend on.
Of course, there are days where it is tough to smile when I am handing my kids their bowls of cereal. But I’ve figured out some ways to manage the hardest moments. Here are my tips for weathering the storm as a parent, when you are feeling completely overwhelmed by the news of the day:
1. Don’t Shelter Your Kids Too Much
From a very, very young age our kids are picking up on our emotions. They see us when we are sad or angry. They watch how we work through our feelings and reactions. They observe how we soothe ourselves, how we turn to others, how we talk to our partners and how we make plans for moving forward.
Our kids learn about disappointment and loss, that life doesn’t always go as expected. But they also learn about emotional intelligence, resilience and hope.
In many cases, they see us fighting and advocating for what we believe is right. My advice? Don’t feel like you have to keep your eyes dry or your TV turned off whenever your kids are in the room. It is beneficial for them to see you being human and see your response to what’s happening in the world.
That being said….
2. Find a Balance of Exposure
Yes, our kids benefit from being exposed to current events and our emotional response. But there is also a fine line between teaching and traumatizing. Remember that very young children have a hard time differentiating between imagined or exaggerated threats and real threats. If they hear enraged and inflammatory language, if they view violent images on the TV, if they see us crying non-stop, they can begin to feel like the world is going to cease to exist. It can feel quite traumatic for them — they can feel unsafe.
The same goes for us.
If we expose ourselves to too much hate-filled talk, conflict and violence, we can also spiral into depression and despondency. My advice? Limit your exposure to the news and angry rhetoric. Shut off social media when you need to. And monitor how much you are processing the news around your kids. Take breaks when needed and go back to the daily activities that bring you solace… which takes me to my next point.
3. Find Peace in Your Routines and Rituals
The great thing about having kids, whether they are a newborn or a teenager, is that they keep you busy. Regardless how discouraged or irate you are feeling, you still have to breastfeed, do laundry, read books at bedtime and tuck little ones in. Even when the political rhetoric reaches an all time low, you still have to drive the carpool, show up for work and wash the dishes.
Kids also bring you back to soothing rituals. Yesterday, I was in my favorite grocery store when I spotted a big display of $2.49 chocolate Advent calendars. They had the same colorful Santa-themed prints on them that they have had for the last five years.
My face lit up. We still have a few weeks before the start of December, but I bounced over to the display and bought five. Two for my boys, and three for anyone else I can bestow them on. Yes, the chocolates are tiny and crappy, but my kids really, really look forward to opening a chocolate surprise for 24 mornings in December.
It is these small traditions, these tiny pleasures that keep us going when we feel defeated. Seek out your family rituals and routines. Find peace in the sameness of your days and years.
4. Make Self-Care a Priority, More Than Ever
I touched on this during my first point, but I’ll say it again: our kids are watching how we sooth and take care of ourselves when we are upset. They learn SO much about self-care and boundaries from their parents.
Knowing this, please take care of yourself.
Go to bed early, get together with friends, go to a place of worship, schedule a massage or do whatever feels comforting to you. Donate to a cause you care about, join an activist group and do whatever feels empowering.
This will allow you to stay fully present with your children. It will also allow you to march on with whatever campaign you have aligned yourself with and to participate in your relationships and your job. If you feel like you are fighting depression or extreme anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out to a counselor. I will tell you what I tell all of my clients: You are not alone. You are definitely not alone…
Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and married mother of two rambunctious boys in Austin, Texas. She provides sanity-saving tips and private workshops for expectant and new parents at Baby Proofed Parents. Kirsten is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, TODAY Show Parenting Team and Scary Mommy. Her work has also been featured in Real Simple Magazine, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Woman’s Day and Mamalode. Follow Kirsten on Facebook or Twitter for real-time tips and humor to help you “bring sane to baby brain.”